Category Archives: News

The US Needs a Steeply Progressive Tax Structure

A top tax rate that is essentially confiscatory forces the “captains” of the economy to think about how to turn corporate profit back into tax-exempt infrastructure, into solid business assets instead of diverting corporate profit into “retention” bonuses.

The lure of wrecking your business or even the national economy is strong if you can walk away with millions and get to keep it. We need to help folks avoid the temptation to enrich themselves at the expense of the larger community by instituting a top tax rate of 75 to 90%. There is much less interest in wrecking the corporation or national economy if the millions or billions you “earn” along the way are gobbled up by the tax man.

Michael Hitlik gets it. Read below.

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The belief that the wealthy are worthy is waning

Michael Hiltzik

The notion that the poor always will be with us has been ingrained in our culture ever since the sermons of Moses were set down by the anonymous author of Deuteronomy.
The financial crisis of the present day raises a rather different issue, however: What should we do about the rich?
A bit of history will be useful here. The original case for a progressive income tax — that is, one levied disproportionately on larger incomes — was based less on raising revenue for the state than breaking up concentrations of wealth, inherited and otherwise. The nation’s Founding Fathers considered these to be undemocratic — markers of “an aristocratic society, not a free and virtuous republic,” as the tax-law expert Dennis Ventry has written.
There’s also a social value in suppressing income inequality. In a country with only a slightly less ingrained tradition of civility than the United States, the AIG affair would provoke rioting in the streets.

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CO2 at 1000 ppm. This is the Disaster We Face if We Don’t Make Changes

MIT and the IPCC continue to measure and recalibrate global warming and as many of us have said for years, the rate of increase has been underestimated. There are feedback loops, saturation points, tipping points that will predominantly speed up the warming and the accumulation of greenhouse gases. This is an existential challenge.

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In the last two years, our scientific understanding of business-as-usual projections for global warming has changed dramatically (see “M.I.T. doubles its projection of global warming by 2100 to 5.1�C” and “Hadley Center projects 5-7�C warming by 2100“). Yet, much of the U.S. public — especially conservatives — remain in the dark about just how dire the situation is (see “Gallup poll shows catastrophic failure of media, conservatives still easily duped by deniers“).
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Why? Because the U.S. media is largely ignoring the story. Case in point: Where was the coverage of the Copenhagen Climate Science Congress, attended by 2000 scientists, which concluded with this Key Message #1:

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It’s Time to Investigate and Prosecute the Torturers

The Red Cross makes very clear what most of us already knew: the Bush administration tortured prisoners.

It doesn’t matter who was tortured or why. It doesn’t matter if the torturers want to claim that they saved lives through information gained through torture. What matters is that the United States has a legal commitment to prosecute torturers.

You want to make the United States a safer place? Show the rest of the world that we hold criminal conduct to account. This is not the stuff for a truth and reconciliation show, this is criminal conduct of the highest type.

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Red Cross report renews call for probe of Bush era

WASHINGTON (AFP) — A leaked Red Cross report on CIA “torture” of detainees offers fresh ammunition to demands that officials from the Bush administration be prosecuted for their conduct, rights groups have revealed.
The abuse described by the detainees, including being slammed into walls and deprived of sleep and solid food for days, “constituted torture,” the Red Cross document said.
As a signatory to the UN convention banning torture, the United States may be legally obliged to carry out a probe of former officials, Mendelson said.
“And there’s certainly enough evidence out there to warrant the appointment of an independent prosecutor to look into criminal responsibility for the torture of prisoners in CIA custody,” Jaffer said.
“I think there is enough evidence in the public domain to warrant a much more serious investigation than has been conducted thus far,” Jameel Jaffer, director of ACLU’s national security program, told AFP.

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Where and When are We Building the Seawall?

The melting of the icecaps is one part of this story and it’s a big part. The second part of rising sea level is that as the planet warms, oceans warm and warmer water expands slightly. It’s hard to imagine that slightly expanded water could raise sea level, but this is largely an ocean planet, so this slight expansion makes this more of an ocean planet.

The largest amount of sea level rise will be expected from glacial melt, especially melting of the Greenland and Antarctic caps. There is growing evidence that the melting of these critical ice caps is accelerating.

It is likely that there are tipping points in this melting process. One of these tipping points is that the melting water seeps down through the glacier, lubricates and speeds up the glacial flow in to the ocean. The sudden break-up of ice shelves is already documented.

This catastrophic sea level rise will likely happen faster than all predictions because the scientists are conservative in their predictions. This is not a political conservative-ism, it is scientific conservatism. Risk-takers in science, people willing to model aggressively will be wrong on occasion and that single aggressive error will end their scientific career. Most scientists get that.

NASA’s James Hansen is the voice of concerned climate scientists today. If President Obama really wants to deal with global warming, he can always appoint James Hansen to an important post in the administration and give his recommendations a lot of weight.

