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Archive for January, 2014

Studies Reveal Consensus

Trade Flows during “Free Trade” Era Have Exacerbated US Income Inequality

Recent Studies: Trade’s Contribution to Inequality Has Increased since the 1990s and Is Likely to Increase Further

by Ben Beachy

Public Citizen (January 28 2014)

Tonight President Obama is expected to address two linked subjects in his State of the Union address: the historic rise in US income inequality and a trade policy agenda that threatens to exacerbate inequality. As we’ve repeatedly pointed out, Obama cannot have it both ways: he cannot propose to close the yawning income gap while pushing to Fast Track through Congress a controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) “free trade” deal that would widen the gap. The TPP would expand the status quo “free trade” model that study after study has found to be an increasingly significant contributor to US income inequality.

As unfair trade deals have been Fast Tracked into law, US income inequality has jumped to levels not seen since the robber baron era. Today, the richest ten percent of the US is taking over half of the economic pie, while the top one percent is taking more than one fifth. Wealthy individuals’ share of national income was stable for the first several decades after World War Two. But that share has shot up 51 percent for the richest ten percent and 146 percent for the richest one percent since the passage of Fast Track in 1974, a time period characterized by a series of unfair trade deals. The income share of the richest ten percent escalated particularly abruptly after the 1994 enactment of the North American Free Trade Agreement (Nafta), as indicated in the graph below.

http://citizen.typepad.com/.a/6a00d83452507269e201a3fcada444970b-450wi

Since 1941 standard economic theory has held that trade liberalization will contribute to greater income inequality in developed countries like the United States. In the early 1990s, as US income inequality soared amid the enactment of US “free trade” deals, a spate of economic studies put the theory to the test, aiming to determine the relative contribution of trade flows to the rise in US income inequality. The result was an academic consensus that trade flows had, in fact, contributed to rising US income inequality. The only debate was the extent of the blame to be placed on trade, with most studies estimating that between ten and forty percent of the rise in inequality during the 1980s and early 1990s stemmed from trade flows.

More recent studies have concluded that trade’s role in exacerbating US income inequality has likely grown since the 1990s, as US imports from lower-wage countries, and US job offshoring to those countries, have grown dramatically, impacting an increasing swath of middle-class jobs. Further, an array of studies now project future increases in the offshoring of US jobs, suggesting that even under current US trade policy, trade flows will soon be responsible for an even greater share of rising US income inequality. Attempts to Fast Track through Congress controversial deals like the TPP, which would incentivize further offshoring, would only exacerbate the historically high degree of US income inequality.

…..

Recent studies examining trade’s current and projected future contribution to US income inequality:

“Rising Income Inequality: Technology, or Trade and Financial Globalization?”
    by Florence Jaumotte, Subir Lall, and Chris Papageorgiou
    (International Monetary Fund, September 30 2009)

The International Monetary Fund authors find that the rise in income inequality from 1981 to 2003 in twenty developed countries, including the United States, is primarily attributable to trade and financial globalization trends. They conclude that globalization’s contribution to inequality has outweighed the role of technological advancement: “Among developed countries … the adverse impact of globalization is somewhat larger than that of technological progress” (page 19).

“Trade and Wages, Reconsidered”
    by Paul Krugman
    (The Brookings Institution,  Spring 2008)

In a Brookings Institution study, Nobel-winning economist Paul Krugman finds that trade flows likely now account for an even greater degree of US income inequality than that found in a series of studies from the early 1990s, which had already concluded that trade liberalization had a negative, but modest, impact on income inequality in developed countries like the United States. In particular, Krugman notes that US manufacturing imports from low-wage developing countries have grown dramatically in the last two decades, suggesting that the role of trade flows in spurring US income inequality growth is “considerably larger” than before (page 106).  Krugman concludes, “… there has been a dramatic increase in manufactured imports from developing countries since the early 1990s. And it is probably true that this increase has been a force for greater inequality in the United States and other developed countries” (page 134).

“Globalization, American Wages, and Inequality: Past, Present, and Future”
    by Josh Bivens
    (Economic Policy Institute, September 06 2007)

In this study Josh Bivens of the Economic Policy Institute updates an early-1990s model estimate of the impact of trade flows on US income inequality and finds that, using the model’s own conservative assumptions, the degree of US income inequality attributable to trade with lower-wage countries increased more than forty percent from 1995 to 2006. In addition, Bivens cites an array of recent economic studies that project that the offshoring of US jobs will increase under current trade policy, suggesting a substantial rise in the impact of trade flows on US income inequality. For example, Princeton economist and former Council of Economic Advisors member Alan Blinder estimates that about one in every four US jobs, including higher-paying service-sector jobs, could be offshored in the foreseeable future. While such studies differ in the projected extent of future US job offshoreability, all imply an increase in the impact of trade flows on US income inequality. Bivens finds that the range of projections for increased offshoring suggest a further 72 to 262 percent increase in US income inequality attributable to trade with lower-wage countries, compared to the level seen in 2006. Bivens concludes, “The potential level of redistribution caused by offshoring is vast, and, so should be the policy response” (page 8).

http://citizen.typepad.com/eyesontrade/2014/01/

Categories: Uncategorized

Mirabile Dictu!

Reid Tells Off Obama on Fast Track, Killing Toxic Trade Deals for 2014

by Yves Smith

Naked Capitalism (January 30 2014)

Obama made yet another pitch in State of the Union Address for his gimmies to multinationals known as the TransPacific Partnership and the TransAtlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. Today that idea went down in flames, at least as far as getting the deals done this year are concerned. From Huffington Post:

“I’m against fast track”, [Harry] Reid told reporters Wednesday on Capitol Hill, before suggesting a fast-track bill introduced by Senator Max Baucus (Democrat, Montana) may not get a vote.

