Another great book that is going on my Kindle queue is Maggie Koerth-Baker’s Before the Lights Go Out: Conquering the Energy Crisis Before it Conquers Us. I am so ridiculously excited to see someone talking about the real costs of fossil fuels, including health and environmental costs. Anyway, another fine author interview on Grist. Yay!
Category Archives: economy
Paul Krugman has a must-read piece up on the influence of the shadowy corporate-sponsored group, American Legislative Exchange Council (“ALEC”), on state legislatures.
For one thing, the “shoot first, avoid arrest” bill that has allowed Trayvon Martin’s killer to avoid charges was drafted by ALEC. ALEC has also provided multiple state legislatures with voter ID bills intended to suppress the votes of minorities, the poor, and the elderly. It should be a surprise to no one that many members of ALEC are the corporations that are bring us the privatized prison-industrial complex, and who are also bringing us privatized, for-profit schools that are bringing profits to its members at the expense of actual education.
We are looking at a very, very bleak future for the vast majority of our citizens if ALEC continues to write our state’s laws unchecked.
Washingtons blog has a somewhat terrifying article up about our exposure to chemical toxins, and how it may be a major contributing factor to the obesity epidemic. Many of the chemical toxins contained in plastics and other common household products act as endocrine disruptors in the human body, and can have permanent effects on how our bodies regulate weight.
From the article:
Consumption of the widely used food additive monosodium glutamate (MSG) has been linked to obesity.
Pthalates – commonly used in many plastics – have been linked to obesity. See this and this. So has achemical used to make Teflon, stain-resistant carpets and other products.
Most of the meat we eat these days contains estrogen, antibiotics and powerful chemicals which change hormone levels. Modern corn-fed beef also contains much higher levels of saturated fat than grass-fed beef. So the meat we are eating is also making us fat.
Arsenic may also be linked with obesity, via it’s effect on the thyroid gland. Arsenic is often fed to chickens and pigs to fatten them up, and we end up ingesting it on our dinner plate. It’s ending up inother foods as well.
A lot of endocrine-disrupting pharmaceuticals and medications are also ending up in tap water.
Moreover, the National Research Council has found:
The effects of fluoride on various aspects of endocrine function should be examined further, particularly with respect to a possible role in the development of several diseases or mental states in the United States.
Some hypothesize that too much fluoride affects the thyroid gland, which may in turn lead to weight gain.
The Grist has a nice article up responding to last month’s news that the world’s population was on the cusp of hitting the 7 billion mark. Beginning with that fact as a starting point, the authors address the question of whether a population of 7 billion has any significant impact on the environment, or if our environmental crises actually have another cause. The article points out the following:
But most of the 7 billion are not endangering the earth. The majority of the world’s people don’t destroy forests, don’t wipe out endangered species, don’t pollute rivers and oceans, and emit essentially no greenhouse gases.
Even in the rich countries of the Global North, most environmental destruction is caused not by individuals or households, but by mines, factories, and power plants run by corporations that care more about profit than about humanity’s survival.
No reduction in U.S. population would have stopped BP from poisoning the Gulf of Mexico last year.
Lower birthrates won’t shut down Canada’s tar sands, which Bill McKibben has justly called one of the most staggering crimes the world has ever seen.
Universal access to birth control should be a fundamental human right — but it would not have prevented Shell’s massive destruction of ecosystems in the Niger River delta, or the immeasurable damage that Chevron has caused to rainforests in Ecuador.
And going back to a subject that is near and dear to my heart, they address the fact that the environmental damage caused by unregulated corporate exploitation has an enormous cost, which goes unpaid by the corporate criminals. The burden, rather, falls on the shoulders of the public and on government.
In the United States, the richest 1% own a majority of all stocks and corporate equity, giving them absolute control of the corporations that are directly responsible for most environmental destruction.
A recent reportprepared by the British consulting firm Trucost for the United Nations found that just 3,000 corporations cause $2.15 trillion in environmental damage every year. Outrageous as that figure is — only six countries have a GDP greater than $2.15 trillion — it substantially understates the damage, because it excludes costs that would result from “potential high impact events such as fishery or ecosystem collapse,” and “external costs caused by product use and disposal, as well as companies’ use of other natural resources and release of further pollutants through their operations and suppliers.”
So in the case of oil companies, the figure covers “normal operations,” but not deaths and destruction caused by global warming, not damage caused by worldwide use of its products, and not the multi-billions of dollars in costs to clean up oil spills. The real damage those companies alone do is much greater than $2.15 trillion, every single year.
Every day, everywhere, the public bears the burdens of corporate costs of doing business, while the “profits” from these actions go directly to the top. There is a popular right wing myth that all that money represents the fruits of hard work and success. That is a gigantic lie. That money represents the costs that we are all paying with our health and our environment. Never forget it.
There’s a nifty new meme floating around out there about the alleged “costs” to taxpayers because of the Occupy Wall Street protests occurring in cities and towns across the country. I won’t link to any of the stories, but do a google news search with the key terms, and you’ll see a fairly coordinated effort in both local and national news to paint the occupiers as costing taxpayers more and more every day that they occupy public spaces.
