Piketty calls out GOP hypocrisy on inequality

Krystal Ball speaks with French economist Thomas Piketty about Jeb Bush’s and Hillary Clinton’s economic plans and why the Wall Street Journal has got him all wrong.

President Barack Obama Weekly Address April 25, 2015 (Video/Trascript )

President Barack Obama
Weekly Address
The White House
April 25, 2015
Hi, everybody. I’ve talked a lot lately about why new trade deals are important to our economy.

Today, I want to talk about why new trade deals are important to our values.
They’re vital to middle-class economics -- the idea that this country does best when everyone gets their fair shot, everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same set of rules.

These are simple values. They’re American values. And we strive to make sure our own economy lives up to them, especially after a financial crisis brought about by recklessness and greed. But we also live in a world where our workers have to compete on a global scale. Right now, on an uneven playing field. Where the rules are different. And that’s why America has to write the rules of the global economy -- so that our workers can compete on a level playing field.

I understand why a lot of people are skeptical of trade deals. Past deals didn’t always live up to the hype. They didn’t include the kind of protections we’re fighting for today.

We have lessons to learn from the past -- and we have learned them. But trying to stop a global economy at our shores isn’t one of those lessons. We can’t surrender to the future -- because we are meant to win the future. If America doesn’t shape the rules of the global economy today, to benefit our workers, while our economy is in a position of new global strength, then China will write those rules. I’ve seen towns where manufacturing collapsed, plants closed down, and jobs dried up. And I refuse to accept that for our workers. Because I know when the playing field is level, nobody can beat us.

That’s why, when I took office, we started thinking about how to revamp trade in a way that actually works for working Americans. And that’s what we’ve done with a new trade partnership we’re negotiating in the Asia-Pacific -- home to the world’s fastest-growing markets.

It’s the highest-standard trade agreement in history. It’s got strong provisions for workers and the environment -- provisions that, unlike in past agreements, are actually enforceable. If you want in, you have to meet these standards. If you don’t, then you’re out. Once you’re a part of this partnership, if you violate your responsibilities, there are actually consequences. And because it would include Canada and Mexico, it fixes a lot of what was wrong with NAFTA, too.

So this isn’t a race to the bottom, for lower wages and working conditions. The trade agreements I’m negotiating will drive a race to the top. And we’re making sure American workers can retool through training programs and community colleges, and use new skills to transition into new jobs.

If I didn’t think this was the right thing to do for working families, I wouldn’t be fighting for it. We’ve spent the past six years trying to rescue the economy, retool the auto industry, and revitalize American manufacturing. And if there were ever an agreement that undercut that progress, or hurt those workers, I wouldn’t sign it. My entire presidency is about helping working families recover from recession and rebuild for the future. As long as I’m President, that’s what I’ll keep fighting to do.

Thanks, and have a great weekend.


An Introduction to Climate Change

What it could mean to you and your family

Source:Natural Resources Defense Council

Climate change is changing our economy, health and communities in diverse ways. Scientists warn that if we do not aggressively curb climate change now, the results will likely be disastrous.

The Basics

Carbon dioxide and other global warming pollutants are collecting in the atmosphere like a thickening blanket, trapping the sun's heat and causing the planet to warm up.
Although local temperatures fluctuate naturally, over the past 50 years the average global temperature has increased at the fastest rate in recorded history. Scientists say that unless we curb the emissions that cause climate change, average U.S. temperatures could be 3 to 9 degrees higher by the end of the century.
The United States Global Change Research Program (which includes the Department of Defense, NASA, National Science Foundation and other government agencies) has said that "global warming is unequivocal and primarily human-induced" and that "climate changes are underway in the United States and are projected to grow."
Read more

What it means to you

Climate change is a complex phenomenon, and its full-scale impacts are hard to predict far in advance. But each year scientists learn more about how climate change is affecting the planet and our communities, and most agree that certain consequences are likely to occur if current trends continue.
In addition to impacting our water resources, energy supply, transportation, agriculture, and ecosystems, the United States Global Change Research Program concludes that climate change also poses unique challenges to human health, such as:

