All posts by Mad Hemingway

How to “Stop the Violence”: March Up the Steps of the Traders Who Pay No Sales Tax

Paul Buchheit | September 19 2016 | Common Dreams

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A demonstration in favor of a financial transaction tax, also known as a Robin Hood Tax. (Photo: RobinHoodTax/cc/flickr)

The rallies in Chicago and around the country evoke passion and sympathy from most of us, but just a shrug of the shoulders from those ultimately responsible for the carnage on our streets. These are the leaders of finance who use our infrastructure, technology, security, law, location, and especially our people to make billions in profits while paying almost nothing in return.

Especially the securities traders. An impoverished mother pays up to 10% in sales tax when she buys shoes for her kids, but the customers of companies with a quadrillion dollars in sales pay ZERO SALES TAX. Quadrillion sounds like gazillion, but it’s a real number — a thousand trillion, about four times the value of all the world’s wealth.

The protesting mothers are angry at the people who are killing their children. Much of that anger should be directed at the financial districts of New York and Chicago.

The Shame of Chicago

With a quadrillion dollars in sales and the collection of transfer fees, contract fees, brokerage fees, Globex fees, clearing fees, and surcharges, the Chicago Mercantile Exchange achieved a profit margin (54%) higher than any of the top 100 companies in the nation from 2008 to 2010, and in recent years it’s risen to nearly 60%.

Despite being the most profitable big firm, CME complained that its taxes were too high, and they demanded and received an $85 million tax break from the State of Illinois.

Meanwhile, Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner has cut funding for funerals, AIDS programs, “Meals on Wheels” for seniors, and programs for at-risk youth.

The Farce in New York

The good news is that New York has a financial transaction tax. The bad news is that as soon as the tax is paid, it’s given back. That can only happen in the “strange world of taxes,” according to the New York Times, which also admits that the financial transaction tax “is an idea whose time has finally come.”

Continue reading How to “Stop the Violence”: March Up the Steps of the Traders Who Pay No Sales Tax

Don’t Celebrate Just Yet: Median Household Income In a 20-Year Decline

Naked Capitalism | September 18 2016

Lambert here: Campaign-driven happy talk about the US Census income figures has been debunked remarkably fast. Here Richard D. Wolff does a thorough demolition.

Richard D. Wolff is a Professor of Economics Emeritus at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and currently a Visiting Professor of the Graduate Program in International Affairs at the New School University in New York. He is the author of many books, including Democracy at Work: A Cure or Capitalism, and Imagine: Living in a Socialist USA. Originally published at The Real News Network.

DHARNA NOOR, TRNN: Welcome to the Real News Network. I’m Dharna Noor.

New statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau has raised hopes that the economy is finally recovering from the 2008 crash. The figures released on Tuesday show that the US median household income has gone up by 5.2% between 2014 and 2015, putting it at $56,516. They also showed a 1.2% decrease in the official poverty rate. These figures are being hailed as a victory for the American middle class but are average Americans really benefiting?

Joining us from New York City to discuss this is Richard D. Wolff. Richard is a Professor of Economics Emeritus at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and currently a visiting professor of the graduate program in international affairs at the New School University in New York. His latest book is Capitalism’s Crisis Deepens. Thanks for joining us today, Rick.

RICHARD WOLFF: Thank you for inviting me.

NOOR: Now Rick, some commentators like the New York Times’ Neil Irwin are saying that these new figures mark the first time in years that the U.S. economic expansion has helped the middle class rather than just the super-rich, and you, too, have pointed out in recent years that economic growth has really only been benefiting the 1%. Does this new Census Bureau report mark a shift away from that trend?

WOLFF: Absolutely not. Let’s remember, in order to understand what happens, say, to the middle class, or to any large group of people, your span of attention has to be more than one year. Things bounce around in a capitalistic economy because of its instabilities, because of the contradictions that are besetting it always. So a few months, a year or two, never explain anything. You have to have a longer vision.