“We’ll see. Everyone knows how I feel about this. Senator Baucus knows, [potential backer] Senator [Ron] Wyden knows. The White House knows”.

Indeed, Reid cautioned the president and his allies to back off.

“I think everyone would be well advised just to not push this right now”, the majority leader said.

Although Reid was known to be opposed to fast track, it’s quite another matter for him as a Democratic Congressional leader to tell Obama to take a hike. I can’t recall such frontal and public opposition to an important Administration initiative before. This is really humiliating.

And it also checkmates Obama, at least for now. From the Wall Street Journal:

Fast-track authority is seen as crucial to cementing a trade deal known as the Trans Pacific Partnership because of the reassurance it would provide negotiating partners in a last, tough round of talks. Other nations are typically reluctant to make trading concessions unless the US can offer assurances that trading pacts won’t be amended or rejected at the last minute….

“You can kiss any new trade deals goodbye”, said Senator John Cornyn (Republican, Texas.) “I think the majority leader’s focus is on the November elections and he doesn’t want to expose his vulnerable members to controversial votes”.

And from a later Wall Street Journal story:

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid broke publicly with the White House Wednesday on trade policy, instantly imperiling two major international trade deals and punching a hole in one piece of the economic agenda the president outlined in his State of the Union address a day earlier.

And although it received much less media coverage, matters for Obama got even worse because Ron Wyden signaled he’s not on board either. This matters because Wyden is taking over as the chairman of the Finance Services Committee when Max Bacus becomes Ambassador to China.

The Administration absurdly tried claiming it would continue to push for fast track, otherwise known as trade promotion authority. Really? Over Reid’s dead body?

Politico contends that the Administration still has alternatives:

A blocked Senate leaves the Obama administration with two options: wait until after November’s election and try its luck with a new Congress or push for passage of the Pacific Rim deal – which is likely to contain a host of contentious provisions – while insisting that lawmakers not change a word.

But my Congressional correspondents think another gambit is more likely: to make some cosmetic changes and try to get the bill passed during the lame duck session, on the assumption that some Democrats (particularly those who are leaving office) will use the cover and change positions.

However, that cheery view assumes that the situation is static, when opposition to these bills is becoming even more pronounced. Politico again:

Reid’s comments come amid mounting Democratic opposition to the bill. On Monday, 550 labor, environmental and consumer advocacy groups – including the United Autoworkers, which has lent Obama critical backing on previous free trade pacts such as the South Korea deal – sent a letter to Congress urging them to reject the fast-track bill.

And the repudiation by Reid and the stiffening resistance to these bills won’t go unnoticed overseas. The Wikileaks publication of drafts of two critical chapters showed a wide gap between the US positions and that of many of its supposed partners. Our reader Clive has also described how the Japanese media (and Japan is essential to the TPP being consummated) is being uncharacteristically direct in saying the US was not negotiating, and it would need to make significant concessions to reach an agreement. The TPP was already going pear shaped, and whatever sense of momentum the US had been able to create is now kaput.

Admittedly, the European trade deal is in much better shape, but the specter of a blunt rejection by Congressional leaders of the Administration’s own party may strengthen the hands of opponents. Remember, much can change in a year in politics.

So Naked Capitalism readers should pat themselves on the back. Your calls and e-mails to your Representatives and Senators helped deal the Administration a visible, embarrassing, and thoroughly deserved defeat. If Obama can’t deliver a deal that corporations lobbied for heavily, he’s firmly in lame duck territory.

I also hope you’ll thank your Congressmen for their opposition to these deals, and encourage them to keep up the good work. And be sure to thank Reid and Wyden. Good work!

Links:

The original version of this article, at the URL below, contains links to further information not included here.

http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2014/01/mirabile-dictu-reid-tells-obama-fast-track-killing-toxic-trade-deals-2014.html

Categories: Uncategorized

How Economists and Policymakers Murdered Our Economy

by Paul Craig Roberts

Institute for Political Economy (January 25 2014)

The economy has been debilitated by the offshoring of middle class jobs for the benefit of corporate profits and by the Federal Reserve’s policy of Quantitative Easing in order to support a few oversized banks that the government protects from market discipline. Not only does QE distort bond and stock markets, it threatens the value of the dollar and has resulted in manipulation of the gold price {1}.

When US corporations send jobs offshore, the GDP, consumer income, tax base, and careers associated with the jobs go abroad with the jobs. Corporations gain the additional profits at large costs to the economy in terms of less employment, less economic growth, reduced state, local and federal tax revenues, wider deficits, and impairments of social services.

When policymakers permitted banks to become independent of market discipline, they made the banks an unresolved burden on the economy. Authorities have provided no honest report on the condition of the banks. It remains to be seen if the Federal Reserve can create enough money to monetize enough debt to rescue the banks without collapsing the US dollar. It would have been far cheaper to let the banks fail and be reorganized.

US policymakers and their echo chamber in the economics profession have let the country down badly. They claimed that there was a “New Economy” to take the place of the “old economy” jobs that were moved offshore. As I have pointed out for a decade, US jobs statistics show no sign of the promised “New Economy”.

The same policymakers and economists who told us that “markets are self-regulating” and that the financial sector could safely be deregulated also confused jobs offshoring with free trade. Hyped “studies” were put together designed to prove that jobs offshoring was good for the US economy. It is difficult to fathom how such destructive errors could consistently be made by policymakers and economists for more than a decade. Were these mistakes or cover for a narrow and selfish agenda?

