Monday, June 30, 2014

Corporations are People, And They Have More Rights than You

Corporations are People, And They Have More Rights than You
Adam Winkler / Huffington Post / June 30, 2014


Ever since Citizens United, the Supreme Court's 2010 decision allowing unlimited corporate and union spending on political issues, Americans have been debating whether, as Mitt Romney said, "Corporations are people, my friend." Occupy Wall Street protestors decried the idea, late night comedians mocked it, and reform groups proposed amending the Constitution to eliminate it. Today, however, the Supreme Court endorsed corporate personhood - holding that business firms have rights to religious freedom under federal law. Not only do corporations have rights, their rights are stronger than yours.
The question came to the Supreme Court in a challenge to regulations implementing President Obama's landmark healthcare law. Those regulations require employers with 50 or more employees to provide those employees with comprehensive health insurance, which must include certain forms of contraception. The contraception requirement was designed to protect the rights of women. Studies show that access to contraception has positive benefits for women's education, income, mental health, and family stability.
Protecting women's rights, according to the Court, isn't a good enough reason for the government to force a business corporation, at least a privately held one like chain craft store Hobby Lobby, to include birth control in its insurance contrary to the business owner's wishes. At least that's what the Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision, held in Hobby Lobby. Federal statutes guaranteeing religious freedom to "persons" apply equally to closely held business corporations, and those corporations' religious liberty is "substantially burdened" by having to provide their employees with contraception. So the rights of employees have to give way to the rights of the corporation.
The Court's decision in Hobby Lobby isn't a surprise. The Roberts Court has been largely hostile to the rights of women - allowing greater restrictions on abortion, restricting their ability to sue for workplace discrimination, and limiting the scope of family leave laws. Meanwhile, the data show that the Roberts Court is the most business-friendly Supreme Court in nearly a century. Just as Citizens Unitedexpanded the rights of business corporations to speak about political issues - and, in the eyes of many, enabling them to drown out the voices of We the People -Hobby Lobby has given businesses another powerful tool to fight against regulation. Hobby Lobby's religious rights enable the firm to ignore the voices of women who wish to enjoy the health benefits from controlling reproduction.
And women may not be the only victims. What religious rights will business corporations seek next? The Court said that its decision wouldn't necessarily mean that closely-held businesses could obtain exemptions from healthcare regulations mandating insurance coverage for vaccinations and blood transfusions. Yet the Court did grant those corporations today a right to make such claims in court. If ensuring women's control over reproduction -- a constitutional right -- isn't a strong enough reason to limit the religious rights of Hobby Lobby, it's not clear why these other laws won't fall too.
LGBT people may be next. Remember a few months ago when Arizona almost adopted a controversial law that would have given business corporations a broad right to use religion to make claims for exemptions from the law? That proposed law was rightly seen as an attack on LGBT rights, as supporters insisted that business owners who object to same-sex marriage shouldn't be forced to bake cakes, take pictures, or arrange the flowers at such ceremonies. After Hobby Lobby, now all business corporations have a right under federal law to claim religious-based exemptions to all sorts of laws - including laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
To its credit, the Court's majority recognized the trouble created by the ruling and suggested that firms would not be entitled to discriminate on the basis of race. "The Government has a compelling interest in providing an equal opportunity to participate in the workforce without regard to race," the majority wrote. Yet the Court's omission of LGBT discrimination is worrisome. The justices must have understood that the current conflict between religion and anti-discrimination law involves LGBT people, not racial minorities. No corporation is seeking to use religion as an excuse to discriminate against African-Americans, while several are seeking to discriminate against LGBT people. About that, the majority says nothing.
If the Court's ruling is read to permit challenges to laws barring discrimination against LGBT people, Hobby Lobby will be the Arizona law on steroids. It wouldn't apply in one state but across the nation.
So while a business corporation can't go to church, fast on Yom Kippur, or travel to Mecca for Ramadan, it can still go to court and, on the basis of religious freedom, demand to be exempted from the law that applies to everyone else. Today, women are the victim. Tomorrow, it could be LGBT people. Indeed, after Hobby Lobby, every person is at risk. Everyone, that is, except the corporate person, my friend.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Same Patterns of Income Inequality in UK

Rich getting richer as everyone else is getting poorer, Government's own figures reveal


Jun 26, 2014 15:49
By Mark Ellis   / DailyMirror UK

The latest statistics from the Office for National Statistics shows that the household disposable income increased ONLY for the richest fifth of homes



The rich are getting richer while everyone else gets poorer under the Tory-led Coalition, official figures revealed today.
The latest statistics from the Office for National Statistics shows that the household disposable income increased ONLY for the richest fifth of homes.
Before taxes and benefits the richest fifth of households had an average income of £81,300 in 2012-13, almost 15 times greater than the poorest fifth who had an average income of £5,500.
And the richest fifth of households saw their income grow by £940 between 2011/12 and 2012/13, while the disposable income of all the other groups fell by around £250, with the poorest households experiencing the sharpest fall of £381.
Frances O’Grady, TUC general secretary, said: “The gap between rich and poor is growing again after a brief post-crash pause.
"Last year the richest households got richer, while everyone else got poorer.
“This is further proof that most people are failing to have a fair share in the benefits of recovery.

