Fascism is the union of government with private business against the People.
"To The States, or any one of them, or to any city of The States: Resist much, Obey little; Once unquestioning obedience, at once fully enslaved; Once fully enslaved, no nation, state, city, ever afterward resumes its liberty." from "Caution" by Walt Whitman

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Plutocratic Philanthropy only benefits their own vision of culture and education

"Philanthropy of wealthy not always charitable"
2013-12-20 by Robert Reich
It's charity time, and not just because the holiday season reminds us to be charitable. As the tax year draws to a close, the charitable tax deduction beckons.
America's wealthy are its largest beneficiaries. According to the Congressional Budget Office, $33 billion of last year's $39 billion in charitable deductions went to the richest 20 percent of Americans, of whom the richest 1 percent reaped the lion's share.
The generosity of the super-rich is sometimes proffered as evidence they're contributing as much to the nation's well-being as they did decades ago, when they paid a much larger share of their earnings in taxes. Think again.
Undoubtedly, super-rich family foundations, such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, are doing a lot of good. Wealthy philanthropic giving is on the rise, paralleling the rise in super-rich giving that characterized the late 19th century, when magnates (some called them "robber barons") like Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller established philanthropic institutions that survive today.
But a large portion of the charitable deductions now claimed by America's wealthy are for donations to culture palaces - operas, art museums, symphonies and theaters - where they spend their leisure time hobnobbing with other wealthy benefactors.
Another portion is for contributions to the elite prep schools and universities they once attended or want their children to attend. (Such institutions typically give preference in admissions, a kind of affirmative action, to applicants and "legacies" whose parents have been notably generous.)
Harvard, Yale, Princeton and the rest of the Ivy League are worthy institutions, to be sure, but they're not known for educating large numbers of poor young people. (UC Berkeley, where I teach, has more poor students eligible for Pell Grants than the entire Ivy League put together.) And they're less likely to graduate aspiring social workers and legal defense attorneys than aspiring investment bankers and corporate lawyers.
I'm all in favor of supporting fancy museums and elite schools, but face it: These aren't really charities as most people understand the term. They're often investments in the lifestyles the wealthy already enjoy and want their children to have as well. Increasingly, being rich in America means not having to come across anyone who's not.
They're also investments in prestige - especially if they result in the family name being engraved on a new wing of an art museum, symphony hall or ivied dorm.
It's their business how they donate their money, of course. But not entirely.
As with all tax deductions, the government has to match the charitable deduction with additional tax revenues or spending cuts; otherwise, the budget deficit widens.
In economic terms, a tax deduction is exactly the same as government spending. Which means the government will, in effect, hand out $40 billion this year for "charity" that's going largely to wealthy people who use much of it to enhance their lifestyles.
To put this in perspective, $40 billion is more than the federal government will spend this year on Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (what's left of welfare), school lunches for poor kids and Head Start put together.
Which raises the question of what the adjective "charitable" should mean. I can see why a taxpayer's contribution to, say, the Salvation Army should be eligible for a charitable tax deduction. But why, exactly, should a contribution to the Guggenheim Museum or to the Harvard Business School?
A while ago, New York's Lincoln Center held a fundraising gala supported by the charitable contributions of hedge-fund industry leaders, some of whom take home $1 billion a year. I may be missing something, but this doesn't strike me as charity, either. Poor New Yorkers rarely attend concerts at Lincoln Center.
What portion of charitable giving actually goes to the poor? The Washington Post's Dylan Matthews looked into this, and the best he could come up with was a 2005 analysis by Google and Indiana University's Center for Philanthropy showing that even under the most generous assumptions, only about a third of "charitable" donations were targeted to helping the poor.
At a time in our nation's history when the number of poor Americans continues to rise, when government doesn't have the money to do what's needed, and when America's very rich are richer than ever, this doesn't seem right.
If Congress ever gets around to revising the tax code, it might consider limiting the full charitable deduction to real charities.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Affluenza: When the rich kids are allowed to kill without prison time because they suffer from not knowing no better

"‘Affluenza’ Judge Gives Poor, Black Kid More Severe Sentence For Lesser Crime"
by Michael Hayne [http://www.addictinginfo.org/2013/12/18/affluenza-judge-poor-black-kid-sentence/]:
So you know how the “Affluenza Judge” did the world a disservice when she let a spoiled, sniveling rich brat off the hook — with no jail time — after driving drunk and killing four people [http://www.addictinginfo.org/2013/12/12/ethan-couch-affluenza/]? 16-year-old Ethan Couch was freed by Judge Jean Boyd due to a fictitious condition known as “Affluenza.” Couch’s lawyer claimed that this made-up condition occurs when a person’s wealth makes them unable to understand the consequences of their actions. Instead of jail time, the Affluenza Judge ruled that Couch gets probation and time in a posh treatment center paid for by his wealthy, workaholic dad. We’re sure this young sociopath has a career on Wall Street in the future.
The ‘Affluenza’ judge gives poor black kids tougher sentences for lesser crimes.
In case you were wondering if there was some sort of shot you can take for Affluenza, you probably can’t afford it– especially if you’re a black teenager. The Affluenza Judge didn’t seem to consider mental health issues when she sentenced a 14-year-old black kid to 10 years in Juvie for an unfortunate but far lesser crime. The teenaged boy punched a man, who then died after falling to the ground and hitting his head on the pavement. Obviously it was a reckless act and it’s sad that the man died from it, but it’s unlikely that the kid meant to kill him.
The message sent by the Affluenza Judge is much like the message we get from Washington DC and Wall Street. It’s all about austerity, punishment, and “personal responsibility” for the poor and coddling, tax-funded handouts, and lack of accountability for the rich.
The Affluenza Judge’s rulings are typical. We throw way too many black kids in jail.
Low-income black kids often commit crimes after years of experiencing abuse, neglect, poverty, racism and other disadvantages. They also get thrown in jail more often for non-violent drug crimes. HuffPo reports that 50% of people in prison for drug-related crimes are black [http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/08/drug-war-mass-incarceration_n_3034310.html]. A recent study released by The Sentencing Project [http://sentencingproject.org/doc/publications/jj_The_Lives_of_Juvenile_Lifers.pdf], a group that advocates for juvenile sentencing reform, confirmed that black males are grossly over-represented among juveniles that are sentenced to life without parole in the United States. According to the study, 97 percent are male, and 60 percent are black.
Here are some more of the study’s findings, via the BlackYouthProject [http://www.blackyouthproject.com/2012/03/report-more-black-juveniles-are-sentenced-to-life-without-parole/]:
* Of those incarcerated, the vast majority comes from violent homes, and nearly half had experienced physical abuse.
* 40 percent of all JLWOP prisoners had been in special education classes, and less than half had been in school when they committed their crimes.
* More than a quarter had a parent in prison, and 60 percent had close relatives in prison.
So while the Affluenza judge enabled Couch to have a successful life in finance or politics, she seems to make sure that poor black kids get tough justice.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

CIA agent buys a Monopolist Newspaper, legit source for CIA propaganda

"Under Amazon’s CIA Cloud: The Washington Post"
2013-12-18 by Norman Solomon for "Common Dreams" [http://www.commondreams.org/view/2013/12/18-0]:
Jeff Bezos recently acquired the Washington Post, but the company that made him his real fortune, Amazon.com, is also under a multi-hundred million dollar contract with the CIA for computing services. (Credit: Reuters/Shannon Stapleton)

News media should illuminate conflicts of interest, not embody them. But the owner of the Washington Post is now doing big business with the Central Intelligence Agency, while readers of the newspaper’s CIA coverage are left in the dark.
The Post’s new owner, Jeff Bezos, is the founder and CEO of Amazon -- which recently landed a $600 million contract with the CIA. But the Post’s articles about the CIA are not disclosing that the newspaper’s sole owner is the main owner of CIA business partner Amazon.
Even for a multi-billionaire like Bezos, a $600 million contract is a big deal. That’s more than twice as much as Bezos paid to buy the Post four months ago.
And there’s likely to be plenty more where that CIA largesse came from. Amazon’s offer wasn’t the low bid, but it won the CIA contract anyway by offering advanced high-tech “cloud” infrastructure.
Bezos personally and publicly touts Amazon Web Services, and it’s evident that Amazon will be seeking more CIA contracts. Last month, Amazon issued a statement saying, “We look forward to a successful relationship with the CIA.”
As Amazon’s majority owner and the Post’s only owner, Bezos stands to gain a lot more if his newspaper does less ruffling and more soothing of CIA feathers.
Amazon has a bad history of currying favor with the U.S. government’s “national security” establishment. The media watch group FAIR pointed out what happened after WikiLeaks published State Department cables [http://www.fair.org/blog/2013/08/06/amazon-wilkileaks-the-washington-post-and-the-cia/]: “WikiLeaks was booted from Amazon’s webhosting service AWS. So at the height of public interest in what WikiLeaks was publishing, readers were unable to access the WikiLeaks website.”
How’s that for a commitment to the public’s right to know?
Days ago, my colleagues at RootsAction.org launched a petition that says [http://act.rootsaction.org/p/dia/action3/common/public/?action_KEY=8979]: “The Washington Post’s coverage of the CIA should include full disclosure that the sole owner of the Post is also the main owner of Amazon -- and Amazon is now gaining huge profits directly from the CIA.” More than 15,000 people have signed the petition so far this week, with many posting comments that underscore widespread belief in journalistic principles.
While the Post functions as a powerhouse media outlet in the Nation’s Capital, it’s also a national and global entity -- read every day by millions of people who never hold its newsprint edition in their hands. Hundreds of daily papers reprint the Post’s news articles and opinion pieces, while online readership spans the world.
Propaganda largely depends on patterns of omission and repetition. If, in its coverage of the CIA, the Washington Post were willing to fully disclose the financial ties that bind its owner to the CIA, such candor would shed some light on how top-down power actually works in our society.
“The Post is unquestionably the political paper of record in the United States, and how it covers governance sets the agenda for the balance of the news media,” journalism scholar Robert W. McChesney points out. “Citizens need to know about this conflict of interest in the columns of the Post itself.”
In a statement just released by the Institute for Public Accuracy, McChesney added: “If some official enemy of the United States had a comparable situation -- say the owner of the dominant newspaper in Caracas was getting $600 million in secretive contracts from the Maduro government -- the Post itself would lead the howling chorus impaling that newspaper and that government for making a mockery of a free press. It is time for the Post to take a dose of its own medicine.”
From the Institute, we also contacted other media and intelligence analysts to ask for assessments; their comments are unlikely to ever appear in the Washington Post [http://www.accuracy.org/release/cia-cloud-over-jeff-bezoss-washington-post/].
“What emerges now is what, in intelligence parlance, is called an ‘agent of influence’ owning the Post -- with a huge financial interest in playing nice with the CIA,” said former CIA official Ray McGovern. “In other words, two main players nourishing the national security state in undisguised collaboration.”
A former reporter for the Washington Post and many other news organizations, John Hanrahan, said: “It's all so basic. Readers of the Washington Post, which reports frequently on the CIA, are entitled to know -- and to be reminded on a regular basis in stories and editorials in the newspaper and online -- that the Post's new owner Jeff Bezos stands to benefit substantially from Amazon's $600 million contract with the CIA. Even with such disclosure, the public should not feel assured they are getting tough-minded reporting on the CIA. One thing is certain: Post reporters and editors are aware that Bezos, as majority owner of Amazon, has a financial stake in maintaining good relations with the CIA -- and this sends a clear message to even the hardest-nosed journalist that making the CIA look bad might not be a good career move.”
The rich and powerful blow hard against the flame of truly independent journalism. If we want the lantern carried high, we’re going to have to do it ourselves.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