In June, 2009 happy talk appeared about “the recovery”, now 4.5 years old. As John Williams (shadowstats.com) has made clear, “the recovery” is entirely the artifact of the understated measure of inflation used to deflate nominal GDP. By under-measuring inflation, the government can show low, but positive, rates of real GDP growth. No other indicator supports the claim of economic recovery.

John Williams writes that consumer inflation, if properly measured, is running around nine percent, far above the two percent figure that is the Fed’s target and more in line with what consumers are actually experiencing. We have just had a 6.5% annual increase in the cost of a postage stamp.

The Fed’s target inflation rate is said to be low, but Simon Black points out that the result of a lifetime of two percent annual inflation is the loss of 75% of the purchasing power of the currency. He uses the cost of sending a postcard to illustrate the decline in the purchasing power of median household income today compared to 1951. That year it cost one cent to send a post card. As household income was $4,237, the household could send 423,700 postcards. Today the comparable income figure is $51,017. As it costs 34 cents to send one postcard, today’s household can only afford to send 150,050 postcards. Nominal income rose twelve times, and the cost of sending a postcard rose 34 times.

Just as the American people know that there is more inflation than is reported, they know that there is no recovery. The Gallup Poll reported this month that only 28% of Americans are satisfied with the economy {2}.

From hard experience, Americans have also caught on that “free trade agreements” are nothing but vehicles for moving their jobs abroad. The latest effort by the corporations to loot and defraud the public is known as the “Trans-Pacific Partnership”. “Fast-tracking” the bill allowed the corporations to write the bill in secret without congressional input. Some research shows that ninety percent of Americans will suffer income losses under TPP, while wealth becomes even more concentrated at the top.

TPP affects every aspect of our lives from what we eat to the Internet to the environment. According to Kevin Zeese in Alternet, “the leak of the [TPP] Intellectual Property Chapter revealed that it created a path to patent everything imaginable, including plants and animals, to turn everything into a commodity for profit”.

The secretly drafted TPP also creates authority for the executive branch to change existing US law to make the laws that were not passed in secret compatible with the secretly written trade bill. Buy American requirements and any attempt to curtail jobs offshoring would become illegal “restraints on trade”.

If the House and Senate are willing to turn over their legislative function to the executive branch, they might as well abolish themselves.

The financial media has been helping the Federal Reserve and the banks to cover up festering problems with rosy hype, but realization that there are serious unresolved problems might be spreading. Last week interest rates on thirty-day Treasury bills turned negative. That means people were paying more for a bond than it would return at maturity. Dave Kranzler sees this as a sign of rising uncertainty about banks. Reminiscent of the Cyprus banks’ limits on withdrawals, last Friday (January 24) the BBC reported that the large UK bank HSBC is preventing customers from withdrawing cash from their accounts in excess of several thousand pounds {3}.

If and when uncertainty spreads to the dollar, the real crisis will arrive, likely followed by high inflation, exchange controls, pension confiscations, and resurrected illegality of owning gold and silver. Capitalist greed aided and abetted by economists and policymakers will have destroyed America.

Links:

{1} http://www.paulcraigroberts.org/2014/01/17/hows-whys-gold-price-manipulation/

{2}  http://www.gallup.com/poll/166871/americans-satisfaction-economy-sours-2001.aspx?version=print [2]

{3} http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-25861717 [3]

Copyright (c) 2013 PaulCraigRoberts.org. All rights reserved.

http://www.paulcraigroberts.org/2014/01/25/economists-policymakers-murdered-economy-paul-craig-roberts/

Categories: Uncategorized

The Surveillance Blitz

by John Feffer

Foreign Policy in Focus (January 29 2014)

Some years ago when I was fielding complaints from authors through the National Writers Union – about not getting paid, about their work being spiked – I received a phone call from an irate woman. She told me that her best ideas were being stolen. She’d be watching television and a favorite drama would suddenly follow a plot line that she’d devised. Or she would go out to see a movie and hear the actors delivering her punch lines.

“Do you have any proof that you’ve been sending your scripts to these places?” I asked. “Do you have postal receipts, for example?”

“Oh, no!” she said indignantly. “These are ideas that I haven’t even put down on paper yet. They’ve obviously bugged my room and can read my mind!”

We have all laughed at the people who don tin foil hats to prevent the neighborhood telepaths – or the CIA or the Venusians – from invading their brains and stealing their secrets. “Paranoia: the destroyer”, as The Kinks put it so succinctly {1}. But soon we all might feel compelled to start wrapping our heads in aluminum, or the Internet-age equivalent.

You’ve probably heard by now the story {2} of the father from Minnesota who reamed out Target for sending his high-school daughter coupons for baby-related items. Was the retailer encouraging teenage pregnancy? He later had to apologize. Target, through its new statistical marketing tools, had determined from the young woman’s purchases that she was pregnant long before her hapless father had been informed of his impending grandfatherhood.

Or perhaps you’ve come across the more recent story {3} about protestors in Kiev who received text messages that read: “Dear subscriber, you are registered as a participant in a mass riot”. The Ukrainian government was trying to scare protestors into going home, but it only managed to heighten their concerns about government surveillance. Our cell phones have become like those ankle monitors that people on parole must wear so that the authorities know where they are at all times.

Maybe you’re thinking that it’s only governments of an authoritarian bent that engage in such data collection. By now, I would hope that Edward Snowden has disabused you of this quaint notion.

