Published: Thursday 20 December 2012
Published: Friday 7 September 2012
“America has overspent, they say. America is broke.”

 

This fall, the U.S. Congress is going to wage a pitched, dragged-out battle over cutting roughly $120 billion a year to solve the so-called deficit crisis. Vital things like teachers’ jobs and Medicare could well get cut.

The Right is already launching new coalitions to push for an austerity budget, calling for cuts in “wasteful government spending,” including key safety-net programs like Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and food stamps. America has overspent, they say. America is broke. But at the same time, they are calling for an extension of the Bush tax cuts and ruling out cuts in military spending—both policies that will increase the deficit.

It doesn’t have to be this way. My colleagues at the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) have identified seven steps that, together, more than eliminate the deficit while making the country more equitable, green, and secure.

These proposals, from the IPS study called “America is Not Broke,” would also address the two deficits that author David Korten says do more to erode our society than the fiscal deficit does: our social deficits (rising poverty and inequality) and environmental deficits (starting with the climate crisis).

More Fairness, Less Deficit

Our first three proposals could bring in $329 billion a year; this alone would solve the deficit problem while helping to close the yawning inequality gap.

1.  Tax Wall Street: $150 billion per year. A

Published: Tuesday 4 September 2012
The choice Congress faces this term is simple: either address head on America’s challenges, or risk being remembered as the body whose dithering condemned future generations to being worse off than their parents.

What if members of the United States Congress, now returning from their summer recess, were to receive a “back to school” letter from concerned citizens? Here is what a first draft might look like.

Dear Members of Congress:

Welcome back to the Capitol. We hope that you had a good summer break, and that you return to Washington not just rested, but also energized to take on our country’s mounting economic challenges.

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The news has been mixed during your absence. We have seen some improvement in economic data, but not enough to suggest that we are any closer to overcoming decisively this painful period of low growth and high unemployment. And, with a self-inflicted fiscal cliff looming – one that could send our country back into ...

Published: Wednesday 29 August 2012
What at first seems odd is that there hasn’t been commercial gold mining here for at least a decade—since the U.S. company Commerce Group left.

“The water‘s bright orange,” we exclaim while balancing ourselves precariously on rocks alongside a spring. We are visiting the community of San Sebastian in the province of La Union in the northeast corner of El Salvador. Above us stands a mountain with a prominent slash where U.S. and other firms mined gold for over a century, a mountain that also happens to be a key watershed for this area. 

“I’ve seen this water also cranberry red and also bright yellow,” our companion responds. But then she quickly adds: “Remember: don’t touch the water. Last time I was here, I slipped and ended up with rashes all over my leg and stomach where I got wet.” She doesn’t need to remind us. Experts from the Salvadoran government’s Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources were here in July 2012 and they found levels of cyanide and iron that were through the roof.

What at first seems odd is that there hasn’t been commercial gold mining here for at least a decade—since the U.S. company Commerce Group left. But, as we learn on this, our second, research trip to El Salvador, a decade or two can be a blink of an eye for the environmental havoc wreaked by gold mining. These ancient mountains contain not only gold and many other minerals, but also sulfide. It is a deadly combination with long-term consequences: once the mining excavations expose sulfide to the air and rain, it is converted to sulfuric acid. With each new rain, the acid unleashes new toxic substances down the mountain and into the ...

Published: Monday 20 August 2012
“Oddly enough, while poll after poll shows that most Americans no longer trust our basic institutions, they continue to believe the people who run them got where they are on basis of superior merit and talent.”

 

How Romney Could Win the Presidency And Save the Republic (And Why He Won’t)

 

At this perilous moment in the nation’s history, nobody is better positioned to restore public trust  - or take the White House back for the Republicans – than Mitt Romney. My prediction is that he won’t do either because he believes he can do one (win the presidency) without the other (restoring public trust).

 

Oddly enough, while poll after poll shows that most Americans no longer trust our basic institutions, they continue to believe the people who run them got where they are on basis of superior merit and talent.  This belief flies in the face of mounting evidence of corruption and incompetence at the top.

 

Despite a steady stream of news about scandals in business (WorldCom, Enron), banking and finance (Countrywide, Merrill Lynch, Lehman Brothers, JP Morgan Chase), journalism (Iraq War, WMD, and Judith Miller), sports (Mark McGwire, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, and doping), and, of course, politics (Watergate, Iran-Contra, the Keating Five, NSA warrantless surveillance), the public is still being gulled into believing what corporate media shills say about everything from global warming to health care.