"America’s Child Soldiers: JROTC and the Militarizing of America"

2013-12-16 by Ann Jones for "TomDispatch.com" [http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175784/tomgram%3A_ann_jones%2C_suffer_the_children/]:
A Navy JROTC cadet salutes during the parading of the colors ceremony held at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. (Wikimedia commons)

Congress surely meant to do the right thing when, in the fall of 2008, it passed the Child Soldiers Prevention Act (CSPA). The law was designed to protect kids worldwide from being forced to fight the wars of Big Men. From then on, any country that coerced children into becoming soldiers was supposed to lose all U.S. military aid.
It turned out, however, that Congress -- in its rare moment of concern for the next generation -- had it all wrong. In its greater wisdom, the White House found countries like Chad and Yemen so vital to the national interest of the United States that it preferred to overlook what happened to the children in their midst.
As required by CSPA, this year the State Department once again listed 10 countries that use child soldiers: Burma (Myanmar), the Central African Republic, Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. Seven of them were scheduled to receive millions of dollars in U.S. military aid as well as what’s called “U.S. Foreign Military Financing.” That’s a shell game aimed at supporting the Pentagon and American weapons makers by handing millions of taxpayer dollars over to such dodgy “allies,” who must then turn around and buy “services” from the Pentagon or “materiel” from the usual merchants of death. You know the crowd: Lockheed Martin, McDonnell Douglas, Northrop Grumman, and so on.
Here was a chance for Washington to teach a set of countries to cherish their young people, not lead them to the slaughter. But in October, as it has done every year since CSPA became law, the White House again granted whole or partial “waivers” to five countries on the State Department’s “do not aid” list: Chad, South Sudan, Yemen, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Somalia.
Too bad for the young -- and the future -- of those countries. But look at it this way: Why should Washington help the children of Sudan or Yemen escape war when it spares no expense right here at home to press our own impressionable, idealistic, ambitious American kids into military “service”?
It should be no secret that the United States has the biggest, most efficiently organized, most effective system for recruiting child soldiers in the world. With uncharacteristic modesty, however, the Pentagon doesn’t call it that. Its term is “youth development program.”
Pushed by multiple high-powered, highly paid public relations and advertising firms under contract to the Department of Defense, the program is a many splendored thing. Its major public face is the Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps or JROTC.
What makes this child-soldier recruiting program so striking is that the Pentagon carries it out in plain sight in hundreds and hundreds of private, military, and public high schools across the U.S.
Unlike the notorious West African warlords Foday Sankoh and Charles Taylor (both brought before international tribunals on charges of war crimes), the Pentagon doesn’t actually kidnap children and drag them bodily into battle. It seeks instead to make its young “cadets” what John Stuart Mill once termed “willing slaves,” so taken in by the master’s script that they accept their parts with a gusto that passes for personal choice. To that end, JROTC works on their not-yet-fully-developed minds, instilling what the program’s textbooks call “patriotism” and “leadership,” as well as a reflexive attention to authoritarian commands.
The scheme is much more sophisticated -- so much more "civilized" -- than any ever devised in Liberia or Sierra Leone, and it works. The result is the same, however: kids get swept into soldiering, a job they will not be free to leave, and in the course of which they may be forced to commit spirit-breaking atrocities. When they start to complain or crack under pressure, in the U.S. as in West Africa, out come the drugs
The JROTC program, still spreading in high schools across the country, costs U.S. taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars annually [http://cyberspacei.com/jesusi/focus/co/cows/afsc/youthmill/jrotc/jrotcost.htm]. It has cost some unknown number of taxpayers their children.

The Acne and Braces Brigades -
I first stumbled upon JROTC kids a few years ago at a Veterans Day parade in Boston. Before it got underway, I wandered among the uniformed groups taking their places along the Boston Common. There were some old geezers sporting the banners of their American Legion posts, a few high school bands, and some sharp young men in smart dress uniforms: greater Boston’s military recruiters.
Then there were the kids. The acne and braces brigades, 14- and 15-year-olds in military uniforms carrying rifles against their shoulders. Some of the girl groups sported snazzy white gloves.
Far too many such groups, with far too many underage children, stretched the length of Boston Common. They represented all branches of the military and many different local communities, though almost all of them were brown or black in hue: African Americans, Hispanics, the children of immigrants from Vietnam and other points South. Just last month in New York City, I watched similarly color-coded JROTC squads march up Fifth Avenue on Veterans’ Day. One thing JROTC is not is a rainbow coalition.
In Boston, I asked a 14-year-old boy why he had joined JROTC. He wore a junior Army uniform and toted a rifle nearly as big as himself. He said, “My dad, he left us, and my mom, she works two jobs, and when she gets home, well, she’s not big on structure. But they told us at school you gotta have a lot of structure if you want to get somewhere. So I guess you could say I joined up for that.”
A group of girls, all Army JROTC members, told me they took classes with the boys but had their own all-girl (all-black) drill team that competed against others as far away as New Jersey. They showed me their medals and invited me to their high school to see their trophies. They, too, were 14 or 15. They jumped up and down like the enthusiastic young teens they were as we talked. One said, “I never got no prizes before.”
Their excitement took me back. When I was their age, growing up in the Midwest, I rose before daybreak to march around a football field and practice close formation maneuvers in the dark before the school day began. Nothing would have kept me from that “structure,” that “drill,” that “team,” but I was in a marching band and the weapon I carried was a clarinet. JROTC has entrapped that eternal youthful yearning to be part of something bigger and more important than one’s own pitiful, neglected, acne-spattered self. JROTC captures youthful idealism and ambition, twists it, trains it, arms it, and sets it on the path to war.

A Little History -
The U.S. Army Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps was conceived as part of the National Defense Act of 1916 in the midst of World War I. In the aftermath of that war, however, only six high schools took up the military's offer of equipment and instructors. A senior version of ROTC, was made compulsory on many state college and university campuses, despite the then-controversial question of whether the government could compel students to take military training.
By 1961, ROTC had become an optional program, popular at some schools, but unwelcome on others. It soon disappeared altogether from the campuses of many elite colleges and progressive state universities, pushed out by protest against the war in Vietnam and pulled out by the Pentagon, which insisted on maintaining discriminatory policies (especially regarding sexual preference and gender) outlawed in university codes of conduct. When it gave up “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in 2011 and offered a menu of substantial research grants for such institutions, elite universities like Harvard and Yale welcomed the military back with unbecoming deference.
During ROTC’s exile from such institutions, however, it put down roots on college campuses in states that made no fuss about discrimination, while the Pentagon expanded its recruitment program in high schools. Almost half a century after Army JROTC was established, the Reserve Officers Training Corps Vitalization Act of 1964 opened such junior training to all branches of the military. What’s more, the number of JROTC units nationwide, previously capped at 1,200, climbed rapidly until 2001, when the very idea of imposing limits on the program disappeared.
The reason was clear enough. In 1973, the Nixon administration discarded the draft in favor of a standing professional “all-volunteer” army. But where were those professionals to be found? And how exactly were they to be persuaded to “volunteer”? Since World War II, ROTC programs at institutions of higher education had provided about 60% of commissioned officers. But an army needs foot soldiers.
Officially, the Pentagon claims that JROTC is not a recruiting program. Privately, it never considered it to be anything else. Army JROTC now describes itself as having “evolved from a source of enlisted recruits and officer candidates to a citizenship program devoted to the moral, physical, and educational uplift of American youth.” Yet former Defense Secretary William Cohen, testifying before the House Armed Services Committee in 2000, named JROTC “one of the best recruiting devices that we could have.”
With that unacknowledged mission in hand, the Pentagon pushed for a goal first advanced in 1991 by Colin Powell, then chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff: the establishment of 3,500 JROTC units to “uplift” students in high schools nationwide. The plan was to expand into "educationally and economically deprived areas.” The shoddy schools of the inner cities, the rust belt, the deep South, and Texas became rich hunting grounds. By the start of 2013, the Army alone was recycling 4,000 retired officers to run its programs in 1,731 high schools. All together, Army, Air Force, Navy, and Marine JROTC units now flourish in 3,402 high schools nationwide -- 65% of them in the South -- with a total enrollment of 557,129 kids.