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“The return of rising inequality should worry everyone as it suggests that nothing has been learned from the financial crisis despite the huge fall in living standards that so many people are still experiencing.”
Meanwhile, a new report shows that pay deals have slowed down in recent months, with many public sector workers seeing their wages frozen.
A study by pay analysts XpertHR showed the median increase in the three months to May was 2%, down from 2.5% in the first quarter of the year.
But settlements in the public sector were around 1%, with one in seven workers having their pay frozen.


Workers in manufacturing and production industries were paid a median rise of 2.5%, the analysis of almost 300 deals showed.
Two out of five agreements were worth the same or more than the 2.4% May RPI inflation figure.
XpertHR pay and benefits editor Sheila Attwood said: “Employers are continuing to take a cautious approach to pay reviews, with settlements of 2% in the private sector at the same level as seen over the latter part of 2013.
“Despite some positive news on the economy, pay award levels are expected to remain subdued for the time being.”





Thursday, June 26, 2014

Walmart: the most monetarily successful robber baron monopoly in US history.


New Study: Walmart Scammed American Taxpayers for $104 Million by Giving Executives Obscene Bonuses

The company is a parasite sucking the country dry.
Photo Credit: Shutterstock.com

This just in: Walmart used a tax loophole to get you and me to pay millions to executive fatcats in undeserved bonuses. How do you like that?

You probably don't like it at all, because you know that on top of that, you also fork over your tax dollars to maintain the company's system of low wages, which require Medicaid, food stamps, and other public assistance to sustain workers who do not earn enough to live on. Not to mention what you pay to maintain the roads and infrastructure Walmart uses to do business. Or what you pay to educate its workforce through public schools. Etc, etc. etc.This just in: Walmart used a tax loophole to get you and me to pay millions to executive fatcats in undeserved bonuses. How do you like that?
Walmart workers can't afford to feed their children, but things are sure different at the top of the Walmart food chain, where executives gobble up stratospheric sums for doing a piss-poor job.
According to a new report by the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) and Americans for Tax Fairness (ATF) Walmart managed to finagle $104 million in taxpayer subsidies over a six-year period due to tax deductions for “performance-based” executive compensation. Eight top executives were able to rake in more than $298 million in “performance pay” that was fully tax deductible.

The report release comes just days before Walmart’s annual shareholder meeting on Friday, June 6.
Walmart, the study reveals, was able to lower its federal tax payments by $40 million because of obscene pay packages awarded to just one executive — recently retired CEO Michael Duke. Duke took in $116 million in stock options and other performance-based compensation between 2009 and 2014. Of course, his "performance" included presiding over a slump in sales and repeated revelations of worker abuse that have damaged Walmart's reputation. But in the surreal world of corporate America, a corporate CEO can get rich running a company into the ground.

The report, " Walmart’s Executive Bonuses Cost Taxpayers Millions", finds that Walmart’s $104 million in tax savings was made possible by a loophole in U.S. tax law that allows companies to deduct unlimited amounts for performance-based compensation. Ironically, the loophole was created through a 1993 reform meant to discourage excessive executive compensation by capping the amount corporations can deduct from their income taxes for executive pay at no more than $1 million per executive.
But the law backfired: It tore open a giant loophole by exempting stock options and other so-called “performance pay” from the cap.

“When Walmart gets a $104 million tax break for giving its executives outrageous pay packages, the rest of us pick up the tab,” said Frank Clemente, executive director at Americans for Tax Fairness. “With this tax loophole, the bigger the executive bonuses the less Walmart pays in taxes. This is truly one of the most perverse loopholes of all time.”

“Subsidies for executive bonuses come at a huge social cost,” said Sarah Anderson, Global Economy Project Director at the Institute for Policy Studies. “The $104 million in tax subsidies for Walmart’s executive pay over the past six years would have been enough, for example, to cover the cost of providing free lunches for 33,000 children. What’s even more outrageous is that this is a company that pays its workers so little that many of them must rely on such public assistance programs.”
“When large corporations pay multimillion dollar bonuses to executives subsidized by taxpayers, then small businesses and families must pay more,” said Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-TX), author of a bill that would close the CEO loophole. “Publicly held companies like Walmart can continue paying their executives multimillion dollar bonuses; just don’t expect the American taxpayer to pick up your tab. It makes no sense for working families to subsidize those making nearly 300 times the average worker.”
If the “CEO bonus pay loophole” were closed, taxpayers would save $50 billion over 10 years, according to the Joint Committee on Taxation. In the U.S. House of Representatives, Rep. Doggett (D-TX) has introduced the Stop Subsidizing Multimillion Dollar Corporate Bonuses Act (H.R. 3970). Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI) and Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) have introduced identical legislation (S. 1476) in the U.S. Senate.