  • Significant increases in the risk of illness and death related to extreme heat and heat waves are very likely.
  • Some diseases transmitted by food, water, and insects are likely to increase.
  • Certain groups, including children, the elderly, and the poor, are most vulnerable to a range of climate-related health effects.
These impacts will result in significant costs to our families and the economy.
Read more about the consequences of climate change


Here's the good news: technologies exist today to make cars that run cleaner and burn less gas, modernize power plants and generate electricity from nonpolluting sources, and cut our electricity use through energy efficiency. The challenge is to be sure these solutions are put to use.
NRDC is tackling global warming on two main fronts – cutting pollution and expanding clean energy.
Transitioning to a clean energy economy will bring new jobs and reduce air pollution. We can’t afford to wait.
Read more

Take Action

We can each play an important role in stopping climate change. Click here to help make a difference right now, and find some more action ideas here.
Unfortunately, there is a lot of confusion about climate change. You can help by being a voice for reason and common-sense. For detailed, point-by-point rebuttals to global warming naysayers, see Grist's How to Talk to a Climate Skeptic.

President Barack Obama Weekly Address April 18, 2015 (Video/Trascript )

President Barack Obama
Weekly Address
The White House
April 18, 2015
Hi everybody.  Wednesday is Earth Day, a day to appreciate and protect this precious planet we call home.  And today, there’s no greater threat to our planet than climate change.

2014 was the planet’s warmest year on record.  Fourteen of the 15 hottest years on record have all fallen in the first 15 years of this century.  This winter was cold in parts of our country – as some folks in Congress like to point out – but around the world, it was the warmest ever recorded.

And the fact that the climate is changing has very serious implications for the way we live now.  Stronger storms.  Deeper droughts.  Longer wildfire seasons.  The world’s top climate scientists are warning us that a changing climate already affects the air our kids breathe.  Last week, the Surgeon General and I spoke with public experts about how climate change is already affecting patients across the country.  The Pentagon says that climate change poses immediate risks to our national security.

And on Earth Day, I’m going to visit the Florida Everglades to talk about the way that climate change threatens our economy.  The Everglades is one of the most special places in our country.  But it’s also one of the most fragile.  Rising sea levels are putting a national treasure – and an economic engine for the South Florida tourism industry – at risk.

So climate change can no longer be denied – or ignored.  The world is looking to the United States – to us – to lead.  And that’s what we’re doing.  We’re using more clean energy than ever before.  America is number one in wind power, and every three weeks, we bring online as much solar power as we did in all of 2008.  We’re taking steps to waste less energy, with more fuel-efficient cars that save us money at the pump, and more energy-efficient buildings that save us money on our electricity bills.

So thanks in part to these actions, our carbon pollution has fallen by 10 percent since 2007, even as we’ve grown our economy and seen the longest streak of private-sector job growth on record.  We’ve committed to doubling the pace at which we cut carbon pollution, and China has committed, for the first time, to limiting their emissions.  And because the world’s two largest economies came together, there’s new hope that, with American leadership, this year, the world will finally reach an agreement to prevent the worst impacts of climate change before it’s too late.

This is an issue that’s bigger and longer-lasting than my presidency.  It’s about protecting our God-given natural wonders, and the good jobs that rely on them.  It’s about shielding our cities and our families from disaster and harm.  It’s about keeping our kids healthy and safe.  This is the only planet we’ve got.  And years from now, I want to be able to look our children and grandchildren in the eye and tell them that we did everything we could to protect it.

Thanks everybody, and have a great weekend.

The People Pay, Corporations Cash In: Problems Plague EU Medical Research Initiative

The EU spends billions in subsidies on pharmaceutical research, with funds going to the Innovative Medicines Initiative, an alliance of corporations and universities with the aim of developing new drugs. Its record has been disastrous. 

