Nel's New Day

July 13, 2017

Four Days Remain to Protest No Net Neutrality

Filed under: net neutrality — trp2011 @ 8:42 PM
Tags: , , , , ,

In May, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) began its process to repeal the 2015 network neutrality rules and Title II of the Communications Act of 1934. These rules guarantee that internet users have the right to access online content and services without interference from ISPs like Comcast, AT&T, Verizon, and Charter. The deadline for commenting on the FCC repeal proposal is July 17. You can still join the over 7 million people who have submitted comments—almost two million in the past month—during the next four days.

A majority of FCC members wants to reverse the classification of broadband internet access services as “telecommunications services. Another of their goals is to eliminate the “general conduct standard” prohibiting ISP practices that “unreasonably interfere or unreasonably disadvantage” the abilities of consumers to access online content and services and of online content and service providers to freely access customers. These members question whether rules regarding blocking, transparency, and other ISP restrictions are even necessary. Their excuse is that these regulations will limit investment—meaning that members want the big companies to make more money.

In describing current problems about investment, the FCC used studies funded by ISPs that cite “only four articulated examples” of harm from their discrimination. The FCC position is that such “isolated examples” are not enough to place regulations on the internet. In addition, the FCC states that the agency has no authority in keeping or replacing net neutrality rules. They want to abandon all overseeing of the broadband market.

Yesterday was a day of protest for the repeal of internet rules. Both large and small tech companies coordinated the online action to remove the regulation that broadband service providers equally treat all internet traffic. Small companies joined big one such as Google and Netflix in the “Day of Action” to publicize the issue to the public and rally people to send comments to GOP FCC Chair Ajit Pai. Major internet companies took part Wednesday in a “Day of Action” to show their support for the Federal Communications Commission’s net neutrality rules.

Internet nonprofit Mozilla explains the reasons for keeping current internet rules:

Net neutrality is fundamental to free speech: Without net neutrality, big companies could censor people and perspectives online. Net neutrality has been called the “First Amendment of the Internet.”

Net neutrality protects small businesses and innovators who are just getting started: Without net neutrality, creators and entrepreneurs could struggle to reach new users. Investment in new ideas would dry up and only the big companies would survive, stifling innovation.

Net neutrality allows consumers—not big companies—to choose what they watch & do online: Without net neutrality, ISPs could decide you watched too many videos on Netflix in one day and throttle your Internet speeds, while keeping their own video apps running smooth.

Battle for the Net, a consortium of advocacy groups, announced the need for yesterday’s action:

“The FCC wants to destroy net neutrality and give big cable companies control over what we see and do online. If they get their way, they’ll allow widespread throttling, blocking, censorship, and extra fees. On July 12th, the Internet will come together to stop them.”

Ryan Grenoble wrote about possible consequences of the FCC’s repeal:

“Without net neutrality, for instance, Comcast could hypothetically prioritize content produced by NBC, which it owns, while slowing access to Netflix. Similarly, Verizon, which owns HuffPost’s parent company, Oath, could allot extra bandwidth to HuffPost content at the expense of others.”

Mignon Clyburn, the only remaining Democrat on the FCC, described the FCC repeal of internet regulations a being on the wrong side of history. She reiterated her opposition to repeal in her support for the Day of Action:

“Today I stand with those who believe that a free and open internet is a foundational principle of our democracy. That is why I am excited that on this day consumers, entrepreneurs and companies of all sizes, including broadband providers and internet startups, are speaking out with a unified voice in favor of strong net neutrality rules grounded in Title II.”

In case the FCC backs down, GOP senators have proposed a bill, Restoring Internet Freedom Act, to prevent the FCC from regulating ISPs actions of blocking, throttling, and favoring websites and apps in exchange for money.  Both Texas senators, Ted Cruz and John Cornyn, co-sponsored the bill. The bill’s title is misleading because removal to the regulations makes the internet less free to consumers. Congress has already passed a resolution allowing ISPs to track and sell an individual’s data to third parties without that person’s permission. ISPs have given $160,000 to Cornyn and $115,000 to Cruz in the past four years.

The Washington Post warned that the disappearance of net neutrality regulations would could have dire consequences: “deep-pocketed corporations will upend how we get our news, watch our favorite shows, use social media or run our businesses.” The GOP internet law would make the internet much less free.

Despite the GOP attempt to eradicate net neutrality, people in the United States support its protections. Only 48 percent of DDT voters and 51 percent of GOP say that they want net neutrality, but 75 percent of the voters and 72 percent of GOP voters think that ISPs should be “prohibited from slowing or blocking websites or video services like Netflix.” Overall 81 percent like the net neutrality protections. Other polls go as high as 88 percent support for net neutrality protections.

What the GOP FCC members don’t consider about net neutrality:

 Growing ISP monopolies make the protections even more important. Verizon owns Yahoo and AOL, and Comcast owns NBCUniversal, the parent company of NBC, MSNBC and Universal Pictures. AT&T is trying to buy Time Warner which would give AT&T control of HBO, CNN, and Warner Bros.

Capital investment by publicly-traded ISPs were five percent higher since net neutrality protections were enacted than in the two years earlier, and telecom-company spending on fiber-to-the-home network terminals and terminal ports rose nearly 50 percent during 2016 alone. Not one ISP told investors that the regulations have a negative financial impact.

