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Jim Hightower: There's a Blue Wave Cresting in Statewide Elections

March 6, 2018 in Blogs

By Jim Hightower, AlterNet

Democrats are winning big locally.


Last year's grassroots progressive runs for office laid to rest much of the Democratic Party's orthodoxy about who is “electable,” and how it's essential that candidates — in hopes of attracting moderate “swing” voters — run big-money campaigns on small-bore, middle-of-the-road issues. For example, meet these eight big-issue/low-dollar candidates who rejected party orthodox and won:

        –Danica Roem — Virginia House of Delegates

        –Andrea Jenkins — Minneapolis City Council

        –Phillipe Cunningham — Minneapolis City Council

        –Lisa Middleton — Palm Springs City Council

        –Stephe Koontz — Doraville, GA City Council

        –Raven Matherne — Stamford, CT City Council

        –Tyler Titus — Erie, PA School Board

        –Gerri Cannon — Somersworth, NH School Board

One thing these victors have in common is that each of them is openly transgender. Even two years ago, political pros assumed that transgender people were unelectable nearly everywhere. So these eight barrier busters show how rapidly attitudes are changing, even in this bigoted time of Trump. Roem's win in Virginia was especially satisfying, for she defeated a Republican incumbent who has long been a vociferous demonizer of the LGBTQ community and a vituperative leader of the right wing's demagogic crusade to pass anti-transgender “bathroom bills.”

The nationwide progressive offensive in 2017 produced other ground shifting results such as: many victories by millennials (five elected to the State House in Virginia alone); victories by immigrant candidates, including in Somerville (MA), Helena (MT) and Minneapolis; and a rebellion in previously red suburbs. Victories like these are proliferating because immigrant populations are growing, Trumpism and GOP extremism are turning voters off, a rapid and relentless downsizing of the middle class is altering attitudes and serious grassroots political organizing by Our Revolution, Democratic Socialist of America, Working Families Party and other progressive groups is making a difference.

After a year of Donald Trump's appalling excesses in office, combined with last year's electoral successes by dozens of progressive female candidates, and the recent tsunami of “silence …read more

Source: ALTERNET

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Inside the Medical Device Racket

March 6, 2018 in Blogs

By Martha Rosenberg, AlterNet

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Millions of Americans have under-regulated and overhyped devices in their bodies.


Imagine a TV ad for a hip replacement device. Over scenes of the puppies and sunsets, a voiceover warns, “Hip replacements may cause tissue death, the destruction of muscles, bones and ligaments, nerve damage, mental changes, thyroid disorder, vision and hearing problems and heart failure.” Such ads may soon be part of primetime viewing, not just because the device industry is starting to advertise but because medical device side effects are as scary as, if not worse than, drug side effects.

According to a chilling new book by Jeanne Lenzer, The Danger Within Us: America's Untested, Unregulated Medical Device Industry and One Man's Battle to Survive It, an estimated 6.7 million Americans a year––almost 70 million in a decade––are implanted with artificial knees, hips and shoulders, spinal hardware, pacemakers, stents, other cardiac devices and more that are woefully under-regulated and under-tested. The widespread public assumption that if a medical device is on the market, the FDA has found it safe and effective is just not so, writes Lenzer, an award-winning investigative health reporter: “The agency requires clinical testing for only a fraction of high-risk devices.”

Unlike with drugs, which are labeled, dated and tracked, there is no way to know how many people have devices implanted in their bodies, nor how many people have been injured or died: the technology is lacking. “Walmart tracks every single head of lettuce it buys and sells and can determine how many heads of lettuce are on its shelves at any given moment, yet no one––not the FDA, not Brookings, not anyone––can say how many people are dying because of implanted devices,” writes Lenzer. “It is a black hole.”

Yet despite the lax regulation and testing, the device industry …read more

Source: ALTERNET

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Income Inequality in the U.S. Is Even Worse Than You've Been Led to Believe

March 6, 2018 in Blogs

By Alex Henderson, AlterNet

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Data show the country is failing its lower and middle-income earners miserably.


