Nel's New Day

June 14, 2021

GOP Helps the Wealthy Become Wealthier

Earlier this month, ProPublica broke a story about how little the wealthiest people in the U.S. pay in taxes. All but the conservatives were outraged at the inequity; conservatives are angry only about the IRS leak. The report used tax filings from the nation’s 25 richest people, including Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg, Elon Musk, and Warren Buffett. The $13.6 billion the 25 people paid in five years for taxes was compared to the growth of their wealth during the same time, called their “true tax rate.” At 3.4 percent, the percentage of the wealth growth they paid in taxes was far under the 14 percent in federal taxes paid by the median household annually earning about $70,000.

According to the tax code, people pay taxes only on income and the sale of assets such as stocks. Growing wealth isn’t taxed until assets are sold. Instead of taking salaries or selling stock, the wealthy avoid taxes by taking out loans. A 1920 Supreme Court ruling explained how the wealthy can pass along assets to a person or nonprofit foundations where the leaders can benefit from the untaxed wealth.  

About $2.7 trillion owned by wealthy people in the U.S. isn’t being taxed. The $1.1 trillion owned by the 25 billionaires equals the annual pay of 14.3 million U.S. wage earners who annually pay $143 billion on these salaries, compared to the $1.9 billion the wealthy pay in taxes. These wealthy, like Deposed Donald Trump (DDT), sometimes pay zero taxes. A multibillionaire in 2007, Amazon CEO Bezos paid no taxes that year and again in 2011 when he also received a tax credit for his children. In 2018, Tesla founder Musk, the second richest person in the world, paid no federal income taxes. Other wealthy people who paid no income tax in recent years include Michael Bloomberg, Carl Icahn, and George Soros.

Conservatives want the poor to “pay their fair share” but say nothing about the wealthy. Buffett has long called for higher income tax rates for the wealthy: he paid $23.7 million tax on his $24.3 billion increase in wealth from 2014 and 2018—0.1 percent. During the same five years, the net worth of the media household averaged an increase in net worth of $65,000, mostly from the increase of their home values, but their tax bills averaged $62,000. In 2018, the 25 billionaires reported a combined $158 million to the IRS in wages, 1.1 percent of their total incomes for the year. 

Many of the wealthy use their money to oppose legislation for non-wealthy rights. Without knowing specifics about the infrastructure bill, Charles Koch’s Americans for Prosperity (AFP) founded a multi-million dollar grassroots campaign to fight the proposed law that would create thousands of jobs. The money targets 27 U.S. House Democrats in swing districts and use social media advertising, phone calls, direct mail, and rallies in over 100 cities to denounce the plan in 38 states. The same people who use the deficit to reject the plan paid $20 million lobbying for their 2017 tax giving them billions of additional wealth. The nonprofit claims that only one-third of the people support the infrastructure plan although 71 percent of respondents want to raise taxes on corporations and the wealthy.

Oil and gas companies on the government dole benefited from subsidies, tax cuts, and government COVID assistance. CEOs of Devon Energy, ExxonMobile, and EOG Resources refused to testify at a House hearing about the industry’s subsidies, as did the president and head of government affairs of industry trade group Western Energy Alliance. The 12.5 percent royalty fee, paid for onshore leases, hasn’t increased in 100 years although the government charges 18.75 percent to offshore drillers. Fees are used for public programs, such as education, by state, local, and tribal governments. The Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) has cost the government billions of dollars by reducing or waiving offshore fees. BOEM also retroactively lowered valuations of seafloor tracts to drop bids below fair market value.

States also lost money by giving subsidies, $1 billion in the case of ExxonMobil since 1983 with almost half that sum from Texas, the company’s headquarters. Devon got $89 million in state subsidies since 2009 and EOG Resources $8.8 since 2013. The oil and gas sector also received $774 million in forgivable Paycheck Protection Program loans because of COVID. As of December 31, the Federal Reserve loaned dozens of fossil fuel companies $2.2 billion, accounting for 13 percent of the Fed’s Main Street Lending Program. Renewable energy companies received only one percent of the program’s loans. The Fed also bought $400 million worth of corporate bonds in at least 36 companies. Because of the March 2020 COVID relief bill, at least 79 oil companies, service firms, and contractors claimed almost $8 billion in tax refunds. And that’s on top of DDT’s gift of $25 billion for 17 oil and gas companies in the 2017 tax bill, $5.9 billion going to ExxonMobil. 