It was a good idea -- at least in theory. The European Commission wanted to create a program with billions in funding to subsidize universities, smaller research institutions and drug manufacturers. The goal was to collaborate in the development of essential medicines. But an investigation by SPIEGEL ONLINE, Swiss public broadcaster SRF and the Belgian daily newspaper De Standaard shows that the Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI), funded with more than €2.5 billion ($2.74 billion) in taxpayer money, has been used almost exclusively to subsidize the pharmaceutical industry through the circuitous route of research.

The investigative team spent half a year analyzing IMI's structure, procedures and finances, interviewing more than 70 people in the process. Those interviewed included researchers, politicians and employees of pharmaceutical companies and non-governmental organizations.

When it was launched in 2009, former European Commissioner for Science and Research Janez Potocnik described the new flagship as a "Champions League for biomedical research." The IMI's anticipated projects relating to diabetes, mental disorders, pain and drug safety were intended to usher in a new era of research.
IMI currently has a budget of more than €5 billion. Half of its funding comes from the EU and is disbursed to project partners, including universities, small and mid-sized companies and research institutions. The other half is provided by the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations (EFPIA), which provides investment in the form of payments in kind, such as making laboratories available for research.

More than 1,220 companies, research institutions, patient advocacy organizations and regulatory agencies are involved in the various projects, with 223 participants coming from Germany alone. Pharmaceutical companies such as GlaxoSmithKline, Bayer, Sanofi, AstraZeneca and Pfizer also participate in IMI. Participants in higher education include Berlin's Charité university hospital, as well as universities in Freiburg, Germany, Uppsala, Sweden, and Leiden and Utrecht in the Netherlands. IMI is the world's largest public-private partnership (PPP) in the medical sciences.

So what has become of the project? After five years, it is clear that IMI has developed in different directions than initially envisioned. SPIEGEL ONLINE and its partners reviewed key aspects and problem areas of the project.

We fact-checked IMI in seven important areas, which can be read by clicking on the following links:
In its research, the investigative team determined that the following problems pose key challenges for IMI's credibility:
  • The European Union pays while industry cashes in.
  • Participating universities and research institutions have little influence over what happens at IMI.
  • In practical terms, IMI's main purpose is to conduct research in areas that benefit the pharmaceutical industry, as opposed to its original purpose, which was to develop treatments and essential medicines.
  • The control mechanisms lack transparency, and reports are only disseminated within IMI.
  • Pharmaceutical companies are not providing controllers who represent the EU and the public with access to the details of individual IMI research projects.
The European Union, for its part, defends the project, saying it combines the strengths of the participating institutions.
"Today, no one company or organization can solve a major health or drug development problem on its own," says EU Commission spokeswoman Lucia Caudet. As Caudet explains, IMI bundles the strengths of key partners in a network consisting of the Commission and the European pharmaceutical industry.

According to Caudet, these combined efforts enable IMI to achieve advances in our understanding of diseases like Alzheimer's and diabetes and lead to the development of new drugs. "The collaborative approach has already proven successful in many areas," says Caudet. This approach, she adds, is also reflected in IMI's governance structure and the project selection process. According to Caudet, IMI stands for open innovation and offers a platform with which data and knowledge is shared among participants. (Read the complete statement in English here.)

Critics, meanwhile, argue that it is high time to address the conflicts of interest inherent that plague the current IMI setup.

Inge Grässle, chair of the European Parliament Budgetary Control Committee, is skeptical of the organizational form. "It's time for the individuals in charge to finally resolve the inherent conflict of interest," she says. "They are biased, and yet they should in fact be answerable to taxpayers for the proper use of funds."
The journalists conducting the investigation drew some conclusions on their own, as well. Topping them is their feeling that the pharmaceutical industry is long overdue in terms of offering more transpareny and dislosing its internal structures. They also argue that universities and research institutions need to be treated with equal footing within IMI and that non-transparent regulations should be abolished. These, they feel, are the prerequisites necessary for IMI to truly innovate.