The FCC has tried to portray net neutrality supporters as members of the “Black Bloc” protest group. If this were accurate, the anarchist group would comprise over four-fifths of people in the nation.

FCC Chair Pai claims that no problem exists without internet protections, but ISPs have tried to violate net neutrality. Comcast blocked access in peer-to-peer technologies (2005), AT&T forced Apple to block Skype and other competing VOIP phone services (2007-09), and Verizon Wireless blocked people from putting apps on their phones (2012). Verizon testified in court that ISPs should be able to edit the internet. Before the regulations, the huge ISPs deliberated congested their networks to degrade speeds so that they could require new payments for better connections. Those are only a few attempts to eliminate internet choice.

Net neutrality is not government regulation of the internet: it is a set of safeguards stopping ISPs from selecting priority and speed for online content. Rules regulate companies, not the internet itself, so that carriers don’t interfere with speech.

In “Net Neutrality: In A Corporatist Government, Corporate Censorship Is State Censorship,” Caitlin Johnstone wrote:

Net neutrality is an obstacle for US oligarchs in that it hamstrings their ability to manipulate web traffic away from information which challenges their rule. By dismantling it, [they may] strangle the media revolution which for the first time in history caused America’s unelected power establishment to completely lose control of the narrative on both ends of the political spectrum in 2016.”

Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) gives a shred of hope about keeping net neutrality. He said that he believes the courts will protect the current regulations if the Republicans overturn them. A year ago the DC District Court of Appeals supported net neutrality. It might again.

People need to fight the oligarchy and keep access to information.

December 19, 2016

Rex Tillerson: Oil in Trump’s Swamp

Kakistocracy: a fine English term going back to 1829 that means government by the worst element of a society, a government by the least qualified or most unprincipled citizens. Forbes writer Michael Lewitt explains its usage: “Corrupt, dishonest and incompetent politicians, regulators and bureaucrats were put in charge by self-absorbed, selfish and ignorant citizens.” Trump cabinet nominees collectively have more wealth than a combined one-third of American households. They are the most conservative, very white, and very male with almost no experience. In addition, they resemble DT—egotistical, megalomaniacal, bumbling liars. The nation’s future government will be a blend of “nepotism, oligarchy, plutocracy, kleptocracy, demagoguery, alt-right values and a disturbing tendency toward fascist white nationalism.” (Quote from Sophia A. McClennen, professor of international affairs and comparative literature at Pennsylvania State University.)

The Electoral College has voted, and Donald Trump (DT) is now the formal president-elect of the United States. In building his kakistocracy, DT has appointed a number of inexperienced oligarchs for his cabinet. A series of postings on this blog will begin with Rex Tillerson, nominee for the Secretary of State.

rex-tillerson

AP Photo / Manuel Balce

tillerson-putinThe outrage against Tillerson from both Democrats and Republicans began with the nominee’s extremely close relationship with Vladimir Putin. Exxon missed the U.S. fracking boom and moved to the Russian and Arctic oil fields, perhaps 20 percent of the world’s untapped resource. Toward that end, the company signed deals between 2011 and 2013 with the Russian state-owned oil company, Rosneft, for exploration in the Black Sea, development of shale resources in western Siberia, and drilling in the Arctic. According to Rosneft, these areas could contain more oil than the Gulf of Mexico. The year after Tillerson and Exxon signed the deal with Rosneft, Russian president, Vladimir Putin gave the country’s Order of Friendship medal to Tillerson. (Above: Russia President Vladimir Putin (R) and ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson (L) attend the signing of an agreement between Rosneft and ExxonMobil in the Black Sea port of Tuapse on June 15, 2012. MIKHAIL KLIMENTYEV/AFP/Getty Images)

Exxon is so wealthy and powerful that it’s like a country of its own with its own foreign policy. Its pockets are deep, and it employs such Tillerson advocates as former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and former Defense Secretary and CIA Director Robert Gates. President Obama’s sanctions on Russia’s oil industry for its 2014 “participation” in the Ukraine and annexation of Crimea smashed Exxon’s dreams—until DT was elected last November. Russia needs Western expertise to drill in places such as the Arctic, and DT can give it to them.

Tillerson’s connection with Rosneft also connects him with oligarch Igor Ivanovich Sechin, head of the oil company. A close relationship with oligarchs from major world powers puts Tillerson into a position to set up his own U.S. oligarchy and what better place to do it than the White House. He has been open about his goals. Asked in March 2013 what he would do if he worked in the White House, he laughed and said, “My philosophy is to make money. If I can drill and make money, then that’s what I want to do.” His idea of international diplomacy—the Secretary of State’s job—is that it “is an enormous amount of interference with that process of discovery and perfection and improvement.”

Improvement to Tillerson doesn’t mean controlling global warming. Exploitation of the Russian and Arctic resources would vastly increase warming above four degrees, but he doesn’t worry about climate change. He has said, “To say that you’re addicted to oil and natural gas seems to me to say you’re addicted to economic growth.”

For almost the entire four decades of Tillerson’s tenure at Exxon, the company has lied about their awareness of catastrophic effects from climate change and spent millions of dollars to block any bills that address the problem. Forty years ago, the company took the problem of climate change seriously and developed programs to explore the issue. Within a few years, however, Exxon started dismantling its own climate change programs and moved on to suppress evidence, spread doubt about science, and block any action to control greenhouse gases. It also created the misnamed Global Climate Coalition to stop any government action to curb fossil fuel emissions.

