Category Archives: History

Chart of the day: The death of the American Dream


From the report.

From the report.

From The Fading American Dream: Trends in Absolute Income Mobility Since 1940, a sobering new analysis from economist at the University of California, Berkeley, and Stanford University, which concludes:

We find that rates of absolute mobility have fallen from approximately 90% for children born in 1940 to 50% for children born in the 1980s. The result that absolute mobility has fallen sharply over the past half century is robust to the choice of price deflator, the definition of income, and accounting for taxes and transfers. In counterfactual simulations, we find that increasing GDP growth rates alone cannot restore absolute mobility to the rates experienced by children born in the 1940s. In contrast, changing the distribution of growth across income groups to the more equal distribution experienced by the 1940 birth cohort would reverse more than 70% of the decline in mobility. These results imply that reviving the “American Dream” of high rates of absolute mobility would require economic growth that is spread more broadly across the income distribution.

More from United Press International:

A new study suggests the “Dream” is fading, citing research that shows 50 percent of people born in the 1980s make more income than their parents, compared to 92 percent of children who were born in the 1940s.

That is, if you consider the definition of “American Dream” to be a person making more than his or her parents made.

In The Fading American Dream: Trends in Absolute Income Mobility Since 1940 study conducted by Stanford University, Harvard University and the University of California-Berkeley, researchers said absolute income mobility, a rate used to determine the number of children who earn more income than their parents, has “fallen sharply over the past half century.”

The study said income inequality is the primary reason younger people have been left behind despite a growing gross domestic product, the secondary factor being a slower rate of economic growth when compared to that seen after the generation born in the 1940s.

A vengeful Trump has all of Big Brother’s tools


And more. . .

Donald J. Trump is a man who reacts to legitimate criticism with rage, taking to Twitter to denounce and defame anyone who dares question His Regal Purulence, even if it’s just a college student with legitimate questions.

But once in office, this man of arrogance and hubris will have at his fingertips, the most powerful espionage apparatus in the history of the Homo sapiens.

And because of laws and precedents set by legislators, courts, and his predecessors in office, Trump will have the power to enlarge that spook machine to levels a Hitler and Stalin could only envy.

Elizabeth Goitein, co-director of the Brennan Center for Justice’s Liberty and National Security Program at New York University, spells out those powers and their implications in a post for the center’s blog:

President-elect Donald Trump is about to inherit the most powerful surveillance apparatus in history. Combining unprecedented technological capabilities with a lax legal regime, his spying powers dwarf anything the notorious FBI director J. Edgar Hoover could have fathomed.

Many privacy and civil rights advocates worry Trump will seek to expand these powers further in order to spy on Muslim Americans, activists and political opponents. The truth is, he won’t have to. Because of our country’s rush to strip civil liberty protections from surveillance laws after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Trump will already have all the powers he needs and more.

How did we get here? The laws that until recently safeguarded Americans from sweeping government intrusion were established in the 1970s, after a special Senate investigation revealed widespread abuses of intelligence-gathering. Almost every president dating to Franklin D. Roosevelt had a version of Richard Nixon’s infamous “enemies list,” resulting in wiretaps of congressional staffers, executive officials, lobbyists, law firms and reporters. Between 1956 and 1971, under the program dubbed COINTELPRO (short for “counterintelligence program”), the FBI routinely spied on anti-war protesters and civil rights organizations. The bureau targeted Martin Luther King Jr. with particular ferocity, bugging his hotel rooms and using the resulting evidence of infidelity to try to induce him to commit suicide.

To stem the abuses, the government implemented laws and regulations that shared a common principle: Law enforcement and intelligence agencies could not collect information on an American unless there was reason to suspect that person of wrongdoing. In some cases, this meant showing probable cause and obtaining a warrant, but even when no warrant was required, spying without any indication of criminal activity was forbidden.

The thinking was that if officials had to cite objective indications of misconduct, they wouldn’t be able to use racial bias, political grudges or other improper motives as a reason to spy on people. This logic was borne out, as government surveillance abuses went from being routine to being the occasional scandalous exception.

Then came Sept. 11. As swiftly as the principle had been established, it was rooted out. In 2002, the FBI abolished a rule barring agents from monitoring political or religious gatherings without suspicion of criminal activity. A 2007 law allowed the National Security Agency to collect calls and emails between Americans and foreign “targets” with no warrant or demonstration of wrongdoing by the American or the foreigner. Revisions to Justice Department guidelines in 2008 created a category of FBI investigation requiring no “factual predicate” — meaning no cause for suspicion. The list of erosions goes on.