Additional reporting by Christina Elmer, Timo Grossenbacher, Sylke Gruhnwald, Maximilian Schäfer

Vice President Joe Biden Weekly Address March 28, 2015 (Video/Trascript )

Vice President Joe Biden
Weekly Address
The White House
April 11, 2015
Ladies and Gentlemen, this is Joe Biden and I’m here filling in for President Obama, who is traveling abroad.

And I’m here with a simple message: middle-class economics works.

Our economy has gone from crisis to recovery to now to resurgence—with the longest streak of consecutive job growth ever recorded in the history of this country and more than all other advanced countries combined.

But to make sure everyone is part of this resurgence, we need to build on what we know widens the path to the middle class—and you all know what it is, access to education.

Folks, the source of our economic power and middle class strength in the 20th Century was the fact that we were among the first major nations in the world to provide twelve years of free education for our citizens.

But in the 21st Century, other countries have already caught up and twelve years is simply no longer enough—a minimum of fourteen years is necessary for families to have a surer path to the middle class and for the United States to be able to out-compete the rest of the world.

Consider that by the end of the decade, two out of three of all jobs will require an education beyond high school, from an 18-week certificate to a two-year associate’s degree to a four-year bachelor’s, or a PhD.

And consider that folks with an associate’s degree earn 25% more than someone who graduated just from high school. And folks who graduate with a four-year degree make 70% more.

But today, the cost of higher education is too high for too many Americans. Too many folks are priced out of a piece of the middle-class dream.

And that’s why the President and I have a straightforward plan to remove that barrier and expand the pathway to the middle class—by bringing the cost of community colleges down—down to zero.

Zero—for anyone willing to work for it and for the institutions that meet certain basic requirements.

Our plan is no give-away. Students must keep up their grades and stay on track to graduate. States must contribute funding and hold community colleges accountable for the results. And community colleges must maintain high graduation and job placement rates.

And here’s a key point—community colleges will have to offer courses that are directly transferrable to a four-year degree.

If two years of community college are free—and credits can transfer to a four-year university—that means the cost of a four-year degree will be cut in half for a lot of working families struggling to send their children to college, qualified children.
And under our plan, students from low-income families will be able to keep the benefits that flow from other financial aid, like Pell grants, to cover childcare, housing, transportation—costs that often keep them from attending class and completing a degree in the first place.

But here’s another key point. Not every good-paying job will require a two-year or four-year degree. Some of these jobs will require just a training certificate that can be earned in just a few months.

For example, you can go to an 18-week coding bootcamp—with no previous experience in computers—and become a computer programmer making up to $70,000 a year.

There are other jobs in fields like advanced manufacturing and energy that pay $40,000, $50,000, $60,000 a year—jobs you can raise a family on.

It’s a simple fact that community colleges are the most flexible educational institutions we have. I’ve traveled all over this country, from New York to Iowa to California, to see how community colleges create partnerships with Fortune 500 companies and local businesses to generate jobs; support apprenticeships with organized labor, and prepare hardworking students for good-paying jobs in the areas in which they live.

Making community colleges free is good for workers, it’s good for companies, and it’s good for our economy.

Here’s what we propose: Close loopholes for the wealthiest investors and levy a .07% fee on the biggest banks to discourage the kind of risky behavior that crashed our economy just a few years ago.

Doing just that would pay for free community college—and provide a leg up for working families through tax credits to cover necessities like childcare.
That’s what middle-class economics is all about—giving folks a fair chance to get ahead. A fair tax code. No guarantees. Just a fair chance.

It’s simple folks, two years of community college should become as free and as universal as high school is today if we’re to make this economic resurgence permanent and well into the 21st Century.

So I want to thank you all for listening. I hope you have a great weekend and God bless you all and may God protect our troops.