By the beginning of the 21st century, Exxon used the American Legislative Exchange Council, a group of corporations that writes measures for U.S. legislators, to block emissions control. Tillerson was CEO for 12 of those 17 years. In addition, Tillerson’s block of Exxon shareholders successfully opposed a measure from the Rockefeller family to expand the company’s investment in alternative energy sources.

Tillerson’s current position on climate change is that it’s merely an “engineering” issue because, he claims, people can adapt to anything. Asked about models of greenhouse gas concentrations, he replies that “models simply are not that good.” He has no answer for what to do if the sea levels surge and freshwater pulses into the ocean from a collapse in the West Antarctica.

Yet Tillerson’s egregious business dealings go much farther than just his pandering to the Russian government which recently arranged for the release of hacked emails in order to get Tillerson’s possible new boss elected to his leadership position of what people like to call the most powerful country in the world.

Many people are unaware that the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is investigating Tillerson and Exxon. Under his leadership, the company failed to accurately value its oil reserves in order to keep stocks high. A correct disclosure of its lower valuations would cost Exxon billions of dollars if the initiation of drilling is more costly from the “price of carbon” or regulations that force reductions to greenhouse gas emissions. With this high cost, Exxon might have to drop projects, and that shrinks its profitability. Even if Tillerson manages to get DT to leave the Paris climate accord, Exxon’s worldwide business may lose money because it does business with other countries that remain in the pact.

The SEC is also investigating the reason that Exxon does not record its reserves values when oil prices drop. The price of a barrel of oil dropped from $115 in 2014 to under $28 by last February, but that the company didn’t include that loss in future calculations. Fabricating future profits not based on fact is an act of securities fraud against investors.

DT as president would greatly benefit Exxon because the investigation could get stymied with Tillerson as Secretary of State. The SEC could also be remade with DT as president. Seven top officials, including chair Mary Jo White, have already resigned, and DT can appoint three new commissioners on the five-member panel. Whether Tillerson becomes Secretary or stays Exxon CEO, the oil company benefits. Last week DT referred to the free market as the “dumb market,” indicating that government should be in control, a total reversal of past GOP philosophy.

Another lawsuit plaguing Tillerson and Exxon accuses the company of discrimination against LGBTQ people in its hiring practices. ExxonMobil is the only corporation in history to get negative ratings on the Human Rights Campaign’s Equality Index for lacking any protections for LGBTQ employees in 2012 and 2013. President Obama’s executive order barring federal contractors from anti-LGBT employment discrimination—probably to be soon revoked by DT—caused the company to adopt an LGBT non-discrimination policy, but the lawsuit is still pending. Exxon has received over $1 billion in federal contracts during the past decade.

Tillerson’s conflicts of interest are overwhelming. He personally owns at least $218 million in Exxon stock and holds a pension worth $70 million. At least he wouldn’t have to pay any taxes if he has to sell them for a Cabinet position because divesting stocks based on a potential conflict interest for this position is tax-free.

In another connection with Russia 20 years ago, Tillerson became a director  and then president of Exxon Neftegas, a US-Russian oil firm based in the tax haven of the Bahamas, a country with zero corporate taxes where Exxon has registered at least 67 companies. Exxon reported that Tillerson was no longer a director after he became Exxon’s CEO in 2006, but the secrecy of the nation may cause difficulty in determining Tillerson’s investments. Conflict of interest may be somewhat legal for the president and vice president but definitely not for Cabinet members or other government officials.

Oh yes, and Tillerson has literally no background in diplomacy or public service—just like DT.  With pushing from oil oligarchs like Dick Cheney and deep-pocketed campaign donor Robert McNair as well as Gates and Rice, skeptical GOP senators like Marco Rubio are showing signs of falling into DT’s swamp—the one filled with oil.

November 19, 2015

Koch Brothers Worse Than We Thought

The Koch brothers, long vilified for their strong support of extremist right-wing positions, want to be liked. Upset about being seen as billionaires who purchase GOP politicians to make money and destroy the environment, Charles and David consented to a joint interview on MSNBC’s conservative Morning Joe show. They may have also appeared on the program to tout older brother 80-year-old Charles’ new book, Good Profit. James Davis, spokesman for the Koch brothers’ Freedom Partners, said that the men “benefit all Americans.”  The good part—they want to lighten prison sentences for nonviolent drug offenders. On the other side, they want to slash taxes (certainly for the wealthy), cut government spending, and reduce regulations for businesses (like their own extensive gas and oil companies).

While the brothers claim they aren’t involved in “politics,” they donate millions to the NRA, Americans for Prosperity, Chamber of Commerce, Generation Opportunity (for young voters), Americans for Tax Reform, Heritage Foundation, American Energy Alliance, and others. They also pay for “business schools” at respected universities to promote their far-right policies that have led to the massive income inequality in the U.S. Thanks to two Supreme Court decisions, the Koch network of non-profit groups and for-profit companies can accept unlimited cash without disclosing donors and faces few spending restrictions.

Charles Koch did admit in the interview that billionaires expect a return for their donations to political campaigns. This isn’t a problem, according to Koch, as long as those generous donors have the right intentions. Considering the Joe Scarborough’s fawning approach, he might have received something from the Koch brothers. Scarborough and his co-host did go to a private donor conference earlier this year and praise the Kochs as “awesome” and a “godsend.” Nobody is saying who paid the expenses.