 

Few public policy issues are more confusing and convoluted that our bizarre federal income tax code. The system, like the political and business elites who created it and now shamelessly perpetuate it, is designed to deceive most of the people most of the time.

 

Most middle-class taxpayers know the system is rigged in favor of corporate interests and wealthy individuals, but few understand when or how it happened – or the real reasons why. Indeed, the winners like it that way and reward politicians and journalists ...

Published: Thursday 16 August 2012
“As the last two years have made very clear, climate has become the No. 1 national security issue for developing countries.”

This past month was the hottest July in the United States ever recorded. In India, the monsoon rains are long delayed, resulting in the country’s second drought in four years. Triple-digit temperatures in New Delhi and other cities have already provoked the worst power outages in the country’s history and the expected bad harvest is likely to slice at least 5 percent from GDP growth.

In Beijing, which usually suffers from a shortage of water, a storm on July 21 resulted in the worst flooding since recordkeeping began in 1951, according to theEconomist. Meanwhile, here in the Philippines, a protracted, weeklong rainstorm plunged Metropolitan Manila into a watery disaster that is probably the worst in recent history.

If there is any doubt that the abnormal is now the norm, remember that this is shaping up to be the second straight year that nonstop rains have wreaked havoc in Southeast Asia. Last year, the monsoon season brought about the worst flooding in Thailand’s history, with waters engulfing Bangkok and affecting over 14 million people, damaging nearly 7,000 square miles of agricultural land, disrupting global supply chains, and bringing about what the World Bank estimated to be the world’s fourth costliest disaster ever.

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Published: Thursday 2 August 2012
“Big Food companies like ConAgra, Smucker, Hormel, Kellogg, Coca-Cola and PepsiCo want to block consumer protection legislation.”

[The California Ballot Initiative to label genetically engineered food is] “a serious, long-term threat to the viability of agricultural biotechnology. Defeating the Initiative is GMA’s single highest priority this year.”  -- Pamela Bailey, President of Grocery Manufacturers Association, speech to the American Soybean Association, July 9, 2012

This November, Californians will vote for or against Prop 37, the California Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food Act. The outcome of that vote will likely determine whether the U.S. will one day join the nearly 50 other countries that allow their citizens to choose between genetically engineered and non-genetically engineered food through the enactment of laws requiring mandatory labeling of genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

The election is three months away, but the battle lines were drawn months ago. ...

Published: Thursday 19 July 2012
“Pro-cyclical fiscal policy worsens the dangers of overheating, inflation, and asset bubbles during booms, and exacerbates output and employment losses during recessions, thereby magnifying the swings of the business cycle.”

The world’s advanced economies remain divided over whether to strengthen budget balances in the short term or to use fiscal policy to promote recovery. Those worried about the short-run contractionary effects on the economy call the first option “austerity”; those concerned about long-term sustainability and moral hazard call it “discipline.”

Either way, the debate is akin to asking whether it is better for a driver to turn left or right; depending on where the car is, either choice might be appropriate. Likewise, when an economy is booming, the government should run a budget surplus; when it is in recession, the government should run a deficit.

To be sure, Keynesian macroeconomic policy lost its luster mainly because politicians often failed to time countercyclical fiscal policy – “fine tuning” – properly. Sometimes fiscal stimulus would kick in after the recession was already over. But that is no reason to follow a destabilizing pro-cyclical fiscal policy, which piles spending increases and tax cuts on top of booms, and cuts spending and raises taxes in response to downturns.

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Published: Tuesday 3 July 2012
Reduction in C02 is enough to give people some hope that perhaps humanity will not continue to send the environment into a doomsday scenario.

 

According to a recent report by the International Energy Agency, the U.S. has seen the greatest reduction in carbon dioxide pollution within the past six years in comparison to any other country, even as global carbon dioxide pollution has reached record highs.

“CO2 emissions in the United States in 2011 fell by 92 Mt (million tonnes), or 1.7%, primarily due to ongoing switching from coal to natural gas in power generation and an exceptionally mild winter, which reduced the demand for space heating,” the IEA writes on its website.

“US emissions have now fallen by 430 Mt (7.7%) since 2006, the largest reduction of all countries or regions. This development has arisen from lower oil use in the transport sector (linked to efficiency improvements, higher oil prices and the economic downturn which has cut vehicle miles travelled) and a substantial shift from coal to gas in the power sector,” the IEA states.