The more the ultra-rich prosper, the less they're burdened with taxes, the greater the benefits for society as a whole. If you're familiar with Republican economic theory of the past 40 years, you've probably heard this line of reasoning. In fact, just the opposite is true.

Take it from the world's third richest man, Warren Buffett, who recently noted that between 1982 and 2017, “the wealth of the 400 [richest people in America] increased 29-fold—from $93 billion to $2.7 trillion—while many millions of hardworking citizens remained stuck on an economic treadmill. During this period, the tsunami of wealth didn’t trickle down. It surged upward.”

The reality is the United States is now home to some of the worst income inequality in the developed world, and thanks to the recent passage of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, this wealth gap will grow exponentially wider.

Lowering the corporate tax rate from 35 to 21 percent, the GOP’s massive overhaul of U.S. tax law exemplifies trickle-down economics at its worst. Trump supporters insist that corporations will generously share their gains with employees, but according to economist Robert Reich, “almost all the extra money is going into stock buybacks” rather than wage increases. Because the richest 10 percent now own 84 percent of stock shares in the U.S., he emphasizes, this will do little to nothing to improve the prospects of most Americans.

According to the firm Birinyi Associates, a record $170.8 billion worth of buybacks and counting have been announced since the president signed these tax cuts into law. Reich has denounced the legislation for creating greater inequality in a country that is already radically unequal.

In 2017, the World Bank’s Gini index, which measures inequality country by country, …read more

Source: ALTERNET

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How Slavery Became the Economic Engine of the South

March 6, 2018 in History

By Greg Timmons

Slaves leaving the fields with baskets of cotton. (Credit: Bettmann Archives/Getty Images)

With cash crops of tobacco, cotton and sugar cane, America’s southern states became the economic engine of the burgeoning nation. Their fuel of choice? Human slavery.

If the Confederacy had been a separate nation, it would have ranked as the fourth richest in the world at the start of the Civil War. The slave economy had been very good to American prosperity. By the start of the war, the South was producing 75 percent of the world’s cotton and creating more millionaires per capita in the Mississippi River valley than anywhere in the nation. Slaves represented Southern planters’ most significant investment—and the bulk of their wealth.

Slaves leaving the fields with baskets of cotton. (Credit: Bettmann Archives/Getty Images)

An Economy Built on Slavery
Building a commercial enterprise out of the wilderness required labor and lots of it. For much of the 1600s, the American colonies operated as agricultural economies, driven largely by indentured servitude. Most workers were poor, unemployed laborers from Europe who, like others, had traveled to North America for a new life. In exchange for their work, they received food and shelter, a rudimentary education and sometimes a trade.

By 1680, the British economy improved and more jobs became available in Britain. During this time, slavery had become a morally, legally and socially acceptable institution in the colonies. As the number of European laborers coming to the colonies dwindled, enslaving Africans became a commercial necessity—and more widely acceptable.

With ideal climate and available land, property owners in the southern colonies began establishing plantation farms for cash crops like rice, tobacco and sugar cane—enterprises that required increasing amounts of labor. To meet the need, wealthy planters turned to slave traders, who imported ever more human chattel to the colonies, the vast majority from West Africa. As more slaves were imported and an upsurge in slave fertility rates expanded the “inventory,” a new industry was born: the slave auction. These open markets where humans were inspected like animals and bought and sold to the highest bidder proved an increasingly lucrative enterprise. In the 17th century, slaves would fetch between five and ten dollars. But by the mid-19th century, an able-bodied slave fetched an average price between $1,200-$1,500.


Slave auction circa 1861. (Credit: API/Gamma-Rapho/Getty Images)

Economic Necessity Trumps Morality

Slave labor had become so entrenched in the Southern economy that nothing—not even the belief that all …read more

Source: HISTORY

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The Chancellor Shouldn’t Turn on the Spending Taps Just Yet

March 6, 2018 in Economics

By Ryan Bourne

Ryan Bourne

Better late than never, as they say.

New data shows that the Conservative government has finally hit
its original target to eliminate the £100bn day-to-day budget
deficit they inherited in 2010.