Since 2006, the National Security Agency (NSA) has been collecting information on all phone calls by all Americans. On a more selective basis, it has been looking at the content of emails and tracking cell phone locations and tapping into the data hubs of Google and Yahoo. It has installed bugs {4} on 100,000 computers all over the world. As David Cole writes {5} in The New York Review of Books,

Snowden’s disclosures portray an insatiable agency that has sought to collect as much information as it possibly can, most of it relying on secret interpretations of law, often exploiting the fact that the law has not caught up to technology.

Supporters of the surveillance methods have tried to downplay their intrusiveness by pointing out that the NSA does not monitor the content of the phone calls (though it can, and it has). This “metadata” covers whom you call and where you call from – as opposed to the actual words you utter during the phone call. Sound innocuous, even misleading, like judging a book by its cover? Stewart Baker, former general counsel of the NSA, is much more candid. “Metadata absolutely tells you everything about somebody’s life”, he says. {6} “If you have enough metadata you don’t really need content …  [It’s] sort of embarrassing how predictable we are as human beings”. The statisticians at Target could testify to that.

President Obama has sought to reassure the public that the NSA is not some vast Orwellian entity. In a speech on January 17 – the 53rd anniversary {7} of Eisenhower’s famous warning about the military-industrial complex – Obama portrayed surveillance {8}as American as baseball and apple pie, constructing a self-serving version of American history that linked Paul Revere, the Union army, and World War Two code breakers. We have been, in other words, a country of spies all along. (The difference is, of course, that all of those snoops were collecting information on adversaries and not their fellow citizens). The president went on to pledge greater presidential oversight, greater transparency, and additional safeguards for programs such as the bulk metadata collection.

But as James Oliphant points out {9} in The National Journal, not very much has changed at all:

What President Obama has announced will have little operational effect on the National Security Agency’s collection of Americans’ data. And, significantly, the administration has attempted to dodge some of the biggest decisions, passing the ball to Congress, which will likely do nothing if recent trends hold.

In short, metadata will still be collected, it will still be searched, and the FBI can issue its “national security letters” to collect business records without a court warrant.

The American public is similarly not convinced. In a Pew Center poll {10}, more than seventy percent of respondents said that the changes would neither protect the privacy of Americans nor make much different in the fight against terrorism.

The ethics of surveillance aside, the NSA program has proven to be a wastefully expensive search for a needle in a silo. Two separate studies have concluded that the metadata program has not done anything to protect the United States from terrorist attacks. According to the New America Foundation, the NSA program resulted in a single arrest {11} – of a cabdriver who sent money to a terrorist organization in Somalia. A White House-appointed panel came to the same conclusion and recommended a reversion back to traditional legal methods of obtaining data.

We are constantly being profiled. On the corporate side, we are willingly – though often unwittingly – giving up our information to the “predictive analytics” departments of Target, Amazon, the US Postal Service, and so on. The government, meanwhile, is also interested in predicting our behavior to anticipate acts of terrorism.

In honor of the upcoming Super Bowl, imagine the situation this way. Each one of us is a quarterback. We’ve taken the snap. But two very large linebackers – the government and the corporations – have easily gotten around the blockers. This is the blitz. And suddenly we’re getting hit from two sides, and our privacy tumbles out of our hands as we go down. The linebackers pounce on the bouncing ball.

So far, the government and the corporations have only coordinated their assault on our privacy in a selective way, with agreements between the NSA and the phone companies and Internet providers. But imagine what it might be like if the FBI calls us in for a chat one day based on a profile constructed out of our Amazon purchases (Chomsky), Target receipts (bullhorn and posterboard), and Google Chat (about the illegality of drone strikes)? What if the Amazon recommendation system offers subtle entrapments: “you liked the Koran, why not try Sayeed Qutb’s Milestones and the Complete Book of Explosives?”

The linebackers are bulking up, and the blockers are getting thinner by the minute. How do we defend against the blitz? Cancel our Facebook accounts? Break out the aluminum foil?

On the government side, we should turn back the clock. As Michael Ratner writes at Truthout {12}, “Warrantless surveillance should be stopped altogether, and metadata should only be collected and retained on an individual basis by a court order under the Fourth Amendment, with a standard of probable cause”. Takes too long, you object? In that single example of terrorism prevention, the NSA shared the phone number of the cabdriver with the FBI and it took them two months to begin their investigation.

On the corporate side, we can “opt out” of information sharing in many of our interactions – on line, through the postal service, with the telephone company. It’s not just about blocking junk mail and robocalls. It’s about donning a hazmat suit when venturing out into the Internet.

We have become all too comfortable opening up our lives to the scrutiny of others. Privatization is still all the rage {13} in the economic sphere. How about a campaign to privatize privacy?

Links:

{1} http://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/kinks/destroyer.html

{2} http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/19/magazine/shopping-habits.html?pagewanted=1&_r=2&hphttp://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/22/world/europe/ukraine-protests.html?partner=rss&emc=rss&smid=tw-nytimesworld&_r=1

{4} http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/15/us/nsa-effort-pries-open-computers-not-connected-to-internet.html?hp&_r=0

{5} http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2014/feb/06/three-leakers-and-what-do-about-them/?pagination=false

{6} http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2013/nov/21/snowden-leaks-and-public/

{7} http://www.usatoday.com/story/theoval/2014/01/16/obama-eisenhower-nsa-surveillance-military-industrial-complex/4508667/

{8} http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/full-text-of-president-obamas-jan-17-speech-on-nsa-reforms/2014/01/17/fa33590a-7f8c-11e3-9556-4a4bf7bcbd84_story.html