Another loophole in the 2017 tax law gave the oil industry $84 billion over a decade by requiring taxes from 10.5 percent to no taxes on foreign profits, encouraging offshoring of factories and jobs. The extraction exemption also allows companies to bring profits back to the U.S. without paying taxes. In addition, Congress exempted securities transactions from requirements to preserve jobs and limit dividends, leaving no restrictions on the Fed’s bond purchases. Oil and gas companies fired workers, raised executives’ salaries, and paid huge dividends to stockholders. Devon, with a $220 million tax benefit from the COVID relief bill, laid off 400 workers, 22 percent of its workforce. Its dividends increased 40 percent over 2019. Another 85 percent of oil and gas companies receiving over $100 million from the tax loophole followed suit. Twelve of the companies pay CEOs over 100 times the median salary of workers while eliminating jobs.

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a group of global corporations and state politicians secretly gathering to create state “model” bills increasing their profits, also pushes bills to enrich the wealthy. ALEC has ranked Utah, a state with one of the worst gender pay gaps, as having the best economic outlook for the year. “Best” means low income taxes, estate taxes, and minimum wages with anti-union policies. The other three top states—Florida, Oklahoma, and Wyoming—have some of the nation’s highest gender pay gaps, poverty rates, and/or percentage of residents without health insurance.

Stephen Moore, one of the report’s authors, identified the biggest economic problem in the U.S. is declining male earnings. Women in Utah make 30 percent less than men do. The poverty rate in Oklahoma is 15 percent, and the state ranks 47th in food insecurity. ALEC listed the state as having the third best economic outlook. DDT had nominated Moore to the Federal Reserve Board, but he removed his name because the public learned his history of disparaging women in sports and the workplace.

Unconcerned about the high inequity in paying taxes, Senate Finance Committee ranking member Michael D. Crapo (R-ID) focused on investigating the leak of the tax returns, concerned that Biden’s proposal reporting more taxpayer financial information to the IRS by banks would compromise privacy.

IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig confirmed an investigation into the possibility that the revealed investigation came from the IRS. He added that having financial account information readily available could reduce and shorten audits. The process “would lessen the burden on some taxpayers by having us not audit certain taxpayers,” Rettig said. He also pointed out that the IRS has been “very successful” in protecting taxpayer data with numerous oversight systems.

The committee’s chair, Ron Wyden (D-OR), called on the IRS to investigate the disclosure but addressed the need for legislative requiring the wealthiest billionaires to pay their “fair share.” He was not specific about the legislation, but his 32-page report almost two years ago proposed taxing wealth like income for those above certain income and asset levels. It also would require taxes to be annually paid on gains from tradable assets such as stocks.

Biden’s proposed changes for the IRS includes an $80 million increase in its budget, now smaller than a decade ago with 21,000 fewer employees—a loss of 35 percent. Audit rates for millionaires dropped over 70 percent in that decade, and audits of large corporations went from almost 100 percent to under 50 percent. The agency has fewer auditors than at any time since World War II while its responsibilities have expanded into administering the Affordable Care Act and distributing stimulus checks. Biden also proposes third-party reporting and information from financial services providers for greater accuracy, increasing compliance rates to above 95 percent instead of below 50 percent. Tax compliance initiatives could raise $700 billion in over a decade although experts think the amount could be twice as much, $1.4 trillion.

The IRS projected a tax gap of $441 billion a year but said it could be over $1 trillion. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen put the amount at over $700 billion a year if everyone paid their assigned taxes. Researchers found that the top one percent of people fail to report about one-fourth of their income to the IRS and almost twice as high for the top 0.1 percent.

Biden’s proposed investment in the IRS could bring a huge profit. Republicans who worry about leaks really want only to increase assets for the wealthy.

July 26, 2020

DDT: Week 183 – Oval Office War on U.S. People

As his polling numbers shrink, Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) spent his week backing down on earlier positions in a desperate attempt to woo voters. He maintained that COVID-19 is getting worse—despite Sean Hannity saying it’s better—and backed off from having the GOP convention in Jacksonville (FL) with his false claim that he’s doing it to protect the “safety” of the people. Behind the scenes, his officials have considered scrapping the event for months.

 Unfortunately for his ratings, DDT still stands his ground on forced opening of schools with threats of taking money away from those being more cautious. He won’t make any points with forced school openings. According to a recent AP-NORC poll, only 8 percent think daycare centers, preschools, and K-12 schools should open without restrictions; 46% want major adjustments, 14 percent believe in opening schools with minor adjustments, and 31 percent flatout reject the opening.  After weeks, DDT said he would send his son Barron back to school, but it isn’t opening. The “updated” guidelines are fairly useless—mostly detailed information of using masks and keeping children at home if they are sick. Although CDC posted the guidelines, DHS wrote them.