During the interview, the brothers complained about the government’s picking winners and losers in politics. Massive donations allow the brothers to take over that role. This infusion of hundreds of millions of dollars make them a third party: they spent  more than the RNC is the last go-round and plan to spend much more this time. Their position is that political spending is basically “free speech” instead of an intention to “slant [the political system] your way.” The “free speech” decision by the U.S. Supreme Court passed with five justices in favor; two of them, Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia, had attended Koch billionaire meetings.

Agreeing with the Koch brothers, Marco Rubio has just acquired his third billionaire, Frank Vandersloot, founder of Melaleuca nutritional supplements and worth over $1.2 billion. (Mother Jones wrote about how Vandersloot sued after one of their articles described how Vandersloot, virulently anti-LGBT, “bashed” and “publicly out[ed] a reporter.”) According to Rubio, those big donors don’t want anything in return for their millions.

Maybe it’s not a “slant” of the political system, but Charles Koch said, “I expect something in return. … I want the government to require that companies only profit by making other people’s lives better.” The definition of “better” was left up in the air. Even if he is anywhere near right, policy priorities of elected officials track those of the bankrollers rather than the general public. When Paul Ryan says that he doesn’t want “the people” to pay for paid sick leave and a higher minimum wage, he means “the wealthy people.” The general public wants a higher minimum wage, but Charles wants to eliminate it entirely.

Charles claims that their only goal is to end corporate welfare. Koch Industries has received at least $195 million in state and local subsidies, plus $6.3 million more in federal loan guarantees.

Profits from the Kochs’ multi-billion-dollar energy empire are threatened by renewable energy, so they pour millions of dollars to stop the development of clean energy. Organizations financially backed by the Koch brothers and electrical utilities and led by the mis-named Consumers for Smart Solar are promoting an anti-home-solar amendment in Florida. Homeowners’ ability to contract for the no-upfront-cost installation of solar on their homes led to an 80-percent increase in these installations last year. The Koch brothers consider consumers with solar as “free riders on the system.”

A general belief that climate change is caused by humans threatens Koch Industries profits so they pay tens of millions to groups and politicians to continue denying the science related to climate change. Their spending has led GOP leaders to block actions to save the planet.

Despite the Koch brothers’ attempts to look “liberal” and accepting, they have given millions of dollars to be fed through other groups donating to anti-LGBT and anti-abortion organizations.

In a Wall Street Journal/NBC poll, 69 percent of voters agree with the statement that they “feel angry because our political system seems to only be working for the insiders with money and power, like those on Wall Street or in Washington, rather than working to help everyday people get ahead.” Republicans and Democrats in 16 states and almost 700 communities across the country have enacted referenda opposing Citizens United and big money in politics. The day after the Kochs spoke on Morning Joe, voters in Maine and Seattle approved initiatives to limit the influence of big money in elections and empower average citizens.

As people fight against the Koch brothers policies, Charles and David are watching them. They claim that all their political activities are open and aboveboard, but Politico reporter Kenneth Vogel found a high-tech surveillance and intelligence-gathering business, Koch Intelligence Agency, that tracks liberal and Democratic groups for the two men who promise to spend almost $1 billion in the 2016 elections. The 25 employees, including one who worked as an analyst for the CIA, harvest geodata from social-media posts of the Koch opponents. Managed by a limited-liability partnership called American Strategies Group, LLC, the company describes itself as a “business league” in order to legally hide the identities of its members.

Tracking labor unions, environmental groups, and liberal big-donor groups is probably nothing new for the Kochs. Their past surveillance included watching brother Bill when they fought for control of the family business and fortune. Those who have challenged the Kochs—federal officers, members of the press, and private citizens—have suspected that the brothers are watching them. Angela O’Connell, lead federal prosecutor in an environmental-pollution case against Koch Industries in 1995, said that she “operated as if everything she said and did was being monitored.” A lawyer in another case against Koch Industries found his office bugged. During a senate investigation into Koch Industries, its operatives delved into personal lives of the committee’s staffers.

Most people think of elections in terms of candidates and ballot measures. The Kochs aim to realign U.S. government, politics and society that will benefit wealthy people and corporations. To do this, they must neuter progressive super PACS, unions, and people who they consider to be academics and elites. In that way they can destroy all regulations giving them the opportunity to greatly add to their $60+ billion assets and continue to add to their oligarchic ambitions. You can better that they aren’t really interested in making our lives “better.”

June 24, 2014

Fix Our Country First

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 9:07 PM
Tags: , , , , ,

Thirteen years ago, Bush/Cheney went to Iraq to rescue it from an oppressive dictator that the United States had installed decades earlier. Saddam Hussein may have killed 250,000 Iraqis during his 25-year reign, and the country suffered from U.S. sanctions that may have killed at least 500,000 infants.

When Bush/Cheney invaded Iraq, with no cause, it had several successful export-oriented industries such as leather goods and agricultural products that employed hundreds of thousands in fairly well-paid jobs. It had a resilient electrical, water, and highway infrastructure although sanctions were taking their toll on the infrastructure.