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Quote of the day: Why Trump won the presidency


From the venerable American editor and writer Lewis H. Lapham, writing in Counterpunch:

Trump won the election because he didn’t try to sell the Gettysburg Address. Upfront and fascist in his scorn for the democratic idea, he declared his candidacy on June 16, 2015, a deus ex machina descending by escalator into the atrium of Trump Tower on Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue, there to say, and say it plainly, democracy is for losers. Money, ladies and gentlemen, is power, and power, my friends, is not self-sacrificing or Democratic.  Never was and never will be; law unto itself, and the only one that counts. Name of the game, nature of the beast.

The mogul could afford the luxury of truth because he was really, really rich, un-bought and un-bossed, so selfishly and fearlessly rich he was free to do and say whatever it came into his head to do and say, whatever it took to root out the cowardly incompetence in Washington, clean up the mess in the Middle East, plant well-paying jobs in the American heartland. His was the greatest brand on earth come to make America once again the greatest show on earth, revive it with the sweet smell of his signature men’s colognes, Empire and Success.

Trump didn’t need briefing papers or policy positions to refine the message.  He embodied it live and in person, an unscripted and overweight canary flown from its gilded cage, telling it like it is from the inside looking out. Had he time or patience for messing around with books, he could have sourced his wisdom to Supreme Court Justice Lewis Brandeis, who in 1933 presented the case to Franklin D. Roosevelt at the outset of the New Deal:

“We must make our choice.  We may have democracy, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.”

In the world according to Trump, as it was in the worlds according to Alexander Hamilton and Ronald Reagan, democracy is a tip on a dead horse. An idea as far past its sell-by date as FDR’s straw hat, not up to the task of keeping America safe or running the trains on time.  Too long-winded and slow, soft in the head and weak in the knees, no match for the barbarians (Mexican and African, radical Islamic and leftist academic) at the gates of Westchester County and Palm Beach.

Chomsky warns: Trump may incinerate us all


Either through nuclear war or global warming, the election of President Littlefingers present the gravest threat of the 21st Century, warns America’s foremost intellectual and dissident.

From teleSUR English:

Prominent U.S. intellectual Noam Chomsky warned Monday about the possibility of a nuclear war and the further risks linked to global warming as a result of a Donald Trump presidency, during a speech for the 20th anniversary of Democracy Now!.

Commenting on the concrete implications of the Republican candidate’s win, Chomsky said that the Iran nuclear deal could be reversed.

“Other countries who are parties to the deal might well continue,” he said. “That means ignoring U.S. sanctions. That will extend U.S. isolation, even from Europe.”

“Brexit may assist with (U.S. isolation) because Britain was the voice of the United States in NATO, the harshest voice,” he added.

“The threats and dangers are very real,” he said. Namely, the positions that Trump has taken in regards to climate change and the Iran deal pose a threat to the future of the country and the world.”

“The threats that we now face are the most severe that have ever arisen in human history,” he added. “They are literal threats to survival: nuclear war, environmental catastrophe.”

“They became more urgent on Nov. 8, for the reasons you know and that I mentioned. They have to be faced directly, and soon if the human experiment is not to prove to be a disastrous failure,” he warned.

Poland’s highest court rejects Polanski extradition


We have written extensively about the gross miscarriage of justice in the decision of the Los Angeles Superior Court in its insistence that director Roman Polanski be extradited from Europe to face a longer prison sentence than he already served for his 1976 guilt plea in a statutory rape case.

There was no question of Polanski’s guilt. But there is also no question that Polanski served the sentence agreed to by prosecution and defense attorneys in his 1976 plea bargain, a deal approved by the Judge Laurence J. Rittenband.

Nor can there be any doubt that the judge reversed himself after the director served his time at Chino state prison.

Our previous posts and our appearance in the Marina Zenovich’s superb 2008 documentary, Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired, make clear, the judge backed out after all conditions of the deal had been fulfilled, including that time behind bars,

And even though the judge is dead, the court still insists on Polanski’s return, where he would face the prospects. . .of what? A longer prison sentence than he already served?

There’s no question of Polanski’s responsibility for the actions he admitted, nor is there any question that his flight was a reasonable action, considering utterances by the judge to his country club pals.