{9} http://www.defenseone.com/politics/2014/01/obamas-nsa-proposals-fall-far-short-real-change/77096/?oref=d-interstitial-continue

{10} http://www.people-press.org/2014/01/20/obamas-nsa-speech-has-little-impact-on-skeptical-public/

{11} http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/nsa-phone-record-collection-does-little-to-prevent-terrorist-attacks-group-says/2014/01/12/8aa860aa-77dd-11e3-8963-b4b654bcc9b2_story.html

{12} http://truth-out.org/opinion/item/21461-obamas-nsa-speech-makes-orwellian-surveillance-patriotic

{13} http://www.economist.com/news/leaders/21593453-governments-should-launch-new-wave-privatisations-time-centred-property-9

http://fpif.org/surveillance-blitz/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=surveillance-blitz

Categories: Uncategorized

Diabolics 101

by Dmitry Orlov

Club Orlov (January 28 2014)

Project Unspell is proceeding apace. Meanwhile, here is a guest post by Claire about her firsthand experience teaching people to read and write using the “diabolical” English orthography. Teachers like her, who have the knowledge and the skill to achieve superior results, are few and far between. The average results are abysmal: it takes upwards of eight years of formal instruction for native English speakers to achieve adequate literacy, and as many as ten for non-natives. Many of them never make it. Meanwhile, it takes a year or so to achieve the same results given almost any reasonably designed orthography. The opportunity cost to society of English spelling is absolutely staggering. But help is on the way: Unspell is specifically designed to be learnable “by osmosis”.

_____

Twelve years ago I was shocked to find I had no idea how to teach anyone to read and write. For most people this would be no reason to panic. But it was for me because I was in my final year of teacher training. Incredibly, I’d spent nearly four years in the education faculty of an Australian university and no one had mentioned the mechanics of the English writing system, where it originated and how to teach it. This omission seemed even more bizarre when I later discovered that English is one of the hardest languages to learn to read and write.

So instead of being taught something useful, I had to read scores of academic articles about how to create a language-rich classroom in which to immerse my students. All this richness and immersion was somehow meant to help children “emerge into literacy” provided they were “exposed” to truckloads of print. In other words, learning to read and write would occur via osmosis with little or no instruction from me.

Despite this ludicrous premise, it didn’t immediately occur to me that this osmosis theory is bonkers. So I went along with the charade until it hit me that our writing system is a human invention that needs to be taught. Like driving, for instance. A car is a human contrivance in need of a driver to navigate it around the landscape. Yet no one seriously expects a learner driver to “emerge into driving” by standing on a street corner and being “exposed” to traffic. Learner drivers need direct instruction on how to handle a car and no one is idiotic enough to suggest otherwise.

And yet, when it comes to teaching one of the world’s most fearsome orthographies, we seem to think the less instruction the better. And even when we do give instructions, they’re often wrong or misguided. This is a disastrous way to approach a complex written language and the functional illiteracy rate in English-speaking countries attests to this.

Strangely, this pedagogical boondoggle did not occur in the education faculty’s mathematics department. I have no recollection of anyone arguing that children “emerge into numeracy” provided they are “exposed” to lots of numbers. Instead, it was made clear that mathematics is a human invention that needs systematic instruction. Consequently, I was taught how to teach our number system.

Anyway, after I stopped panicking I figured that if I was going to teach children to read and write a difficult writing system, then I was going to have to do it properly. Luckily, I encountered a book by Geoffrey and Carmen McGuinness called Reading Reflex (1999). It taught me the structure of the English written language, where it originated and how to teach it. It also confirmed what I suspected – that reading and writing need careful and systematic instruction, especially with an orthography as diabolical as ours. And the thing is, children can learn to read and write English provided those who teach them know what they’re dealing with. The trouble is, many of us don’t. Because we’re not trained to deal with it.

Here’s what we’re dealing with: A code. An alphabet code we inherited from the Romans, who, inspired by the Ancient Greeks and the Phoenicians, created it by listening to the sounds of their language and devising a symbol to represent each of these sounds. Consequently, if the sound-based nature of this alphabet code is misunderstood, then written English is not taught in the way it was designed. The result: lots and lots of people who can barely read and write.

So it makes sense to teach it well. But nothing makes much sense in our society, so the teaching of reading and writing makes little sense either. Frankly, I’m amazed anyone reads and writes at all given the poor training teachers receive and the haphazard way literacy is taught.

Something else I didn’t learn at university. A writing system like English is called an opaque alphabet code. This means we have more than one symbol for each sound and more than one way to read and write each sound. This contrasts with transparent alphabet codes like Italian, Spanish and German where there is mainly one way to read and write each sound. It’s no surprise, then, that this makes transparent codes easy to teach and learn.

And, believe it or not, English itself was once a transparent code. Here’s the sad story:

Once upon a time, English had a perfect written language. It was easy to read and easy to write. One sound equalled one way of reading and writing it. English was as near to phonetic written perfection as you can imagine. Two Dark Age luminaries were responsible for this linguistic marvel. The first was an Anglo-Saxon king and the second, an Irish bishop. Astonishingly, in the wilds of Northumbria in 635 AD, King Oswald and Bishop Aiden created a writing system we now know as Old English. Somehow it managed to survive centuries of Viking mayhem before finally meeting its Waterloo at the Battle of Hastings when the Norman-French army defeated the Anglo-Saxon King Harold II in 1066.

Old English then suffered such a calamitous decline that I’m thankful King Oswald and Bishop Aiden never lived to see its fate. This is because English has gone from a near-perfect writing system to a bizarre creature that needs to be wrestled to the ground. Where once it was delightfully easy to read and write, it is now a mad jumble of multiple spellings for the same sound and multiple ways to read the same sound.