Getting With the Program -
Here’s how the program works. The Department of Defense spends several hundred million dollars -- $365 million in 2013 -- to provide uniforms, Pentagon-approved textbooks, and equipment to JROTC, as well as part of the instructors’ salaries. Those instructors, assigned by the military (not the schools), are retired officers. They continue to collect federal retirement pay, even though the schools are required to cover their salaries at levels they would receive on active duty. The military then reimburses the school for about half of that hefty pay, but the school is still out a bundle.
Ten years ago, the American Friends Service Committee found that the true cost of JROTC programs to local school districts was “often much higher -- in some cases more than double -- the cost claimed by the Department of Defense.” In 2004, local school districts were shelling out “more than $222 million in personnel costs alone.”
Several principals who spoke to me about the program praised the Pentagon for subsidizing the school budget, but in this matter they evidently don’t grasp their own school finances. The fact is that public schools offering JROTC programs actually subsidize the Pentagon’s recruitment drive. In fact, a JROTC class costs schools (and taxpayers) significantly more than would a regular physical education or American history course -- for both of which it is often considered a suitable substitute.
Local schools have no control over the Pentagon’s prescribed JROTC curricula, which are inherently biased toward militarism. Many school systems simply adopt JROTC programs without so much as a peek at what the students will be taught. The American Friends Service Committee, Veterans for Peace, and other civic groups have compiled evidence that these classes are not only more costly than regular school courses, but also inferior in quality.
What else but inferior quality might be expected from self-serving textbooks written by competing branches of the military and used by retired military men with no teaching qualifications or experience? For one thing, neither the texts nor the instructors teach the sort of critical thinking central to the best school curricula today. Instead, they inculcate obedience to authority, inspire fear of “enemies,” and advance the primacy of military might in American foreign policy.
Civic groups have raised a number of other objections to JROTC, ranging from discriminatory practices -- against gays, immigrants, and Muslims, for example -- to dangerous ones, such as bringing guns into schools (of all places). Some units even set up shooting ranges where automatic rifles and live ammunition are used. JROTC embellishes the dangerous mystique of such weapons, making them objects to covet, embrace, and jump at the chance to use.
In its own defense, the program publicizes a selling point widely accepted across the United States: that it provides "structure," keeps kids from dropping out of school, and turns boys (and now girls) of "troubled" background into "men" who, without JROTC to save them (and the rest of us from them), would become junkies or criminals or worse. Colin Powell, the first ROTC grad ever to rise to the military’s top job, peddled just this line in his memoir My American Journey. "Inner-city kids," he wrote, "many from broken homes, [find] stability and role models in Junior ROTC."
No evidence exists to prove these claims, however, apart from student testimonials like that offered by the 14-year-old who told me he joined up for “structure.” That kids (and their parents) fall for this sales pitch is a measure of their own limited options. The great majority of students find better, more life-affirming “structure” in school itself through academic courses, sports, choirs, bands, science or language clubs, internships -- you name it -- in schools where such opportunities exist. Yet it is precisely in schools with such programs that administrators, teachers, parents, and kids working together are most likely to succeed in keeping JROTC out. It is left to the “economically and educationally deprived” school systems targeted by the Pentagon to cut such “frills” and blow their budgets on a colonel or two who can offer students in need of “stability and role models” a promising, though perhaps very short, future as soldiers.

School Days -
In one such Boston inner city school, predominantly black, I sat in on JROTC classes where kids watched endless films of soldiers on parade, then had a go at it themselves in the school gym, rifles in hand. (I have to admit that they could march far better than squads of the Afghan National Army, which I’ve also observed, but is that something to be proud of?) Since those classes often seemed to consist of hanging out, students had lots of time to chat with the Army recruiter whose desk was conveniently located in the JROTC classroom.
They chatted with me, too. A 16-year-old African American girl, who was first in her class and had already signed up for the Army, told me she would make the military her career. Her instructor -- a white colonel she regarded as the father she never had at home -- had led the class to believe that “our war” would go on for a very long time, or as he put it, “until we’ve killed every last Muslim on Earth.” She wanted to help save America by devoting her life to that “big job ahead.”
Stunned, I blurted out, “But what about Malcolm X?” He grew up in Boston and a boulevard not far from the school was named in his honor. “Wasn’t he a Muslim?” I asked.
“Oh no, ma’am,” she said. “Malcolm X was an American.”
A senior boy, who had also signed up with the recruiter, wanted to escape the violence of city streets. He joined up shortly after one of his best friends, caught in the crossfire of somebody else’s fight, was killed in a convenience store just down the block from the school. He told me, “I’ve got no future here. I might as well be in Afghanistan.” He thought his chances of survival would be better there, but he worried about the fact that he had to finish high school before reporting for “duty.” He said, “I just hope I can make it to the war.”
What kind of school system gives boys and girls such “choices”? What kind of country?
What goes on in schools in your town? Isn’t it time you found out?

"Seven Ripoffs That Capitalists Would Like to Keep out of the Media"

2013-12-16 by Paul Buchheit for "Common Dreams" [http://www.commondreams.org/view/2013/12/16-1]:
Tax-avoiding, consumer-exploiting big business leaders are largely responsible for these abuses. Congress just lets it happen. Corporate heads and members of Congress seem incapable of relating to the people that are being victimized, and the mainstream media seems to have lost the ability to express the views of lower-income Americans.

1. Corporations Profit from Food Stamps -
It's odd to think about billion-dollar financial institutions objecting to cuts in the SNAP program, but some of them are administrators of the program, collecting fees from a benefit meant for children and other needy Americans, and enjoying subsidies of state tax money for services that could be performed by the states themselves. They want more people on food stamps, not less. Three corporations have cornered the market [http://www.g-a-i.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/GAI-Report-ProfitsfromPoverty-FINAL.pdf]: JP Morgan, Xerox, and eFunds Corp.
According to a JP Morgan spokesman [http://www.bloomberg.com/video/57038578-jpmorgan-s-paton-discusses-u-s-food-stamp-use.html], the food stamp program "is a very important business to JP Morgan. It's an important business in terms of its size and scale...The good news from JP Morgan's perspective is the infrastructure that we built has been able to cope with that increase in volume.."

2. Crash the Economy, Get Your Money Back. Die with a Student Loan, Stay in Debt.
The financial industry has manipulated the bankruptcy laws to ensure that high-risk derivatives, which devastated the market in 2008, have FIRST CLAIM over savings deposit insurance, pension funds, and everything else [http://www.alternet.org/economy/wall-street-ticking-time-bomb-could-blow-your-bank-account].
But the same banker-friendly "bankruptcy reform" has ensured that college graduates keep their student loans till they die [http://www.salon.com/2013/06/05/let_college_students_go_bankrupt/]. And sometimes even after that, as the debt is transfered to their parents [http://www.forbes.com/sites/robertwood/2012/09/20/theres-no-escape-death-taxes-and-student-loans/].

3. Almost 70% of Corporations Are Not Required to Pay ANY Federal Taxes -
And that's even before tax avoidance kicks in. The 'nontaxable' designation exempts 69% of U.S. corporations from taxes, thus sparing them the expense of hiring tax lawyers to contrive tax avoidance strategies [http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/10/corporations-pay-no-tax_n_1196875.html].
The Wall Street Journal states [http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052970203733504577026361246836488], "The percentage of U.S. corporations organized as nontaxable businesses has grown from about 24% in 1986 to about 69% as of 2008, according to the latest-available Internal Revenue Service data. The percentage of all firms is far higher when partnerships and sole proprietors are included."
In recent years the businesses taking advantage of the exemption include law firms, hedge funds, real estate partnerships, venture capital firms, and investment banks [http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2013/10/26/marty-sullivan-figured-out-how-the-worlds-biggest-companies-avoided-billions-in-taxes-heres-how-he-wants-to-stop-them/].

4. Lotteries Pay for Corporate Tax Avoidance -
This means revenue comes from the poorest residents of a community rather than from billion-dollar corporations. Many of the lottery players don't realize how bad the odds are. Fill out $2 tickets for 12 hours a day for 50 years and you'll have half a chance of winning.
Some astonishing facts reveal the extent of the problem. Low-income households spend anywhere from five to nine percent of their earnings on lotteries [http://www.dailyfinance.com/2010/05/31/poor-people-spend-9-of-income-on-lottery-tickets-heres-why/]. A Pennsylvania survey found that nearly half of low-income residents planned to gamble at a newly-opened casino. America's gambling losses in 2007 were nine times greater than just 25 years before [http://www.alternet.org/hard-times-usa/casinos-are-booming-thanks-state-governments-need-exploit-gambling-addicts-revenue].

5. The National Football League Pays No Federal Taxes -
One of the most profitable organizations in America, with billions in tickets, TV rights, and merchandise sales, and with an NFL Commissioner who earned more money than the CEOs of Wal-Mart, Coca-Cola, and AT&T, is considered a non-profit [http://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/nfl/2013/05/29/nfl-sports-leagues-irs-tax-exemption/2370945/]. It has a tax-exempt status.
It gets even worse. While the individual teams themselves are not exempt from federal taxes, they enjoy multi-million-dollar subsidies from their states for new and refurbished stadiums [http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2013/10/how-the-nfl-fleeces-taxpayers/309448/]. Fans - and non-fans - of the Washington Redskins, the Cincinnati Bengals, the Minnesota Vikings, the Seattle Seahawks, the San Francisco 49ers, and the Pittsburgh Steelers are among those who pay taxes for their hometown football fields. New Orleans taxpayers paid for leather stadium seats. For the Dallas Cowboys, a $6 million property tax bill was waived.
A Harvard University urban planning study determined that 70 percent of the capital cost of NFL stadiums has been provided by taxpayers, rather than by NFL owners.