Iraq’s primary and higher educational system was the best in the area, and its government provided the best free health care in the Middle East. In a nation of 27 million people, it had the largest percentage of middle-class employed at three million people. Women enjoyed greater equality than any other Middle East country. And it had 2.5 million barrels of oil flowing each day that supported the country’s economic superstructure.

The invasion put oil revenues into “debt payment and reduced production by 40 percent. All government-run and oil-subsidized industrial plants were dismantling, bankrupting private industries. Commercial agriculture lost oil-financed subsidies and were destroyed by air attacks. Austerity measures removed the country’s educational and medical systems. Middle-class professionals who had belonged to the leading party were jobless or forced into exile. Their departure devastated the electrical, water, and highway infrastructure.

Eight years of war left 60-percent unemployment, sporadic electrical service, poisoned water systems, dysfunctional medical services, episodic education, and a lack of viable public or private transportation. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki auctioned oil contracts off to international oil firms. Oil production increased, but the revenue went into the U.S.-selected government ranked as the seventh most corrupt on the planet. Maliki refused any funds for reconstruction in Sunni areas and used the money for military supplies, for example paying the U.S. $4 billion in 2011 for 18 F-16 jets. Only 25 percent of people in Iraq had clean sanitation, but Lockheed’s F-16 plant in Fort Worth benefited.

Any Iraqi government staffing positions went to Shia citizens in Shia areas as Sunnis lost any jobs that they might have regained. It’s not surprising that Sunnis fought to regain oil fields, refineries, and pipelines. With increasing guerilla attacks, Maliki escalated its repression of Sunni communities and any forms of protest. Once the Sunnis regain areas, they work to begin the construction process.

The current administration seems determined to support the existing Iraq government, comprised of Shiites and excluding Sunnis. Earlier this week, I wrote that the U.S. should look to our nation’s problems with domestic terrorists instead of going back into the Middle East to “fix” Iraq. Here are nine more reasons, thanks to an article by Carl Gibson:

We have the worst health care system in the developed world. Only in the U.S. do people profit from human illness and injury. For example, the average hip replacement here costs $40,364; in Spain, it costs $7,731.

We deliberately saddle college students with a lifetime of debt servitude. Student debt has now exceeded $1.2 trillion, more than our credit card debt. Each college graduate owes an average of $30,000. The debt curtails the ability of these graduates to purchase homes or even cars. Low wages require students to use loans for basic survival as well as tuition payments.

Other countries have free tuition for higher education or, at the very least, far less expensive charges. For example, when Quebec proposed a tuition increase from $2,200 to $3,800 over a six-year period, hundreds of thousands of students took to the streets in protest.

We have an oligarchy because the rich can buy their own politicians. With a population of 310 million people, our country allows 535 people, most of them millionaires, white, and male, to make all the federal decisions. These people are purchased by even wealthier people who have far more access to legislators than actual constituents.

We punish poor people for enduring the circumstances we forced them into. After billionaires pressured homeowners into risky subprime loans, many of the people lost their homes. In just Detroit, 60,000 homeowners were forced to vacate their homes, resulting in massive urban blight. The same billionaires who sold the loans then bought the homes for pennies on the dollar and developed them into housing for the wealthy.

Detroiters who kept their homes now have to pay increasingly higher rates for water that they couldn’t afford. Detroit has already shut off water for 150,000 households and continues the practice at 1,500 to 3,000 houses per week. The U.S. system rewards the rich and penalizes the poor.

We allow a rape epidemic on our college campuses to go unchecked. At least 20 percent of women on U.S. college campuses will experience sexual assault. These are only the reported ones. In many schools, the rapist will be permitted to continue at school—sometimes even with a living assignment in the same dormitory as the victim. Traumatized victims end up dropping out of school while conservative columnists like George Will bemoan the way the victims ruin the rapists’ lives by reporting them.

We send people off to die, and don’t take care of the ones who come back alive. The recent Veterans Affairs health debacle is just the tip of the iceberg. Whenever Congress tries to address veterans’ issues, the GOP members filibuster the bills.

In 2010, Sen. Patty Murray’s (D-WA) bill to provide aid for homeless veterans with children was filibustered by Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY). A bill that would have spent $1 billion to hire veterans for jobs in the public sector was filibustered by 40 senate Republicans in 2012. And just this past February, Senate Republicans once again blocked a bill aimed at providing health care and education to veterans. Neocons push to send troops into Iraq while they deny returning veterans help.

We make it profitable to systematically incarcerate poor people and minorities. Private enterprise and county governments make money off imprisoning people. They succeed with heavy patrols of low-income neighborhoods and arresting young blacks for small amounts of marijuana.

Portugal’s addiction rate has dropped by one-half in the past decade since it because treating drug addiction as a public health issue. The drug war costs U.S. taxpayers $20 billion a year as drugs become more and more available. The country has more black men in prison than the number of slaves in the Confederate South. Prisoners paid pennies for a day’s work vastly increases the profits of private enterprise. These are jobs that once created a middle class in the nation

We cut our own public services while letting billion-dollar corporations dodge taxes. Architects and engineers have given our infrastructure a “D+” because roads and bridges have fallen into disrepair. Students fall far behind those in other countries because of our refusal to invest in public education. Republicans refuse to extend unemployment compensation for the hardest-hit victims of the economy and cut the food stamp program by billions of dollars.

At the same time, major corporations pay no taxes and receive subsidies because the GOP ignores the loss of over $100 billion in tax revenue annually.