 

It is enough to ...

Published: Wednesday 27 June 2012
“Although it is difficult to know how much of this decline reflected higher demand for Treasury bonds from risk-averse global investors, the Fed’s policies undoubtedly deserve some of the credit.”

The United States Federal Reserve’s recent announcement that it will extend its “Operation Twist” by buying an additional $267 billion of long-term Treasury bonds over the next six months - to reach a total of $667 billion this year - had virtually no impact on either interest rates or equity prices. The market’s lack of response was an important indicator that monetary easing is no longer a useful tool for increasing economic activity.The Fed has repeatedly said that it will do whatever it can to stimulate growth. This led to a plan to keep short-term interest rates near zero until late 2014, as well as to massive quantitative easing, followed by Operation Twist, in which the Fed substitutes short-term Treasuries for long-term bonds.

 

 

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These policies did succeed in lowering long-term interest rates. The yield on ten-year Treasuries is now 1.6%, down from 3.4% at the start of 2011. Although it is difficult to know how much of this decline reflected higher demand for Treasury bonds from risk-averse global investors, the Fed’s policies undoubtedly deserve some of the credit. The lower long-term interest rates contributed to the small 4% rise in the S&P 500 share-price index over the same period.

 

The Fed is unlikely to be able to reduce long-term rates any further. Their level is now so low that many investors rightly fear that we are looking at a bubble in bond and stock prices. The result could be a substantial market-driven rise in long-term rates that the Fed would ...

Published: Friday 22 June 2012
“The primary role of financial markets is to raise investment, allocate resources efficiently, and mitigate risk. However, much of today’s financial activity does not contribute to these goals.”

 

In an open letter published Thursday, 52 professionals from the financial sector urged the U.S. Congress to pass legislation mandating a tax on financial transactions.

The tax would cover stock trading, derivatives and other financial instruments, but, proponents say, would have a significant impact only on so-called high-frequency trades, in which computer-driven speculators typically hold stocks for mere milliseconds.

“These taxes will rebalance financial markets away from a short-term trading mentality that has contributed to instability in our financial markets,” the letter stated. “The primary role of financial markets is to raise investment, allocate resources efficiently, and mitigate risk. However, much of today’s financial activity does not contribute to these goals.”

Several European countries are currently considering similar moves, with European finance ministers set to vote on broad action on Friday. Countries that have already instituted some form of financial transaction tax (FTT) include Hong Kong, India, Singapore, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.

In the United States, the tax proceeds – in the tens of billions of dollars – could be used in a variety of ways. Many on the international scene are calling for such revenues to go to the world’s poorest and to those countries worst affected by climate change.

The letter’s signatories, in a notable break from the sector, include seven former executives of Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan, two of the United States’ largest players in the financial services industry. They also include several hedge-fund operators and four current and former heads of European banks.

“Whether agreed by the G20, EU, or by individual countries”, the letter noted, an FTT “offers a real opportunity to help restore the financial sector to its proper role, while raising massive revenues for people ...

Published: Thursday 14 June 2012
“This year’s GPI suggests that an entirely peaceful world would have had a positive net impact of some nine trillion dollars.”

Countering a two-year trend, the world overall became slightly more peaceful over the past year, according to an annual report released here on Tuesday.

The United States, however, moved down seven places to 88 out of 158, a “fairly low rank (that) largely reflects much higher levels of militarisation and involvement in external conflicts”, according to the Global Peace Index (GPI) 2012.

The report notes that although U.S. military expenditure “declined sharply” between 1991 and 2000, it “has now returned to Cold War levels”. Worryingly, the GPI finds that higher military expenditure (as a percentage of overall gross domestic product) correlates with lower levels of peace.

The U.S. also continues to score among the highest in the world on the proportion of its population in jail. (A U.S.-specific Peace Index was ...

Published: Sunday 10 June 2012
Now, “the parties are more consistent in their programmatic and ideological views.”

These include some of the recent Congressional primary elections in states throughout the U.S.; the retirement of longtime senator Olympia Snowe, a moderate Republican from Maine; and the decline of the Blue Dog Coalition of centrist Democrats. 

 


A recent book, "The Last Great Senate" by Ira Shapiro, reminisces about decades past such as the 1970s and 1980s where Democrats and Republicans in the U.S. Senate seemed better able to work together for the good of the country. 