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A sinking feeling
Mar 11th 2009

From The Economist print edition

Sea levels are rising twice as fast as had been thought


SCIENCE and politics are inextricably linked. At a scientific conference on climate change held this week in Copenhagen, four environmental experts announced that sea levels appear to be rising almost twice as rapidly as had been forecast by the United Nations just two years ago. The warning is aimed at politicians who will meet in the same city in December to discuss the same subject and, perhaps, to thrash out an international agreement to counter it.
Konrad Steffen of the University of Colorado, Boulder, leads one study of the Greenland ice sheet. He told the conference that this sheet is melting not only because it is warmer but also because water seeping through its crevices is breaking it up. This effect had been neglected in the earlier report.

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Drug Decriminalization has Worked in Portugal

Hat tip to the always solid Glenn Greenwald for bringing this story and report forward.

It’s time for the US and other countries to recognize that the criminalization of drugs is not the best path to dealing with drug abuse and addiction.

The Obama administration has nominated Gil Kerlikowske, former Seattle Police Chief to head the drug team. Gil is a very good choice. He is a pragmatist. We can hope that he will listen carefully and study the path that Portugal is following.

Mexico and the US need to develop a joint policy regarding drugs. The US drug criminalization policies have created a warlord/druglord environment in Mexico. We have two countries suffering from this stupid approach.

And yes, a joint policy has multiple meanings. All intended.

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Drug Decriminalization in Portugal

In 2001, Portugal began a remarkable policy experiment, decriminalizing all drugs, including cocaine and heroin. Some predicted disastrous results—that drug addiction rates would soar and the country would become a haven for “drug tourists.” Now that several years have passed, policy experts can study the results. In a new paper for the Cato Institute, attorney and author Glenn Greenwald closely examines the Portugal experiment and concludes that the doomsayers were wrong. There is now a widespread consensus in Portugal that decriminalization has been a success. The debate in Portugal has shifted rather dramatically to minor adjustments in the existing arrangement. There is no real debate about whether drugs should once again be criminalized. Join us for a discussion about Glenn Greenwald’s field research in Portugal and what lessons his findings may hold for drug policies in other countries.

Committed to Individual Liberty, Free Markets, and Peace

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Who you gonna call? Trust-Busters!

David Ignatius is absolutely right to be recalling Teddy Roosevelt’s willingness to confront powerful economic interests with the power of the Federal Government to go after trusts and monopolies.

Let’s hope that Mr. Obama and Mr. Geithner are listening. It may be a little tough for Mr. Geithner to really get this message because he is deeply entwined in the very institutions that need to be confronted. Still, hope springs eternal and it is possible that Tim will recognize his responsibilities instead of his origins and potential benefactors.

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The Right Roosevelt?

By David Ignatius

Thursday, March 5, 2009;
Page A19

There has been a lot of speculation about whether Barack Obama can be another Roosevelt, but I wonder if we’re talking about the right Roosevelt. In fixing the financial crisis, Obama could use a little less of FDR’s affection for economic giantism and a little more of TR’s zeal for trust-busting.

A case study for today’s regulators is President Theodore Roosevelt’s response to the financial shenanigans of 1902, when the railroad barons tried to combine the Great Northern and Northern Pacific lines into a huge holding company called Northern Securities Co. Roosevelt wanted to file an antitrust suit to stop the deal. The financiers threatened that the lawsuit would cause a panic on Wall Street, to which TR’s attorney general, Philander G. Knox, memorably replied: “There is no stock ticker at the Department of Justice.”

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Monoculture Agriculture Creates Risks

Human beings on this planet may not have a choice about the dominant form of agriculture that feeds us. 6 billion people are difficult to feed with anything other than industrial style, monoculture agricultural processes.

But one of the weaknesses of planting acres of the same plant is that a single pathogen can wipe out large fields of crops in a very short time. The weakness of spraying with chemicals to suppress pathogens is too obvious to discuss. The natural and low cost solution is multiple crop plantings, but you don’t see much of that from industrial agriculture.

We face several threats to the world’s food supply. One is a push to turn a food supply into a fuel supply in the form of biofuels, another is the possibility of monoculture crop failure from new resistant forms of crop pathogens. This report from Kenya covers a resurgence of an old threat to wheat crops: stem rust.  For more information on stem rust, try this site.

There is strength in diversity. This is a biological truth.

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In the Wheat Fields of Kenya, a Budding Epidemic

Stem Rust, Vanquished by Science Five Decades Ago, Has Returned in a Destructive New Form

By Sharon Schmickle

Special to The Washington Post
Wednesday, February 18, 2009;
Page A08

GREAT RIFT VALLEY, Kenya — A virulent new version of a deadly fungus is ravaging wheat in Kenya’s most fertile fields and spreading beyond Africa to threaten one of the world’s principal food crops, according to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization.

Geoff Nightingale, who farms 1,350 acres with his son in Kenya's Great Rift Valley, was able to afford fungicides to spray on his crops. Still, he said, the yields were

“This is a dangerous problem because a good share of the world’s area sown to wheat is susceptible to it,” Borlaug said. “It has immense destructive potential.”

Coming on the heels of grain scarcity and food riots last year, the budding epidemic exposes the fragility of the food supply in poor countries. It is also a reminder of how vulnerable the ever-growing global population is to the pathogens that inevitably surface somewhere on the planet.

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