This week DDT returned to press briefings, daily campaign speeches Joe Scarborough calls the “Clorox Variety Show.” An advantage of these is a much greater brevity, the first one on Tuesday 27 minutes, and the last one on Thursday came in at 11 minutes. Friday he made remarks about his executive orders that vaguely may have suggested lowering drug prices. There were no experts, no information, and almost no truth. Dr. Anthony Fauci said he wasn’t “invited” to the briefings, and DDT said that Dr. Deborah Birx was “outside” for the first two. Worn out by today, DDT spent today at one of his golf courses for the 262nd day, costing taxpayers $140 million, while Hurricane Hanna hit the hottest virus spot in the hot COVID-19 zone of Texas.

DDT used his briefings to justify his attacking U.S. cities with his new militia and his repetition on two different days in wishing sex trafficker Ghislaine Maxwell “well.” She may be the first woman he’s ever spoken nicely about. Rep. Chip Roy (R-TX) called DDT’s comment about Maxwell “unacceptably obtuse.” DDT blamed the virus spikes on protests, increased travel, and migrant but told the truth about having no strategy for handling the virus. He said, “We are in the process of developing a strategy …”

Fauci and Birx earlier blamed the current surge on states opening too early. Birx secretly warned leaders of 11 cities of imminent danger from COVID-19 without immediate “aggressive” action, according to a leaked telephone call. She warned a wait of “another three or four or even five days” will result in “a dramatic increase in cases.” Less than a week ago, 18 states were secretly notified their dangerous situation regarding the virus without action. Political leaders are being told about the problems instead of health departments. When the U.S. hit 4 million reported coronavirus cases, infections doubled in just six weeks with a quarter of the total count is just two weeks.   

Part of DDT’s new strategy for “handling” the virus is blaming Republican governors for opening up their states too early. Last Wednesday, White House advisor Kellyanne Conway said:

“Some of these states blew through the phases, blew through our gated criteria, blew through our phases, and they opened up some of the industries a little too quickly, like bars. Remember, the governors wanted complete latitude over when they would open their states. They pushed back heavily, handsomely, Republicans and Democrats, when it was falsely rumored that the president was going to be in charge of opening the states.”

A reporter pointed out DDT “encouraged them to open,” but Conway denied it. DDT did tell Georgia’s Gov. Brian Kemp he should wait a bit longer, but DDT’s statement was a reversal from earlier pushing to open the country. DDT also threatened to “override” all governors who didn’t permit religious services to resume in places of worship.

Early in the pandemic, DDT declared himself a war-time president but stopped making the claim when he failed. Now he’s become a war-time president with his own militia used against the people of the United States. Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said, “You go to war with the army you have, not the army you might want or wish to have at a later time.” After the Pentagon refused to give DDT the U.S. military troops he wanted for his attack on the U.S. people, he created his personal militia from Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Transportation Security Administration, and Customs and Border Protection.  These civilian enforcement agents were trained to patrol the borders with Mexico and Canada (locking up children in cages), check travelers at airports for contraband in their carry-ons (perhaps quantities of shampoo larger than three ounces), and inspect shipments of imported goods from foreign countries.

DDT’s action is considered by members of both parties as legal but not right. Republican Tom Ridge, the George W. Bush’s appointment as first DHS chief of the Department of Homeland Security, said the agency was established the protect people in the U.S. from terrorism abroad, not “the president’s personal militia.” DHS acting chair and militia leader Chad Wolf isn’t legally the head of the agency. Not only has he not been confirmed, but he’s also been in the position longer than allowed as acting. The images from Portland are so graphic that Fox cut away from them when Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany  showed a video. Wolf claims his men are in Portland to protect federal property, but his unidentified thugs drive the streets in unmarked vans to grab people by themselves. They are taken to the federal courthouse for several hours without being allowed to make any telephone calls. Sometimes the militia does not fill out any paperwork. Yet DDT plans to send up to 75,000 agents into a large number of U.S. cities with Democratic mayors.