"The pattern that has been present since the 1930s where you had a big conservative element in the Democratic Party and a big moderate element in the Republican Party, those days are pretty well gone," Randall Strahan, a professor of political science at Emory University, told IPS. 


Now, "the parties are more consistent in their programmatic and ideological views. It's unrealistic to think any time in the near future partisan conflict will go away," he said. 


But Strahan argues that it is not entirely a bad thing. 


"Some people say partisan conflict turns off voters. The evidence is just the opposite; hotly contested politics turns out voters. It (polarization) clarifies choices for voters. When you have a Democratic Party all over the map, conservative segregationists in the South and liberals in the North, it's very ambiguous when you vote for a Democrat what that means," he said. 


In fact, a highly polarized U.S. Congress has been typical throughout U.S. history, with the last several decades of moderation as the anomaly, Strahan said. 


The conservative Tea Party celebrated last month when Thomas Massie, a Tea Party-backed Republican candidate for U.S. House in Kentucky, won the Republican primary there. He is expected to win in November's general election. 


Massie was backed by U.S. Sen. ...

Published: Wednesday 6 June 2012
A think tank close to the administration of President Obama suggests attacking Tehran to prevent nuclear development would be counter-productive.

While a nuclear-armed Iran would pose significant new challenges to the United States and Israel, a military attack by either country to prevent Tehran from developing a weapon could well prove counter-productive, according to a major new report released here Wednesday by a think tank close to the administration of President Barack Obama.

And while preventive military action should remain on the table, it should only be considered if Iran “has made a clear move toward weaponization”, and there is a “reasonable expectation” that such a strike would set back Iran's programme “significantly”, among other conditions, according to the 55-page report by the Center for a New American Security (CNAS). 

The report, “Risk and Rivalry: Iran, Israel and the Bomb,” also argues that both the U.S. and Israel should avoid taking any steps that limit prospects for a negotiated agreement designed to dissuade Tehran from “weaponising” its nuclear programme. 

In particular, they should not insist - as Israel and its backers in the U.S. Congress are doing - that Tehran end all uranium enrichment on its own territory as a condition of any negotiated settlement since such a stance “would most likely result in no deal at all”, according to ...

Published: Tuesday 5 June 2012
“One way or the other, the outlook for Joe Blow, Barack Obama, and Uncle Sam is all gloom and doom.”

Recent news headlines are a clear intimation that the gods are not on our side.  “Our” in this case can be read as the U.S., the West, or the Planet we call Earth – all apply.  Here’s a sampling:

“Dismal Job Market Pushes Dow into 275-Point Plunge”
 (DailyFinance)

“Obama Ordered Cyber Attacks on Iran”
 (New York Times)

“American Nuns Fight Back Against Vatican Crackdown”
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Published: Saturday 2 June 2012
This 99 percent reality—millions of young people saddled with student debt joining the jobless and homeless to confront an increasingly vulnerable and bleak future—suddenly had a face and a voice that resonated across the nation and around the world.

 

Where does the Occupy movement turn next? Can social movements build on its momentum? Will protest and new forms of mobilization create change to transform the economy to one that works for people and the planet?

When would-be Occupiers pitched the first tents in New York’s Zuccotti Park eight months ago, hand-written signs declaring “we are the 99%” grabbed the public imagination. This 99 percent reality—millions of young people saddled with student debt joining the jobless and homeless to confront an increasingly vulnerable and bleak future—suddenly had a face and a voice that resonated across the nation and around the world. 

So too were observers struck by the novelty and creativity of Occupiers able to make decisions by consensus, posing a stark contrast to a U.S. Congress where decisions seemed increasingly to be bought and sold by and for the one percent. Across the United States, thousands of encampments echoed the core message: a healthy society was a more equal society and Wall Street’s lock on our economy and our politics had to be broken. 

In dozens of cities, actions reinforced this message as the victims of this unjust system started to fight back with verve and effectiveness. In some cities, occupiers stood guard in front of foreclosed homes to block banks from evicting inhabitants. In others, occupiers urged people to “move their money” from Wall Street banks to locally-rooted credit unions and community development financial institutions. From ...

Published: Wednesday 16 May 2012
The failure of Communism according to Wall Street’s grand princes, corporate raiders, the conservative press, the elite business-school professoriate, and a host of other apologists for Capitalism proved that Marx was wrong – about everything.

