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The Fed Is on the Verge of Making a Major Policy Error

March 20, 2018 in Blogs

By Marshall Auerback, AlterNet

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Policymakers have helped to perpetuate an economic model that is ultimately unsustainable.


We recently learned that “Total nonfarm payroll employment increased by 313,000 in February” in the U.S., according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics—which, when combined with the ostensibly big fiscal policy stimulus introduced in February, would seem to justify the Federal Reserve’s increasingly hawkish outlook on interest rate rises.

The Fed, newly led by Jerome Powell, looks set to hike rates as early as this Wednesday. Yet there is a lingering sense that the current strength in the U.S. economy is more apparent than real. The employment data is not as strong as it looks on the surface, nor is fiscal policy as stimulatory as has been commonly assumed. Hence, the country’s monetary authorities might well be on the way to making a serious policy error that could abort the economy’s momentum, just as some of the non-1% are finally beginning to experience tangible gains from the recovery.

Let’s break these points down in a bit more detail. First, last month’s “blow-out” employment number: On the face of it, the employment situation report is anomalous. We saw a huge jump in goods producing (100K), mostly construction (+61K). But in the service jobs sector, 124K of the 187K of jobs created were in low-wage/low-hours sectors (retail, admin/waste, leisure, and health care). That would largely help to explain why, in spite of such an ostensibly large gain in the nonfarm payrolls, wage gains remained virtually unchanged, with hourly earnings actually coming in below expectations (in other words, a surprisingly tepid number relative to the overall growth in jobs in February). And even as we are adding higher-wage construction and manufacturing jobs, the overall constellation of the data implies a continuation of change …read more

Source: ALTERNET

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How Dwight Eisenhower Found God in the White House

March 20, 2018 in History

By William I. Hitchcock

Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, President Eisenhower, Postmaster General Arthur Summerfield and Dr. Roy G. Ross of the National Council of Churches shown at a Post Office Department ceremony introducing the nation's first regular stamp bearing a religious significance with the inscription ‘In God We Trust.' (Credit: Bettmann Archives/Getty Images)

After his death, the Reverend Billy Graham became just the fourth private citizen in American history to lie in honor in the Capitol Rotunda, a recognition usually reserved for elected officials and military leaders. As spiritual counsel to a dozen presidents, Graham was emblematic of the mutually beneficial relationship between politicians and religious groups.

The close bond between Christianity—evangelical Protestantism, in particular—and the American presidency began to form in the 1950s. That decade was a time of extraordinary religious revival: Church membership rose from 49 percent of Americans in 1940 to 69 percent in 1960. And President Dwight D. Eisenhower—along with Graham—played an important part in encouraging this spiritual devotion. In fact, Eisenhower played a very personal role in popularizing religious faith in America.

On February 1, 1953, just 10 days after his inauguration, Eisenhower was baptized and welcomed into the National Presbyterian Church by the Rev. Edward Elson. Eisenhower remains the only president ever to have been baptized while in office, and his work to link faith and American identity has influenced political debate in the country for half a century since.

Eisenhower’s life was undeniably shaped by his religious faith. His parents, David and Ida, were members of the River Brethren church in Abilene, Kansas, an off-shoot of the Mennonite faith. Ike’s family life revolved around work and Bible study. “Everybody I knew went to church,” Eisenhower remembered in At Ease, a collection of essays about his early life. In the evenings, the family gathered in the small living room to listen as David read out loud from the family Bible. Later in life, Ida and David both became Jehovah’s Witnesses—a sect devoted to Bible study, evangelism, and pacifism.

Because the Mennonites did not practice infant baptism, Eisenhower did not formally belong to any religious community. Upon taking office as the 34th president, Eisenhower felt this should change. He quietly approached the National Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C., the denomination to which his wife, Mamie, belonged, and was baptized there at the age of 62.

Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, President Eisenhower, Postmaster General Arthur Summerfield and Dr. Roy G. Ross of the National Council of Churches shown at a Post Office Department ceremony introducing the nation’s first regular stamp bearing a religious significance with the inscription ‘In God We Trust.’ (Credit: Bettmann Archives/Getty Images)

Though the baptism ceremony itself was private, Eisenhower made every effort to …read more

Source: HISTORY

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Cambridge Analytica Is Proud That It Swayed and Corrupted Elections Across the Globe

March 20, 2018 in Blogs

By Mehreen Kasana, AlterNet

It would be a dangerous mistake to assume that the United States was the data analytics firm’s only target.