The joint ATF-IPS report follows recent work on related issues by both organizations—Walmart on Tax Day: How Taxpayers Subsidize America’s Biggest Employer and Richest Family (April 2014) by Americans for Tax Fairness, and Restaurant Industry Pay: Taxpayers' Double Burden(April 2014) by the Institute for Policy Studies.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

A Harvard Professor Is Crowdfunding A Super PAC To Save Democracy From Money

A HARVARD PROFESSOR IS CROWDFUNDING A SUPER PAC TO SAVE DEMOCRACY FROM MONEY

By Matt Taylor Jun 19 2014  -  from Vice
Lawrence Lessig at the 2011 PICNIC Festival in Amsterdam. Photo via Flickr user Sebastiaan ter Burg
Harvard Professor Larry Lessig, friend of the late hactivist Aaron Swartz and a longtime advocate for net neutrality and ending political corruption, has been on a tear. This winter, he led the New Hampshire Rebellion, a 185-mile walk across the freezing Granite State intended to draw attention to the problem of money infecting everything our government does. He recently celebrated his birthday with likeminded activists in California, where he joined the March for Democracy, a 480-mile hike through the state in protest of what the group calls America's current "plutocracy"-based government.
Now Lessig is talking the talk as well as walking the walk—he's starting a Super PAC to end them all, a sort of Kickstarter campaign he hopes will raise enough unregulated cash to oust some of the entrenched assholes who run Congress with an eye toward making themselves rich. He plans on collecting $12 million by November in order to unseat a handful of legislators who are particularly in the thrall of big money, and intends to seriously step up his game come the 2016 election and radically change what Washington looks like—potentially complicating the ascent of Wall Street favorite Hillary Clinton. I called up Lessig to find out whether this is different from all those other lofty bipartisan reform projects that seem to inevitably flame out.
VICE: How bad is the influence of money in politics right now?
Larry Lessig: It's become almost catastrophic for the capacity of government to function. There's a great line in The Sun Also Rises, something like—the question was how did we go bankrupt, and the answer was slowly at first, and then all at once. And I kind of think that's what happened with the way money influences Washington. The problem that I'm focused is a problem that I think begins in 1995 when the Gingrich Republicans take over control of the House—the first time Republicans controlled the House in 40 years. They begin this perpetual campaign to raise money, to continue to keep control, and the Democrats then match that by having this war to raise money to take back control.
So the fact that this is a deeply competitive system where each year control of Congress is up for grabs means there's an enormous energy directed toward creating the resources to make that victory possible. And over the course of the 20 years since then, the norms of Congress have changed radically so that the presumption is that their job is to raise money—that's their number one job. Just after the start of the last Congress, we got a leaked document from the Democratic campaign committee telling new members of Congress that they're supposed to be spending four hours a day raising money. And members of Congress were like, "What the hell? Why am I here? I didn't want to become a telemarketer, I didn't want to be fundraiser." And it makes it almost impossible to get anything done. It's very hard to pass anything in Congress, but it's pretty easy to stop things. And so basically a technique of fundraising becomes the ability to promise you're going to block something your client doesn't want passed.
If you're on the right you say things like you want the government to shrink taxes and the size of government, but that will never happen so long as we fund campaigns the way we currently do. If you're the left, you want healthcare or climate change legislation—that is just not going to happen given the way we fund elections. So until we confront this reality and do something about it, we're going to continue to see stalemated government. And the truth is regardless of your politics we can't accept stalemated government. So I think it's bad as it could possibly be.
How is that different from the last century's Gilded Age, when robber barons would cut deals in smoke-filled rooms that impacted the whole country?
The Gilded Age corruption was old-style corruption. It was Standard Oil sitting down with the leaders of the Republican Party and handing them money and saying, "Here's what you're going to do." That's the standard notion of what people think of—what the Supreme Court thinks of—when they talk about corruption. But that kind of corruption doesn't exist in any significant sense anymore. The corruption we have now is in plain sight. It's not hidden, it's not illegal, there's not even shame associated with it. It's an elaborate dance of influence that both parties engage in that in my view is actually more destructive. Because the thing about bribery, the thing about the old-style corruption, is at least there was shame—at least a kind of internal limit to how far it could go. But the current system there's no limit. When the Democratic Party takes out the public option on healthcare in order to avoid tens of millions of dollars being spent by insurance interests against Democrats in the 2010 election, nobody's embarrassed by that—that's just what we call politics. But it's only what we call politics because we have a system of elections where money matters in a way that is inconsistent with representative democracy. So it's a different kind of corruption. It's not as bad in the sense that it's not criminal, but it's worse in the sense that it actually does more harm than the old criminal corruption.
How is this new thing different from your past attempts at purging money from the system?
I've been working in this field for seven years, but this is the first time I've been on a project that has an endgame. What we want to do is build a Super PAC powerful enough to win a Congress in 2016 and enact fundamental reform. What that'll mean is passing legislation that would change the way elections are funded. So we did a study of how much that would cost—it turned out to be a smaller number than I thought it was gonna be—but what the report recommended is the most important thing we could do is to run a pilot of this campaign in 2014. So we want to run a give-race campaign to demonstrate the salience of this issue, kind of take the Eric Cantor defeat and multiply it and add some context, but also help us understand how to refine the message and the techniques so that in 2016 when we've gotta run many more races in order to win, we've got a better sense of what to do. So we've got an endgame and that's something new.
Is this all on Congress, as opposed to the president, and Barack Obama in particular?
I see Congress as an essential step in solving the problem. I was excited about Obama in 2008 largely because, at least before Hillary Clinton was out of the race, he spent so much time focused on this issue, talking about needing to change the way Washington works. And then when he was elected that issue basically disappeared—it wasn't something he did anything about in the whole time he's been president. But one of the reasons why it's not surprising he did nothing about it is that he didn't have a Congress that would do anything. So that's why the strategy we're focused on is to create the conditions for leadership, to create the conditioins fo the president to pick up the baton and say, "OK, it's time for us to finally end the corrupting influence of money in Washington, or at least time it's time for us to make our generation's contribution to this struggle to end the corrupting influence of money in Washington." Because this problem has been with us in different forms since the beginning of the republic. It seems every 100 years the republic has to kind of come together and figure out how to adjust itself in a really dramatic way. And that's where we are now.