Continue reading Don’t Celebrate Just Yet: Median Household Income In a 20-Year Decline

As many jobs created as those who left work force under Obama

Bud Meyers | September 12 2016 

14,770,000 net new jobs were created since January 2009 when Obama first took office — and according to the St. Louis Federal Reserve, most of those went to foreign-born workers: Foreign born workers / Native born workers — And the U.S. has 13,862,000 more working age Americans not in the labor force since January 2009 since Obama first took office.

For the sake of argument (to give the Obama administration the best benefit of the doubt), we’ll assume that all 8.7 million people who lost jobs during the Great Recession have either went on disability, retired on Social Security, were incarcerated (criminally or medically), passed away, left the country or found another job — and not a single one is officially counted as “unemployed” today (as of September 2016).

Since Obama first took office in 2009, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, the U.S. has averaged over 3 million high school graduates every year during his tenure (24 million total during Obama’s time in office) — and many, probably most, have went on to college for a certain amount of time and then either dropped out or graduated from college (and we can assume that most of them have attempted to enter the job market).

Net new jobs created under Obama per the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (in thousands)

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24 million graduates during Obama’s tenure
-15 million jobs created during Obama’s tenure
– 9 million jobs short (minus those who have either went on disability, left the country, was incarcerated (criminally or medically), passed away or left the country — and we have almost 14 million more working age Americans “not in the labor force” during Obama’s tenure.

Continue reading As many jobs created as those who left work force under Obama

Religion in US ‘worth more than Google and Apple combined’

Harriet Sherwood | September 15 2016 | The Guardian

Faith economy worth $1.2tn a year – more than combined revenues of 10 biggest tech firms in America, study shows

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St Patrick’s Cathedral, New York. More than 150 million Americans are members of faith congregations, according to the report. Photograph: Getty

Religion in the United States is worth $1.2tn a year, making it equivalent to the 15th largest national economy in the world, according to a study.

The faith economy has a higher value than the combined revenues of the top 10 technology companies in the US, including Apple, Amazon and Google, says the analysis from Georgetown University in Washington DC.

The Socioeconomic Contributions of Religion to American Society: An Empirical Analysis calculated the $1.2tn figure by estimating the value of religious institutions, including healthcare facilities, schools, daycare and charities; media; businesses with faith backgrounds; the kosher and halal food markets; social and philanthropic programmes; and staff and overheads for congregations.

Continue reading Religion in US ‘worth more than Google and Apple combined’

Five Deadly Sins of Big Pharma

Paul Buchheit | September 12 2016 | Common Dreams

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A pharmacist holds a package of EpiPens epinephrine auto-injector, a Mylan product, in Sacramento, Calif., last month. Mylan said it will make available a generic version of its EpiPen, as criticism mounts over the price of its injectable medicine. (Photo: Rich Pedroncelli/AP)

For Mylan, it was a perfect plan—diabolical, unstoppable. The company made changes in its anti-allergy EpiPen dispenser in 2009, enough to give it patent protection. Then, in 2012, it began to give away free pens to schools, gradually making school nurses at least partly dependent on them. Meanwhile the company was successfully lobbying for the “Emergency Epinephrine Act,” commonly referred to as the “EpiPen Law,” which encouraged the presence of epinephrine dispensers in schools. Most recently, after raising the price from $100 to $600, Mylan announced a half-price coupon, making itself appear generous even though the price had effectively jumped from $100 to $300.

This is capitalism at its worst, a greedy and disdainful profit-over-people system that leaves millions of Americans sick… or dead. These are the sins of the pharmaceutical industry.

1. Gouging Customers

The Mylan story is just one of many. An American with cancer will face bills up to $183,000 per year, even though it hasn’t been established that the expensive treatments actually extend lives. A 12-week course of Sovaldi, for hepatitis, costs Gilead Sciences about $84 and is priced at $84,000.

This is an industry that can suddenly impose a 60,000% increase on desperately ill people. Yet the pharmaceutical industry’s profit margin is matched only by the unscrupulous financial industry for the highest corporate profit margin.