After two weeks of DDT’s militia shooting and tear gassing protesters, many of them not at federal property, Bev Barnum put together a small group called the “Wall of Moms” to protect protesters. One of their first actions was to put sunflowers on the fence around the federal courthouse. The group of 30 moms grew to hundreds and was joined by PDXDadPod who brought leaf blowers to disperse the tear gas. DDT wants to be a war-time president so badly that he’s declared war on the people of the United States. Now a group of veterans has come to protect the constitutional rights of protesters after federal agents beat on a disabled Navy veteran, Chris David, who asked about the agents not living up to the oath to the constitution. Agents also directly sprayed pepper spray into his face as he passively stood in front of them. Agents took Jennifer Kristiansen, a “mom” and a lawyer, into the courthouse for several hours without giving her permission to make a telephone call. She had put her arm in front of another women after an agent started beating on her breast with his baton.

Some DHS employees expressed concern that the agents’ behavior will damage the reputation of the agency. It’s a bit late for that.

The federal government has sent an air force special ops surveillance plane, the DO-328 “Cougar” from an Ohio air base, to spy on Portland during the protests. The Air Force told Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) the tight circles over Portland were to look at environmental conditions. The plane left the Portland area after Wyden’s request for information, but the Air Force has not answered his questions about “what data it is collecting and who approved the mission.”

Although Portland police denied any coordination with marauding federal agents, evidence shows collaboration between local and federal law enforcement. An independent journalist has reported all the law enforcement working together multiple times to clear the streets and a Portland police arrest at the request of DHS.  On July 22, the City Council unanimously banned Portland police from working with federal law enforcement, the same day federal agents unleashed “massive” clouds of tear gas on protesters which local police can no longer do.

To people who complain about wearing masks, consider the difference between preserving public and health and the secret police in Portland and other cities.  

DDT’s fascist war on people in the U.S. will have little effect on the majority of its population. While his militarized agents snatch people off the streets and charge protesters with harsh federal crimes, using graffiti as an excuse, most people following their usual agendas, many of them complaining about fighters for democracy. The Pentagon refused to send their trained troops to attack cities—Portland, Albuquerque, Kansas City, Seattle, etc.—so DDT sent untrained agents—up to 75,000 of them—for photo ops of chaos.

Meanwhile, COVID-19 deaths in the U.S., 149,398, will assuredly hit 150,000 tomorrow, July 26. New cases of 67,413 in the past 24 hours brought the U.S. total to 4,315,709 with an anticipated five million in ten days.

June 2, 2020

(Pro)Fascism, Not ‘Fools’

After Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) delivered his speech in the Rose Garden yesterday about sending the military against protesters throughout the United States without permission from the states, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) tweeted:

“The fascist speech Donald Trump just delivered verged on a declaration of war against American citizens.”

Wyden is known for careful speech, and he didn’t use the F word carelessly. Before DDT’s election in 2016, John McNeill, professor of history, described characteristics of fascism: hyper-nationalism, militarism, glorification of violence, fetishization of masculinity, leader cult, lost-golden-age syndrome, purges of the disloyal, and theatricality. In this article, McNeill tried to prove that DDT was not a fascist, but the past three years have proved differently. In his book The Anatomy of Fascism,  Robert Paxton, an expert in the subject, has more characteristics such as scapegoating, demonizing, playing the victim, and males as leaders. Major parts of fascism are also controlling the media, manipulation through the most common religion, and suppressing labor rights to protect corporate power.

Wyden is right: DDT fulfilled fascist expectations—many yesterday afternoon between his Rose Garden speech threatening to send the military against U.S. people and then clearing peaceful protesters with tear gas and rubber bullets for a photo-op at a church. An official said he wanted to look strong by gassing people after being called “Bunker Boy” for hiding out two days earlier. At least one Episcopal priest, Rev. Gini Gerbasi (right), and a seminarian were expelled from the church’s patio, and both were affected by tear gas. Gerbasi was wearing clerical garb. [visual pastor]

The blame game for DDT’s poorly-orchestrated photo-op, where he held the Bible upside down, has flown fast and furious but keeps coming back to DDT. Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley supposedly thought that they were in Lafayette Square “to review efforts to quell the protests,” but Milley followed the photo-op by stalking the streets of Washington in combat fatigues as if it was he were planning a military assault in a war zone. DDT seems to be at fault, and the White House ordered military helicopters to fly low over peaceful protesters in Washington to incite fear and physically hurt them. 

About DDT’s photo-op, the outraged bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, Mariann Budde, said:

“The president just used a Bible, the most sacred text of the Judeo-Christian tradition, and one of the churches of my diocese, without permission, as a backdrop for a message antithetical to the teachings of Jesus and everything that our churches stand for.”