What's at stake in the ongoing net neutrality fight, and how does it relate to corruption?
It's a great thing to talk about in this context because it is both literally the product of the money in politics problem, and it's a perfect metaphor for why we've got to solve the money in politics problem. The whole reason we are still fighting about network neutrality is because Comcast and the other carriers have so effectively deployed their lobbying and financial resources that have neutralized the basically universal political moment that happened in 2008 when both political parties said yes the internet needs to be neutral. They've stalled and stalled and filed lawsuits and the FCC has employed the dumbest techniques for imposing network neutrality it could have. They got a former lobbyist as the chairman of the FCC and he started saying, effectively, "Well, actually we don't believe in network neutrality." Going into the 2014 election, you can be damn sure that no one in the leadership of the Democratic Party has any interest in getting Comcast and Time Warner to spend their money against Democrats. Democrats are not going to rally around network neutrality—to the contrary, they're going to try to run away from this issue. This is a problem created in large part by the enormous influence of money in politics.
But it's also a metaphor for why solving this is so important. Silicon Valley wants government to work way it wants the internet to work, which means it wants a kind of neutral playing field. [Silicon Valley entrepreneurs] don't want to have to go get permission from network owners to innovate. And they don't want to have to get lobbyists to go get permission from Congress in order to innovate. That, Silicon Valley feels—I think rightly feels—is a deeply inefficient way of running a government. In the same ways that we need a neutral network, we need an honest government.
Do you have any qualms about the matching funds you're poised to accept from some of the big honchos in Silicon Valley, given that they are stepping up their own political activity and doing more lobbying in DC?
I couldn't be happier with the people who matched. In the short term, I'm sure all of them think the chance of us ultimately winning is not high. So in the short term they're going to do what they need to play the system the way it has to be played. I don't believe in universal disarmament. I think [hedge fund manager and environmentalist] Tom Steyer spending $100 million to fight climate change is a good thing because I believe climate change legislation needs to be passed. I have enormous respect for people like [libertarian billionaire] Peter Thiel spending their money in ways that if we're ultimately successful means they have less political influence. People might ask, "Well, isn't that big money going to corrupt you?" But the Super PAC has a pretty clear objective. We're not a political party. Our mission is singular—changing the way elections are funded. And If we succeed in doing that, then these people who paid for our Super PAC will be more like regular citizens and less like the kind of nobility that the current system treats them as.
How do you prevent the cesspool of political consultants—whom you've said you will need to oust incumbent members of Congress—infecting what it is you're doing?
I'm not a campaign manager. I'm not in the business of running campaigns. When we get to the point that we've raised the money we want to raise—obviously we have a big hill to climb to get there—a lot of people might say, "Couldn't you find a different way to run a campaign?" One part of me says, "Yeah that'd be great! I'd love to see us find a way to educate the American people that didn't involve political ads." But our objective in 2014 is to win five elections in a way that convinces people this issue matters. And after we're done with that and we do succeed, and kick this into an order-of-magnitude-bigger project next election cycle, then we've got lots of projects we're talking about that involve changing the way politics functions. But for now we're going to turn to the people who are experts on campaigns now and get them to win five of them for us.
Hillary Clinton sort of typifies this system with her relationship with donors (and her husband's relationship with donors). Like Mitt Romney, she seems better suited to dealing with the donor class than interacting with voters. Do you see this project eventually colliding with her personally or politically and to what extent does she and the incredible amount of money she has behind her stand directly in your path?
I don't know. In the paperback edition of my book Republic, Lost, I do an afterword where I talk about the difference between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. In 2008 I was a big critic of Hillary Clinton because she didn't take up this issue, she kind of poo-pooed this issue, and both Barack Obama and John Edwards obviously really nailed her on that. Afterward, it might have been that Hillary Clinton was just right. It might have been she was just saying there's no way a president can take up this issue and do anything about it. To take up this issue is to take on Congress, and to take on Congress is to basically guarantee you're taking on your own party. If you take on your own party, you're guaranteed not to get anything passed. And if you don't get anything passed, you're not going to get re-elected. And if you don't get re-elected, you're going to be a failed president. So the idea of making this the central issue of a presidential campaign is just crazy.
That's a way of saying I think she's for this reform, but I think she's actually smarter for recognizing what the president's role in this reform could be. If that's who Hillary Clinton is, then what we're trying to do is make it possible for us to actually take a leadership role in this reform. Because if we produce a Congress by the time she would be sworn in as president that's committed to this reform, then why not? Why wouldn't she grab the reins of this movement and claim victory?
Her critics might say because she's personally corrupt. That even if a reform were possible, that she's just not the kind of person who can be trusted to carry it out.
I don't think she's personally corrupt. She's got all the money in the world she wants. Now she wants to be a great president. I think the more instructive example to look at are people like LBJ. In 1960, if you had said Lyndon Baines Johnson is the only chance we have for getting civil rights legislation passed, people would've laughed at you. That was a crazy idea. But what Johnson realized was that the way he was going to make himself world-historic was to do exactly the thing nobody thought he ever would do.
Now, I don't know if Hillary Clinton is that great—is great in that sense—but she might be. She's obviously incredibly smart. Were I to advise her and she were to become president and we had created the political conditions under which she could actually bring about this reform, I'd say, "Look, Hillary, this is your Civil Rights movement. This is your chance to be LBJ without the Vietnam War—to do something nobody imagines you would do because everybody imagines you're just in the system and you don't care about making this kind of change." Because then she would really become the transformative president Barack Obama said he would be.
Follow Matt Taylor on Twitter.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