Of course, the Norman-French weren’t the only ones responsible for this linguistic farrago. As I’ve already said, the Vikings had already done their best to obliterate Old English with their raids on libraries and monasteries, but early Medieval English priests, judges and scholars also joined the fray and threw Latin and Greek spellings into an already heady mix of Anglo-Saxon, Danish and Norman French.

The upshot of all this Norman invading and Viking pillaging and nerdy Latin/Greek obsession is that English ended up with no less than five languages and their orthographies layered over one another: Anglo-Saxon, Danish, Norman French, Classical Latin and Greek. No wonder modern English is so tricky to read and write.

Anyway, several years after I graduated, I felt confident enough to start my own remedial reading and spelling business. I had no shortage of pupils, all of whom were doing their best to make sense of a written language that made no sense to them whatsoever. At their first lesson, I told them about English and how it had once been easy to read and write. I then told them about King Oswald and Bishop Aiden. I also suggested that they blame at least some of their spelling woes on the Vikings and the Norman French and the medieval scholars and judges and priests.

It was at this point that their faces softened. Finally, they could relax. It wasn’t their fault. They were not stupid. They were just stuck trying to understand a writing system that had strayed a long way from King Oswald’s and Bishop Aiden’s original, magnificent creation. For theirs was a linguistic masterpiece that, had it survived, would make the lives of countless children and adults less miserable and throw people like me out of a job.

References:

Reading Reflex, C McGuinness & G McGuinness (Simon & Schuster, 1999).

Early Reading Instruction, D McGuinness (The MIT Press, 2004)

http://cluborlov.blogspot.jp/2014/01/diabolics-101.html

Categories: Uncategorized

NSA is after industrial spying

Snowden to German TV

http://rt.com (January 27 2014)

The NSA agency is not preoccupied solely with national security, but also spies on foreign industrial entities in US business interests, former American intelligence contractor, Edward Snowden, has revealed in an interview to German TV.

Edward Snowden chose the German ARD broadcaster to make his first TV interview ever since he became a whistleblower. The interview was made in strict secrecy in an unspecified location in Russia, where Snowden is currently living under temporary asylum.

“There is no question that the US is engaged in economic spying”, said Snowden.

If an industrial giant like Siemens has something that the NSA believes “would be beneficial to the national interests, not the national security, of the United States, they will go after that information and they’ll take it”, the whistleblower said, giving an example.

Edward Snowden disavowed participation in any future publications of the documents he withdrew from the NSA databanks, saying in the same interview that he no longer possesses any NSA data. The information has been distributed among a number of trustworthy journalists, who are going to decide for themselves what to make public and in what sequence.

The full thirty-minute version was aired at eleven pm local time (22:00 UTC) on Sunday.

The former NSA contractor’s revelations about US global spying activities, including snooping on its closest allies, put transatlantic ties “to the test”, said German Chancellor Angela Merkel last November and demanded that Washington give Germany clarity over the future of the NSA in the country.

Snowden’s revelation hit Berlin particularly hard because Germany is a non-Anglophone country, and therefore is not a member of the ‘Five eyes’ intelligence alliance that incorporates NSA-equivalent agencies in Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, Deutsche Welle points out. While members of the ‘Five eyes’ were exchanging intelligence on a regular basis, Berlin had to consider itself satisfied with less data, while both Washington and London, for example, were blatantly listening to German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cell phone right in the middle of Germany’s capital.

The Germans – according to polls – have lost confidence in the US as a trustworthy partner, and the majority of them consider NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden a hero.

In order to mend fences, US President Barack Obama made a rare appearance on German TV. On January 18 President Obama told the ZDF TV channel that “As long as I’m president of the United States, the chancellor of Germany will not have to worry about this”.

Yet Germany remains skeptical about US promises of discontinuing spying on foreign leaders, and is in the vanguard of a number of European countries aiming to change data privacy rules in the EU.

Former NSA contractor, Edward Snowden, remains in Russia, where his temporary political asylum status could be extended every year. He has no plans for returning to the US where he would face trial for alleged treason.

“Returning to the US, I think, is the best resolution for the government, the public, and myself, but it’s unfortunately not possible in the face of current whistleblower protection laws, which through a failure in law did not cover national security contractors like myself”, said Snowden during his public Q&A session last Thursday.

Snowden said in the interview that there is “significant threat” to his life but he “sleeps well”, as he believes he had done the right thing.

“These people, and they are government officials, have said they would love to put a bullet in my head or poison me when I come out of the supermarket, and then watch as I die in the shower”, he said in reference to a report published by US website BuzzFeed which cited explicit threats against Snowden made by unnamed Pentagon and NSA officials.

“There are significant threats but I sleep very well”, he said in the interview that took place last Thursday.

In response to the reported threats, Snowden’s lawyer, Anatoly Kucherena, said that Snowden will ask Russian law enforcers to protect him. He stressed that death threats carry criminal liability in Russia.

Snowden’s refugee status means he is fully entitled to ask the police for help, the lawyer said.

Speaking to Russian TV channel Vesti 24, Kucherena said that Snowden is constantly accompanied by private guards, but added that such security “might not be enough” to ensure his safety.

The lawyer said he will demand that US authorities look into the threatening statements published in US media, adding that their authors should be identified.

Speaking on Sunday, Snowden’s American legal adviser said that the whistleblower would be willing to enter talks with US Attorney General Eric Holder to negotiate his return to the United States, but not without a guarantee of amnesty.