This morning, DDT, down in the polls by 12 points with white Catholics, had a photo-op at the Saint John Paul II National Shrine. Like Budde, Catholic Washington Archbishop Wilton Gregory was angry. He made this statement:  

“I find it baffling that and reprehensible that any Catholic facility would allow itself to be so egregiously misused and manipulated in a fashion that violates our religious principles, which call us to defend the rights of all people even those with whom we might disagree.”

DDT also held up a bible so that everyone could identify it. Evan Osnos called DDT’s show “an unholy production” and described the scene in Layfayette Park before police attacked with tear gas and rubber bullets, one of the victims a pastor from the church for the photo-op:

“Men and women, along the sunny edge of Lafayette Park, chanted and knelt. A young boy and girl, flanking their father, held protest signs. A vender touted coronavirus masks bearing the grim slogan of our time: ‘I Can’t Breathe…’’

“The scene was quieter than it had been for hours. Holding aloft a yellow sign reading ‘Trump Coward,’ Anita, a Virginia woman with long blond hair, told me, ‘I am a registered Republican. This man has disgraced my political party. I will be changing political parties after this.’ She wore black capri pants and a white T-shirt with the American flag on it. For a while, she explained, she had credited Trump with a strong economy. For more than three years, she stayed loyal; she liked to imagine that he was best for business. She said, ‘I gave him that much time. And, as the days have gone by, the insult from this President is just too much to take….’

“’Yesterday was it,” she said. She had watched the video of Floyd’s death, and it left her shaken. ‘Any one of us with even a little bit of humanity, it absolutely broke our hearts.’ Her voice cracked. “Every police department in this country needs to change. They should never be allowed to touch a person’s head or neck. Why would they even need to do that?’

“She went on, ‘It makes you question—what have they done in the past that we don’t know about, that’s not on video? All of the complaints from the black community now become just real complaints that have been happening. The reality of what they’ve been living in for years just becomes that much more real…’”

Osnos continued with a description of DDT’s speech and the aftermath:

“At 6:40, twenty minutes before a curfew was to go into effect, police with riot shields on their arms pressed toward the crowd, driving it back, as some people held their hands in the air. Police fired tear gas and rubber bullets as men and women scattered. Officers swung batons at reporters holding cameras and microphones.

“In the Rose Garden, reporters could hear flash grenades detonating on the streets outside. Trump, looking tense and reading from a teleprompter… Declaring himself a ‘President of law and order,’ he called the looting and violent demonstrations ‘acts of domestic terror.’ He vowed to ‘dominate the streets’ and promised an ‘overwhelming law-enforcement presence until the violence has been quelled.’ He added, ‘If a city or state refuses to take the actions necessary to defend the life and property of their residents, then I will deploy the United States military and quickly solve the problem for them…’

“CNN carried the President’s remarks on a split screen with images of police advancing through the crowds. A moment later, a chyron noted, ‘Trump says he’s an “ally of peaceful protesters” as police fire tear gas, rubber bullets on peaceful protesters near WH…’

“Trump stalked across the park, weaving past the monuments, with his security detail skittering around him. When he reached the sanctuary, he did not go inside. Instead, he turned toward the camera, and members of his entourage assembled into a tableau so bizarre that it took a moment to understand what was unfolding. He held up a Bible and posed with it for the cameras, clasping it to his chest, bouncing it in his hand, turning it to and fro, like a product on QVC. He did not offer a prayer or read from scripture. On either side of him, his aides fidgeted awkwardly; there was the droopy, basset-hound visage of his enabling Attorney General, William Barr; his unrelenting cheerleader Mark Meadows, the chief of staff; his spokesperson, Kayleigh McEnany, who grinned madly. Apart from Ivanka Trump, none wore masks…

“For now, as his people pleaded for leadership, a President with no personal understanding of strength or spirit offered a crude simulation of them. He assembled a pageant of symbols that he knows have power over others—the Bible, the gun, and the shield. And he tossed them together in a cruel jumble of nonsense.”

The protesting lessened because one of George Floyd’s killers was arrested, but DDT took personal credit in his tweet:

“D.C. had no problems last night. Many arrests. Great job done by all. Overwhelming force. Domination. Likewise, Minneapolis was great (thank you President Trump!).”

DDT’s repeated use of “terrorists” about the far-left people he blames for violent protest, most likely a lie, can be a part of his determination to invoke the 1807 Insurrection Act. Since the act was last invoked in 1992 for Los Angeles riots, Congress expanded the law in 2006 to include “a natural disaster or terrorist attack.” California’s GOP governor, Pete Wilson, had asked for military help after four white police officers were acquitted in the beating of Rodney King, a black man. To invoke the act, a president “must first issue a proclamation ordering the insurgents to disperse within a limited time, 10 U.S.C. § 334.4. If the situation does not resolve itself, the President may issue an executive order to send in troops.” DDT, however, is not known for following the law.