The Fight Against Inequality

The Corporate Daddy
Walmart, Starbucks, and the Fight Against Inequality

JUNE 19, 2014    

For some time now, Republicans in Congress have given up the pretense of doing anything to improve the lot of most Americans. Raising the minimum wage? They won’t even allow a vote to happen. Cleaner air for all? They may partially shut down the government in a coming fight on behalf of major polluters. Add to that the continuing obstruction of student loan relief efforts, and numerous attempts to defund health care, and you have a party actively working to make life miserable for millions.
So, our nation turns to Starbucks. And Walmart. In the present moment, both of those global corporate monoliths are poised to do more to affect the huge chasm between the rich and everybody else than anything that’s likely to come out of John Boehner’s House of Representatives.

As long as the Supreme Court says that corporations are citizens, they may as well act like them. Starbucks is trying to be dutiful — in its own prickly, often self-righteous, spin-heavy way — while Walmart is a net drain on taxpayers, forcing employees into public assistance with its poverty-wage structure.

In the last few years, we have seen the fracturing of the American dream,” said the Starbucks chief executive, Howard Schultz, in announcing a company plan to reimburse the cost of college tuition for employees. “The question for all of us is, should we accept that, or should we try to do something about it?”

It’s a sad day when we have to look to corporations for education, health care and basic ways to boost the middle class. Most advanced nations do those things for their people. We used to — witness the G.I. Bill, which helped millions of returning soldiers get a lift to a better life. But you go to war against the income gap with the system you have, and ours is currently broken. By default, we have no choice but to lean on our corporate overlords.

Walmart, the nation’s top private employer and the world’s largest public corporation, is a big part of the problem — and could be a big part of the solution. Their humiliating wages force thousands of employees to look to food stamps, Medicaid and other forms of welfare. A sign appearing at a Walmart in Ohio last year, asking people to donate food so that the company’s employees “could enjoy Thanksgiving,” was a perfect symbol of what’s wrong with the nation’s most despised retailer. Working at Walmart may not make you poor, but it certainly keeps you poor — at the expense of the rest of us.
By one measure, done by House Democrats last year in looking at data from Wisconsin, the average Walmart superstore cost taxpayers $904,000 a year in various subsidies, or more than $5,000 per employee.