The costs, in larger economic terms, are actually fairly minimal, and I don’t dispute that they are occurring. On the other hand, I find it fascinating that the meme is gaining traction with the conservative set. This is for a couple of reasons.
First, this is classic concern troll behavior, where the trolls profess to have some sympathy for the goals of the protesters, but then say that the protesters are simply going about it all wrong, and what they need to do is simply stop doing what they’re doing.
Second, it is screamingly frustrating that none of the voices of “concern” over costs to the taxpayers appear to have any concern about the costs imposed on taxpayers by big business, Wall Street, corporations. Or, the 1%, for shorthand. As I discussed in an earlier post on the topic, the alleged earned “profit” by the 1% is just another word for robbery. The obscene amounts of money being pocketed by the 1% is outright theft, and it is made possible by the fact that our government is bought and paid for, and that the 1% has effectively externalized all normal costs of doing business onto the public and the government.
And finally, where is the outrage by the trolls over the costs of corporate-sponsered consumerism? Believe it or not, “Black Friday” sales have already cost people their lives. There is a pretense out there on the part of the anti-OWS crowd that they’re just concerned about law and order, and they fear the impact of a small criminal element inside the movement. This is bullshit. As a society, we are obviously comfortable with the idea that Black Friday sales crowds are going to trample people, including pregnant women, cause property damage, and shoot each other. This barely makes a splash in the national or local news, and then we go on about our business.
No, it’s the OWS message that’s the problem, and the 1% will do whatever they can to shut it down. Including hiring high-priced lobbyists to push negative messages about the movement. I think we can expect to see a lot more of this.
Updated to add:
You know, after thinking this over a little more, I think we should consider the additional costs to be a victory of sorts for OWS. If local park districts and police departments have to hire a few more people, or pay their regulars a little overtime to deal with this, that’s great. It puts a little more money back in the hands of the people who need it.
Rep. Joe Walsh (R)idiculous believes that screaming at his constituents makes his lies more plausible
I have been too busy at work for the past several days to fiddle around on my little playground here, but I saw this awesome video of deadbeat dad Joe Walsh screeching like a harpy at his constituents at a townhall, and wanted to share.
Now obviously, the notion that “too much regulation” caused the banks to run around making bad no doc or low doc loans is just moronic on its face. Based on the sheer volume of Joe’s response to a constituent who apparently suggests otherwise, Joe knows this is true.
Yesterday the WaPo published an article about a November report authored by members of Citizens for Tax Justice and the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy. The authors took an in-depth look at the extent to which corporations dodge their tax burden in the United States.
The authors examined the finances of 280 corporations from 2008 through 2010 and found that 30 paid zero taxes or used loopholes to wind up with negative tax rates. Local utility Pepco Holdings paid the lowest rate of all the firms investigated, clocking in at nearly minus 58 percent.
Under the federal tax code, corporations are supposed to pay 35 percent of their profits in taxes. But the study found many of the companies used legal tax breaks that allowed them to pay lower rates than ordinary Americans.
Of course, the corporate PR departments are pushing back, issuing statements that they are complying with all legal requirements with regard to taxes. Yeah, no shit, that’s part of the problem. They are legally allowed to escape much of their tax burdens, and even receive refunds, due to the multiple legal escape hatches and loopholes. The fact that it’s legal don’t make it right, son.
So, weirdly enough, I read this article in conjunction with Matt Taibbi’s blog entry in Rolling Stone, on NY Mayor Bloomberg’s “Marie Antoinette” moment. This is where, when asked about what he thought of the Occupy Wall Street movement, Bloomberg suddenly started channeling Rush Limbaugh, and said:
“I hear your complaints,” Bloomberg said. “Some of them are totally unfounded. It was not the banks that created the mortgage crisis. It was, plain and simple, congress who forced everybody to go and give mortgages to people who were on the cusp. Now, I’m not saying I’m sure that was terrible policy, because a lot of those people who got homes still have them and they wouldn’t have gotten them without that.”
Taibbi, of course, is not about to let that slide.
This whole notion that the financial crisis was caused by government attempts to create an “ownership society” and make mortgages more available to low-income (and particularly minority) borrowers has been pushed for some time by dingbats like Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity, who often point to laws like the 1977 Community Reinvestment Act as signature events in the crash drama.
In fact, just the opposite was true. This was an orgiastic stampede of lending, undertaken with something very like bloodlust. Far from being dragged into poor neighborhoods and forced to give out home loans to jobless black folk, companies like Countrywide and New Century charged into suburbs and exurbs from coast to coast with the enthusiasm of Rwandan machete mobs, looking to create as many loans as they could.
They lent to anyone with a pulse and they didn’t need Barney Frank to give them a push. This was not social policy. This was greed. They created those loans not because they had to, but because it was profitable. Enormously, gigantically profitable — profitable enough to create huge fortunes out of thin air, with a speed never seen before in Wall Street’s history.