A corrupt judge tries to save face

The judge was embarrassed by criticism he received after the deal was finished, and he violated the canons of judicial ethics in consulting at least one journalist [your truly], as well as an assortment of powerful folks at the Hillcrest Country Club, his home away from home.

But the judge’s unethical and probably illegal conduct seems not to bother a succession of elected Los Angeles District Attorneys, who figure they can snatch a few votes by exploiting a celebrity.

In their unrighteous zeal, the prosecutors have already forced Switzerland to place Polanski under house arrest for ten months six years ago, ending when the Swiss high court ruled that extradition “would be in breach of the Swiss ideals of truth and credibility.”

And now the Polish high court has made the same finding in yet another extradition request, upholding a lower court finding that because Polanski had already served the agreed sentence, there was a high probability that he wouldn’t be treated fairly if forcibly returned to Los Angeles.

More from BBC News:

Poland’s Supreme Court has rejected a request by the country’s justice minister to have film-maker Roman Polanski extradited to the US.

Oscar winner Polanski is wanted in the US over a decades-old case involving sex with a minor.

A Polish district court rejected a US extradition request last year.

But Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro revived the case in May, appealing to the Supreme Court to overturn the lower court ruling. He said he wanted to “avoid double standards” and that nobody should be above the law.

Polanski grew up in Poland and, although he now has homes in France and Switzerland, he visits his homeland often.

The case has led him to cancel plans to film in Poland.

The Los Angeles Times notes:

The new decision means that Polanski, who resides primarily in France and is a citizen of France and Poland, is free to travel to Poland without fear of being arrested and sent back to the U.S. Though the director was born in Paris, he grew up in Poland, where as a young boy he survived the Holocaust before going on to become an accomplished filmmaker.

Poland’s ruling also means that American officials have virtually exhausted their options in a four-decade attempt to bring the Polanski back to the U.S. In 2010, Switzerland declined the U.S.’s request to extradite Polanski after he was arrested in Zurich the year before on his way to a film festival. The director spent several months in prison and under house arrest.

>snip<

The L.A. district attorney’s office didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Let us hope that this brings an end to case, an end desired by the woman at the center the case and anyone who values the rule of law over whim.

Veteran spook probers call for a Snowden deal


For those of us old enough to remember it, the United States Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities, known as the Church Committee for its chair, Idaho Democratic Sen. Frank Church, marked a watershed moment in American politics.

Charged with investigating abuses by U.S. intelligence agencies, the committee rocked the nation and the globe with its reports of epic wrongdoing by the CIA, NSA, and the FBI.

The committee investigated on a massive and illegal mail-opening operation and secret drug experiments on American citizens by the CIA, the FBI’s illegal efforts to thwart the civil rights movement [including efforts to smear the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and incite murderous violence among black radicals], and the illegal use of the NSA to monitor prominent activists opposed to the Vietnam war.

The committee’s efforts lead to the first major reforms to the nation’s massive spy apparatus in the form of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978, banning mass surveillance of American citizens.

Directing the investigative efforts was a notable staff, headed by Frederick A.O. Scwharz Jr., a Harvard-educated lawyer and the great-grandson of the founder of New York City’s most famous toy store.

And now Schwarz, who now serves as chief counsel for New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice, and other members of the Church Committee staff have issued a call for the Obama Administration to negotiate a plea bargain with America’s most famous whistleblower, who, they say, has done us all a great service.

From the Brennan Center for Justice:

As former professional staff members of the U.S. Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities [the “Church Committee”], we are writing to urge that the White House and the Justice Department negotiate a settlement of the charges against Edward Snowden that both sides can accept.

There is no question that Edward Snowden’s disclosures led to public awareness which stimulated reform. Whether or not these clear benefits to the country merit a pardon, they surely do counsel for leniency.

In the American political system, bipartisan government reforms are generally regarded as the most legitimate and durable. Recently, however, our government has all but stopped making bipartisan reforms. There is one big exception: the surveillance reforms inspired by Edward Snowden’s revelations.