Marx famously said that the bourgeoisie unwittingly produces its own gravediggers. Marx was convinced that capitalism inexorably gives rise to an elite social class whose members create an economy that contains the seeds of its own destruction. The prime movers in Marx's theory of history – a.k.a., dialectical materialism – assumed the form of a rising middle class of merchants who, in Marx's time, were emerging as the industrial giants he called "monopoly capitalists". Capitalism in its advanced stages produced a few big winners and multitudes of losers, the latter constituting a vast underclass of exploited workers who were increasingly impoverished, alienated, and dehumanized.

 

The super-capitalists who emerge as the champions of the new economic order soon come to abhor the very system that creates them. Once ensconced at the commanding heights of the economy they naturally want to eliminate competitors.  They want control.  To protect their wealth, they need power. Power to minimize risks and flatten out the business cycle. They understand all too well that the power to tax is the power to destroy (or to create tax loopholes). They want the state to stay out of the economy, but protect business from "unfair" competition and encroachments of all kinds.  And from the workers.      

 

But that was then and this is now. Today, Communism and Marx are equally discredited. Right?   

 

The failure of Communism according to Wall Street's grand princes, corporate raiders, the conservative press, the elite business-school professoriate, and a host of other apologists for Capitalism proved that Marx was wrong – about everything. But clearly Marx's critics protest too much.

 

In fact, the failure of Communism proved nothing of the kind. Communism as it was radically reinterpreted and applied by Lenin ...

Published: Sunday 22 April 2012
“What CISPA will do, if passed, is remove all the legal barriers that currently stop internet service providers, government agencies, and others from arbitrarily spying on internet users.”

Just because SOPA and PIPA, the infamous internet "kill switch" bills, are largely dead does not mean the threat to internet free speech has become any less serious. The Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA), also known as H.R. 3523, is the latest mutation of these internet censorship and spying bills to hit the U.S. Congress -- and unless the American people speak up now to stop it, CISPA could lead to far worse repercussions for online free speech than SOPA or PIPA ever would have.



CNET, the popular technology news website that was among many others who spoke up against SOPA and PIPA earlier in the year, is also one of many now sounding the alarm about CISPA, which was authored by Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) and Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.). Though the bill's promoters are marketing it as being nothing like SOPA or PIPA, CISPA is exactly like those bills, except worse.



What CISPA will do, if passed, is remove all the legal barriers that currently stop internet service providers, government agencies, and others from arbitrarily spying on internet users. In the name of "cybersecurity," a term that is undefined in the bill, CISPA will essentially allow internet users to be surveilled by the government without probable cause or a search warrant, which is a clear violation of users' constitutional civil liberties.



Additionally, it will allow websites like Google, Facebook, and Twitter to intercept emails, text messages, and other private information that might be considered a threat to "cybersecurity." The government can then demand access to this information, even if it has nothing to do with copyright infringement, which is one of the excuses being used for why such a bill is needed in the first place.


 

Internet users are already required to abide by the same laws as everyone else

"Just because ...

Published: Thursday 12 April 2012
“Iran hasn’t always been deemed a ‘nuclear threat’ by U.S. policymakers.”

Iran’s alleged "nuclear threat" has taken center stage among diplomats, military men, and politicians in Washington, Tel Aviv, and the West at-large.

Despite the fact that investigative journalists Seymour Hersh, Gareth Porter and others have meticulously documented the fact that Iran, in fact, poses no nuclear threat at all, the Obama Administration and the U.S. Congress have laid down multiple rounds of harsh sanctions as a means to "deter" Iran from reaching its "nuclear capacity."

The most recent round featured a call to boycott Iran’s oil industry by President Obama.

While rhetorical attention remains focused on Iran’s "threat", there is an "elephant in the room": Kazakhstan’s booming uranium mining and expanding nuclear industry -- a massive effort involving U.S. multinational corporations and an authoritarian regime increasingly tied to Washington.

Double standards have long reigned supreme in U.S. foreign policy. Few examples illustrate that better than the contrast between Washington’s stance toward the nuclear ambitions of Iran and Kazakhstan.

The Seoul, Korea Dog and Pony Show

 

The alleged Iranian "threat" was a central concern at the Nuclear Security Summit, which occurred in Seoul, South Korea between March 26-27.

Published: Sunday 1 April 2012
In some campaigns the long march was used primarily to heighten awareness, while in others it was to gain new allies.