“It’s a little disheartening that [Holder] seemed to take clemency and amnesty off the table, which are two of the negotiating points”, Jesselyn Radack told NBC.

Links:

The original version of this article, at the URL below, contains links to further information not included here.

http://rt.com/news/snowden-nsa-industrial-interview-208/

Categories: Uncategorized

Rising Tide of Public Outrage …

… on the Verge of Stopping a Shady Corporate Deal in Washington
 
by Kevin Zeese and Margaret Flowers {2}
 
AlterNet {1} (January 17 2014)

The White House is calling January “Trade Promotion Authority Month,” and has made it their task to pass Fast Track. President Obama needs Fast Track to pass the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). When Congress returned this month, a bill was quickly introduced after delays of more than a year.

The lies begin with title of the bill: the Bipartisan Congressional Trade Priorities Act of 2014. Bipartisan? In the House there was only one sponsor, Republican David Camp (Michigan). The Republicans demanded the Democrats add a sponsor before it was introduced, but due to public pressure, they could not find one.

The only Democrat on the bill in the Senate is Max Baucus (Montana), who gave us the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy and who is leaving the senate to become ambassador to China.  So, the bill is only bipartisan until he heads off to his new job.

Baucus likes to informally call the bill the Job Creating Bipartisan Trade Priorities Act, but that just adds another lie since trade agreements consistently lose jobs, expand the wealth divide and increase trade deficits.

TPP Loses Momentum

After four years of secret negotiations with more than 600 corporate advisers, the once seemingly invincible largest trade bill in history, covering forty percent of the world’s economy, looks very much like it can be defeated.

Why is the TPP looking like it can be stopped? One reason is its secrecy. Leaks are sinking the TPP like the Titanic. Ron Kirk, the former US trade representative, said they were keeping it secret because the more people knew, the less they would like the TPP and it would become so unpopular it could never become law. Each leak has proven him right.

This week, Wikileaks published the Environmental Chapter. The bottom line – there is no enforcement to protect the environment. The TPP is worse than President George W Bush’s trade deals. Mainstream environmental groups are saying the TPP is unacceptable.

Similarly, the leak of the Intellectual Property Chapter revealed that it created a path to patent everything imaginable, including plants and animals, to turn everything into a commodity for profit. The Obama administration was pushing it way beyond normal intellectual property law in order to increase profits for everything from pharmaceuticals to textbooks.

The refrain is always the same: profits come first. The necessities of the people and protection of the planet come last.

Backlash in Congress to Fast Track

Baucus announced last March that he would deliver Fast Track by June. Pressure delayed it so that now the bill is being introduced in the beginning of an election year. Election years are a terrible time to pass anything controversial.

The TPP is becoming politically toxic. Over the last year there has been a steady stream of emails and phone calls to Congress. Members have faced constituent meetings and protests where TPP is being raised. Some examples of protests: Los Angeles, Seattle, Washington, DC, Salt Lake City, Minneapolis, US Trade Representative Office, Vancouver, Leesburg, New York City … we could go on. Americans have sent a clear message to members of Congress that they better not be associated with the TPP in an election year.

When Fast Track was introduced there was a backlash, according to public reports, of angry Democrats. Representative Earl Blumenauer (Democrat, Oregon) told Huffington Post: “I’m a little disappointed that something’s dropped that was never discussed with Democrats in the House. As I understand it, it wasn’t actually discussed with Democrats in the Senate.”

Five members of the Senate Finance Committee {3} told US Trade Representative Mike Froman they will not support the Baucus Fast Track bill because Congress needs to be involved throughout the process not just in an up or down vote after it is completed. During a hearing on Fast Track on Thursday protesters were there expressing their displeasure.

Baucus says he will not be holding a markup of the bill because of the divisions on the Finance Committee. Senator Ron Wyden (Democrat, Oregon), who will be taking Baucus’ place, told Politico there was “broad frustration” with the lack of transparency. Majority Leader Reid {4} has put Fast Track on a slow track in the Senate saying he does not plan to bring it to the Senate floor as there was too much controversy around it.

As bad as the Senate sounds for the administration, the House is even worse. Opposition has been building in recent months with Democrats and Republicans writing President Obama opposing Fast Track.

They could not find a Democratic co-sponsor and now Politico reports that Speaker Boehner says he will not bring the bill to the floor for a vote unless fifty Democrats support it.

State of the Union: Last Stand for Fast Track of TPP?

The president’s TPA month is off to a bad start, so he has to make a big pitch in his upcoming State of the Union on January 28. If he doesn’t, it’s a sign he has given up and is distancing himself from defeat. He’s not only going to have to persuade almost every Republican to support him (that would be a first for his presidency), he’s going to have to convince every Democrat who has not taken a position, and change the minds of many who have already publicly said they oppose Fast Track.

The problem is members of Congress know that if they get on the wrong side of corporate trade agreements, it will hurt them politically. The public is angry about this job-killing trade deal; even Minority Leader Pelosi has had her events interrupted by TPP protesters. An event in Los Angeles with President Obama {5}, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid had hundreds of TPP protesters. The social movement against corporate trade is coming across loud and clear leading top House Democrats to describe it as “dead on arrival” if it does not protect labor and the environment. We know from the Environment Chapter that it does not protect the environment. Major unions oppose the TPP because it is evident, like all corporate trade, that it will be a bad deal for labor since a major goal is lower wages.

The views of many in Congress were summarized in a statement by Democratic Representatives George Miller (California), Louise Slaughter (New York) and Rosa DeLauro (Connecticut):

 

Our constituents did not send us to Washington to ship their jobs overseas, and Congress will not be a rubber stamp for another flawed trade deal that will hang the middle class out to dry.