Sure, they got there three years later than planned. Former
chancellor George Osborne committed to eliminating this borrowing
(which excludes investment spending) by 2015. But as US politicians
start borrowing for fun once more, the UK’s achievement of
sustained deficit reduction over eight years should not be taken
for granted.

Job done? Some of the backslapping from Osborne’s acolytes
on Twitter has suggested so. Many prominent Brexiteers are also
keen to use EU exit to abandon “austerity
economics”.

But the chancellor Philip Hammond should resist calls from
colleagues to use better-than-expected receipts to turn on the
spending taps. The UK’s long-term public finance projections
are still awful. A prudent approach would instead prioritise
getting the debt-to-GDP ratio firmly on a downward path given its
current high level, known economic risks, and the headwinds of an
aging population.

Through hard choices and
political commitment, the UK has done most of the work in repairing
the recession-induced damage to the public finances.

Overall, government borrowing (including investment spending) is
now around two per cent of GDP.

This would be a perfectly manageable level in a normal world of
sustained growth and modest accumulated debt. The problem is the
financial crisis and its aftermath saw public debt balloon from
35.4 per cent of GDP in 2008 to 86.5 per cent today — far
higher than the 35 per cent average since 1975.

Such high debt levels make the UK finances vulnerable to
unforeseen events and slower-than-expected growth. They also create
a worrying baseline given future spending pressures. The Office for
Budget Responsibility projects that public debt will shoot up to
178 per cent of GDP in the next 40 years on unchanged policies, as
demands on the state pension, social care, and healthcare rise.

That our current financial position may be a little better than
we expected must be put in that context. Extra revenues allowing a
slightly faster debt-to-GDP ratio fall would be a small down
payment on this challenge.

Indeed, the Treasury’s own analysis suggests that overall
surpluses, including investment spending, are necessary to get debt
levels back to historic norms given likely shocks to the economy.
If we balance the books a few years earlier than forecast last
November (still much later than predicted in 2010), then all the
better.

Of course, we should not get carried away here. Even two months
ago, the Treasury did not expect this improvement in outlook. The
underlying public finances are constantly being assessed and
reassessed.

With Brexit on …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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How Trump's Team Has Turned Immigration into a Horror Story

March 6, 2018 in Blogs

By Arnold R. Isaacs, TomDispatch

The Trump administration misleads us about its own misleading data.


When you see an immigrant or a foreign visitor, especially from a Muslim country, should your first thought be that you might be looking at a possible terrorist?

Clearly, that’s how the Trump administration wants Americans to react.  It was the message in the president's first address to Congress a year ago last week when he declared that “the vast majority of individuals convicted of terrorism and terrorism-related offenses since 9/11 came here from outside of our country.” At that time, he urged that the U.S. immigration system be reshaped because “we cannot allow a beachhead of terrorism to form inside America.”

There's a misleading omission in Trump's formulation, though: homegrown fanatics have killed many more Americans on U.S. soil than foreign-born terrorists have. The disparity grows much wider if you include mass killings carried out not for any religious or ideological cause but (as we have recently been tragically reminded) by mentally troubled individuals. Indeed, in just two such shootings in the last five months in Las Vegas, Nevada, and Parkland, Florida, deranged shooters with assault rifles killed more than three times as many people as all foreign-born jihadists have killed in this country in the last 16 years.

Another key fact is missing, too: only a fairly small number of those “terror-related” convictions were for acts committed or planned in the United States. Many more involved support, in various forms, for terrorist activity in other countries.

Still, Trump and his associates have repeatedly declared that terrorists sneaking into the country through a too-lax immigration system are a pressing threat to public safety in the United States. That was, for instance, the administration's principal headline earlier this year when it released a report from the Justice and Homeland Security departments, which claimed that nearly three out of every four individuals convicted in international terror cases in U.S. federal courts from 9/11 through 2016 were foreign born — a total of 402, by their count. Announcing that report, Attorney General Jeff Sessions proclaimed that it highlighted the ways in which “our immigration system has undermined …read more

Source: ALTERNET