It was Snowden who supplied journalists with evidence that our government had, for many years, been collecting information about the domestic phone calls of millions of Americans. As a result, a bipartisan coalition in Congress formed to amend the Patriot Act to prohibit the practice. In the Senate, Mike Lee, a conservative Republican from Utah, joined with Patrick Leahy, a liberal Democrat from Vermont, to sponsor the reform. In the House, the move toward reform started with two Michigan Congressmen, Justin Amash, a junior Tea Party Republican from Grand Rapids, and John Conyers, a veteran liberal Democrat from Detroit. Republican Congressman James Sensenbrenner, a primary author of the Patriot Act and its extensions, also backed the reforms saying he and his colleagues had not intended to permit the NSA’s widespread scooping up of data about Americans’ communications.

It was also Snowden’s material that showed the extent to which the National Security Agency intercepts and filters international electronic communications from undersea fiber optic cables, and taps internal links connecting data centers for Internet companies like Yahoo! and Google. All this was in pursuit of former NSA Director Keith Alexander’s directive to “collect it all.” Untold millions of Americans’ communications are swept up in these programs, where they are available for perusal by the FBI and CIA through what has become known as the “backdoor” search loophole. Republican Reps. Ted Poe and Tom Massie have joined with Democratic Rep. Zoe Lofgren in sponsoring legislation to ban this practice.

Snowden’s documents also revealed the broad scope of NSA spying on foreigners including eavesdropping on close allies in addition to potential adversaries like Russia and China. While some have argued that leaking such “legal” surveillance activities disqualifies Snowden from any mercy, President Barack Obama has acknowledged that stronger controls were necessary. He implemented the first-ever reforms to afford privacy protection for foreigners from surveillance unless it is necessary to protect our national security.

The NSA, CIA, and Defense Department maintain that harm resulted from the disclosures, particularly with respect to our efforts overseas, where they say relationships with intelligence partners have been damaged and our adversaries may know more about our capabilities. No one is asking that these claims be ignored, only that they be checked, and then weighed against the benefits.

America clearly did benefit from Snowden’s disclosures. Former Attorney-General Eric Holder said that Snowden “performed a public service by raising the debate that we engaged in and by the changes that we made.” President Obama has said that the public debate regarding surveillance and accountability that Snowden generated “will make us stronger.” The President also issued an executive order recognizing that foreigners have privacy interests –– an acknowledgement no previous President had ever made –– and also asked the intelligence community to find ways to provide foreigners with some protections previously provided only to Americans.

Without Snowden, it would have been decades, if ever, until Americans learned what intelligence agencies acting in our name had been up to. We know first hand that lack of disclosure can cause just as many, if not more, harms to the nation than disclosure. When intelligence agencies operate in the dark, they often have gone too far in trampling on the legitimate rights of law-abiding Americans and damaging our reputation internationally. We saw this repeated time and time again when serving as staff members for the U.S. Senate Select Committee, known as the Church Committee, that in 1975-76 conducted the most extensive bipartisan investigation of a government’s secret activities ever, in this country or elsewhere.

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Presidential race: Austria’s Bernie-lite beats alt-right


Sunday’s Austrian presidential election bore some distinct similarities to the American presidential race, albeit one in which Bernie Sanders ghad won the Democratic nomination.

The race pitted an unaffiliated liberal, one decidedly to the right of Sanders, against an unalloyed anti-immigrant nationalist who evoked strong feelings of the darkest period of modern Austrian history.

Alexander Van der Bellen, an independent, triumphed over Norbert Hofer, candidate of the Freiheitliche Partei Österreichs [Austrian Freedom Party], a collection of far-right activists, many of whom call for creation of a Großdeutschland, a unified nation consisting of Austrian and Germany, and a phrase used by another Austrian-born politician who briefly accomplished the unification just before launching the Second World War.

Hofer, who packs a Glock and called for an end to Austria’s strict gun control laws, also sports a blue cornflower boutonniere, just as Austrian Nazis did during the 1930s during the periods when the party was banned.

From Deutsche  Welle:

According to a exit poll conducted by Austrian broadcaster ORF on Sunday, independent candidate Alexander Van der Bellen has been elected as Austrian president after winning 53.6 percent of the vote.

Right-wing candidate Norbert Hofer conceded defeat after garnering 46.6 percent of the electorate.

Van der Bellen had the backing of Austria’s Green Party, but ran as an independent in Sunday’s election. A pro-European liberal, the 72-year-old aspires to a fence-free “United States of Europe” and is a supporter of gay marriage.

During the bitter 11-month campaign, he won the support of many young Austrians and celebrities, calling for the country to be guided by “reasons not extremes.”