Cambridge Analytica, a data analytics firm based in the United Kingdom, has been a topic of heated debate in data science for a while. Now the consulting firm has gained a fresh wave of heightened notoriety after one of its previous employees accused the data company of meddling with and manipulating millions of Facebook users’ personal data in the United States—allegedly for Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. Christopher Wylie, who once worked for the company, told The Guardian in an explosive interview that he inadvertently created former White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon's “psychological warfare mindf*** tool” while working at the firm.

Both Facebook and Cambridge Analytica have denied Wylie’s allegations of deliberate misconduct but the contentious subject of social media for political messaging continues. In that vein, it would be an egregious mistake to overlook Cambridge Analytica’s partner company, known as SCL, or Strategic Communication Laboratories. A brief glimpse into the group’s recent history and client portfolio may reveal a significant deal about its ideology and objectives.

In spite of boasting global operations in “over 60 countries” on its website, the SCL group keeps its media presence bare and minimal. Its homepage declares that it uses data, analytics, communication, and behavioral assessment to send commercial and political messages in different countries in order to secure its clients’ goals, whatever they may be. The group’s targeted countries range from Colombia, Thailand, India, Kenya, Ukraine, Italy, Trinidad and Tobago to Albania, Romania, Taiwan, Indonesia, Pakistan, and beyond. On top of that, the group is unquestionably proud of its portfolio and says that it uses “techniques from data mining, statics and artificial intelligence” to “accurately forecast how people will behave.”

SCL's ties with the United States become clear by way of communication between some of the country’s powerful and conservative PACs and its partner, Cambridge Analytica. One of the top conservative PACs known as Make America Number 1 receives mosts of its financing from right-wing billionaire Robert Mercer, …read more

Source: ALTERNET

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A Private Mercenary Firm Is Making Millions Off Tragedy in Houston, Puerto Rico and Standing Rock

March 20, 2018 in Blogs

By Mehreen Kasana, AlterNet

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The company has bullied protesters and profited off recent hurricanes.


The practice of governments and security firms conducting wide-scale exploitation of major disasters, natural and otherwise, is nothing new. Last week, the Intercept reported on TigerSwan, a mercenary security firm that follows a similar disaster-capitalist model and has attacked the No Dakota Access Pipeline (NoDAPL) movement since 2016, at least. But that’s not all: TigerSwan has also been preying on relief needs in hurricane-hit areas like Houston and Puerto Rico since 2017.

So far, the mercenary firm keeps its media presence at a minimum level, attracting little attention from the press. This makes sense considering the depth and scale of its massive military-style operations, including suppressing anti-pipeline activists by infiltrating activist groups with informants, surveilling the movement and calling on law enforcement agencies to suppress activist organizing.

In spite of how shadowy the firm may sound, TigerSwan has the approval of the United States government. TigerSwan contracts with the U.S. military and the state department to offer its services to Energy Transfer Partners, the company behind the Dakota Access pipeline. In May 2017, the Intercept published leaked internal documents from the firm in which TigerSwan officials likened NoDAPL activists to “jihadists” and called the movement an “ideologically driven insurgency with a strong religious component.” Calling for a combined strategy of increased surveillance and security, the TigerSwan documents concluded that in order to suppress NoDAPL, the firm would need “aggressive intelligence preparation of the battlefield and active coordination between intelligence and security elements.”

Tara Houska, who directs campaigns for Honor the Earth, told Democracy Now! in May 2017 that TigerSwan's deliberate mischaracterization of the NoDAPL movement carries dangerous implications for activists. “The movement was 'Water is life,'” Houska said. By drawing false …read more

Source: ALTERNET

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Trump Unchained: After McCabe Firing, He Thinks He Can Do Whatever He Wants

March 20, 2018 in Blogs

By Heather Digby Parton, Salon

Trump’s puerile assault on McCabe suggests he’s feeling a rush of power—and road-testing a Mueller firing.


Attorney General Jeff Sessions fired FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe over the weekend, and President Trump couldn't have been more thrilled. In a characteristic display of puerile mendacity, he tweeted out his glee for the world to see:

These tweets were so full of lies that they required a full fact check by The Washington Post's Glenn Kessler. The short version? The investigation started well before there was a Steele dossier, after one of Trump's national security advisers got drunk and spilled to an Australian diplomat that the Russians claimed to have dirt on Hillary Clinton. There's no reason …read more

Source: ALTERNET

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Could Male Birth Control Finally Be On the Way?