6. Live on Park Avenue, Get a Farm Subsidy -
A disturbing but fascinating report called "Farm Subsidies and the Big Dogs" lists Washington, DC, Chicago, and New York City, in that order, as the worst offenders [http://www.openthebooks.com/assets/1/7/Federal_Transfer_Report-_Farm_Subsidies_The_Big_Dogs_2013.pdf].
* In New York, "Many entities receive the federal subsidies at their downtown office buildings, such as 30 Rockefeller Plaza, or at their million dollar residential condos."
* In Chicago, "Nearly every neighborhood in the city receives federal farm subsidy payments - including the Gold Coast, Downtown-Loop, Lincoln Park, and even the President's neighbors in Hyde Park."
* In Washington, "Even U.S. Senators are receiving farm subsidy checks."
Perhaps more of us should become farmers. In Florida, according to Forbes [http://www.forbes.com/sites/investopedia/2012/05/16/americas-most-outrageous-tax-loopholes/], "anyone could legally qualify their land as farmland by stocking it with a few cows." Wealthy heir Mark Rockefeller received $342,000 to NOT farm, to allow his Idaho land to return to its natural state [http://nypost.com/2013/01/06/a-load-of-crop/].

7. Profit Margin Magic: Turning a dollar into $100,000 -
Which costs the consumer more, printer ink or bottled water? Calculations by DataGenetics reveal that the ink in a $16.99 cartridge comes to almost $3,400 per gallon. The cost of a gallon of cartridge ink would buy enough gasoline to run the average car for over two years [http://www.datagenetics.com/blog/may32011/].
Water seems to cost less, until the details are factored in: we're paying for our own public water, which we've given away almost for free, and which comes back to us in no better condition than when it started.
For every 100,000 bottles sold, Nestle pays the proceeds from ONE bottle to those of us (the taxpayers) who own the water [http://www.foodandwaterwatch.org/blogs/a-watered-down-education/].

So This Is Capitalism..
Consumer-exploiting, tax-avoiding, profit-maximizing, responsibility-shirking, winner-take-all capitalism. An economic system which, as Milton Friedman once believed, "distributes the fruits of economic progress among all people."

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Corruption in the USA: When bankers can buy an entire congress...

"Hiring China 'princelings' echoes on Wall Street"
2013-12-13 by Robert Reich [http://www.sfgate.com/opinion/reich/article/Hiring-China-princelings-echoes-on-Wall-Street-5063468.php]:
The Justice Department has just obtained documents showing that JPMorgan Chase, Wall Street's biggest bank, has been hiring the children of China's ruling elite in order to secure "existing and potential business opportunities" from Chinese government-run companies.
"You all know I have always been a big believer of the Sons and Daughters program," says one JPMorgan executive in an e-mail, because "it almost has a linear relationship" to winning assignments to advise Chinese companies. The documents even include spreadsheets that list the bank's "track record" for converting hires into business deals.
It's a serious offense. But let's get real. How different is bribing China's "princelings," as they're called there, from Wall Street's ongoing program of hiring departing U.S. Treasury officials, presumably to grease the wheels of official Washington? Timothy Geithner, President Obama's first Treasury secretary, is now president of the private-equity firm Warburg Pincus; Obama budget director Peter Orszag is now a top executive at Citigroup.
Or, for that matter, how different is what JPMorgan did in China from Wall Street's habit of hiring the children of powerful American politicians? (I don't mean to suggest that Chelsea Clinton got her hedge-fund job at Avenue Capital Group, where she worked from 2006 to 2009, on the basis of anything other than her financial talents.)
And how much worse is JPMorgan's putative offense in China than the torrent of money the company and every other major Wall Street bank is pouring into the campaign coffers of American politicians - making the Street one of the major backers of Democrats as well as Republicans?
The Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, under which JPMorgan could be indicted for the favors it has bestowed in China, is quite strict. It prohibits American companies from paying money or offering anything of value to foreign officials for the purpose of "securing any improper advantage." Hiring one of their children can certainly qualify as a gift, even without any direct benefit to the official.
JPMorgan couldn't even defend itself by arguing it didn't make any particular deal or get any specific advantage as a result of the hires. Under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, the gift doesn't have to be linked to any particular benefit to the American firm as long as it's intended to generate an advantage its competitors don't enjoy.
Compared with this, corruption of American officials is a breeze. Consider, for example, Countrywide Financial's generous "Friends of Angelo" lending program - named after its chief executive, Angelo Mozilo - that gave discounted mortgages to influential members of Congress and their staffs before the housing bubble burst. No criminal or civil charges have ever been filed related to those loans.
Even before the Supreme Court's shameful 2010 Citizens United decision - equating corporations with human beings under the First Amendment, thereby shielding much corporate political spending - Republican appointees to the court had done everything they could to blunt anti bribery laws in the United States. In 1999, in United States v. Sun-Diamond Growers, Justice Antonin Scalia, writing for the court, interpreted an anti bribery law so loosely as to allow corporations to give gifts to public officials unless the gifts are linked to specific policies.
We don't even require that American corporations disclose to their own shareholders the largesse they bestow on our politicians. Last year around this time, when the Securities and Exchange Commission released its 2013 to-do list, it signaled that it might formally propose a rule to require corporations to disclose their political spending. The idea had attracted more than 600,000 mostly favorable comments from the public, a record response for the agency.
But the idea mysteriously slipped off the 2014 agenda released last week, without explanation. Could it have anything to do with the fact that, soon after becoming SEC chair in April, Mary Jo White was pressed by Republican lawmakers to abandon the idea, which was fiercely opposed by business groups?
The Foreign Corrupt Practices Act is important, and JPMorgan should be nailed for bribing Chinese officials. But, if you'll pardon me for asking, why isn't there a Domestic Corrupt Practices Act?
Never before has so much U.S. corporate and Wall Street money poured into our nation's capital, as well as into our state capitals. Never before have so many Washington officials taken jobs in corporations, lobbying firms, trade associations and on the Street immediately after leaving office. Our democracy is drowning in big money.
Corruption is corruption, and bribery is bribery, in whatever country or language it's transacted.

Federal government extends artificial poverty, denies benefits for jobless

"Jobless face loss of federal benefit extension"  
2013-12-14 by Kathleen Pender for "San Francisco Chronicle" [http://www.sfgate.com/business/networth/article/Jobless-face-loss-of-federal-benefit-extension-5065324.php]:
The House of Representatives left work for 2013 without extending federal unemployment benefits, which means that all of the 1.3 million people receiving them face a hard cutoff at the end of this year.
An additional 1.9 million people nationwide receiving regular state unemployment benefits won't get any further payments after their state claim runs out next year.
Many thought the budget deal announced Tuesday would include an extension, but it did not. Congress could restore federal benefits early next year, as it did early this year after they expired at the end of 2012. But with the economy in better shape now, there's no guarantee that will happen.
In normal economic times, people are entitled only to regular state unemployment benefits, which are funded by a tax on employers and last up to 26 weeks in most states.
During recessions, Congress typically approves additional weeks of benefits, gratis the federal government. These benefits start after a person has run out of state benefits but is still looking for work.
The current federal extended benefit program started in 2008 and has been renewed many times. At one point it provided up to 73 weeks, which on top of 26 weeks of state benefits totaled a maximum of 99 weeks in states with high unemployment.
But Congress has been reducing federal benefits and no state has been eligible for 99 weeks since last year.
The maximum state-plus-federal benefit in most states now ranges from 40 to 63 weeks. (California is at 63 weeks.)
The maximum in each state depends on its rules and unemployment rate.
The federal program provides up to 47 weeks but only three states - Illinois, Nevada and Rhode Island - qualify for that much. Combined with state benefits, the maximum there is 73 weeks.

No federal benefits -
At the opposite extreme is North Carolina, where the jobless can receive up to 19 weeks of state benefits and no federal benefits, even though its unemployment rate is 8 percent. A cut in state payments this year triggered the loss of federal benefits.
In California, more than 220,000 people are receiving federal benefits and face a hard cutoff. They make up about one-third of the 617,000 people on unemployment, according to the California Employment Development Department.
Mike McGuire of San Leandro, whose state benefits run out this month, doesn't know what he will do if benefits are not extended next year.
"There are no hot leads," says McGuire, who once taught economics at a community college but has been working on and off - mostly in clerical jobs - since his last full-time job, as a copy editor, ended in 2006.

Push for extension -
"All administrative jobs I see seem to be temporary or permanent part-time with a vague promise they will grow into full time. And they seem to have hours that would keep you from getting any other job," says McGuire, 58.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid says he will push for an extension in January, but he'll have to overcome opposition from folks like Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky.
 On Fox News Sunday last week, Paul said, "I do support unemployment benefits for the 26 weeks that they're paid for. If you extend it beyond that, you do a disservice to these workers." He cited a study showing that "nearly 100 percent" of employers would rather hire someone out of work four weeks than 99 weeks.
Although the jobless rate fell to a five-year low of 7 percent in November, it is still higher than it normally is when Congress withdraws extended benefits. Over the past 60 years, the highest unemployment rate at which they were killed was 7.2 percent in March 1985.
The long-term unemployment rate, however, is at least twice as high as it was the last seven times Congress killed federal benefits. The long-term rate is the percentage of people in the labor force who have been out of work for more than 26 weeks.
"If we let them expire now, it would be at a time of historic long-term unemployment," says Michael Strain, a resident scholar with the conservative American Enterprise Institute who favors extending the benefits.

Looking for work -
He points out that as long as people are getting benefits, they must look for work. Paying benefits "keeps them attached to the labor force," he says.
Some research has shown that increasing the duration of unemployment benefits tends to increase the unemployment rate, but usually by a small amount.
The benefits are also expensive. Extending them for a year would cost about $25 billion.
Heidi Shierholz, a labor economist with the Economic Policy Institute, says that most of that money goes directly back into the economy, providing an important stimulus.
Strain's colleague at the American Enterprise Institute, research fellow Alex Brill, says it's time to let extended benefits expire.
"More than $200 billion has been spent on benefits," most of it ineffectively, he says. "I don't think the program is working well," especially for the long-term unemployed.

Could be better spent -
Brill thinks the money could be better spent on retraining and relocation assistance so people can move to better job markets. "We need radically different policies," he says.
That may be, but it won't help people on the verge of losing an economic lifeline, says Maurice Emsellem of the National Employment Law Project.
"It's not like this issue is going away," he says, predicting that lawmakers will get an earful from constituents over the holidays. "They cannot walk away from a million unemployed workers and their families."