The typical money-machine cycle of subprime lending took place without any real government involvement. Bank A (let’s say it’s Goldman, Sachs) lends criminal enterprise B (let’s say it’s Countrywide) a billion dollars. Countrywide then goes out and creates a billion dollars of shoddy home loans, committing any and all kinds of fraud along the way in an effort to produce as many loans as quickly as possible, very often putting people who shouldn’t have gotten homes into homes, faking their income levels, their credit scores, etc.
Anyway, the wingnut nonsense about poor people being to blame for their own poverty aside, the comparison to Marie Antoinette’s infamous moment of cluelessness got me thinking about the French revolution, and I went to the trusty online halls of Wikipedia to take a quick look. In the course of cruising around various articles on the topic, it became clear that (and I am obviously simplifying greatly here) France in the 1780’s looked very similar to us now. Inordinate tax burdens on the poor and middle class, while the rich and well connected avoid taxes altogether, and in many instances siphon off resources, an extraordinary national debt as a result of massive expenditures on war and on luxuries for the wealthy, and an utter obliviousness on the part of the wealthy and powerful as to the extent of the suffering going on around them.
You know what would be nice? If we managed to gain needed reforms without crisis. I don’t hold out much hope though.
So today Obama gave a speech at Georgetown Waterfront Park, in which he ripped on Republicans, rightfully, for their obstruction in passing legislation that would actually aid our economy and get people back to work. In this speech, he said the following:
The country’s aging infrastructure, the president said, is costing Americans $130 billion annually, which amounts to “a tax on our businesses … a tax on our consumers.” Those dollars are “coming out of your pocket” and are “a drag on our overall economy.”
This is exactly the sort of thing that I was thinking about when I wrote the profit post below, although from a slightly different perspective. Our crap infrastructure imposes costs on the public, in terms of bad traffic, damage to vehicles from bad roads, and an unfair tax burden for maintenance and repair. Granted that having roads and bridges is a benefit to everyone who uses them, corporate employers are major beneficiaries of the pipelines that get their employees to work. Why are they not paying an appropriate tax to help maintain a system that they ultimately benefit from?
This is very good news. A federal judge for Florida’s Middle District, Mary Scriven, issued a temporary injunction against Florida’s unconstitutional mandatory drug-testing-for-welfare-benefits law.
In the order, she noted that the law likely violates the Fourth Amendment ban against illegal search and seizure. The ACLU brought suit on behalf of a 35 year old Navy veteran who refused to take the test, because the state had no reason to suspect that he was using drugs.
Lebron met all the criteria for receiving welfare, but refused to submit to a drug test on the grounds that requiring him to pay for and submit to one is unreasonable when there is no reason to believe he uses drugs.
Gov. Rick Scott, who signed the measure into law on May 31, touted it as a way to ensure taxpayer money isn’t “wasted” on those who use drugs. “Hopefully more people will focus on not using illegal drugs,” he said then.
But, in her order, Scriven issued a scathing assessment of the state’s argument in favor of the drug tests, saying the state failed to prove “special needs” as to why it should conduct such searches without probable cause or reasonable suspicion, as the law requires.
“If invoking an interest in preventing public funds from potentially being used to fund drug use were the only requirement to establish a special need,” Scriven wrote, “the state could impose drug testing as an eligibility requirement for every beneficiary of every government program. Such blanket intrusions cannot be countenanced under the Fourth Amendment.”
Other information of interest in the article is that out of over 7000 applicants, only 32 have failed the test, although 1600 have refused to take it at all. The amount of the benefit that taking this test qualifies you for is $180/month for one person, or $364/month for a family of four. The tests cost $25-$45, and the cost is reimbursed by the state if you pass.
Obviously, this was never about saving money. It’s all about criminalizing and scapegoating poverty.
Some dude had his right-wing propaganda piece published in the Chicago Tribune today, all about how he had a chat with one of the Chicago Occupy Wallstreet folks, and totally convinced them that government is the problem, not the solution, and that multinational corporations totally had nothing to do with our current crap economy.
You know, Paul Krugman, Matt Taibbi, and others do a much better job of addressing that argument than I can. What I want to focus on is this line:
I asked what it is they were upset with and why were they vilifying corporations, noting that their umbrellas, cardboard signs and the ink used to write their anti-corporation messages all were made by corporations.
GAHHHH!! I can’t tell you how tired I am of this smug, ignorant, non-argument. It gets trotted out constantly, the “how can you possibly criticize corporations, when you are garbed in corporate attire, and use corporation-made tools?” And “if we don’t let corporations make obscene profits at the expense of workers, infrastructure, and the environment, then they have no incentive to invent new stuff!”
Really? Because first of all, you know it’s totally possible for me, in a world where large, multinational corporate interests control the means of production, to handmake all that shit in my basement. Yeah, I totally know a bunch of small business owners who are able to run paper mills and make umbrellas at a cost that can compete with a corporate factory in Mexico where they can employ 8 year olds for a dime a day and dump all their toxic waste into the groundwater without having to treat it first.
And second, yeah, humans would totally never have invented the wheel if there hadn’t been a profit in it.
Fuck you, John Tillman of the Illinois Policy Institute. You lie when you say you’re an advocate of a free market. There is nothing free about our current market conditions.