Walmart disputes these figures, claiming the average full-time store worker makes at least $12 an hour, or enough to be just above the poverty level for a family of four. But these numbers are skewed by higher pay for management. The average “associate” at Walmart makes $8.81 an hour — poverty wage — according to the market-research firm IBISWorld, as of 2011. Another independent source, Payscale, says the average is under $11 an hour. No matter the exact figure, there’s no dispute that Walmart’s business model forces thousands of hard-working people to look for outside help just to get by.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

"Who's democracy is it anyway?" Former FCC Chairman Michael Copps

Former FCC Commissioner: “We Should Be Ashamed Of Ourselves” For State of Broadband In The U.S.

Former FCC Commissioner Michael Copps speaking at the Library of Congress on June 18, 2014.
Former FCC Commissioner Michael Copps speaking at the Library of Congress on June 18, 2014.
In Washington, DC today, a group of internet industry executives and politicians came together to look back on the Telecommunications Act of 1996, and to do a little crystal-ball gazing about the future of broadband regulation in the United States. Former FCC commissioner Michael Copps was among the presenters, and he had sharp words for the audience about the “insanity” of the current wave of merger mania in the telecom field and the looming threats of losing net neutrality regulation.
Copps has been a longtime pro-consumer advocate. He was the lone member of the five-person FCC tovote against the merger of Comcast and NBC, and since the 2010 net neutrality rule was vacated in February he has been urging the FCC to reclassify broadband ISPs as a common carrier service. He has alsoadvocated against continued media consolidation and big telecom mergers.
Several current and former members of Congress spoke first about the 1996 Telecom Act, sharing their memories of bringing the bill to law. Sen. Ed Markey (MA) and former Reps. Thomas Bliley (VA) and John Shadegg (AZ) all praised the bipartisan process that created the regulation, and lauded the capacity for competition that the Act created. In all, both business representatives and lawmakers alike were largely retrospective and celebratory, ignoring the problems that face internet industries and consumers today.
Copps, however, was anything but retrospective when he stood to speak. “I’m not here to celebrate,” he began, “I’m here to advocate.” And the landscape he laid out is indeed not one to cheer for.
He led off by agreeing with the several executive speakers that true competition is the way of the future, and the best way to serve consumers. “But we haven’t given competition the chance it needs,” he continued, before referring to how poorly U.S. broadband compares on the global stage. “We have fallen so far short that we should be ashamed of ourselves. We should be leading, and we’re not. We need to get serious about broadband, we need to get serious about competition, we need to get serious about our country.”
Broadband competition is indeed scarce in the United States, and the looming wave of “merger mania” is unlikely at best to improve the situation for anyone.
For all that the current bout of mergers — Comcast with TWC, AT&T with DirecTV, and maybe even Sprint with T-Mobile — seems inevitable, it’s not. The mania for consolidation, Copps said, did not fall ordained from the hand of God, derive from natural law, or arise organically from an unfettered free market. It is, instead, the result of “conscious public policy choices” that shape the business environment we live in.
And that environment is dire. Even taking into account the previous monopolies of 19th and 20th century industry, Copps said, “there has never been a more urgent need for legislators and regulators” to make moves to protect consumers.
He called back to an earlier speaker, who had pointed out that the internet, to most users, had become about the very core of freedom of expression: the freedom to say, read, and watch what we want. And with “the likelihood of gatekeeper control” impending, in the form of the FCC’s new proposed net neutrality rule, those freedoms are in danger.
In the end, Copps directly challenged both the FCC and current members of Congress to do more, and do better. “Our democracy depends on what happens between now and the end of this year,” he said. “Are we going to have regulators and legislators with enough gumption to make this happen?”
“I know it can,” he added, calling on the audience in the room to speak up and make their voices heard with lawmakers. But ultimately, he concluded, it all boils down to two questions:
“Whose internet is it anyway? And whose democracy is it anyway?”

The Consumerist is a consumer affairs blog owned by Consumer Media LLC, a subsidiary of Consumer Reports with posts provided by regular daily contributors.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Money influencing education to get more money to influence education to get....

Koch Brothers Fueling Far-Right Academic Centers Across the US        

Thursday, 12 May 2011 04:14 By Lee Fang, ThinkProgress

Yesterday, ThinkProgress highlighted reports from the St. Petersburg Times and the Tallahassee Democrat regarding a Koch-funded economics department at Florida State University (FSU). FSU had accepted a $1.5 million grant from a foundation controlled by petrochemical billionaire Charles Koch on the condition that Koch’s operatives would have a free hand in selecting professors and approving publications. The simmering controversy sheds light on the vast influence of the Koch political machine, which spans from the top conservative think tanks, Republican politicians, a small army of contracted lobbyists, and Tea Party front groups in nearly every state.

