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Homeless recruited to decontaminate Fukishima; paid less than minimum wage


The publicly funded, $35B cleanup of radioactive soil around Fukishima is staffed by homeless men recruited from Tokyo Sendai subway stations. They are preferentially sent to the most radioactive zones, and work for less than minimum wage. Mobbed-up subcontractors confiscate as much as two thirds of their pay in "fees." Everyone involved in sourcing the labor for the cleanup denies responsibility for the illegal practices, blaming sub-subcontractors or cowboy recruiters. The president of one contractor, Aisogo Service, defended the practice of not scrutinizing the labor force or the conditions under which it worked, saying "If you started looking at every single person, the project wouldn't move forward. You wouldn't get a tenth of the people you need."

Workers are also recruited from publicly funded homeless shelters. One man worked for a month for a total payout of $10. After this fact was verified and made public, the man disappeared. Workers are charged exorbitant rates for lodgings and food, and are docked pay for being too ill to work. As a result, some workers are in debt to their employers, a debt that deepens the longer they stay employed.

The decontamination project is two to three years behind schedule.

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Council's Xmas card to social housing tenants: don't spend your rent money on booze


London's Hammersmith and Fulham Council sent a "Christmas card" to its social housing tenants that implied that they would squander their rent money on booze. The council insists the card wasn't intended to be insulting -- rather, it was meant as a "hard hitting" reminder that to call the council's helpline if you are struggling with your rent money.

Record numbers of Britons are living in fuel- and food-poverty, a condition that continues to worsen in the face of cuts to benefits and the rise of jobs that pay sub-poverty wages for full-time employment. The council sent the card to 17,000 households (including tenants who'd never fallen behind in their rent) at an expense of £2,000.

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South Dakota: the Bermuda of the prairie, letting billionaires avoid millions in estate tax


America's billionaires are able to avoid paying millions in inheritance taxes by renting empty storefronts in South Dakota in order to give their trust-funds an SD address, from which they can exploit a deliberate loophole in state tax-law. Over $121 billion in trust-funds is administered through South Dakota, mostly for out-of-state families -- a figure that's tripled in four years. South Dakota's corrupt tax laws also allow for avoiding millions in tax from ordinary investments by the richest people in NY and MA.

South Dakota itself has some dire poverty -- two of the 10 poorest counties in America are in SD -- and lawmakers describe their project to turn the state into "the Bermuda of the prairie" as an economic development project, creating jobs for lawyers and bankers, and "[forging] ties with prosperous families that may one day decide to build a factory or a warehouse here."

The project has failed. The entire trust industry only employs about 100 South Dakotans, but Republican Governor Dennis Daugaard, a former banker, says it's worth it: "If you've got several hundred well-paying jobs, it's worth it to us."

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Precarity is the new normal

Jon Evans is incandescent on the subject of the Great Bifurcation, as the economic equality gap yawns wider and wider. He puts into words the thing that has literally kept me up nights for the past year. What is to be done? (via Making Light) Cory 38

Secretive TPP treaty could kill creator's right to get copyrights back from studios, labels and publishers

The Electronic Frontier Foundation has new analysis of the leaked Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) treaty, a secretive trade deal being hammered out without any public oversight, and set to be fast-tracked through the US Congress without substantial debate. EFF's piece focuses on the treaty's provisions that affect "termination rights," an obscure but important part of copyright law that allows creators to take their assigned copyrights back from the companies who bought them after 35 years. The studios, labels and publishers hate this, as it allows creators who scored big hits early in their careers when they were getting paid peanuts for their work to take those successful works back and re-sell them at a more appropriate price. EFF's view is that the TPP draft endangers Termination Rights.

It's more proof that just because many creators are on the side of the big entertainment companies, it doesn't follow that the companies are on the side of their creators. Any creator who endorses TPP, thinking that expansions to copyright will always benefit them, had better look again: TPP is a way of taking away one of the most valuable rights that creators have and handing it over to Big Content to make billions off of.