2. Disposing of People Who Can’t Afford Medication

A Forbes writer summarizes: “Somewhere, right now, a cash-strapped parent or budget-limited patient with a severe allergy will skip acquiring an EpiPen. And someday, they will need it in a life-threatening situation…and they won’t have it. And they will die.”

A recent Health Affairs study concluded that since 2004 our medical dollars have been “increasingly concentrated on the wealthy.” As a result the richest 1% of American males live nearly 15 years longer than the poorest 1% (10 years for women). The high cost of medication is one of the factors leading to early death.

3. Gouging Us a Second Time

We’re paying twice for outrageously overpriced medications, both directly and with our tax dollars. The average medical insurance deductible has increased 67 percent since 2010, and most Medicare patients still face out-of-pocket costs of $7,000 or more a year.

Continue reading Five Deadly Sins of Big Pharma

Hillary Clinton Used Bleachbit To Wipe Emails

Slashdot | August 26 2016

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Neowin:

The open-source disk cleaning application, BleachBit, got quite a decent ad pitch from the world of politics after it was revealed lawyers of the presidential hopeful, Hillary Clinton, used the software to wipe her email servers. Clinton is currently in hot water, being accused of using private servers for storing sensitive emails. “[South Carolina Representative, Trey Gowdy, spoke to Fox News about Hillary Clinton’s lawyers using BleachBit to wipe the private servers. He said:] ‘She and her lawyers had those emails deleted. And they didn’t just push the delete button; they had them deleted where even God can’t read them. They were using something called BleachBit. You don’t use BleachBit for yoga emails or bridesmaids emails. When you’re using BleachBit, it is something you really do not want the world to see.'” Two of the main features that are listed on the BleachBit website include “Shred files to hide their contents and prevent data recovery,” and “Overwrite free disk space to hide previously deleted files.” These two features would make it pretty difficult for anyone trying to recover the deleted emails.

Slashdot reader ahziem adds:

The IT team for presidential candidate Hillary Clinton used the open source cleaning software BleachBit to wipe systems “so even God couldn’t read them,” according to South Carolina Rep. Trey Gowdy on Fox News. His comments on the “drastic cyber-measure” were in response to the question of whether emails on her private Microsoft Exchange Server were simply about “yoga and wedding plans.” Perhaps Clinton’s team used an open-source application because, unlike proprietary applications, it can be audited, like for backdoors. In response to the Edward Snowden leaks in 2013, privacy expert Bruce Schneier advised in an article in which he stated he also uses BleachBit, “Closed-source software is easier for the NSA to backdoor than open-source software.” Ironically, Schneier was writing to a non-governmental audience.

Have any Slashdotters had any experience with BleachBit? Specifically, have you used it for erasing “yoga emails” or “bridesmaids emails?”

Is Toothpaste Dangerous to Your Health?

Larry Schwartz | August 27 2016 | Naked Capitalism (cross posted from Alternet)

Jerri-Lynn here. This article summarizes the sad state of affairs of Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulation of personal care products, with companies allowed to practice self-regulation. The article also embeds a link to a New York Times article describing legislation that would give the FDA authority to initiate recalls of such products and describes the lobbying muscle, both pro and anti, that has lined up around this initiative (click on current problems below to access that article).

Note that the current status quo, under which Canada, Europe, and Japan follow the “precautionary principle” and don’t authorize the use of chemicals until it is determined they are safe, would be threatened if the Obama administration gets its way and secures passage of trade agreements that incorporate Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) mechanisms.

Moreover, such ISDS provisions, if enacted, would also allow potential challenges to current US regulations, and also potential future regulations, if major political change occurred and US regulators sought actively to increase the level of US health and safety or other regulatory protections.

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By Larry Schwartz, a Brooklyn-based freelance writer with a focus on health, science and American history. Cross posted from Alternet.

The average American will use 20 gallons of toothpaste in their lifetime, and a new study by the Cornucopia Institute, a non-profit organization that studies ecological best practices, makes clear we should all be concerned about exposure to toxic ingredients found in toothpastes. Chemicals in toothpaste are readily absorbed through the membrane that lines the mouth (oral mucosa), meaning that, regardless of whether you swallow toothpaste or not, you are exposing yourself to some level of absorption. Children, who we know often do swallow toothpaste, are even more at risk.