As reporter Kris Hundley notes, Koch virtually owns much of George Mason University, another public university, through grants and direct control over think tanks within the school. For instance, Koch controls the Mercatus Center of George Mason University, an institute that set much of the Bush administration’s environmental deregulation policy. And similar conditional agreements have been made with schools like Clemson and West Virginia University. ThinkProgress has analyzed data from the Charles Koch Foundation, and found that this trend is actually much larger than previously known. Many of the Koch university grants finance far right, pro-polluter professors, and dictate that students read Charles Koch’s book as part of their academic study:

West Virginia University: As ThinkProgress reported last year, Koch funds an array of academic programs at West Virginia University, a public university. One Koch-funded academic at WVU, economics professor Russell Sobel, has written a book blasting regulations of all types. He even argues that less mine safety regulations will make coal miners more safe. As the St. Petersburg Times reported, a similar arrangement has been made with WVU as with FSU in accepting at least $480,000 from Koch.

Brown University: The Charles Koch Foundation funds the Political Theory Project at Brown, which provides funding for “Seminar Luncheons for undergraduates, academic conferences, research fellowships for graduate students, support for faculty research, and a postdoctoral fellowship program.” Amity Shales, a pop-conservative writer who argues that the New Deal made the Great Depression worse, an odd theory promoted by Charles Koch himself, has been a featured speaker at the Koch-funded Project at Brown. Moreover, Koch’s donation of at least $419,254 to Brown has underwritten a number of research projects in the Economics and Political Science deparments, including a paper arguing that bank deregulation has helped the poor.

Troy University: The Charles Koch Foundation, along with the Manuel Johnson and the BB&T Foundation, provided Troy University, a public university, a gift of $3.6 million to establish the Center for Political Economy last year. The Center’s stated goal is to push back against the belief following the financial crisis that markets need regulation. Notably, the entire Advisory Council for the Center is made up of Koch and BB&T-funded professors at other universities, including Russell Sobel at West Virginia University and Peter Boettke at George Mason University. Currently, the Center’s only staffer, Professor Scott Beaulier, is a board member of the ExxonMobil-funded attack group, American Energy Alliance, and a former staffer for Koch’s think tank at George Mason.

Utah State University: The Charles Koch Foundation has given nearly $700,000 to Utah State University, mostly for the Huntsman School of Business. The money has been used to hire five new faculty members, and establish a program for undergraduates to enroll and learn about Charles Koch’s “Science of Liberty” management theory. Professor Randy Simmons, the “Charles G. Koch Professor of Political Economy” at the school, helps select students — who must provide information about their ideological interests in their application form — to the Koch program. Simmons also works for several Koch-funded front groups, and writes papers against environmental regulations. Charles Koch’s book, “The Science of Success,” a book Forbes mocked for proclaiming a “Marxist faith in ‘fixed laws’ that govern ‘human well-being,’” is part of the required reading list for the program. A representative for Utah State did not return ThinkProgress’ calls about conditional strings attached to the Koch grant.

Charles Koch Foundation grants, along with direct Koch Industries grants, are distributed to dozens of other universities around the country every year, to both public and private institutions. Some of the programs, like the Charles Koch Student Research Colloquium at Beloit College, are funded by grants of little over $130,000 and simply support conservative speakers on campuses. We have reached out to several of the schools to learn more about the agreements, but none so far have returned our calls.

Budget constraints and other problems at universities have allowed a small set of oligarchs to use school donations to interfere with academic integrity on campuses. A group of hedge fund managers, working through the Manhattan Institute’s Veritas Fund, have created entire departments dedicated to advancing failed supply side ideas and climate skepticism. John Allison, the former CEO of BB&T Bank, a bailout recipient, has used his corporation’s money to force college campuses to adopt Ayn Rand readings into their programs.

Overall, Koch is still a dominate player when it comes to meddling with academic integrity. Part of the effort is coordinated through operatives like Richard Fink, who doubles as a vice president at Koch’s corporate lobbying office. Through an organization called the Association of Private Enterprise Education, Koch organizes these corporate-funded university departments into a powerful intellectual movement. The organization allows Koch staffers in Washington DC to request certain types of studies, interfere with hiring decisions, and reward loyal free market academics with hefty research grants.


Tuesday, June 10, 2014

John Oliver's brilliant blow to Plutocracy, via Forbes: bastion of Plutocracy...

John Oliver, Net Neutrality, and the Ghost of SOPA-PIPA

Contributor to FORBES
 
So now the net neutrality debate has its very own pop culture hook. It’s been a week since HBO’s John Oliver unleashed his entertaining but scathing rant against the FCC FCC and Chairman Tom Wheeler, the cable-ISP industry, and the Comcast CMCSA -0.12%-Time Warner Cable TWC -0.21% merger. Oliver’s most winning argument was his broadside aimed at the sometimes mind-numbing way that critical public policy issues are framed and presented to the public at large by the inside-the-Beltway crowd.