Monday, December 9, 2013

"Three Ways the Super-Rich Suck Wealth Out of the Rest of Us"

2013-12-09 by Paul Buchheit from "Common Dreams" [http://www.commondreams.org/view/2013/12/09-2]: 
The facts are indisputable, the conclusion painful. The wealthiest people in the U.S. and around the world have used the stock market and the deregulated financial system to lay claim to the resources that should belong to all of us.
This is not a matter of productive people benefiting from their contributions to society. This is a relatively small number of people extracting massive amounts of money through the financial system for accomplishing almost nothing.

1. They've Taken $1.6 Million Per Family in New Wealth Since the Recession -
The richest 5% of American families each gained at least that much in five years, mostly from the stock market. Using data from Credit Suisse, the Economic Policy Institute, Pew Research, and the Census Bureau and two separate analyses (shown here [http://www.usagainstgreed.org/20131209_Analysis_1.txt] and here [http://www.usagainstgreed.org/20131209_Analysis_2.txt]), this extraordinary wealth grab can be calculated.
To briefly summarize, the richest 5% (six million households) own about two-thirds of the wealth, or about $10 trillion of the $15 trillion in financial wealth gained since the recession. That's $1,667,000 per household. Calculations based on alternate sources resulted in a gain of over $2 million per household.
It is noteworthy that most of their windfall came from stock market gains rather than from job-creating business ventures. The stock market has, once again, been forming an overblown bubble of wealth that does not reflect the relative degrees of productivity of workers around America. The market has more than doubled in value since the recession [http://www.gurufocus.com/stock-market-valuations.php], and the richest 5% own about 80% of all non-pension stocks [http://epi.3cdn.net/2a7ccb3e9e618f0bbc_3nm6idnax.pdf].

2. They Create Imaginary Money That Turns Real -
The world's wealth has doubled in a little over ten years [https://www.credit-suisse.com/ch/en/news-and-expertise/research/credit-suisse-research-institute/news-and-videos.article.html/article/pwp/news-and-expertise/2013/10/en/global-wealth-reaches-new-all-time-high.html]. The financial industry has, in effect, created a whole new share of global wealth and redistributed much of it to itself.
In the U.S., financial sector profits as a percentage of corporate profits have been rising steadily over the past 30 years [http://www.ritholtz.com/blog/2011/12/measuring-the-financial-sector-2/]. The speculative, non-productive, and fee-generating derivatives market has increased to an unfathomable level of over $1 quadrillion [http://www.dailyfinance.com/2010/06/09/risk-quadrillion-derivatives-market-gdp/] -- a thousand trillion dollars, twenty times more than the world economy.
With the U.S. driving the expansion of this great bubble of wealth, our nation has become the fifth-most wealth-unequal country in the world, while global inequality (between rather than within countries) has become even worse than for any one country. Just 250 individuals have more money than the total annual living expenses of almost half the world - three billion people [http://www.stwr.org/globalization/world-bank-poverty-figures-what-do-they-mean.html].

3. They've Stopped Payment on Productive Americans -
Reputable sources agree that the working class has not been properly compensated for its productivity [http://www.epi.org/publication/ib330-productivity-vs-compensation], and that the "rent-seeking" behavior of the financial industry, rather than changes in technology, is extracting wealth from society [http://www.epi.org/publication/pay-corporate-executives-financial-professionals/].
As a result, our median inflation-adjusted household wealth has dropped from $73,000 to $57,000 in a little over 25 years [http://money.cnn.com/2012/09/11/news/economy/wealth-net-worth/index.html]. We've lost another five percent of our wealth since the recession [http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2013/09/26/household-wealth-has-yet-to-recover/].
Shockingly, only one out of four Americans, according to a survey by Bankrate.com [http://www.bankrate.com/finance/consumer-index/1-in-4-americans-has-no-emergency-savings-1.aspx], "have six months' worth of expenses for use in emergency, the minimum recommended by many financial planning experts."
The End Result? That suction-like sound is the financial industry soaking up our country's wealth.


"Meet CO-TRAVELER: The NSA's Cell Phone Location Tracking Program"
 2013-12-05 by April Glaser and Kurt Opsahl  [https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2013/12/meet-co-traveler-nsas-cell-phone-location-tracking-program]:
An article yesterday in the Washington Post disclosed the NSA's massive cell phone location program. The program, codenamed CO-TRAVELER, is designed to track who meets with whom and covers everyone who carries a cell phone, all around the world.
With neither public debate nor court authorization, CO-TRAVELER collects billions of records daily of cell phone user location information. It maps the relationships of cell phone users across global mobile network cables, gathering data about who you are physically with and how often your movements intersect with other cell phone users. The program even tracks when your phone is turned on or off.
The trillions of collected records, which add up to twice the amount of data in the Library of Congress’ print collection, are saved and stored in the NSA’s mammoth database called FASCIA. While allegedly aimed at foreigners and mobile phones overseas, the NSA admits that it has “incidentally” collected location information on U.S. persons.
CO-TRAVELER ignores fundamental values in the Constitution the NSA has sworn to uphold, including the right against unreasonable search and seizure as well as freedom of association. Thinking globally, the program disregards international human rights law, which is currently in the process of being reaffirmed in a draft resolution by the UN General Assembly.

The Fourth Amendment Protects Cell Phone Location Data -
EFF has been working for years to get the courts to recognize that the government must get a warrant before seizing cell phone location records. The court decisions are split. In 2008 the Third Circuit federal appeals court correctly held that federal magistrates have the discretion to require the government to get a search warrant based on probable cause before obtaining cell phone location records. But the Fifth and Sixth Circuit have approved the seizure of cell phone location records without a warrant. The Supreme Court has yet to rule on cell phone location, but did hold that planting a GPS device on a car requires a warrant, without reaching a decision on whether the warrantless tracking itself would violate the Fourth Amendment.
CO-TRAVELER does not simply collect location information. It creates a portrait of travel times and people who crossed paths, revealing our physical interactions and relationships. The cell site information goes beyond email and phone calls and ordinary telephony data, allowing the U.S. government to know who we are with in-person and where. This is information that would be impossible to collect using traditional law enforcement methods.
An NSA official said that the agency’s collection methods are “tuned to be looking outside the United States.” This appears to be an attempt to assert that U.S. law does not apply because they are not “targeting” U.S. persons. Without the protections of U.S. law, the spying is regulated only by Executive Orders–orders by the President that are not subject to substantive oversight, and can be modified at any time. It’s likely that this program falls under Executive Order 12333. EO 12333 has few limits on surveillance overseas, even if it is a U.S. person.

CO-TRAVELER Violates the First Amendment -
The CO-TRAVELER program is based on guilt by association, tracking location to determine our relationships and where we meet. The First Amendment protects our right to associate with individuals and groups without disclosing that information to the government. This is an essential right because it allows people to discuss their ideas, concerns, and feelings with others without the shadow of government surveillance. And this is not just a right recognized in the United States: the right to freely associate with individuals or groups has also been recognized in the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the European Convention on Human Rights, and in countless other human rights charters.
EFF is currently representing 22 organizations from across the political spectrum who sued the NSA for violating their First Amendment right of association by illegally collecting their call records. The case, First Unitarian v. NSA, brings to light the real implications of mass surveillance–people are afraid to associate and meet based on likeminded interests.
Equally threatening to the rights guaranteed by the First Amendment are the speech-chilling effects of cell phone location tracking. Even if you use encryption online, when you meet someone in person and aren’t even on the phone, your movements may be tracked and recorded and stored. The Washington Post article reports that the NSA tracks when a cell phone has been turned off, for how long, and what nearby devices are also being used and shut off. The NSA provides further scrutiny of people who switch their phones on and off for brief periods or use throw-away phones.
Yet these security practices are common methods that journalists (or anyone else who might be privacy conscious) use to ensure security and trust when they meet with confidential sources and conduct investigations. Under this program, it is harder than ever for a journalist to guarantee a reasonable degree of privacy and security to their sources.

Privacy is an Internationally Recognized Human Right -
While the NSA likes to claim it takes great care in not collecting the data of U.S. persons, the billions of people tracked by their programs have a basic human right to privacy. Right now the United Nations General Assembly is discussing a resolution that reaffirms that the human right to privacy is carried over and effective in the digital age.
EFF is part of the global movement demanding the protection of our most basic right to privacy, no matter the country or citizenship of a person. We signed on to a list of thirteen principles that a state should use to determine whether or not a surveillance program will encroach on fundamental human rights. Join us by adding your name to the global petition for privacy today [https://necessaryandproportionate.org/take-action/digiges].
We will continue to fight against the NSA’s unconstitutional and overbroad surveillance programs in the courts and in Congress, and advocate for deeper oversight of the NSA from all branches of government.