When we use personal care products, we make the assumption that what we have purchased is safe and won’t harm us. We might be assuming wrong. Look no further than the current problems faced by some users of Wen hair products. Unlike pharmaceuticals, which are regulated closely by the Food and Drug Administration, the cosmetic industry, which includes personal care products like shampoos, hair care and toothpaste, is free from scrutiny from the FDA. The regulatory agency has no power of review or recall over products, nor are industry products required to even list all of their ingredients. Instead, the $71 billion industry regulates itself. And that always works out great!

Continue reading Is Toothpaste Dangerous to Your Health?

Des Moines Register Editorial: Branstad’s legacy: Killing health care jobs

Des Moines Register | August 20 2016

For someone who talks big about job creation, Gov. Terry Branstad is doing a stellar job of jeopardizing the solvency of some Iowa employers. Four months after implementation of his plan to privatize Medicaid administration, the carnage is in full swing. Stories of small employers not being paid by managed care companies are being reported across the state.

Cedar Rapids-based JVA Mobility is no longer selling medical equipment to nursing homes. Despite obtaining prior authorizations from the insurers to repair or provide wheelchairs to residents, the company is not being reimbursed for the cost.

“They’ve come up with all sorts of answers why,” owner Vince Wolrab told the Cedar Rapids Gazette. “Some say it’s trial and error — we’ve used the wrong (billing code). But then some they just flat out deny and tell us it needs to be billed to Medicare, when they know Medicare won’t cover it.”

Senior Resources in Muscatine, a nonprofit organization that helps older Iowans live independently, may soon need to take out more loans. It has no other way to make up for the loss of revenue after being stiffed by private insurers.

Continue reading Des Moines Register Editorial: Branstad’s legacy: Killing health care jobs

Iowa: Time to Pull the Plug on the Medicaid Mess?

Iowa House Democrat Leader Mark Smith | August 11 2016 | Journal Express

A few months ago, Governor Terry Branstad and Republicans privatized health care for over 500,000 Iowans on Medicaid. After months of delays, confusion, and scandal, Branstad’s privatization scheme is now officially a disaster.

All around the state, we’ve been hearing horror stories from Iowans and local providers dealing with the new private, out-of-state companies Branstad picked to manage Medicaid (called MCO’s).

Providers are facing huge financial burdens because of payment delays and lower reimbursement rates from the MCO’s. According to a recent survey, nearly 80% of providers said they aren’t getting paid on time while nearly every provider said their own administrative costs have increased trying to navigate the new system.

We heard similar stories from providers at a legislative health committee hearing at the State Capitol last week. I held a listening post in my hometown of Marshalltown just a few weeks ago to get feedback as well. When I asked what was going well with Medicaid privatization, the room went silent.

My biggest fear about Branstad’s privatization scheme has always been the impact on health care services Iowans depend on.

Continue reading Iowa: Time to Pull the Plug on the Medicaid Mess?

Where Median Incomes Have Fallen the Most

Justin Fox | August 19 2016 | Bloomberg View

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Of all the indicators describing the not-very-impressive U.S. economic performance of the first decade and a half of the 21st century, the least impressive is probably median household income. It hit an all-time high in 1999 of $57,843 (converted into 2014 dollars), and as of 2014 stood at $53,657 — a 7.2 percent decline. Monthly estimates by the former U.S. Census Bureau officials at Sentier Research indicate that median income made a big recovery in 2015 (the official 2015 numbers aren’t out yet), but as of this June was still below the 1999 level. The typical American household remains poorerthan it was 16 years ago.

In a nation as vast and diverse as the U.S., economic trouble like that tends not to be evenly distributed So I was curious: How does the Great Median Income Slide break down by state? Thanks to a Census Bureau spreadsheet that you can download right here, I have the answer. Here are the states where median household income has slid the most since 1999:

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Continue reading Where Median Incomes Have Fallen the Most