What do Native Americans, Costa Ricans, Thai villagers, Hispanic students in U.S. colleges, Indian independence activists and Maasai women have in common? They’ve all organized long marches as part of campaigns for justice. Their campaigns’ very different choices about how to use the tactic raises strategic questions for us today. In some campaigns the long march was used primarily to heighten awareness, while in others it was to gain new allies. Sometimes it was used to launch other kinds of direct action. It has also been used at the end of a campaign, to escalate the pressure (just as a general strike is sometimes used). But what conditions make a long walk a truly effective tactic in a campaign, rather than just a chance to get some good exercise?

For me, that question is personal right now. On April 30, I will begin a 200-mile walk to the Pittsburgh, PA, headquarters of the PNC Bank to challenge its funding of mountaintop removal coal mining. The march is organized by the Philadelphia-based Earth Quaker Action Team as part of its BLAM! campaign: Bank Like Appalachia Matters! For that reason — and with the help of the Global — I’ve been reviewing the ways in which long marches like this have been used by others, with varying degrees of success.

One of the most recent long walks was taken by four Miami College undocumented students who walked from Florida to the U.S. Capitol in support of the immigration reform proposed in the Dream Act. They called their 2010 march The Trail of Dreams. They not only ended up expanding support for the legislation, but also stimulated five students to add an additional walk of 250 miles from New York to Washington, timed to arrive at the same time as the walkers from Miami. Although the Dream Act was not passed, the action certainly increased the momentum behind it.

In 2009, Tanzanian police set fire to eight Maasai ...

Published: Thursday 16 February 2012
“Gov. Scott Walker is in the midst of a recall effort and faces an investigation for campaign corruption.”

Today marks the first anniversary of the Wisconsin uprising that erupted after Republican Gov. Scott Walker announced plans to eliminate almost all collective bargaining rights for most public workers, as well as slash their pay and benefits. Now, one year later, Walker is in the midst of a recall effort and faces an investigation for campaign corruption. "People have begun to recognize that they shouldn’t just wait for elections," says John Nichols, who covered the protests for The Nation magazine. "They should go to the street and challenge political power at the point where that power is taking away their rights or threatening them in some fundamental way." Nichols is the author of the new book, "Uprising: How Wisconsin Renewed the Politics of Protest, from Madison to Wall Street."

Transcript:

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Today marks the first anniversary of the Wisconsin uprising that erupted after Republican Governor Scott Walker announced his plans to eliminate almost all collective bargaining rights for most public workers, as well as slash their pay and benefits. Now, one year later, Walker is in the midst of a recall and faces an investigation for campaign corruption. It was February 14th last year when Walker first unveiled the curbs on state workers after refusing to negotiate a new ...

Published: Friday 10 February 2012
“We need to find a way to maximize the truly amazing potential of the Internet, while properly rewarding creators.”

Last year, I told a colleague that I would include Internet ethics in a course that I was teaching. She suggested that I read a recently published anthology on computer ethics – and attached the entire volume to the email.

Should I have refused to read a pirated book? Was I receiving stolen goods, as advocates of stricter laws against Internet piracy claim?

If I steal someone’s book the old-fashioned way, I have the book, and the original owner no longer does. I am better off, but she is worse off. When people use pirated books, the publisher and the author often are worse off – they lose earnings from selling the book.

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But, if my colleague had not sent me the book, I would have borrowed the copy in my university’s library. I saved myself the time needed to do that, and it seems that no one was worse off. (Curiously, given the book’s subject matter, it is not for sale in digital form). In fact, others benefited from my choice as well: the book remained on the library shelf, available to other users.

On the other hand, if the book had not been on the shelf and those other users had asked library staff to recall or reserve it, the library might have noted the demand for the book and ordered a second copy. But there is only a small probability that my use of the book would have persuaded the library to buy another copy. And, in any case, we are now a long way from the standard cases of stealing.

I asked the 300 students in my ethics class which of them had not downloaded something from the Internet, knowing or suspecting that they were violating copyright. ...

Published: Thursday 19 January 2012
“As the Internet blackout protest progressed Jan. 18, and despite Dodd’s lobbying, legislators began retreating from support for the bills.”

Wednesday, Jan. 18, marked the largest online protest in the history of the Internet. Websites from large to small “went dark” in protest of proposed legislation before the U.S. House and Senate that could profoundly change the Internet. The two bills, SOPA in the House and PIPA in the Senate, ostensibly aim to stop the piracy of copyrighted material over the Internet on websites based outside the U.S. Critics, among them the founders of Google, Wikipedia, the Internet Archive, Tumblr and Twitter, counter that the laws will stifle innovation and investment, hallmarks of the free, open Internet. The Obama administration has offered muted criticism of the legislation, but, as many of his supporters have painfully learned, what President Barack Obama questions one day he signs into law the next.