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Affluenza

As word of the successful application of the "affluenza" defense (which holds that spoiled rich children have a diminished capacity to understand right and wrong and can't be held criminally liable for crimes up to an including killing strangers) spreads, there's been lots of commentary on the subject. But as is often the case, Lowering the Bar has some good and timely words, from a satirico-legal perspective. Cory 36

NYPD shoot at unarmed man, hit bystanders, charge man for making them shoot


It's the most heartwarming NYC Christmas story since Miracle on 34th Street: the NYPD shot at a mentally disturbed, unarmed man who was lurching through traffic in Times Square. They ended up wounding a bunch of bystanders. So the DA charged the disturbed man with a felony because his conduct resulted in police officers shooting passersby. He faces 25 years in prison. The officers have been placed on "administrative leave," but their names are withheld because it might be hard on them, being known as the cops who were forced to shoot those bystanders by the unarmed man who was lurching through traffic in a state of mental breakdown.

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Department of Labor seeks "Books That Shaped Work in America"

Michael from the US Department of Labor writes, "To commemorate its 100th anniversary, the U.S. Department of Labor has launched Books that Shaped Work in America, an online project that explores work, workers and workplaces through literature, and aims to educates the public about the history, mission and resources of their Labor Department. People from all walks of life are being asked to recommend books that informed them about occupations and careers, and molded their views about work."

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Presenting political argument on Twitter, and the "prestige economy"





Here's a fabulous interview with activist Sarah Kendzior, a journalist and researcher who made a great, concise argument against unpaid internship as a series of four tweets last June. Policymic talks with Kendzior about her work on the "prestige economy" and the widening wealth-gap, and also talks about the theory of presenting arguments over Twitter, a subject on which Kendzior is every bit as smart as she is on matters economic and political.

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Pope blasts capitalism


In a new Evangelii Gadium, Pope Francis has condemned doctrinaire capitalism, "deified markets," trickle-down economics, and the finance industry. He decried the growing gap between the rich and the poor, tax evasion by the wealthy, and characterized ruthless free-market economics as a killer that was inherently sinful.

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Differences between life when you're poor and life when you're middle class

Beth Pratt writes, "Being poor is different than being middle class. Killer Martinis explains just how different in this post she calls 'Why I Make Terrible Decisions, or, poverty thoughts'. She begins by telling us that 'rest is a luxury for the rich' and goes on from there."

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Should you short the London property bubble?


Economist Tim Harford answers my question: How would you short the London property bubble? in a column that also asks the important question: should you?

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Rich America versus Poor America: stats about the wealth gap

Occupy's "99%" and "1%" slogans made America's widening wealth gap into part of the common discourse. But (as this video demonstrated) it's still hard to wrap your head around how widespread poverty is in America, and how much richer America's rich have become. This listicle, 21 Hard To Believe Facts About 'Wealthy America' And 'Poor America' delivering a series of ringing slaps to make the reality sink in:

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UK legal aid proposal: bonuses for lawyers whose clients plead guilty


The latest salvo in the UK government's attack on legal aid is a new fee structure that will earn defense lawyers huge bonuses if they get an early guilty plea out of their clients, who, by definition, can't afford to hire lawyers who are incentivised to keep them out of jail.

It's pitched as a cost-saving measure, but that only holds true if the defendants are presumed to be guilty and the trial is seen as an expensive formality. On the other hand, if you support the idea that people are innocent until proven otherwise, this is a measure that will cause the state the enormous expense of imprisoning the innocent (and letting the guilty go free).

On the other other hand, if you're part of David Cameron's cabinet of millionaires, perhaps being unable to afford a lawyer is proof enough of your guilt. "If you can't afford a lawyer, you simply shouldn't get arrested. Obviously."

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How the Koch Brothers laundered illegal campaign contributions


A California lawsuit brought by elections watchdog the Fair Political Practices Commission has unraveled a network of nonprofits that the Koch Brothers used to launder millions in illegal campaign contributions. These were made to campaigns over two ballot measures: one that would have raised taxes on the wealthiest Californians; the other crippled unions' fundraising. The Kochs funneled $15m into these campaigns, using a series of front-organizations that were also apparently employed by other billionaires including Charles Schwab, Gene Haas, Bob Fisher, and Eli Broad.

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