 

Members of Congress have seen the research that shows ninety percent of Americans will see their income go down from the TPP while the wealthiest get wealthier. Why would any member of Congress want to sign on to something like that – especially in an election year?

Congress should oppose Fast Track because it is an Obama power grab. Under the Baucus-Camp bill the Congress will have ninety days to review the agreement. The House will have sixty days and the Senate will have an additional thirty days. The count begins when the White House decides the negotiations have been completed.

Under the Baucus-Camp Fast Track the president is also able to draft extensive implementing legislation to bring US law into compliance with the agreement. It is up to the president to decide what changes in laws or new laws are needed to comply with the TPP. Congress is not able to markup or amend the language of these bills.

These can be very significant laws. For example, provisions like “Buy American” or “Buy Local” can be repealed as a restraint on trade. In all of these cases under Fast Track the president becomes the Congress and drafts legislation, totally destroying the checks and balances of the three branches of government.

As some anti-TPP activists in Los Angeles showed in a street theater action in front of the offices of Representative Xavier Becerra (Democrat, California), Fast Track makes Congress unnecessary. They brought the “TPP movers” to his office and outsourced him. It is important for activists to know what is in Fast Track because the US Trade Representative has been doing its best to mislead the public.

Time to Finish the Job, Make Fast Track for the TPP Politically Toxic

The movement against the TPP has come a long way in the last year from challenging a trade agreement no one knew about and looked like it could not be stopped, to a trade agreement widely known about in activist circles and which is becoming too toxic for elected officials to be associated with in an election year.

The reason we have come this far is because the TPP affects so many aspects of daily life: our food, the environment, workplaces, the Internet, banking and finance, job availability, healthcare, energy, and the list goes on and on. As people learn about the TPP and what it does, they oppose it. While lame ducks like Obama and Baucus who do not have to seek re-election can ignore angry constituents and follow the demands of big money, those seeking re-election do not have that luxury.

We need to continue to build opposition and show elected officials they do not want to be associated with these toxic trade agreements. They need to understand that fast-tracking the TPP could end their career.

A lot is already planned. To stay informed “like” the Flush the TPP Facebook page and follow the Twitter feed where we will be regularly publishing new shareable memes to continue to build the Stop the TPP movement. If more TPP leaks come out, we’ll provide immediate analysis. If there are hearings we will organize protests to make sure the voices of opposition are heard and share that information.

Every Tuesday there is a TPP Twitter storm at 9 pm Eastern time. Follow the hashtag #TPPMediaMarch to participate. There will be a special TPP storm during the State of the Union on January 28.

Scores of organizations have come together in a movement of movements to create a webpage StopFastTrack.org. We’ve planned ten key days of pressure on Congress from January 22nd to 31st. During this period, people will be making phone calls to Congress through the website which will provide simple tools to call Congress. In addition, during this period, people are organizing for the State of the Union on January 28 and an Intercontinental Day of Action on January 31.

During the State of the Union, people opposed to the TPP plan to stand vigil outside of Congress beginning at 8:30 pm so they can be there when the president arrives for the speech that begins at 9 pm. During the speech a special State of the Union Twitter storm will be held from 9 to 10 pm EST, follow #TPPMediaMarch to participate.

On January 31, there will be an Intercontinental Day of Action against the TPP and corporate globalization. The theme is No More NAFTAs. This month is the twenty-year anniversary of NAFTA, which has had devastating consequences for working families, small farmers, indigenous peoples, small business and the environment in all three countries and beyond. The TPP is fairly described as “NAFTA on steroids”.

We have come an incredible distance and the likelihood of stopping the TPP is stronger than it ever has been. The president and transnational corporations will make an aggressive push to pass Fast Track this month. It is our job to stop them and make it impossible to bring Fast Track or the TPP up again. We can accomplish this and when we do it will be a tremendous victory of the people over transnational corporate power.

You can watch Kevin Zeese talk further about the Environment Chapter of the TPP on The Real News Network {6}.

Sign up for the daily news digest of Popular Resistance. {7} This article is produced by PopularResistance.org {8} in conjunction withAlterNet {9}. It is based on PopularResistance.org’s weekly newsletter {10} reviewing the activities of the resistance movement.

See more stories tagged with TPP {11}, Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) {12}.

Links:

{1} http://alternet.org

{2} http://www.alternet.org/authors/kevin-zeese-and-margaret-flowers

{3} http://www.brown.senate.gov/404/?go=newsroom/press/release/sens-brown-casey-cardin-stabenow-and-menendez-call-on-us-trade-rep-to-better-consult-congress-on-proposed-fast-trackchromehtml/shell/open/command

{4} http://www.popularresistance.org/harry-reid-fast-track-corporate-trade-bill-goes-nowhere/

{5} http://www.popularresistance.org/obama-pelosi-and-reid-greeted-by-anti-tpp-protesters-in-la/

{6} http://therealnews.com/t2/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=31&Itemid=74&jumival=11350

{7} http://www.popularresistance.org/daily-digest/

{8} http://www.popularresistance.org/the-tasks-of-the-people-powered-movement-for-2014/

{9} http://www.alternet.org/activism/tasks-movement-2014

{10} http://www.popularresistance.org/category/newsletter/

{11} http://www.alternet.org/tags/tpp

{12} http://www.alternet.org/tags/trans-pacific-partnership-tpp

http://www.alternet.org/activism/growing-tide-people-pressure-making-shadowy-corporate-scheme-politically-toxic-washington

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