"NSA tracking cellphone locations worldwide, Snowden documents show "
2013-12-04 by Barton Gellman and Ashkan Soltani [http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/nsa-tracking-cellphone-locations-worldwide-snowden-documents-show/2013/12/04/5492873a-5cf2-11e3-bc56-c6ca94801fac_story.html]:
The National Security Agency is gathering nearly 5 billion records a day on the whereabouts of cellphones around the world, according to top-secret documents and interviews with U.S. intelligence officials, enabling the agency to track the movements of individuals — and map their relationships — in ways that would have been previously unimaginable.
The records feed a vast database that stores information about the locations of at least hundreds of millions of devices, according to the officials and the documents, which were provided by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. New projects created to analyze that data have provided the intelligence community with what amounts to a mass surveillance tool.
The NSA does not target Americans’ location data by design, but the agency acquires a substantial amount of information on the whereabouts of domestic cellphones “incidentally,” a legal term that connotes a foreseeable but not deliberate result.
One senior collection manager, speaking on the condition of anonymity but with permission from the NSA, said “we are getting vast volumes” of location data from around the world by tapping into the cables that connect mobile networks globally and that serve U.S. cellphones as well as foreign ones. Additionally, data are often collected from the tens of millions of Americans who travel abroad with their cellphones every year.
In scale, scope and potential impact on privacy, the efforts to collect and analyze location data may be unsurpassed among the NSA surveillance programs that have been disclosed since June. Analysts can find cellphones anywhere in the world, retrace their movements and expose hidden relationships among the people using them.
U.S. officials said the programs that collect and analyze location data are lawful and intended strictly to develop intelligence about foreign targets.
Robert Litt, general counsel for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which oversees the NSA, said “there is no element of the intelligence community that under any authority is intentionally collecting bulk cellphone location information about cellphones in the United States.”
The NSA has no reason to suspect that the movements of the overwhelming majority of cellphone users would be relevant to national security. Rather, it collects locations in bulk because its most powerful analytic tools — known collectively as CO-TRAVELER — allow it to look for unknown associates of known intelligence targets by tracking people whose movements intersect.
Still, location data, especially when aggregated over time, are widely regarded among privacy advocates as uniquely sensitive. Sophisticated mathematical techniques enable NSA analysts to map cellphone owners’ relationships by correlating their patterns of movement over time with thousands or millions of other phone users who cross their paths. Cellphones broadcast their locations even when they are not being used to place a call or send a text message.
CO-TRAVELER and related tools require the methodical collection and storage of location data on what amounts to a planetary scale. The government is tracking people from afar into confidential business meetings or personal visits to medical facilities, hotel rooms, private homes and other traditionally protected spaces.
“One of the key components of location data, and why it’s so sensitive, is that the laws of physics don’t let you keep it private,” said Chris Soghoian, principal technologist at the American Civil Liberties Union. People who value their privacy can encrypt their e-mails and disguise their online identities, but “the only way to hide your location is to disconnect from our modern communication system and live in a cave.”
The NSA cannot know in advance which tiny fraction of 1 percent of the records it may need, so it collects and keeps as many as it can — 27 terabytes, by one account, or more than double the text content of the Library of Congress’s print collection.
The location programs have brought in such volumes of information, according to a May 2012 internal NSA briefing, that they are “outpacing our ability to ingest, process and store” data. In the ensuing year and a half, the NSA has been transitioning to a processing system that provided it with greater capacity.
The possibility that the intelligence community has been collecting location data, particularly of Americans, has long concerned privacy advocates and some lawmakers. Three Democratic senators — Ron Wyden (Ore.), Mark Udall (Colo.) and Barbara A. Mikulski (Md.) — have introduced an amendment to the 2014 defense spending bill that would require U.S. intelligence agencies to say whether they have ever collected or made plans to collect location data for “a large number of United States persons with no known connection to suspicious activity.”
NSA Director Keith B. Alexander disclosed in Senate testimony in October that the NSA had run a pilot project in 2010 and 2011 to collect “samples” of U.S. cellphone location data. The data collected were never available for intelligence analysis purposes, and the project was discontinued because it had no “operational value,” he said.
Alexander allowed that a broader collection of such data “may be something that is a future requirement for the country, but it is not right now.”
The number of Americans whose locations are tracked as part of the NSA’s collection of data overseas is impossible to determine from the Snowden documents alone, and senior intelligence officials declined to offer an estimate.
“It’s awkward for us to try to provide any specific numbers,” one intelligence official said in a telephone interview. An NSA spokeswoman who took part in the call cut in to say the agency has no way to calculate such a figure.
An intelligence lawyer, speaking with his agency’s permission, said location data are obtained by methods “tuned to be looking outside the United States,” a formulation he repeated three times. When U.S. cellphone data are collected, he said, the data are not covered by the Fourth Amendment, which protects Americans against unreasonable searches and seizures.
According to top-secret briefing slides, the NSA pulls in location data around the world from 10 major “sigads,” or signals intelligence activity designators.
A sigad known as STORMBREW, for example, relies on two unnamed corporate partners described only as ARTIFICE and WOLFPOINT. According to an NSA site inventory, the companies administer the NSA’s “physical systems,” or interception equipment, and “NSA asks nicely for tasking/updates.”
STORMBREW collects data from 27 telephone links known as OPC/DPC pairs, which refer to originating and destination points and which typically transfer traffic from one provider’s internal network to another’s. That data include cell tower identifiers, which can be used to locate a phone’s location.
The agency’s access to carriers’ networks appears to be vast.
“Many shared databases, such as those used for roaming, are available in their complete form to any carrier who requires access to any part of it,” said Matt Blaze, an associate professor of computer and information science at the University of Pennsylvania. “This ‘flat’ trust model means that a surprisingly large number of entities have access to data about customers that they never actually do business with, and an intelligence agency — hostile or friendly — can get ‘one-stop shopping’ to an expansive range of subscriber data just by compromising a few carriers.”
Some documents in the Snowden archive suggest that acquisition of U.S. location data is routine enough to be cited as an example in training materials. In an October 2012 white paper on analytic techniques, for example, the NSA’s counterterrorism analysis unit describes the challenges of tracking customers who use two different mobile networks, saying it would be hard to correlate a user on the T-Mobile network with one on Verizon. Asked about that, a U.S. intelligence official said the example was poorly chosen and did not represent the program’s foreign focus. There is no evidence that either company cooperates with the NSA, and both declined to comment.
The NSA’s capabilities to track location are staggering, based on the Snowden documents, and indicate that the agency is able to render most efforts at communications security effectively futile.
Like encryption and anonymity tools online, which are used by dissidents, journalists and terrorists alike, security-minded behavior — using disposable cellphones and switching them on only long enough to make brief calls — marks a user for special scrutiny. CO-TRAVELER takes note, for example, when a new telephone connects to a cell tower soon after another nearby device is used for the last time.
Side-by-side security efforts — when nearby devices power off and on together over time — “assist in determining whether co-travelers are associated . . . through behaviorally relevant relationships,” according to the 24-page white paper, which was developed by the NSA in partnership with the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, the Australian Signals Directorate and private contractors.
A central feature of each of these tools is that they do not rely on knowing a particular target in advance, or even suspecting one. They operate on the full universe of data in the NSA’s FASCIA repository, which stores trillions of metadata records, of which a large but unknown fraction include locations.
The most basic analytic tools map the date, time, and location of cellphones to look for patterns or significant moments of overlap. Other tools compute speed and trajectory for large numbers of mobile devices, overlaying the electronic data on transportation maps to compute the likely travel time and determine which devices might have intersected.
To solve the problem of undetectable surveillance against CIA officers stationed overseas, one contractor designed an analytic model that would carefully record the case officer’s path and look for other mobile devices in steady proximity.
“Results have not been validated by operational analysts,” the report said.

Energy corporations use ALEC to target solar energy users, ecologically-sensitive legislation