Our police forces have become unaccountable paramilitary organizations. After wars in Iraq and Afghanistan wound down, local police forces took the surplus military equipment. Municipal police departments can get tanks, drones, firepower, armor, water cannons, flash bank grenades, LRAD sound devices, and other equipment not necessary for enforcing civilian law.

Frequently, the military equipment is used to remove non-violent protesters from public spaces. The U.S. condemns countries such as Russia and Egypt for using military equipment to suppress peaceful citizen protests while detaining U.S. citizens indefinitely in military jail for flimsy accusations.

Let’s address problems in our own country before we try to “fix” any others.

May 5, 2014

Piketty Highlights U.S. Oligarchy

A study released almost a month ago officially proclaimed the United States as an oligarchy, replete with fraud and wealthy people controlling the country. Since then, Thomas Piketty’s new book, Capital in the 21st Century, has sent shock waves throughout the country, continuing to pit conservatives against progressives.

Piketty has studied income equality since 1991 in both the U.S. and at least 30 other countries. His research shows how the climbing income share of richest U.S. households led to the top one percent taking 22.5 percent of total income, the highest figure since 1928. To Piketty, capital is anything that generates monetary return from real estate to patents and stocks.

In the 1950s, the average CEO salary was 20 times as  much as the typical employee. Last year CEOs made an average of 331 times as their workers. Apple’s Tim Cook made 6,258 times as much the wage of an average Apple employee in 2011.  The next year, Walmart’s CEO made 1,000 times the average Walmart worker. In terms of income generated by work, the level of inequality in the United States is “probably higher than in any other society at any time in the past, anywhere in the world,” Piketty writes.

In the 1950s, the rise of the income tax for the wealthiest to 90 percent and estate taxes to more than 70 percent on the largest land holdings meshed with minimum wages and encouragement of trade unions to produce far less wealth inequality. Spending heavily on infrastructure boosted GDP growth, and firms kept senior executive pay in check. Twenty years later, Ronald Reagan cut government expenditures, decimated the unions, and slashed tax rates on the wealthy. Now the bottom 40 percent is in debt while the top one percent owns more than 35 percent of the nation’s wealth.

Piketty’s solutions anger conservatives. He recommends a tax of over 80 percent on the wealthiest, those with annual incomes over $1 million. This tax would limit the destructive activities of Wall Street traders and investment bankers. He also suggests a one-percent levy on households worth between $1 million and $5 million, increasing the levy to over two percent for greater net worth.

GOP leader Rush Limbaugh referred to the author as “some French socialist, Marxist, communist economist.” Limbaugh missed the part in which Piketty, as a reasonable scholar, pointed out the fallacies of Marxist analysis.  Piketty argues that capitalism does not necessarily reduce inequality, as other economists and even the Pope have already said. The few accumulate capital when growth is slower than the rate of return on capital. The opposite movement results in “dis-accumulating.” Companies can replace workers with machines in times of slower growth, meaning that the owners will acquire a greater share of the income with unequal distribution of that capital.

Conservatives claim that a social safety net compensating workers with tragically low wages allotted by “markets” bolsters their income. This “transfer” system is much less in the United States than in other developed nations. Another conservative response is that redistribution in the U.S. is more difficult because of lower government revenues. If they believe that a better transfer system would help inequality, they need to put more money into the safety net. Nobody on the right, however, is arguing for this solution.

Another conservative argument is that consumption is equal between the bottom and the top fifths of households in the United States. It’s part of the “but they have cellphones” complaint from the right. The spending from the bottom fifth comes from debt, proving that wealth inequality is increasing: the poor go farther into debt, and the rich acquire more wealth. The recent increase in credit car debit comes from unemployment, children, declining home value, and lack of health insurance. The bottom 90 percent can’t save their incomes to establish a net worth.

saving rates comp. wealthy poor

Conservative economists such as Milton Friedman could afford to regard capitalism as an effective way to maintain income equality. Born in 1912, he did much of his work in the Golden Age of income and lived in the top 10 percent of income. The Reagan era built the coffin for a prosperous society. The following chart on shows the shifts in income inequality throughout the last century.

091113inequality-600x466

In the 1990s, President Clinton dropped the regulations on Wall Street, setting in motion the economic disaster excerbated by George W. Bush when he spent like a drunken sailor on wars and drastically reduced taxes for the rich. With almost no control on investment banks or regulations on borrowing, the country lacked resources to save itself from the Great Recession of 2008. The conservatives took over in 2010 and used their philosophy of not spending money to further reduce GDP growth. The solution to Bush’s disaster was increase spending and demand, but conservatives, especially the 2010 crop of Tea Party congressional legislators, depressed demand and thus depressed the recovery.

When the U.S. Supreme Court protects businesses against the rest of the population, they may be following the Constitution. In the early 1900s, historian Charles Beard wrote that the document’s authors wanted to favor wealthy merchants and plantation owners against laborers and small farmers. A primary author of the Constitution, James Madison, believed that government’s main goal is “to protect the minority of the opulent against the majority.” With a philosophy that “the property of landed proprietors would be insecure if elections were open to all classes of people,” he controlled the number of voters to six percent of the U.S. population. The first chief justice of the US Supreme Court, John Jay, believed that “those who own the country ought to govern it.”