First, the basics. SOPA stands for the Stop Online Piracy Act, while PIPA is the Protect IP Act. The two bills are very similar. SOPA would allow copyright holders to complain to the U.S. attorney general about a foreign website they allege is “committing or facilitating the commission of criminal violations” of copyright law. This relates mostly to pirated movies and music. SOPA would allow the movie industry, through the courts and the U.S. attorney general, to send a slew of demands that Internet service providers (ISPs) and search-engine companies shut down access to those alleged violators, and even to prevent linking to those sites, thus making them “unfindable.” It would also bar Internet advertising providers from making payments to websites accused of copyright violations.

SOPA could, then, shut down a community-based site like YouTube if just one of its millions of users was accused of violating one U.S. copyright. As David Drummond, Google’s chief legal officer and an opponent of the legislation, blogged, “Last year alone we acted on copyright takedown notices for more than 5 million webpages.” ...

Published: Wednesday 18 January 2012
Whether you’re worried about hunger, social crises, or climate change, the answer is the same: small-scale farmers are our only hope.

There is battle raging across the world over who can better feed its people: small-scale farmers practicing sustainable agriculture, or giant agribusinesses using chemical fertilizers and pesticides. 

It was small-scale organic farmers growing rice for themselves and local markets in the Philippines who first convinced us that they could feed both their communities and their country. Part of what convinced us was simple economics: These farmers demonstrated substantial immediate savings from eliminating chemical inputs while, within a few harvests—if not immediately—their yields were close to or above their previous harvests. From these farmers, we also learned of the health and environmental benefits from this shift.

Moving up from what we learned in the Philippines to examine other countries, we have concluded that small-scale farmers practicing different kinds of what is now called agroecology can feed the world. Agroecology extends the organic label to a broader category of ecosystem-friendly, locally adapted ...

Published: Wednesday 18 January 2012
“Following the Money in the Iran Crisis”

Let's start with red lines. Here it is, Washington’s ultimate red line, straight from the lion’s mouth.  Only last week Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said of the Iranians, “Are they trying to develop a nuclear weapon? No. But we know that they're trying to develop a nuclear capability. And that's what concerns us. And our red line to Iran is do not develop a nuclear weapon. That's a red line for us.”

How strange, the way those red lines continue to retreat.  Once upon a time, the red line for Washington was “enrichment” of uranium. Now, it’s evidently an actual nuclear weapon that can be brandished. Keep in mind that, since 2005, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei has stressed that his country is not seeking to build a nuclear weapon. The most recent National Intelligence Estimate on Iran from the U.S. Intelligence Community has similarly stressed that Iran is not, in fact, developing a nuclear weapon (as opposed to the breakout capacity to build one someday).

What if, however, there is no “red line,” but something completely different? Call it the ...

Published: Tuesday 20 December 2011
The focus on currencies as a cause of the West’s economic woes, while not entirely misplaced, has been excessive.

If one looks at the trade patterns of the global economy’s two biggest players, two facts leap out. One is that, while the United States runs a trade deficit with almost everyone, including Canada, Mexico, China, Germany, France, Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan, not to mention the oil-exporting countries, the largest deficit is with China. If trade data were re-calculated to reflect the country of origin of various components of value-added, the general picture would not change, but the relative magnitudes would: higher US deficits with Germany, South Korea, Taiwan, and Japan, and a dramatically lower deficit with China.

The second fact is that Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan – all relatively high-income economies – have a large trade surplus with China. Germany has relatively balanced trade with China, even recording a modest bilateral surplus in the post-crisis period.

The US has a persistent overall trade deficit that fluctuates in the range of 3-6% of GDP. But, while the total reflects bilateral deficits with just about everyone, the US Congress is obsessed with China, and appears convinced that the primary cause of the problem lies in Chinese manipulation of the renminbi’s exchange rate.

One problem with this view is that it cannot account for the stark differences between the US and Japan, Germany, and South Korea. Moreover, the real (inflation-adjusted) value of the renminbi is now rising quickly, owing to inflation differentials and Chinese wage growth, particularly in the country’s export sectors. That will shift the Chinese economy’s structure and trade patterns quite dramatically over time. The final-assembly links of global-value added chains will leave China for countries at earlier stages of economic development, such as Bangladesh, where incomes are lower (though without producing much change in the balance with the US).