"ALEC calls for penalties on 'freerider' homeowners in assault on clean energy; Documents reveal conservative group's anti-green agenda; Strategy to charge people who install their own solar panels; Environmentalists accuse Alec of protecting utility firms' profits"
2013-12-04 by Suzanne Goldenberg and Ed Pilkington from "theguardian.com" [http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/dec/04/alec-freerider-homeowners-assault-clean-energy]:
An alliance of corporations and conservative activists is mobilising to penalise homeowners who install their own solar panels – casting them as "freeriders" – in a sweeping new offensive against renewable energy, the Guardian has learned.
Over the coming year, the American Legislative Exchange Council (Alec) will promote legislation with goals ranging from penalising individual homeowners and weakening state clean energy regulations, to blocking the Environmental Protection Agency, which is Barack Obama's main channel for climate action.
Details of Alec's strategy to block clean energy development at every stage – from the individual rooftop to the White House – are revealed as the group gathers for its policy summit in Washington this week.
About 800 state legislators and business leaders are due to attend the three-day event, which begins on Wednesday with appearances by the Wisconsin senator Ron Johnson and the Republican budget guru and fellow Wisconsinite Paul Ryan.
Other Alec speakers will be a leading figure behind the recent government shutdown, US senator Ted Cruz of Texas, and the governors of Indiana and Wyoming, Mike Pence and Matt Mead.
For 2014, Alec plans to promote a suite of model bills and resolutions aimed at blocking Barack Obama from cutting greenhouse gas emissions, and state governments from promoting the expansion of wind and solar power through regulations known as Renewable Portfolio Standards.
Documents obtained by the Guardian [https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/842268-alec-2013-annual-meeting-policy-report.html] show the core elements of its strategy began to take shape at the previous board meeting in Chicago in August, with meetings of its energy, environment and agriculture subcommittees.
Further details of Alec's strategy were provided by John Eick, the legislative analyst for Alec's energy, environment and agriculture program.
Eick told the Guardian the group would be looking closely in the coming year at how individual homeowners with solar panels are compensated for feeding surplus electricity back into the grid.
"This is an issue we are going to be exploring," Eick said. He said Alec wanted to lower the rate electricity companies pay homeowners for direct power generation – and maybe even charge homeowners for feeding power into the grid.
"As it stands now, those direct generation customers are essentially freeriders on the system. They are not paying for the infrastructure they are using. In effect, all the other non direct generation customers are being penalised," he said.
Eick dismissed the suggestion that individuals who buy and install home-based solar panels had made such investments. "How are they going to get that electricity from their solar panel to somebody else's house?" he said. "They should be paying to distribute the surplus electricity."
In November, Arizona became the first state to charge customers for installing solar panels. The fee, which works out to about $5 a month for the average homeowner, was far lower than that sought by the main electricity company, which was seeking to add up to $100 a month to customers' bills.
Gabe Elsner, director of the Energy and Policy Institute, said the attack on small-scale solar was part of the larger Alec project to block clean energy. "They are trying to eliminate pro-solar policies in the states to protect utility industry profits," he said.
The group sponsored at least 77 energy bills in 34 states last year. The measures were aimed at opposing renewable energy standards, pushing through the Keystone XL pipeline project, and barring oversight on fracking, according to an analysis by the Centre for Media and Democracy.
Until now, the biggest target in Alec's sights were state Renewable Portfolio Standards, which require electricity companies to source a share of their power from wind, solar, biomass, or other clean energy. Such measures are seen as critical to reducing America's use of coal and oil, and to the fight against climate change. RPS are now in force in 30 states.
In 2012, Alec drafted a model bill pushing for the outright repeal of RPS.
In the confidential materials, prepared for the August board meeting, Alec claimed to have made significant inroads against such clean energy policies in 2013.
"Approximately 15 states across the country introduced legislation to reform, freeze or repeal their state's renewable mandate," the taskforce reported.
That compares to model bills in just seven states in support of the hot-button issue of the Keystone XL pipeline, according to figures in the documents.
"This legislative year has seen the most action on renewable mandates to date," the documents said.
Three of those states – North Carolina, Ohio, and Kansas – saw strong pushes by conservative groups to reverse clean energy regulations this year.
None of those efforts passed, however, with signs of strong local support for wind farms and other clean energy projects that were seen as good for the economy – from Republicans as well as Democrats.
By August, Alec evidently decided its hopes of winning outright repeal of RPS standards was overly ambitious.
At its meeting in August, Alec put forward an initiative that would allow utility companies to import clean energy from other states – rather than invest in new, greener generation.
An "explanatory note" prepared for the meeting admitted: "One model policy may be the right fit for one state but not work for another".
Elsner argued that after its bruising state battles in 2013, Alec was now focused on weakening – rather than seeking outright repeal – of the clean energy standards.
"What we saw in 2013 was an attempt to repeal RPS laws, and when that failed … what we are seeing now is a strategy that appears to be pro- clean energy but would actually weaken those pro- clean energy laws by retreating to the lowest common denominator," he said.
The other key agenda item for Alec's meeting this week is the EPA. The group is looking at two proposals to curb the agency's powers – one to shut the EPA out of any meaningful oversight of fracking, and the other to block action on climate change.
A model bill endorsed by the Alec board of directors last August would strip the EPA of power to shut down a frack site or oil industry facility.
That would leave oversight of an industry that has to date fracked 2m wells in 20 states to a patchwork of local authorities that have vastly different standards of environmental protection.
The model bill would explicitly bar the EPA from shutting down any oil or gas well or facility in any of them, limiting the agency's capacity to enforce the clean water and clean air acts.
"The legislature declares that the United States Environmental Protection Agency … lacks the authority to deny permits of operation to these oil and gas wells and facilities," the bill reads.
Eick said the bill was in keeping with the group's broader philosophy of expanding power to the states.
"A national regulatory agency might impose a cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all regulation on states in many instances," he said.
The meeting will also focus on Obama's plan, announced last June, to use the EPA to limit greenhouse gas emissions from future and existing power plants.
"The EPA's forthcoming regulation of greenhouse gas emissions and specifically carbon emissions from power plants will be of incredible interest to states and membership so we are going to be focusing on that. Absolutely," Eick said.
Power plants are the biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions, accounting for about 40% last year. The EPA last September proposed new standards for future power plants, and will tighten limits for existing power plants next June.
Alec says requiring tougher standards would lead to spikes in electricity prices and would damage the economy.
"It just shows that Alec uses lawmakers as lobbyists to block climate legislation at every turn," said Connor Gibson, a researcher for Greenpeace. "They try to undermine the authority of agencies that have the power potentially to control carbon pollution, so whenever there is a new EPA rule that pops up, they re-tool their arsenal of model bills to make sure they are blocking the new rule."
The resolution on the EPA for Alec members' consideration this week argues that requiring tougher standards from the next generation of power plants lead to spikes in electricity prices and would damage the economy.
"Alec is very concerned about the potential economic impact of greenhouse gas regulation on electricity prices and the harm EPA regulations may have on the economic recovery," the resolution reads.
Environmental lawyers said the resolution amounted to a "new manifesto" against the EPA regulating carbon pollution. "They don't want the EPA to regulate greenhouse gas emissions," said Ann Weeks, legal director for the Clean Air Task Force.
She disputed a number of claims within the Alec resolution – including the assertion that reducing carbon pollution would lead to an 80% rise in electricity prices. Economic analyses by the EPA and others have suggested those rises would be fairly limited.
"They will probably tell you they don't want the EPA to regulate anything so it is in their interest to turn what the EPA has proposed into something that is grotesque and unreasonable, which I don't think is true," Weeks said.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

1944 and afterwards, how the Fascists use permanent war for perpetual profits

Notes for "Understanding Power: The Indispensable Chomsky", Chapter 3 "The Permanent War Economy"
[http://understandingpower.com/index.htm] Also see "Understanding Power" chapter 2 and its footnotes 4 and 5; chapter 3 and its footnotes 3, 4, 7, 9 and 10; and chapter 10 and its footnotes 22 and 23. 

Note 8. For warnings about the necessity for government intervention in the economy after the war, see for example, Paul A. Samuelson, "Unemployment Ahead: (I.) A Warning to the Washington Expert," New Republic, September 11, 1944, pp. 297-299; Paul A. Samuelson, "Unemployment Ahead: (II.) The Coming Economic Crisis," New Republic, September 18, 1944, pp. 333-335.
[Begin excerpt]
Every month, every day, every hour the federal government is pumping millions and billions of dollars into the bloodstream of the American economy. It is as if we were building a T.V.A. [Tennessee Valley Authority, a massive New Deal public works project] every Tuesday. Did I say every Tuesday? Two T.V.A.'s every Tuesday would be nearer the truth. We have reached the present high levels of output and employment only by means of $100 billion of government expenditures, of which $50 billion represent deficits. In the usual sense of the word, the present prosperity is "artificial," although no criticism is thereby implied. Any simple statistical calculation will show that the automobile, aircraft, ship-building and electronics industries combined, comprising the fields with rosiest postwar prospects, cannot possibly maintain their present level of employment, or one-half, or one-third of it. . . .
[I]t is demonstrable that the immediate demobilization period presents a grave challenge to our economy. . . . Our economic system is living on a rich diet of government spending. It will be found cheaper in the long run, and infinitely preferable in human terms, to wean it gradually. . . . For better or worse, the government under any party will have to undertake extensive action in the years ahead.
[End excerpt]

"Shall we have Airplanes?," Fortune, January 1948, pp. 77f. An excerpt (emphasis in original):
[Begin excerpt]
[The U.S. aircraft industry] is today producing at a rate that is less than 3 per cent of its wartime peak. . . . [Its spokesmen] speak frequently of "free enterprise," but they speak just as frequently of "long-range planning." It is crystal clear to them that they cannot live without one kind or another of governmental support -- yet "subsidy" is a shocking word to them. . . . Its respected heads . . . freely play the game of nagging and chiding the government, but it then transpires that their reproaches are made because the government has not gone far enough toward stating "clearly and frankly" its "obligation to help develop new and improved air transports and efficient networks of air transportation," as well as fostering new programs for military planes. . . .
Every one of these proposals acknowledges the inability of unaided "private" capital to venture any deeper into the technological terra incognita of the aircraft industry. Every one acknowledges that only the credit resources of the U.S.A. are sufficient to keep the aircraft industry going: to enable it to hire its engineers, buy its materials, pay wages to its labor force, compensate its executives -- and pay dividends to its stockholders. The fact seems to remain, then, that the aircraft industry today cannot satisfactorily exist in a pure, competitive, unsubsidized, "free-enterprise" economy. It never has been able to. Its huge customer has always been the United States Government, whether in war or in peace.
[End excerpt] 

"Aviation RFC (Reconstruction Finance Corporation)?," Business Week, January 31, 1948, p. 28 ("the aircraft builders, even with tax carrybacks, are near disaster. . . . Right now the government is their only possible savior -- with orders, subsidies, or loans").

See also, Frank Kofsky, Harry S. Truman and the War Scare of 1948: A Successful Campaign to Deceive the Nation, New York: St. Martin's, 1993, at p. 2 (arguing with substantial documentation that the Truman administration manipulated "war scares" for the purpose of sustaining and expanding U.S. industry through the military system; citing business magazines and newspapers of the period that "made it quite unmistakable that the aircraft industry would have collapsed had it not been for the big procurement orders that came in the wake of the war scare of 1948").

In the following years, the business press routinely recognized that continued high levels of military spending were essential to the U.S. economy. See for example, Ward Gates, "Approaching Recession in American Business?," Magazine of Wall Street, May 31, 1952, p. 252. An excerpt:
[Begin excerpt]
[R]earmament has played a large part in the increase in world trade directly after Korea and remains one of the basic elements in the future of world business. No better illustration could be had than the effects of the U.S. withdrawal from the primary markets when it had about completed its stock-piling program. When this occurred the primary markets practically fell apart. It is obvious that foreign economies as well as our own are now mainly dependent on the scope of continued arms spending in this country. . . . Basic to continued high activity in industry is the government program of defense expenditures, actual and projected.
[End excerpt]

Ward Gates, "Major Economic Adjustment -- If Shooting War Stops?," Magazine of Wall Street, July 28, 1951, p. 436. An excerpt:
[Begin excerpt]
Cynics both here and abroad have claimed, and not without some justification, that American business interests "fear peace." The moral aspect of this dilemma need not concern us but, on a realistic basis, there is no question that the prospect of peace is altering the thinking of economists, business men and investors. For that reason, it is imperative that a new view be taken of the over-all situation and to see whether the prospective ending of hostilities will produce marked changes in the industrial, business and financial picture. . . .
While the prospect of peace in Korea has exerted an unsettling act and probably will continue to do so during the next few months, we must consider whether these comparatively adverse conditions will not disappear as the enormous armaments program acquires momentum. . . . [T]he very high continued rate of arms production will greatly tend to support the economy and as long as this feature remains it is difficult to see the possibility for a genuine recession generally in the period ahead, although individual industries will have to contend with the uncertainties presented by the cessation of hostilities.
[End excerpt]  