In the Philadelphia Inquirer, Will Bunch wrote:

“[Trump’s speech in the Rose Garden represented] the moment we’ve been dreading since that escalator ride down Trump Tower five years ago this month—that’s been slowly building brick by brick as Donald Trump tore down the rule of law, abused the presidency to enrich himself, and grabbed the bully pulpit of the White House to divide America with racism, sexism and xenophobia.”

DDT told governors yesterday that they looked like “fools.” He looks like a Fascist.

March 31, 2015

Stop the TPP

Fast Track in Congress means that the legislative branch gives the executive branch the power to make agreements without any debate or filibuster to provide transparency about any of the issues of the agreement. The highly conservative members of Congress, who want to sue President Obama for taking too much authority in perfectly legal executive orders, wants to let him adopt disastrous trade agreements, at this time the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Fast Track gave the U.S. the job-killing wage-flattening North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the World Trade Organization (WTO) through offshoring U.S. jobs to low-wage countries. It also takes away the nation’s non-trade policies for safe food, a clean environment, affordable medicines, financial stability and more.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) wants the Senate Finance Committee to approve a Fast Track bill “very quickly after we come back” from the Easter recess on April 13. A key player is usually progressive Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) who, for reasons unknown, strongly supports passing the Fast Track authority. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) wants the Fast Track passed before Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe addresses a joint session of Congress in late April.

Last week, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) met with House Democrats to talk about the damage TPP would do to the people of this country after Wikileaks further revealed the expansion of corporate power to supercede U.S. laws that now protect the environment, consumers, and public health. WikiLeaks explained that TPP lets firms “sue” governments to get taxpayer compensation for loss of “expected future profits.” The New York Times reported that the TPP “giv[es] greater priority to protecting corporate interests than promoting free trade and competition that benefits consumers.”

According to Warren, the seemingly benign title Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) would allow foreign companies to challenge U.S. laws—and potentially to pick up huge payouts from taxpayers — without ever stepping foot in a U.S. court. For example, a foreign company that makes a banned toxic chemical added to gasoline could pass by the U.S. courts and move on to an international panel. The ruling could not be challenged in U.S. courts even if the panel demands U.S. taxpayers to pay billions of dollars in damages. Panels would not be required to have independent judges; they can be corporate lawyers. In 2012, one panel ordered Ecuador to pay Occidental Petroleum $2.3 billion for expropriating oil drilling rights.

These courts were set up after World War II when investors worried about putting their money into small developing countries with undependable legal systems. The TPP, however, is with many well-developed countries such as Australia and Japan, whose courts would also be pre-empted. Companies can also purchase political-risk insurance.

History shows the increasing problem of ISDS cases: fewer than 100 claims were made worldwide between 1959 to 2002, but 2012 saw 58 cases in just that year. A French company sued Egypt because Egypt raised its minimum wage, a Swedish company sued Germany because Germany decided to phase out nuclear power, and a Dutch company sued the Czech Republic because the Czechs didn’t bail out a bank that the company partially owned. Philip Morris is suing Uruguay from implementing new tobacco regulations. With TPP, about 9,000 foreign-owned firms operating in the United States could bring cases against governments, and more than 18,000 companies based in the United States would gain new powers to go after the other 11 countries in the accord.

Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-CA) wrote in an op-ed, “It’s a bad deal for American workers.” Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) said, “Members of Congress and their staff have an easier time accessing national security documents than proposed trade deals, but if I were negotiating this deal I suppose I wouldn’t want people to see it either.”

The TPP also allows corporations to fight limitations and exceptions to intellectual property rights such as copyrights and patents. Included are the provisions that allowed Eli Lilly to sue for $500 million because of Canada’s termination of patent extensions for medicines developed in the 1970s. Beyond that, it states that private companies can challenge “the cancellation or nullification of such [intellectual property] rights,” as well as “exceptions to such rights.”

Although a theory is that workers in all nations will benefit from bigger markets and more trade, a large portion of trade is done by multinational companies that have different interests from national corporations. Multinationals profit even if U.S. workers suffer, which is why these companies report their profits in or ship their jobs to countries with the lowest standards. The corporate movement of jobs overseas drives down wages in the U.S.; workers here will be forced to compete with workers in Vietnam who have no rights to organize in protest of wages that are under 60 cents an hour.

