The Economy Hub
With Michael Hiltzik
Golden State Water tries to drown Claremont ballot measure

Self-preservation is the most basic instinct in nature.

For Golden State Water Co., it also has a price: $300,000. That's about how much the water system is spending to defeat a Claremont ballot measure enabling the city to try to seize its local water system by eminent domain and convert it to a municipal service. The San Dimas-based corporation is overwhelming the opposition, which has assembled a war chest of about $30,000.

For Golden State, that's chump change: The firm collected $359 million last year from water customers in 75 California communities and recorded a profit of $48.6 million.

"They're obviously trying to maintain an asset they think is quite valuable," says Claremont Mayor Joe Lyons. "No doubt it is."

In spending so heavily in its corporate self-interest, Golden State is following a California electoral tradition. We've been reporting on Chevron's $3-million campaign to unseat several City Council members unfriendly to the company in Richmond, where Chevron has a big...

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U.S. income inequality is bad, but wealth inequality is a bigger problem

Emmanuel Saez, that assiduous tracker of economic inequality in the U.S., has been shifting his attention away from income inequality to a broader, thornier and more intractable issue: wealth inequality. As he observes in a paper published this week at the blog of the Washington Center for Equitable Growth, wealth inequality is "exploding," constituting "a direct threat to the cherished American ideals of meritocracy and opportunity."

Saez, an economics professor at UC Berkeley, wrote his paper with Gabriel Zucman of the London School of Economics. A longer, more technical version of their post can be found here. They draw a line from "Capital in the Twenty-First Century," the magisterial book by Saez's frequent coauthor, Thomas Piketty, to point out that increasing concentration of wealth feeds on itself, becoming ever more difficult to remedy. 

Saez and Zucman find that current sharp uptrend in wealth inequality is a reversal of nearly a half-century of "democratization of wealth,"...

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An updated map: The devastating toll of the anti-vaccination movement

Marking Friday as World Polio Day, the Council on Foreign Relations has released an updated map showing the global prevalence of vaccine-preventable diseases. The map was first released in 2011. We commend Laurie Garrett of the CFR for her work pulling together the data, which covers 2008 through this year.

Check the CFR website here for an interactive version of the map, which can be clicked to show reported outbreaks by year and by disease.

As one would expect, diseases such as polio are still rife in Africa and other parts of the Third World. But the United States and Great Britain deserve badges of shame for the resurgence of measles and whooping cough, which are almost entirely due to the ignorance and fear spread by the anti-vaccine movements in those countries. 

One disturbing trend related to polio, which should have been eradicated globally decades ago, is its presence in Nigeria and Pakistan. These outbreaks are closely related to campaigns of violence directed at vaccine...

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BP breaks new ground in PR, issuing a PR release about its PR release

Evidently feeling some heat over a corporate press release that somehow found its way into Politico Magazine masquerading as an "opinion" op-ed, BP took the unusual step Wednesday of issuing a corporate press release about it. If you're counting, that's two press releases for the price of one.

BP's statement-about-its-statement was issued by Jason Ryan, a press officer. It reads, in its entirely, as follows:

"This is an opinion piece submitted by BP to an influential newspaper to counter several op-eds about the Gulf that previously were published in this and other media outlets. It’s no different than any other op-ed by any other company in any other publication."

I examined the original press release here. It's a statement of 800-words-plus headed "No, BP Didn't Ruin the Gulf," which ran in Politico Magazine under the byline of Geoff Morrell, who is identified as a BP flack at the bottom of the page.

The piece utterly failed to make its case that BP didn't ruin the Gulf of Mexico....

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America's middle class knows it faces a grim retirement

Wells Fargo did as much as it could to soft-pedal the findings of its fifth-annual Middle Class Retirement Survey, released Wednesday, but the horrific numbers speak for themselves.

"Saving for retirement is a formidable challenge for middle-class Americans," the San Francisco-based bank says.

A formidable challenge? No kidding. More than a third of middle-class families aren't saving anything in a 401(k), IRA or other vehicle, the survey found. For those 50 to 59 years old, it's 41%. 

"Nearly a third (31%) of all respondents say they will not have enough money to 'survive' on in retirement," the bank says. "This increases to nearly half (48%) of middle-class Americans in their 50s." The household income of respondents, who were polled for Wells by the Harris organization, ranged from $25,000 to $100,000; the median income was $63,000.

More cause for concern: For respondents aged 30 to 49, some 59% say they "plan to save later to make up retirement savings," and 27% are not currently...

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BP offers a lesson in how to sugarcoat an environmental disaster

The giant oil company BP doesn't do small-scale.

Not only is it responsible for the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill -- "unprecedented" in its "volume, depth, and spatial scale," in the words of the National Research Council -- but the firm has mounted what certainly looks like an unprecedented PR campaign to minimize the damage, along with a years-long effort to dodge the financial consequences of its spill.

This week, Politico provided the company with another valuable platform for its PR -- a two-page online spread titled "No, BP Didn't Ruin the Gulf." The piece was written by one Geoff Morrell, who turns out to be the oil company's spokesman, as you'll discover if you read down to the bottom of the screen.

As we honor the life and career of the just-departed former Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee, we should mark this groundbreaking advance in Washington journalism: a corporate advertisement presented as "opinion." It's not evident that BP paid for its placement in Politico, but...

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