See also, "Newsgram From the Nation's Capital," U.S. News and World Report, May 26, 1950, pp. 7-8. An excerpt (emphasis in original):
[Begin excerpt]
Money Supply will continue to be abundant, rising. Population will go on rising. Households will grow proportionately faster than population. "Cold war," at the same time, will go on, uninterrupted. It's in that little combination of facts that Government planners figure they have found the magic formula for almost endless good times. They now are beginning to wonder if there may not be something in perpetual motion after all.
The formula, as the planners figure it, can work this way:
Rising money supply, rising population are ingredients of good times. Cold war is the catalyst. Cold war is an automatic pump primer. Turn a spigot, and the public clamors for more arms spending. Turn another, the clamor ceases.
A little deflation, unemployment, signs of harder times, and the spigot is turned to the left. Money flows out, money supply rises, activity revives. High activity encourages people to have bigger families. . . . Good times come back, boom signs appear, prices start to rise.
A little inflation, signs of shortages, speculation, and the spigot is turned to the right. Cold-war talk is eased. Economy is proposed. Money is tightened a little by tighter rein on Government-guaranteed credit, by use of devices in other fields. Things tend to calm down, to stabilize.
That's the formula in use. It's been working fairly well to date. . . . Truman confidence, cockiness, is based on this "Truman formula." Truman era of good times, President is told, can run much beyond 1952. Cold-war demands, if fully exploited, are almost limitless.
[End excerpt]

Friday, December 6, 2013

"Exposed: The Rightwing's National Plan To Crush Green Energy; From supporting Keystone XL to opposing home solar panels, ALEC planning assault on the environment"

2013-12-05 from Sarah Lazare from "Common Dreams" [www.commondreams.org/headline/2013/12/05-2]:
The American Legislative Exchange Council's war on green protections is poised to expand over the next year, taking aim at the Environmental Protection Agency, state regulations, and even solar panels installed in individual homes.
This is according to internal documents revealed Wednesday by The Guardian and supplemented by interviews that expose this corporate lobbying powerhouse's vast anti-green agenda [http://www.documentcloud.org/documents/842268-alec-2013-annual-meeting-policy-report.html].
The revelations come in the midst of a three-day ALEC policy summit in Washington, DC bringing together 800 legislative and corporate leaders from around the country.
In 2014, ALEC will push a series of measures aimed at preventing the federal government from curbing greenhouse gas emissions and blocking state efforts to expand wind and solar power, according to The Guardian's summary of the documents [http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/dec/04/alec-freerider-homeowners-assault-clean-energy].
John Eick, the legislative analyst for ALEC's energy, environment and agriculture program, told The Guardian that ALEC will also advocate for increasing financial penalties for individual homeowners who would otherwise benefit from feed-in solar energy programs. Many sustainable energy advocates see state-level feed-in schemes—like the one that recently came under attack in Arizona—as one of the keys to a national transition to clean, renewable energy.
ALEC also notes that its resolution in support of the Keystone XL pipeline has "been introduced in at least seven states this year which has helped highlight state support for this project."
In 2013 alone, ALEC introduced at least 77 anti-green bills in 34 states, according to The Center for Media and Democracy [http://www.prwatch.org/news/2013/08/12193/dirty-hands-77-alec-bills-2013-advance-big-oil-big-ag-agenda].
As Connor Gibson, a research associate at Greenpeace, explained to CMD: "ALEC's long time role in denying the science and policy solutions to climate change is shifting into an evolving roadblock on state and federal clean energy incentives, a necessary part of global warming mitigation."
"ALEC's guise of 'free market environmentalism,'" Gibson continued, "is just a code word for its real mission in our states' legislatures: to allow dirty energy companies to pollute as much as they want, to attack incentives for clean energy competitors and to secure government handouts to oil, gas and coal interests. That's not a free market."
An excerpt from the documents, boasting of past accomplishments, can be seen below.

State Policy Network (SPN)

"Army of Rightwing Groups Plan Assault on State Laws in 2014: Internal documents show how state-level affiliates serve national interests of corporations and wealthy, conservative ideologues"
2013-12-05 by Jon Queally from "CommonDreams.org" [www.commondreams.org/headline/2013/12/05-7]:
According to internal documents obtained by the British newspaper and published online Thursday, the Guardian reports that more than forty state-level conservative groups are planning a "US-wide assault" on "education, healthcare, income tax, workers' compensation and the environment."
If you want to know how the right-wing State Policy Network [http://www.spn.org/] —in concert with a network of other national and state-level conservative policy groups—has been able to overrun state legislatures with "model legislation" that carries the interest of the nation's wealthiest corporations and individuals while undermining workers and communities, the ream of grant proposals obtained by the newspaper tell the tale [https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/842271-spn-budget-proposals-state-by-state.html].
For the second time this week, the Guardian has published internal documents from an influential U.S. conservative organizing group that reveals rare insight into how they operate and the way smaller, local groups vie for portions of the large amount of money made available by people like the Kochs brothers and other funders of the conservative, Tea Party cabal.
According to the Guardian:
[begin excerpt]
    Conservative groups across the US are planning a co-ordinated assault against public sector rights and services in the key areas of education, healthcare, income tax, workers' compensation and the environment, documents obtained by the Guardian reveal [https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/842271-spn-budget-proposals-state-by-state.html].
    The strategy for the state-level organisations, which describe themselves as "free-market thinktanks", includes proposals from six different states for cuts in public sector pensions, campaigns to reduce the wages of government workers and eliminate income taxes, school voucher schemes to counter public education, opposition to Medicaid, and a campaign against regional efforts to combat greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change.
    The policy goals are contained in a set of funding proposals obtained by the Guardian. The proposals were co-ordinated by the State Policy Network, an alliance of groups that act as incubators of conservative strategy at state level.
[end excerpt]
Partnering with local news outlets, the Guardian shared some of the documents in obtained in order to have journalists more familiar with state politics and trends explore the implications of how these nationally-coordinated conservative policies, if enacted, would play out with the communities that will ultimately feel them.
As part of their reporting on the documents, the Guardian published all forty of the proposal sent by state-level groups to SPN for approval [https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/842271-spn-budget-proposals-state-by-state.html].
In the most northeastern state in the country, Maine, a group called the Maine Heritage Policy Center was among the groups who applied (pdf) [http://media.kjonline.com/documents/MHPC+FreeME+proposal.pdf] for a grant through the wealthy national group in order to push a proposal to make the poverty-stricken Washington County a "tax-free zone" in order to promote "economic activity" in the state.
As the Portland Press Herald reports, however, most citizens of the county seem skeptical of the proposal even as Republican legislators in the capital of Augusta and Republican Gov. Paul LePage have begun pushing the idea publicly.
According to the Press Herald [http://www.pressherald.com/news/Mainers-in-Washington-County-have-mixed-reactions-to-FreeME-plan-to-eliminate-taxes.html?pagenum=full]:
[begin excerpt]
    While open to considering its merits, many business and political leaders think the proposal is philosophically out of step with local efforts, which have emphasized homegrown revitalization rather than reliance on special breaks for the long-struggling county. [...]
    Under the Maine Heritage Policy Center’s “FreeME” initiative, Washington County residents and businesses would cease to pay state income taxes or collect sales taxes until economic conditions reach the statewide average and stay there for three years running.
    The initiative, introduced last summer and now being evaluated by Gov. Paul LePage’s administration, would make America’s easternmost county the first to waive such taxes in a state that has them. It is intended to showcase economic libertarians’ contention that taxes are a central impediment to economic development.
[end excerpt]
But Paul Molyneaux of East Machias, a fisherman and writer who has done all manner of work to make ends meet, told the newspaper that the "tax-free" proposal would do little to improve his life.
“Suppose I go to the store and buy $50 worth of clothing and save $3 in taxes – that’s nice, but it’s not going to do much for me over the long haul,” Molyneaux said. “It seems like a ‘give a man a fish’ instead of a ‘teach him how to fish’ argument, because without access to resources, it’s not going to carry you very far.”
As the Guardian's reporting emphasizes, the kind of influence that large outside groups can have on small and often struggling communities can be vast and without a picture of how these proposals make their way from the minds of conservative ideologues to the floor of state legislatures can leave communities oblivious to who exactly is ultimately benefiting from the policies. The Guardian also raises questions about the tax-exempt status of these networks, explaining:
[begin excerpt]
    Last week the Obama administration announced a new clampdown on those groups that violate tax rules by engaging in direct political campaigning [http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/27/us/politics/new-campaign-rules-proposed-for-tax-exempt-nonprofits.html?hp&_r=0].
    Most of the "thinktanks" involved in the proposals gathered by the State Policy Network are constituted as 501(c)(3) charities that are exempt from tax by the Internal Revenue Service. Though the groups are not involved in election campaigns, they are subject to strict restrictions on the amount of lobbying they are allowed to perform. Several of the grant bids contained in the Guardian documents propose the launch of "media campaigns" aimed at changing state laws and policies, or refer to "advancing model legislation" and "candidate briefings", in ways that arguably cross the line into lobbying.
    The documents also cast light on the nexus of funding arrangements behind radical rightwing campaigns. The State Policy Network (SPN) has members in each of the 50 states and an annual warchest of $83m drawn from major corporate donors that include the energy tycoons the Koch brothers, the tobacco company Philip Morris, food giant Kraft and the multinational drugs company GlaxoSmithKline.
[end excerpt]
According to Lisa Graves, executive director of the Center for Media & Democracy, which has tracked the work of the State Policy Network and similarly-styled American Legislative Exchange Council, such groups are betraying the communities they claim to represent by introducing "model legislation" that undoubtedly are desigend to serve the interests of large corporations and the wealthy.
"They appear to be advocating purely local interests but what they are promoting is part of a larger national template to radically remake our government in a way that undermines public institutions and the rights of workers," Graves told the Guardian.
And in the case of Washington County in Maine, according to CMD's Rebekah Wilce, "Groups like MHPC paint this work as ‘economic development’ but we need to look at where they are coming from and who is funding their agenda."
The right-wing, anti-populist agenda of the State Policy Network, she told the Press Herald, is to pass laws that “benefit corporate funders, not the people of Maine.”