Oliver has already had a stunningly direct impact – after ending his piece with a Howard Beale-like plea for Internet commenters to bombard the FCC with their opposition to an unregulated Internet we saw the crash of the FCC’s servers the next day. The bigger question is whether Oliver’s clever diatribe signals a potential for genuine disruption in the net neutrality debate. For that, the public policy fiasco of 2012 known as SOPA-PIPA might be a cautionary tale.


Character, Howard Beale,
from the movie Network [One of my top ten favorite movies. - mike]

 
What was SOPA-PIPA? You lose your membership in the American Society of Media Policy Wonks if you guessed either (a) the star of Coyote Ugly (it was Piper Perabo), (b) Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls sidekick (Scottie Pippen), or (c) the latest telenovela from Univision (sorry nothing on this one). In fact, SOPA (the Stop Online Piracy Act in the House of Representatives) and PIPA (the Protect Intellectual Property Act in the Senate) represented a very public and video hideous policy defeat for the established media content companies (read “Hollywood”).

SOPA-PIPA was Hollywood-endorsed legislation designed to crack down on copyright infringement by piracy-facilitating sites such as Pirate Bay. One provision would have required Internet service providers (ISPs) to block access to sites that law enforcement officials deemed pirate sites. Hollywood had long been a fair-haired child of Congress (if you’ve ever attended a private screening at the Motion Picture Association of America you quickly get a feel for the Hollywood-DC connection). And it’s hard to think of a less sympathetic “victim” than profit mongering Internet pirates.

But Hollywood badly miscalculated on SOPA-PIPA. Legislation that at one time seemed like a sure thing went down in flames.

Although there were early warning signs from Silicon Valley of their concerns months in advance, in D.C. the legislation seemed on an inexorable path forward in late 2011. Committee markups in the House and Senate, even at a time when Congress wasn’t much more functional than it is now, seemed set to move ahead. Then seemingly out of nowhere in mid-January 2012 we saw site blackouts from Wikipedia and Reddit, protesters on the streets in New York, San Francisco, Seattle and Washington, D.C. and 7 million signatures on a Google petition. Within a couple of days SOPA-PIPA was more or less dead, and the inside D.C. ballgame was over.

Of course there are plenty of distinctions between the current net neutrality debate and SOPA-PIPA, from already long-energized pro-net neutrality activists to the more technocratic battlefield of an FCC rulemaking rather than congressional legislation. And while Hollywood sought affirmative passage of legislation, this time around ISPs would seek to maintain the status quo if they could, which is always easier than enacting changes.

And yet….the tone of and reaction to the Oliver piece has the feel of an over-the-top but not too far-fetched a warning shot.

Look – the FCC is in a tough spot. Most of the cable/ISP industry actually signed off on the prior version of the net neutrality rules, clearly not viewing them as a threat to their existing business. Yet Verizon still challenged those rules, and the court found that the FCC overstepped its authority. Before even releasing new draft rules, the FCC and its new Chairman Wheeler came under fire from both sides of the debate. Net neutrality advocates claimed the new approach would effectively end net neutrality while opponents in the cable industry claimed he was trying to ram draconian regulation down their throats. And even a somnolent Congress could get involved at some point.
So how could the FCC be perceived as wrong by almost every side? I think the answer lies in the insularity of the debate itself. Go ask the person on the street what’s going on here. When the FCC tries to clarify its intent by saying it isn’t creating a “fast lane” but is simply prohibiting a “slow lane” on the Internet, it isn’t surprising that you have a lot of outsider head-scratching.

In SOPA-PIPA the goal of curbing Internet piracy wasn’t an unbridgeable gap between insiders and most outsiders (other than Internet wildings). Yet just the perceived unintended consequences of the proposed legislation set off an outside policy tsunami. In the case of net neutrality, despite the frequent invocation of the term I’m not sure we have very much consensus between inside and outside on the problem itself.

To net neutrality advocates, we have danger lurking everywhere unless far tougher rules than our current ones are put in place. To the ISP industry, there is no problem to be addressed, and we live in a world where their investment has created a vibrant, dynamic broadband world. Without some greater bridging of these fundamental perspectives, I wouldn’t be shocked to see John Oliver representing only one more signpost of an increasingly brutal outsider-insider battle on net neutrality.
For the FCC and policy insiders, I wouldn’t be worrying about responding to John Oliver – just how to find my own.

English: The Daily Show correspondent John Oli...
English: The Daily Show correspondent John Oliver at Occupy Wall Street on Sunday October 16, Day 31. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)