Corporate-defined trade rules have resulted in huge trade deficits, more than $8 trillion since 2000, and trade deficits cost jobs. Low trade tariffs allow current trade treaties to focus less on tariffs and more on “harmonizing regulations” for investors, “an excuse for corporations to institute a race to the bottom” according to Katrina vanden Heuvel. Trade agreements support corporate interests while trampling on the U.S. people. Drug companies are protected from introducing generic drugs, agribusiness is protected for its GMO food, and Wall Street is protected from regulations against secret derivatives.

Another provision among the 29 chapters of the TPP is that the U.S. government must treat bids from any TPP country in the same way as they treat U.S. companies. Tax dollars will no longer support U.S. communities, and taxpayers will be forced to send them money overseas, negating a 1934 law to give preference to U.S. corporations. With TPP, Chinese state-owned enterprise firms in Vietnam would have to be treated the same as a U.S. company and be awarded government contracts. Schools will no longer be allowed to “Buy Local” if a multinational company has a lower bid.

Republican members of Congress have fought everything that President Obama has supported—except the TPP Fast Track. That should raise a huge red flag for anyone who supports the rights of 90 percent of the U.S. people. For the past decade of TPP negotiations, the members of Congress, along with everyone else in the United States, have been refused access to TPP meetings and drafts of the agreement. The only information about TPP comes from leaks such as those revealed by Wikileaks. Yet 566 advisory group members, 480 of them representing industry groups or trade associations, are welcome to see and comment on the proposals. The few other participants are from 20 labor unions, three or four environmental groups, one consumer group, and two family farm groups.

U.S. workers are not the only people suffering from past trade agreements providing the prototype for TPP. Sister Simone Campbell, famous for her “nuns on the bus” movement to reverse income inequality, has written about the havoc wreaked by NAFTA, leading to a 60-percent increase in undocumented migrants from Mexico into the United States. This influx was followed by more undocumented migrants trying to cross the U.S. border from Central America after growing drug violence. In the United States, the 63 percent of workers without a college degree lost 12.2 percent of their wages since NATA took effect. According to the Government Accountability Office, labor provisions like the ones in TPP have failed to stop even the most severe labor abuses.

While appearing to be a great deal for huge corporations that are already taking money from the country in subsidies and unpaid taxes, the benefit for individuals, according to Peterson Institute for International Economics, would be one quarter—that’s $.25—a day. The pro-TPP study projects a 0.13-percent increase to the GDP by 2025, half of what Apple’s iPhone 5 did by itself.

If the TPP is so wonderful for the country, why is everything about it cloaked in secrecy? It’s so secret that people voting to approve it aren’t allowed access to information about it, yet they’re pushing for it sight unseen. The same people who think that the UN will destroy the United States are fighting to have international control by corporations.

My other question is why Wyden supports it. His constituents are so upset about his push to pass the TPP that they are floating the possibility of opposition to the extremely popular senator in the upcoming election. He owes Oregon and the people of the United States an explanation. has a petition for people who oppose the TPP.

December 17, 2011

Conservatives Ambivalent about Controlling Internet

Net neutrality was a big story a month ago when the Senate Democrats, in a 52 to 46 vote, stopped a Republican attempt to repeal rules that prohibit Internet service providers from slowing down or blocking access to legitimate websites. Even FCC spokesman said the vote was “a win for consumers and businesses.”

Republicans use the typical excuse in their votes to  give advantages to big business by saying that these rules are an unnecessary burden on businesses and an attempt for the government to control the Internet. Except for two absences, all Senate Republicans voted to repeal the rules, and all Democrats voted to maintain them.

Verizon has since filed a lawsuit in federal court, arguing that the FCC overstepped its authority by trying to regulate broadband Internet service. The same court that ruled against Comcast last year, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, will hear the Verizon case. Comcast sued after FCC sanctioned Comcast for slowing down users’ access to file-sharing site BitTorrent, arguing it violated an FCC policy statement. If the court strikes down the net-neutrality rules, the FCC could choose to re-classify broadband Internet as a “telephone service” as opposed to an “information service.” The FCC has a much broader authority to regulate telephone companies.

The month before Republicans, who moaned about “government control of the Internet,” decided to control the Internet. The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), introduced by House Judiciary Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX), demands that search engines, Internet providers, and ad networks cut ties with websites “dedicated” to copyright infringement.