March 20, 2018 in History

By Becky Little

Doctor Gregory Pinchus, 1966. (Credit:  Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images)

The modern birth control pill was conceived in 1950. That year, Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood, asked a doctor named Gregory Pincus to develop an oral contraceptive for women. Pincus succeeded very quickly: He released a contraceptive pill in 1957 as “Enovid,” a menstrual regulator with a “side effect” of preventing pregnancy, and the drug was approved for sale as birth control in 1960.

Pincus also looked into the possibility of hormone-based birth control for men the same year that “Enovid” came out, but he didn’t get very far.

Since then, no one else has gotten very far either. Scientists began testing hormone-based contraception on men in the 1970s, with pills that used testosterone or a combination of testosterone and progestin (the latter is used in the female pill, too). So far, the most promising hormone-based contraceptive is a daily pill called dimethandrolone undecanoate (DMAU), which delivered encouraging results in a recent four-week trial. But researchers are also testing non-hormone options like … poison.

The University of Minnesota is currently experimenting with a non-toxic form of ouabain, a plant extract that is typically extremely poisonous. Before it became an option for male birth control, ouabain was used by African hunters on the tips of their arrows to stop the hearts of their prey—but we won’t know how effective it is for quite a while.

Doctor Gregory Pinchus, 1966. (Credit: Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images)

It wasn’t easy for Sanger, Pincus, and their colleagues to develop an effective contraceptive for women in just ten years. Quite often, their methods weren’t safe or ethical, either. As journalist Jonathan Eig recounts in his book, The Birth of the Pill (soon to be a TV drama), Pincus tested the drug on Puerto Rican women who may or may not have been aware that they were participating in a trial. Still, over 50 years have passed since the pill for women came out—so why haven’t we figured out how to make one for men?

In the beginning, there may have simply been too little interest. Eig points out that Sanger and Katherine McCormick, the pill’s financial backer, weren’t very motivated to develop  a version for men.

“I think the key for Sanger, in particular, and McCormick was that they couldn’t trust men,” Eig told National Geographic in a 2014 interview. “They felt like …read more

Source: HISTORY

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While Everyone Focuses on Opioids, Meth-Related Deaths Are on the Rise

March 20, 2018 in Economics

By Jeffrey A. Singer

Jeffrey A. Singer

Speaking to an audience in New Hampshire this week, President
Trump announced a redoubling of the nation’s efforts to
confront the opioid overdose crisis plaguing the country. Lost in
all of the anguish over rising deaths from heroin and fentanyl is
the fact that a “golden oldie” for substance abusers is
making a comeback.

In February, the Oregon Health Authority
reported
methamphetamine-related deaths in 2016 exceeded those
during the peak of the meth crisis of the early 2000s. The deaths
attributed to methamphetamine rose from 51 in 2012 to 141 in 2016.
By
comparison
, deaths in Oregon from heroin and fentanyl overdoses
dropped during that same period.

The surge in methamphetamine-related deaths is not unique to
Oregon. It has been an under-reported phenomenon affecting the

entire

country
for several years now. This should surprise no one.
Prohibition never shuts down a market for a substance or activity.
It merely drives it underground and makes it more dangerous in the
process. The war on meth is merely one of many fronts on which the
larger war on drugs is being waged.

Meth’s comeback shows why
waging a war on drugs is like playing a game of
“Whack-a-Mole.”

Methamphetamine, or desoxyn, occasionally used to treat
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, narcolepsy, and obesity,
has been around since the early 20th century. It became a target in
the war on drugs in 1971.

By the 1960s, it became popular for recreational and other
nonmedical uses. In 1971, after President Richard Nixon declared a
war on drugs and Congress passed the Controlled Substances Act,
methamphetamine was classified as a Schedule II drug. Nonmedical
use was made illegal. This created a new market for illegal drug
dealers. Meth labs, using the popular and effective nasal
decongestant Sudafed as an ingredient, sprang up throughout the
U.S. and Mexico. As is usually the case with drug prohibition,

more potent
forms of the drug were developed and
trafficked.


Responding
to the surge in meth-related deaths, Congress next
passed the Combat Methamphetamine Act in 2005. This made Sudafed
only available “behind the counter,” with customers
limited to only 7.5 grams per month. Pharmacies were required to
track sales. Some states, such as Oregon and Mississippi, went even
further, making the drug available only by prescription. Meanwhile,
Drug Enforcement Administration teams combed the country in search
of meth labs to attack.

This interruption in the supply chain led to a temporary drop in
meth deaths. But the disappearance of domestic meth labs also
created a vacuum quickly filled by Mexican cartels. And when the
Mexican government cracked down on …read more

Source: OP-EDS