The current Roberts court has sided with business 71 percent of the time compared to the 43 percent during the time under former Chief Justice Warren E. Burger between 1981 and 1986 and in 56 percent of cases decided during William Rehnquist’s tenure as chief. Carefully managed elections give voters a choice of candidates chosen by the corporations and the billionaires. Nomi Prins, a former managing partner at Goldman Sachs writes:

“With so much power in the hands of an elite few, America operates more as a plutocracy on behalf of the upper caste than a democracy or a republic. Voters are caught in the crossfire of two political parties vying to run Washington in a manner that benefits the banking caste, regardless of whether a Democrat or Republican is sitting in the Oval.”

The result is the Trans Pacific Partnership, a secretly negotiated trade agreement written by 600 corporate advisers; the attempt to do away with net neutrality and free transmission of data on the internet; and lack of criminal prosecutions for Wall Street regulation violations. Corporations like Monsanto defraud farmers and damage the health of people who suffer from their pesticides and GMOs. The Affordable Care Act, while helping many people, still enriches the insurance industry. The Keystone XL Pipeline comes ever nearer to completion so that wealthy companies can destroy the country’s resources in order to sell oil out of the country. The self-appointed militia is still terrorizing people in Nevada. And every minute the income inequality grows.

With the loss of income inequality comes the loss of rights—freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, voting rights, access to the internet.

May 1, celebrated last week, has many different meanings. It was originally a pagan celebration of spring and then commemorated the working class. In 1884, the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions declared that “eight hours shall constitute a legal day’s labor from and after May 1, 1886.” Employers who refused could be faced with strikes and demonstrations. On that date, over 300,000 workers in 13,000 businesses walked off their jobs.

Frightened by a celebration of labor and bolstered by prejudice, the GOP declared May 1 as “Americanization Day” by 1921. In 1958, Eisenhower named May 1 as “Law Day,” and the Congress then changed “Americanization Day” to “Loyalty Day” when people are to affirm “loyalty to the United States.” The changes were meant to “suppress the celebration of May Day.” Adding to the multitude of “celebrations” this year is that the “National Day of Prayer,” designated on the first Thursday of May, also fell on May 1.

I live in one of the few towns that still celebrates “Loyalty Days” with a royal court, parade, and carnival. Last weekend I looked out my window at heavy wind and rain that may have ruined a bit of the “loyalty” fun and thought about the people who sacrificed their jobs and lives so that the middle class and the poor of the United States could have better lives. They deserved better from their efforts than the condition of the United States today. Thomas Piketty’s book on the growing income equality of the country may bring people closer to the tipping point where they refuse to accept the status quo of oligarchy.

April 23, 2014

U.S. Becomes Oligarchy

It’s official! Instead of a democracy, the United States is now an oligarchy, meaning profoundly corrupt, according to a study to appear this fall in the Perspectives on Politics:

“Americans do enjoy many features central to democratic governance, such as regular elections, freedom of speech and association, and a widespread (if still contested) franchise. But [the country has] “the nearly total failure of ‘median voter’ and other Majoritarian Electoral Democracy theories [of America]. When the preferences of economic elites and the stands of organized interest groups are controlled for, the preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy.”

Authors Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page of “Testing Theories of American Politics” point out that the available data probably under-represents the super-rich control of the United States. This first-ever scientific study of whether the nation is a democracy tests the theoretical predications study in an examination of 1,779 policy issues. The study’s findings show that the United States now follows the pattern of Russia and other countries that claim to be “electoral” “democratic” countries.

The preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy.” The following shows a few of these ignored preferences in which the GOP House members ignore the will of the public:

  • 62% oppose the subsidies that the federal government gives to oil, gas and coal companies.
  • 67% believe there is solid evidence of climate change. [In the House, 56 percent of Republicans deny basic science behind climate change.]
  • 65% favor setting stricter emission limits on power plants in order to address climate change.
  • 80% believe that unauthorized immigrants who have been in the country for years and are employed, speak English, and would pay back taxes should be allowed to become citizens.
  • 33% support delaying, defunding, or repealing the Affordable Care Act. [This was almost a year ago as the House was in the midst of its 50 attempts to do this.]
  • 27% want Congress to drop long-term unemployment benefits. [Thus far, the House has followed the 27 percent.)
  • 73% want the minimum wage raised to $10.10.
  • 79% want background checks for all guns that are purchased.
  • 75% believe all politicians are “corrupted” by campaign donations and lobbyists.
  • 70% believe politicians use their political power to help their friends and hurt their enemies.

Although President Obama just signed a pet bill from House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) that all the Democrats opposed, Cantor later accused the president of refusing to work with him. The new law provides $126 million for pediatric disease research named after one of Cantor’s constituents who died of a brain tumor.  Cantor’s complaint may have been about the Democrat’s refusal to pass their weak immigration reform bill that was tied to repealing the Affordable Care Act.

http://www.alternet.org/news-amp-politics/koch-brothers-wealth-surges-past-100-billion-they-try-buy-senate?akid=11725.266883.UC6dt4&rd=1&src=newsletter982832&t=4  The Koch brothers, whose net worth just passed $100 billion, is an excellent example of the corruption in the falsehoods in their ads against the Affordable Care Act.

  • A leukemia patient said her policy was cancelled and she would die without medication.
  • A woman said her policy went up $700 a month because of Obamacare.
  • Residents in Louisiana open letters from health care companies telling about the evils of Obamacare.