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Published: Sunday 4 December 2011
“Clearly, on the evidence of these two measures working their way through Congress now, we have a federal government that has run amok, that is responding not to the people but to narrow corporate interests that seek to both impoverish the citizens and to prepare for greater levels of public unrest and rebellion by putting into place the tools of a police state.”

The US Congress is such a craven bunch that you really have to turn to Olde English to aptly describe them.

Consider that on Thursday, by a vote of 93-7, the Senate approved a National Defense Authorization Bill that effectively defines the US “homeland” as a war zone, and that allows for the indefinite incarceration without trial of anyone, including US citizens and Green Card holders, without trial, in blatant violation of the Sixth Amendment of the US Constitution and of fundamental international judicial standards.

These elected representatives, so ready to sell out the fundamental rights of the people and the nation’s heritage, can be best described, using Olde English usage, as a “congress” of baboons, or a “cowardice” of curs, a “sneak” of weasels” or perhaps just a “stench” of skunks.

And it’s not over. Both houses of Congress are also considering a proposal by President Obama of a measure that will seriously undermine Social Security -- a further cut in the Social Security 12.4% payroll tax by 3.1% for workers and a matching 3.1% cut in the 40% share of that tax paid by employers--measures which taken together would gut the Social Security Trust Fund by more than $350 billion in one year.

This theft from the public is being deceitfully ...

Published: Sunday 13 November 2011
“The students’ reply is that it is better to fail a semester than to lose out on a lifetime of opportunities for themselves and future generations.”

The "occupation" of Bogotá by students, backed by parents and professors as well as social and cultural sectors, is continuing even after the Colombian government offered to withdraw its controversial bill to reform education if the protests were called off. 
 

The protesters turned down rightwing President Juan Manuel Santos' request that they go back to classes. Some 200,000 university students demonstrated Thursday in Bogotá and other parts of the country for high-quality education with equality. 
 

"We want something better than the proposals of neoliberal governments and the conditions imposed on the country by the free trade agreement with the United States," approved by the U.S. Congress in October, Adriana Santos, a law student, told IPS. 
 

A heavy downpour in Bogotá on Thursday Oct. 10 did not dampen the singing, dancing, speeches and embraces between students and their relatives, artists and professors, who marched from strategic points of the city towards Bolívar Square in the heart of the capital, the site of Congress, city hall, the Supreme Court and the presidential palace. 
 

The protest movement is opposed to the bill reforming Law 30 of 1992 on higher education, which it claims it is an attempt to privatize the system by encouraging private investment and the creation of for-profit universities, while curtailing autonomy by granting the education ministry more control over public educational establishments. 

 

The month-old education strike and the protests will continue regardless of this weekend's meeting of the Broad National Student Council (MANE) to respond to the government proposal. 
 

Meanwhile, the strikers have invited Education Minister María Fernanda Campo to take part in a televised prime time debate on Nov. 15. 
 

"We want the country to know about ...

Published: Friday 14 October 2011
A milestone for the U.S. economy, the agreements have been the subject of a tortuous debate over trade liberalization since 2006, when they were first proposed by the Bush administration.

The three landmark deals between the United States and trading partners South Korea, Colombia and Panama approved by the U.S. Congress late Wednesday represented the largest free trade agreements in the U.S. since 1994 and the first free trade agreement made by the U.S. since 2007.
 

A milestone for the U.S. economy, the agreements have been the subject of a tortuous debate over trade liberalization since 2006, when they were first proposed by the Bush administration. They had bipartisan support during this round of negotiations, following efforts by the Obama administration
 

The free trade agreements (FTAs) could generate more than 13 billion dollars in export revenue and hundreds of thousands of jobs for the U.S. by removing trade limitations in favor of U.S. manufacturers and agricultural producers, as well as banking and insurance service industries, according to the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative
 

The largest component of the deals approved Wednesday is the agreement between the U.S. and South Korea, the world's 15th largest economy, in what some call the biggest trade deal for the U.S. since the ratification of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in 1994. 
 

Arguments in favor of the deal urged the passage of the FTAs to help revive the U.S.'s stalling economy by increasing exports, thus creating jobs both at home and abroad. 
 

But prior to the deal's passage, labor unions like the AFL-CIO and the 

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