SOPA would create a “blacklist” of websites that infringe on copyrights. Private companies who allege that a site is unlawfully publishing their copyrighted content could, with a judge’s signature, demand that ad networks and companies such as PayPal and Visa stop doing business with such sites. Internet service providers would need to prevent Americans from visiting them. Prosecution would result from just suspicion of wrongdoing—just like the new law stating that U.S. citizens can be indefinitely imprisoned without a trial on suspicion of terrorist activities.

A website that deliberately acts “to avoid confirming a high probability of the use…of the site” to commit infringements” faces getting shut down by a lawsuit from a rightsholder, or having its credit card and ad funding pulled by a court order. Terms like “high probability” and “avoid confirming” aren’t defined, making prosecution—even of innocent people—far easier. SOPA adds a new violation to copyright infringement called “lacking sufficient zeal to prevent copyright infringement.”

SOPA would “criminalize linking and the fundamental structure of the Internet itself,” according to Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt and effectively break the Internet. It would punish web firms, including search engines, that link to foreign websites dedicated to online piracy. Schmidt compared SOPA to the censorship practiced by repressive foreign governments like China. He also criticized SOPA for targeting the Domain Name System, which experts have warned could undermine the security of the Web.

The House bill states that any online service provider who has a DNS server has to generally “take technically feasible and reasonable measures designed to prevent access by its subscribers” to the targeted site. This includes DNS redirecting, but also can include any number of unspecified actions. What they are is completely unknown.

Supporters of  SOPA include the Motion Picture Association of America (not surprising), the pharmaceutical industry, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and even the International Association of Firefighters, who say that piracy saps the tax dollars that support emergency services.

Opponents run the gamut from progressive rights groups who say the bill could stifle free expression online to tea party activists who say that the measure gives far too much business-strangling power to the government. Wikipedia said they may temporarily blank out its pages in protest; other websites including Tumblr, Reddit and Firefox already have.

Even librarians are riled about SOPA. Representatives of 139,000 libraries stated that this bill “could threaten important library and educational activities.” If  SOPA passed, the court could find a person guilty even if the person believed the actions were legal. The new law would impose “ both misdemeanor and felony penalties for non-commercial public performances.” In addition, the proposed law would make colleges and universities far more liable to criminal prosecution even if they are operating under the assumption that their use of materials is reasonable.

Laurence Tribe, a constitutional law expert at Harvard Law School, argued that SOPA violates the First Amendment because it amounts to illegal “prior restraint,” suppressing speech without a judicial hearing. He also wrote to House members that the law’s definition of a rogue website is unconstitutionally vague:  “Conceivably, an entire website containing tens of thousands of pages could be targeted if only a single page were accused of infringement. Such an approach would create severe practical problems for sites with substantial user-generated content, such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, and for blogs that allow users to post videos, photos, and other materials.” In addition Tribe argued that  SOPA undermines the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998, which protected websites from being held responsible for the actions of their users.

A competing legal analysis by constitutional law expert Floyd Abrams claimed that the First Amendment does not protect copyright infringement and the bill’s protections are sufficient to not cause a chilling effect on protected speech. Abrams wrote the analysis on behalf of a coalition of movie and television associations which support the legislation.

SOPA is a great way for the entertainment industry to destroy the Internet and force people to go back the movie theater or sit in front of a small screen to watch reality shows. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) took the lead in the Senate to support SOPA with the Protect IP Act and might have succeeded with no debate if Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) had not put a hold on it and promised a filibuster. (Occasionally these are good!)

The House Judiciary Committee spent 12 hours Thursday debating SOPA and adjourned yesterday without a vote to move it onto the House and without a revised schedule for any vote. The bill’s sponsors were continually exposed for knowing almost nothing about how the Internet functions. During Thursday’s session, more than one lawmaker insisted that Congress could pass the measure without understanding the architecture of the Internet and how the bill could change the way the web works.

The committee also heard no testimony from experts on internet engineering or network infrastructure, even as it faces widespread opposition from the Internet industry. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), who opposes SOPA, has confirmed that talks regarding SOPA will continue Dec. 21. It’s my guess that very few representatives will be there for the meeting so soon before their holiday; their recess was scheduled to begin on December 8.

Basically the bill is about copyright infringement. The United States has laws against copyright infringement. Congress just wants to make the search engines be the police to watch for this infringement—and make them take the blame if someone else infringes copyrights.

If the bill doesn’t pass before December 31, 2011, sponsors have to start from scratch in 2012. It’s a guarantee that millions of Internet lovers will provide lots of scrutiny for the destruction of the Internet.  

Thanks to the Internet, people can track the committee’s efforts to do away with the Internet. Enjoy! (At least as long as it exists.)


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