An ad for a Stainmaster carpet, one of the Kochs’ many products, would require the ad to “conspicuously disclose that the persons in such advertisements are not actual consumers,” according to Hill columnist Mark Mellman. There were no cancellations that caused these problems, no letters sent out, and no residents—just paid actors. At this time, only 15 states require that political campaign ads cannot be false. A  Supreme Court case heard yesterday may allow all political ads to lie as much as they want. The government is arguing that lying in campaign ads is an important part of free speech on April 22 in the case Susan B. Anthony List v. Driehaus.

The protection of armed self-identified military members that kept rancher Cliven Bundy from obeying federal law and cheat the government out of money is another example of oligarchy. Wealthy right-wing billionaires manipulated Tea Part members and right-wing media fought for Bundy’s rights not to pay his 20-year debts. A millionaire gets to declare that the United States doesn’t exist so that he can keep fattening his cattle on land that taxpayers own and then sell them at a profit that he keeps for himself.

The Koch brothers will reap any wins from Bundy because they have vast investments in mineral and cattle industries. They just send out Americans for Prosperity to make themselves more prosperous, driving the country farther in oligarchy-land.

The United States of Oligarchy gave $1.2 trillion to the top Fortune 100 companies between 2000 and 2012. That amount doesn’t include the billions of dollars that housing, auto, and banking enterprises made in 2008 and 2009 nor does it include subsidies for ethanol. Open the Books found that the government military contracts with private firms brought billions of dollars, for example Lockheed Martin ($392 billion), General Dynamics ($170 billion), and United Technologies ($73 billion). Another $21.8 billion in direct subsidies went to corporate recipients, and giant oil companies got another $8.5 billion.

The recent Supreme Court ruling of McCutcheon v. FEC, giving the wealthy almost unlimited opportunities to buy lawmakers, ignored the rapidly increasing inequality in wealth. Since the 1960s, the richest 0.1 percent of U.S. households, each averaging over $20 million, have more than doubled their share of U.S. wealth from 10 to 20 percent. That 0.1 percent equals about 316,000 people. They get rich because the only way to add wealth is saving and investing. Wealthy people can do this so their net worth compounds while the rest of the people have to spend their income to provide food and shelter.

trickle down

Despite the vast wealth that these people have, they’re incensed by criticism. The top one percent got 95 percent of the nation’s income growth from 2009 to 2012, their income grew by 31 percent while the 99 percent got 0.4 percent, and they’re upset because some of the media points this out. They still pay taxes at a lower rate than the middle-class, and they accuse people of being jealous, comparing the populist threats to Hitler’s statements in Germany.

When Rep. Dave Camp (R-MI) suggested that the ten biggest Too Big to Fail Banks pay a tax as partial payment to taxpayers who bailed them out to give the wealthy more money, GOP leaders Mitch McConnell and John Boehner quashed any possibility of this even getting a vote. Goldman Sachs cancelled meetings with the RNC about fundraisers, and the bank lobby demanded that GOP renounce this heresy. Fifty-four GOP House members sent a letter to Camp about their deep concerns that the proposal would reduce access to credit and slow growth. Camp retired.

In a letter to the Wall Street Journal, billionaire Tom Perkins compared the reaction of the “anti-rich radicals” toward the super-rich to Kristallnacht, Hitler’s pre-Holocaust attack on the Jews. He suggested that the number of votes from people should be equivalent to the amount of taxes that they pay. He refuses to belief that this situation already exists, thanks to the Supreme Court.

Even an economist from JP Morgan doesn’t believe the bunk of “trickle-down” economics that supports the myth that giving the wealthy all the money will create wealth for the poor and middle classes. Michael Feroli broke this balloon when he stated that consumer spending is lagging by $1 trillion historically anticipated.

 

Since the end of the recession, households spend only 1.7 cents of each extra dollar earned as compared to 3.8 cents between 1952 to 2009. There does seem to be a limit to what the wealthy can buy, and the rest of the people don’t have the money to spend. Harvard Business Review blogger Andrew O’Connell wrote that the top 5 percent of U.S. earners increased spending by 17 percent compared to a one-percent increase for everyone else.

Another study published in the Political Research Quarterly found that only the rich are represented in the U.S. senate. A review of the voting records of senators in five Congresses found them consistently aligned with their wealthiest constituents. Lower-class constituents didn’t influence the Senators’ voting behavior.

This is only part of the picture. More later.

AGR Daily News Service

Transformational Change; What Works For Seven Future Generations Without Causing Harm?

JONATHAN TURLEY

Res ipsa loquitur ("The thing itself speaks")

Jennifer Hofmann

Inspiration for soul-divers, seekers, and adventurers.

Occupy Democrats

Progressive political commentary/book reviews for youth and adults

V e t P o l i t i c s

politics from a liberal veteran's perspective

Margaret and Helen

Best Friends for Sixty Years and Counting...

GLBT News

Official news outlet for the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Round Table of ALA

The Extinction Protocol

Geologic and Earthchange News events

Central Oregon Coast NOW

The Central Oregon Coast Chapter of the National Organization for Women (NOW)

Social Justice For All

Working towards global equity and equality

Over the Rainbow Books

A Book List from Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Round Table of the American Library Association

The WordPress.com Blog

The latest news on WordPress.com and the WordPress community.

%d bloggers like this: