In the USA...United Surveillance America
AT&T rejects ‘transparency report’ shareholder demand; FBI can secretly turn your laptop camera on
By George Chidi
Saturday, December 7, 2013 21:31 EST
In the age of modern digital surveillance, AT&T can keep its silence about what it tells the government, while the FBI can make your laptop keep its silence even while it’s secretly filming you.
Shareholders are pressing AT&T to disclose what it does with its customers’ data in light of NSA requests. But AT&T has flatly refused to do so, and sent a letter Thursday to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission to that effect.
The AP reported Saturday that AT&T said it protects customer information and complies with government requests for records “only to the extent required by law
Last month, the New York State Common Retirement Fund, an AT&T shareholder, filed a shareholder resolution calling on the telecom giant to be more transparent about the way subscriber data is shared with the government. The resolution calls for semi-annual reports detailing information about government data requests, similar to the transparency reports now being issued by Facebook, Google and Microsoft.
“AT&T acknowledges in its corporate code of conduct that privacy is critical to the success of its business. Yet, the Company has not disclosed to customers and investors any information regarding the extent and nature of requests for customer data made on the Company by government agencies,” the resolution states.
The resolution will not be addressed at the coming shareholder meeting, AP reported that AT&T said in its letter to the SEC.
News of AT&T’s reluctance to be more transparent comes on the heels of more revelations about how the NSA uses computer malware to electronically spy on people. The FBI and NSA can use software to secretly turn on the laptop cameras of some people under surveillance, and can do so without activating the red recording light, the Washington Post reported Friday.
The Post’s lengthy profile of a surveillance operation against a suspected terrorist cited a warrant in legal case files, which authorized an “Internet web link” that would download the surveillance software to the suspect’s computer when he signed on to his Yahoo account. The software would allow the subject’s video camera to be turned on remotely without revealing the activation. Similar, earlier requests have been denied to the FBI as overly intrusive.
David Simon: 'There are now two Americas. My country is a horror show'
The creator of The Wire, David Simon, delivered an impromptu speech about the divide between rich and poor in America at the Festival of Dangerous Ideas in Sydney, and how capitalism has lost sight of its social compact. This is an edited extract
The Observer, Sunday 8 December 2013
America is a country that is now utterly divided when it comes to its society, its economy, its politics. There are definitely two Americas. I live in one, on one block in Baltimore that is part of the viable America, the America that is connected to its own economy, where there is a plausible future for the people born into it. About 20 blocks away is another America entirely. It's astonishing how little we have to do with each other, and yet we are living in such proximity.
There's no barbed wire around West Baltimore or around East Baltimore, around Pimlico, the areas in my city that have been utterly divorced from the American experience that I know. But there might as well be. We've somehow managed to march on to two separate futures and I think you're seeing this more and more in the west. I don't think it's unique to America.
I think we've perfected a lot of the tragedy and we're getting there faster than a lot of other places that may be a little more reasoned, but my dangerous idea kind of involves this fellow who got left by the wayside in the 20th century and seemed to be almost the butt end of the joke of the 20th century; a fellow named Karl Marx.
I'm not a Marxist in the sense that I don't think Marxism has a very specific clinical answer to what ails us economically. I think Marx was a much better diagnostician than he was a clinician. He was good at figuring out what was wrong or what could be wrong with capitalism if it wasn't attended to and much less credible when it comes to how you might solve that.
You know if you've read Capital or if you've got the Cliff Notes, you know that his imaginings of how classical Marxism – of how his logic would work when applied – kind of devolve into such nonsense as the withering away of the state and platitudes like that. But he was really sharp about what goes wrong when capital wins unequivocally, when it gets everything it asks for.
That may be the ultimate tragedy of capitalism in our time, that it has achieved its dominance without regard to a social compact, without being connected to any other metric for human progress.
We understand profit. In my country we measure things by profit. We listen to the Wall Street analysts. They tell us what we're supposed to do every quarter. The quarterly report is God. Turn to face God. Turn to face Mecca, you know. Did you make your number? Did you not make your number? Do you want your bonus? Do you not want your bonus?
And that notion that capital is the metric, that profit is the metric by which we're going to measure the health of our society is one of the fundamental mistakes of the last 30 years. I would date it in my country to about 1980 exactly, and it has triumphed.
Capitalism stomped the hell out of Marxism by the end of the 20th century and was predominant in all respects, but the great irony of it is that the only thing that actually works is not ideological, it is impure, has elements of both arguments and never actually achieves any kind of partisan or philosophical perfection.
It's pragmatic, it includes the best aspects of socialistic thought and of free-market capitalism and it works because we don't let it work entirely. And that's a hard idea to think – that there isn't one single silver bullet that gets us out of the mess we've dug for ourselves. But man, we've dug a mess.
After the second world war, the west emerged with the American economy coming out of its wartime extravagance, emerging as the best product. It was the best product. It worked the best. It was demonstrating its might not only in terms of what it did during the war but in terms of just how facile it was in creating mass wealth.
Plus, it provided a lot more freedom and was doing the one thing that guaranteed that the 20th century was going to be – and forgive the jingoistic sound of this – the American century.
It took a working class that had no discretionary income at the beginning of the century, which was working on subsistence wages. It turned it into a consumer class that not only had money to buy all the stuff that they needed to live but enough to buy a bunch of shit that they wanted but didn't need, and that was the engine that drove us.
It wasn't just that we could supply stuff, or that we had the factories or know-how or capital, it was that we created our own demand and started exporting that demand throughout the west. And the standard of living made it possible to manufacture stuff at an incredible rate and sell it.
And how did we do that? We did that by not giving in to either side. That was the new deal. That was the great society. That was all of that argument about collective bargaining and union wages and it was an argument that meant neither side gets to win.
Labour doesn't get to win all its arguments, capital doesn't get to. But it's in the tension, it's in the actual fight between the two, that capitalism actually becomes functional, that it becomes something that every stratum in society has a stake in, that they all share.
The unions actually mattered. The unions were part of the equation. It didn't matter that they won all the time, it didn't matter that they lost all the time, it just mattered that they had to win some of the time and they had to put up a fight and they had to argue for the demand and the equation and for the idea that workers were not worth less, they were worth more.
Ultimately we abandoned that and believed in the idea of trickle-down and the idea of the market economy and the market knows best, to the point where now libertarianism in my country is actually being taken seriously as an intelligent mode of political thought. It's astonishing to me. But it is. People are saying I don't need anything but my own ability to earn a profit. I'm not connected to society. I don't care how the road got built, I don't care where the firefighter comes from, I don't care who educates the kids other than my kids. I am me. It's the triumph of the self. I am me, hear me roar.
That we've gotten to this point is astonishing to me because basically in winning its victory, in seeing that Wall come down and seeing the former Stalinist state's journey towards our way of thinking in terms of markets or being vulnerable, you would have thought that we would have learned what works. Instead we've descended into what can only be described as greed. This is just greed. This is an inability to see that we're all connected, that the idea of two Americas is implausible, or two Australias, or two Spains or two Frances.
Societies are exactly what they sound like. If everybody is invested and if everyone just believes that they have "some", it doesn't mean that everybody's going to get the same amount. It doesn't mean there aren't going to be people who are the venture capitalists who stand to make the most. It's not each according to their needs or anything that is purely Marxist, but it is that everybody feels as if, if the society succeeds, I succeed, I don't get left behind. And there isn't a society in the west now, right now, that is able to sustain that for all of its population.
And so in my country you're seeing a horror show. You're seeing a retrenchment in terms of family income, you're seeing the abandonment of basic services, such as public education, functional public education. You're seeing the underclass hunted through an alleged war on dangerous drugs that is in fact merely a war on the poor and has turned us into the most incarcerative state in the history of mankind, in terms of the sheer numbers of people we've put in American prisons and the percentage of Americans we put into prisons. No other country on the face of the Earth jails people at the number and rate that we are.
We have become something other than what we claim for the American dream and all because of our inability to basically share, to even contemplate a socialist impulse.
Socialism is a dirty word in my country. I have to give that disclaimer at the beginning of every speech, "Oh by the way I'm not a Marxist you know". I lived through the 20th century. I don't believe that a state-run economy can be as viable as market capitalism in producing mass wealth. I don't.
I'm utterly committed to the idea that capitalism has to be the way we generate mass wealth in the coming century. That argument's over. But the idea that it's not going to be married to a social compact, that how you distribute the benefits of capitalism isn't going to include everyone in the society to a reasonable extent, that's astonishing to me.
And so capitalism is about to seize defeat from the jaws of victory all by its own hand. That's the astonishing end of this story, unless we reverse course. Unless we take into consideration, if not the remedies of Marx then the diagnosis, because he saw what would happen if capital triumphed unequivocally, if it got everything it wanted.
And one of the things that capital would want unequivocally and for certain is the diminishment of labour. They would want labour to be diminished because labour's a cost. And if labour is diminished, let's translate that: in human terms, it means human beings are worth less.
From this moment forward unless we reverse course, the average human being is worth less on planet Earth. Unless we take stock of the fact that maybe socialism and the socialist impulse has to be addressed again; it has to be married as it was married in the 1930s, the 1940s and even into the 1950s, to the engine that is capitalism.
Mistaking capitalism for a blueprint as to how to build a society strikes me as a really dangerous idea in a bad way. Capitalism is a remarkable engine again for producing wealth. It's a great tool to have in your toolbox if you're trying to build a society and have that society advance. You wouldn't want to go forward at this point without it. But it's not a blueprint for how to build the just society. There are other metrics besides that quarterly profit report.
The idea that the market will solve such things as environmental concerns, as our racial divides, as our class distinctions, our problems with educating and incorporating one generation of workers into the economy after the other when that economy is changing; the idea that the market is going to heed all of the human concerns and still maximise profit is juvenile. It's a juvenile notion and it's still being argued in my country passionately and we're going down the tubes. And it terrifies me because I'm astonished at how comfortable we are in absolving ourselves of what is basically a moral choice. Are we all in this together or are we all not?
If you watched the debacle that was, and is, the fight over something as basic as public health policy in my country over the last couple of years, imagine the ineffectiveness that Americans are going to offer the world when it comes to something really complicated like global warming. We can't even get healthcare for our citizens on a basic level. And the argument comes down to: "Goddamn this socialist president. Does he think I'm going to pay to keep other people healthy? It's socialism, motherfucker."
What do you think group health insurance is? You know you ask these guys, "Do you have group health insurance where you …?" "Oh yeah, I get …" you know, "my law firm …" So when you get sick you're able to afford the treatment.
The treatment comes because you have enough people in your law firm so you're able to get health insurance enough for them to stay healthy. So the actuarial tables work and all of you, when you do get sick, are able to have the resources there to get better because you're relying on the idea of the group. Yeah. And they nod their heads, and you go "Brother, that's socialism. You know it is."
And ... you know when you say, OK, we're going to do what we're doing for your law firm but we're going to do it for 300 million Americans and we're going to make it affordable for everybody that way. And yes, it means that you're going to be paying for the other guys in the society, the same way you pay for the other guys in the law firm … Their eyes glaze. You know they don't want to hear it. It's too much. Too much to contemplate the idea that the whole country might be actually connected.
So I'm astonished that at this late date I'm standing here and saying we might want to go back for this guy Marx that we were laughing at, if not for his prescriptions, then at least for his depiction of what is possible if you don't mitigate the authority of capitalism, if you don't embrace some other values for human endeavour.
And that's what The Wire was about basically, it was about people who were worth less and who were no longer necessary, as maybe 10 or 15% of my country is no longer necessary to the operation of the economy. It was about them trying to solve, for lack of a better term, an existential crisis. In their irrelevance, their economic irrelevance, they were nonetheless still on the ground occupying this place called Baltimore and they were going to have to endure somehow.
That's the great horror show. What are we going to do with all these people that we've managed to marginalise? It was kind of interesting when it was only race, when you could do this on the basis of people's racial fears and it was just the black and brown people in American cities who had the higher rates of unemployment and the higher rates of addiction and were marginalised and had the shitty school systems and the lack of opportunity.
And kind of interesting in this last recession to see the economy shrug and start to throw white middle-class people into the same boat, so that they became vulnerable to the drug war, say from methamphetamine, or they became unable to qualify for college loans. And all of a sudden a certain faith in the economic engine and the economic authority of Wall Street and market logic started to fall away from people. And they realised it's not just about race, it's about something even more terrifying. It's about class. Are you at the top of the wave or are you at the bottom?
So how does it get better? In 1932, it got better because they dealt the cards again and there was a communal logic that said nobody's going to get left behind. We're going to figure this out. We're going to get the banks open. From the depths of that depression a social compact was made between worker, between labour and capital that actually allowed people to have some hope.
We're either going to do that in some practical way when things get bad enough or we're going to keep going the way we're going, at which point there's going to be enough people standing on the outside of this mess that somebody's going to pick up a brick, because you know when people get to the end there's always the brick. I hope we go for the first option but I'm losing faith.
The other thing that was there in 1932 that isn't there now is that some element of the popular will could be expressed through the electoral process in my country.
The last job of capitalism – having won all the battles against labour, having acquired the ultimate authority, almost the ultimate moral authority over what's a good idea or what's not, or what's valued and what's not – the last journey for capital in my country has been to buy the electoral process, the one venue for reform that remained to Americans.
Right now capital has effectively purchased the government, and you witnessed it again with the healthcare debacle in terms of the $450m that was heaved into Congress, the most broken part of my government, in order that the popular will never actually emerged in any of that legislative process.
So I don't know what we do if we can't actually control the representative government that we claim will manifest the popular will. Even if we all start having the same sentiments that I'm arguing for now, I'm not sure we can effect them any more in the same way that we could at the rise of the Great Depression, so maybe it will be the brick. But I hope not.
David Simon is an American author and journalist and was the executive producer of The Wire. This is an edited extract of a talk delivered at the Festival of Dangerous Ideas in Sydney.
How video games can help us overthrow capitalism
By Paul Mason, The Guardian
Saturday, December 7, 2013 11:03 EST
The challenge is to design a game where instead of being a badass in LA, you can be a goodass on a communal farm
You walk into a village inn and it turns out the landlord sells swords. You’re short of gold so you pop out and shoot some wolves with your bow and arrow. You add their pelts into the deal and buy the sword. Where’s this? Skyrim, of course.
Skyrim is a computer game set in the mythical world of Tamriel, where human intercourse consists of fighting, stealing, magic and trade. Whether you’re here, or in the deep space of EveOnline, or among the low-life in Grand Theft Auto V, the economics of computer games nearly always resemble early capitalism: trade, conquest and ruthless rule-bending are the sources of wealth; actual human labour and ingenuity almost never. With about half of all households owning a games console, and 8 million people a day secretly amassing fortunes on Facebook games like Farmville, that is one huge dollop of free-market ideology getting dumped into our leisure time.
But what happens if you try to subvert in-game economics? Players in complex online worlds are well used to “gaming the game” – that is, trying to exploit inconsistencies of the economic model to scam other players. Last year one player, by bidding up the price of a worthless object and then getting his friend to destroy it, almost wiped out all the value in the entire universe. The game’s fulltime economists – such jobs exist – spent days unpicking the trades.
What I am proposing is something different. What if, just as in an Occupy camp, where they try to “live despite capitalism”, you could live “despite” the property forms and voracious market economics of a computer game?
With Skyrim, the “modding” community – techies adept at creating unofficial versions of the game – have already done clever things with the economy of Tamriel. One limited the amount of natural resource (you can run out of wolves); another made the money supply finite; a third introduced a banking system, so that by saving your hoarded gold you could increase the supply of credit to other players.
But what if you could choose to play any of these games without trying to gain wealth through conquest, violence or the mercantile capitalist strategy of buying cheap and selling dear? What if you could pursue a strategy to create things collaboratively, outside the market, and give the basic necessities of life away for free? Would you be able, singly or in groups, to screw the slash-and-grab economy so badly that you forced it into a transition state beyond destructive competition?
These are good questions, because a whole school of economists thinks what they describe is the basic problem facing us in the real world.
Yochai Benkler, a Harvard law professor, has described how the rise of free stuff, collaborative production and non-commercial products such as Wikipedia, create a glitch within capitalism. In a networked information economy, he writes, “co-operative and co-ordinated action, carried out through radically distributed non-market mechanisms … plays a much greater role than it did”. (Benkler Y, The Wealth of Networks, New Haven 2006).
Information goods undermine economic systems based on scarcity. Free, collaboratively made products, like Wikipedia potentially, kill commercial products in their market. Open source products – even when commercialised, like the Android system that runs on 70% of all new smartphones – can reduce the market share of closed, proprietary products.
If Benkler is right, the real-world economy of the 21st century becomes itself a giant game, in which non-market forms interact with the classic models based on scarcity and competition. Monopolies form but are undermined by the impossibility of enforcing property rights. Hierarchies soften, but cannot react effectively to the rise of networks.
In multi-player games there is already a lot of collaborative play, even inside the kill-and-shoot environments. Now designers have begun to respond overtly to demands for modelling collaboration: Journey (2012) is a wordless, ethereal game in which players, by interacting, produce mutual benefit and emotional connection but do not explicitly trade.
But most games remain trapped in the economics of their time: they are closed markets, with a variety of static business models, most of which involve destroying your opponent, monopolising designs, or plundering resources.
The challenge is to design a game where the economy can evolve: from competition to collaboration. Where instead of being a badass in LA, you can be a goodass on a communal farm in Andalusia. A game where the “modding” goes on within the official product, not through unauthorised experimental versions. A game where it’s possible to “refuse” the basic Jungian call to adventure in an alien world and instead transform the world you live in.
For many of us, economic reality is already a mixture of the market and something beyond the market. Against this, the world of competitive plunder on which most computer and console games are based begins to look boring.
Next year, Skyrim itself goes multiplayer. Designers promise the mythical world of Tamriel will offer a choice of three warring alliances, nine ethnicities and unlimited face tattoos. The proposed economics look like a version of 18th-century mercantilism: conquer a castle, set up your trading post there, exploit need and scarcity.
As a fan of the game, I’d like the opportunity to do something radically different: #OccupyTamriel anyone?
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media 2013
December 7, 2013
Alaska’s Thin Line Between Camping and Homelessness
By KIRK JOHNSON
SOLDOTNA, Alaska — People come to Kenai Peninsula for the natural beauty or for an Alaskan escape from the routines that shape life in fussier places.
There are good oil industry jobs, and a Russian patina hangs over the landscape in the names of the small towns and a few orthodox churches that keep the flame alive. When the salmon are running on the Kenai River, you can pull them in until your arms are sore, people here are fond of saying.
But those bounties of nature, which have drawn settlers and fortune seekers since the days of Captain Cook, also mask a hard reality. When someone’s life goes awry, through a misstep or a spousal betrayal, a job loss or an eviction, or just a stretch of bad luck, there is not much of a safety net here.
“This is a great area to raise families; it has wonderful, positive things,” said Cathy Giessel, a state senator who represents part of the peninsula. “But folks can be shut out of jobs pretty easily by making bad choices.”
The towns of the peninsula — mostly just dots on a map of a few thousand people in a dense landscape of woods and rivers — make up a sort of middle path in Alaskan life, with an ebb and flow of seasonal service jobs at fishermen’s motels and strip malls. There are upward opportunities and working-wage jobs for people with skills. But the downward pull of drugs, alcohol and poverty is always there, too, residents say.
Amanda Guillemette knows how thin the ice can be. She is back on her feet now, with a job at the Soldotna Dairy Queen since March and a warm rented house. But the day that began her odyssey into homelessness four years ago still resonates.
She was nine months pregnant with her fifth child when the family she was living with forced her to leave. Ms. Guillemette, 35, credits the public school system, which reached out to her through a homeless liaison program. It saved her and her children, she said, by connecting them with state aid programs and providing emergency assistance when the going was darkest.
“Things happen for a reason,” she said with stoic calm in an interview at the school district’s offices. “I’ve gotten stronger.”
In Alaska’s deeply rural villages, where no roads penetrate and many families are interconnected through blood or culture, homelessness is often dealt with in the old-fashioned way, with relatives or neighbors giving shelter to those in trouble. Anchorage, Alaska’s largest city, has the state’s biggest homeless population by far, but also the biggest system of help and outreach.
On the Kenai, a struggling family or a teenager can escape notice against the vast landscape.
“Homelessness is a hidden problem,” said Steve Atwater, the superintendent of the Kenai Peninsula school district, where about one in 90 students are enrolled this year in a program to keep them in school, even if they have no permanent address. That number is down slightly from last year, and district officials suspect that the main reason is an unseasonably warm fall.
From 2011 to 2012, Alaska’s overall homeless rate declined 10 percent, according to a report this year by the National Alliance to End Homelessness, a federation of organizations. But the number of chronically homeless people rose almost 21 percent, giving Alaska the ninth-highest increase in the nation.
Couch surfers, crashing with friends, often do not consider themselves homeless. And in a state where camping is both a way of life and part of the heritage, living in a tent in the woods might be by choice, or it might not be.
“We kind of called it camping,” said Tammy Miles, who lived in the woods in a tent for 132 days this summer — a number she repeated twice more with grim, tight-lipped finality — with her two autistic sons, ages 10 and 7, after her boyfriend of 13 years left her stranded and then homeless. She and the boys were in a family shelter — the only one in Kenai Borough, a county bigger than West Virginia — when it closed in June because of financial troubles, sending them into the wild. It was the family’s second eviction in a year.
On a recent afternoon, with the temperature topping out at about 6 degrees, a campsite just outside downtown looked ghostly in the frost. The occupants were gone, presumably indoors. A spatula and a can of pepper sat on a folding table by a small camp stove, ready for use. Were the campers there by choice, or were they homeless? On Kenai Peninsula, it can be hard to tell.
There is a sense that hunger, a more easily measured barometer of stress, is increasing. At the Kenai Peninsula Food Bank in the nearby town of Kenai, the number of people seeking free commodities like canned goods and rice is higher than at any time since 2010, when the recession was at its worst. A trend toward younger people and families coming in hungry has persisted, said Linda Swarner, the food bank’s executive director.
“The safety net, years ago, used to be more personal,” she said as volunteers served stew and cobbler for lunch. “People didn’t rely as much on governments or nonprofits.”
Ms. Miles, 42, got a job this fall as a cashier at a local Walmart and said she felt stable as winter set in, with a house for her and her boys, Kyle and Koby. Her journey through homelessness, as wrenching as it was, also gave her a strange gift: Though she has no family in Alaska, having moved here from Utah with her ex-boyfriend a decade ago, she made friends with the 26 other families at the shelter before it closed.
It is a new social network, and they are trying, she said, to stay in touch as best they can.
Koch Brothers Illegally Funnel Millions Into Campaign to Eliminate Pensions and Sick Pay
Saturday, December, 7th, 2013, 12:00 pm
Greed is the inordinate desire to possess wealth, goods, or objects of abstract value with the intention to keep it for one’s self, far beyond what one needs for basic survival; for the wealthy it is in excess of any reasonable definition of luxurious comfort. Typically it is applied to those with a dangerous desire for, and pursuit of, status and unrestricted power that includes enriching oneself at the expense of others. There is a movement in America that transcends the normal definition of greed and selfishness, and not only do they desire to possess all the wealth, they are driven to impoverish the population with no apparent gain for themselves. It is not enough that they are rich beyond imagination, they subscribe to a philosophy that no-one in America except a certain class should have anything, and they are launching a nationwide campaign to eliminate public sector workers’ wages, pensions, sick pay, workers’ compensation because if they cannot have it no-one can.
It is no surprise that the funding mechanism behind the 50-state crusade to create a nation of peasants is headed by the Koch brothers, tobacco giant Phillip Morris, and Kraft Foods with model legislation provided by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). The groups’ $83 million seed money is being funneled through various 501(C) tax-exempt “social welfare” organizations intent on illegally using dark money to lobby legislators and convince voters that no-one in America deserves anything other than a poverty existence. The purely libertarian-driven group, State Policy Network (SPN), describes itself as “free-market think tanks” and will initially targets six different states to eliminate public sector pensions, cut government wages to the federal minimum, privatize public education, and eliminate Medicaid. As an extra affront to the people’s rights to clean air, the seek to end regional efforts to combat greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change.
The 501(C) social welfare groups are staying out of election campaigns, and despite restrictions on their lobbying efforts, they will launch media campaigns to change state laws, advance ALEC model legislation, and “brief Republican candidates” in strategies necessary to achieve SPN’s goals; it is the definition of lobbying. One of SPN’S affiliates denied they engaged in lobbying and said, “There is never any lobbying, lobbying consists of convincing legislators and other policymakers to get a particular result on a particular issue, and we never do that.” The groups’ lobbying efforts are to achieve their stated goals that go beyond “a commitment to free enterprise” and include: “reforming” public employee pensions, eliminate taxation, promote private and home schooling through a voucher system, end worker and union rights, and eliminate Medicaid in Republican-controlled states.
Tracie Sharp, president of SPN, said that “as a pro-freedom network of think tanks, we focus on issues like workplace freedom, education reform, and individual choice: backbone issues of a free people and a free society.” It is an oft-heard reiteration of the Koch brothers’ “vision of a transformed America.” It is noteworthy that the group has close ties to Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF) funded by the Koch brothers that is targeting state’s participation in Medicaid and featured Ted Cruz, a former executive, as keynote speaker at a national conference yesterday hosted by SPN and its sister organization ALEC.
The executive director of the Center for Media and Democracy, Lisa Graves, recently issued a report on SPN and said that SPN’s local identity belied a larger purpose. “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;” particularly public sector workers. It cannot be overstated that eliminating public sector workers’ rights to their pensions, sick pay, living wages, and protections at the state level will not add one penny to the Koch brothers, Philip Morris, or Kraft Foods’ substantial riches any more than eliminating Medicaid, taxes, or public education at the state level, but adding to their personal wealth is not their intent. Their resolve is to deny public workers a decent wage, pensions, sick pay, and workplace protections to create an American labor force struggling to survive on minimum wages, no retirement, and no healthcare to achieve the Koch brothers’ stated mission of a nation where there is “unrestricted prosperity for the ‘wealthy class’ while keeping the poor productive and content.”
The Koch brothers and their fascist cabal face a barrier at the federal level to cut Social Security retirement, withhold healthcare from tens-of-millions of Americans, and eliminate worker protections, so they are taking their crusade to the states. It is unfortunate, but they will have success in Republican-controlled states to destroy public education, eliminate Medicaid, and decimate public sector employees’ pensions, wages, and worker protections as a crucial aspect of their campaign to eliminate the middle class. Republican voters in red states are notorious for voting against their own self-interest and survival, so it is no exaggeration to assume they will gladly support any attempt to drag public sector workers down into poverty to achieve what SPN and the Koch brothers’ portray as necessary for a nation of “a free people and a free society.” It is a sad commentary, but it is the price Americans pay for allowing fascists free rein to pursue unrestricted power that is borne of a form of greed founded on taking everything from the people just because they can.
Eliminating state public sector workers’ pensions, like federal Social Security pensions, will not enrich a few wealthy Americans any more than cutting their public sector employees’ wages, ending sick pay, or ending workplace protections, but that is not the Koch brothers, Philip Morris, or Kraft Foods’ intent. Their goal is transforming this country into an oligarchy with the masses serving the rich, and as long as there is even a dwindling middle class their vision of a transformed America will not be realized. They have successfully raped the economic life out of the private sector, and are now turning their undivided and well-funded attention to the public sector, and Republicans will dutifully serve their interests until they achieve their “vision,” or until Republicans are eliminated from the decision-making process. What is incredibly tragic is the Kochs and their wealthy cohort have announced their intent unabashedly and their ignorant supporters will give them the victory the seek; at least in Republican-controlled states.
This is just the opening salvo of the final push by the Kochs et al to realize their “vision” and “radically remake government in a way that undermines public institutions, the rights of workers” and destroy the middle class once and for all. Over the coming months, Americans will learn much more about how their nation, and well-being, is being threatened by the Kochs and their legislative arm the Republican Party, and this column will attempt to warn Americans how their existence is being threatened. Obviously the Kochs are confident their 2014 crusade will be successful and once they achieve their goal in Republican-controlled states, they will focus their full attention and substantial resources to the national level to transform America into their John Birch vision of a “free people and a free society” existing at the mercy of a few wealthy fascists.
Corporate Bull and Bullying Has States Spending Billions of Taxpayer-Incentive Dollars
By: Dennis S
Saturday, December, 7th, 2013, 4:57 pm
Yep, you can take the boy out of the country (in my case Custer County), but you can’t take the country out of the boy. I come proudly from farm stock though I’ve spent most of my adult life residing in such major metropolitan areas as New York (Queens), Los Angeles, Chicago (17th floor on LSD between Erie and Ontario, with decadent Treasure Island Foods in-house), Detroit and Philadelphia (Bala Cynwyd, with a special howdy to Bryn Mawr).
That snooty urbanization certainly doesn’t keep me from enjoying, via cable, one of the most down to earth undertakings in all the land; bull riding. After the life insurance is paid up, give me a full skipped bull rope with a couple of slide keepers and a 5 musky tail, throw in special spurs with nasty rowels and tell the hand to pull open that gate. I’m ready to give up my well being to a beast whose one goal in life is to throw me off its back and stomp and gore my pitiful frame into little broken pieces.
Excuse my flight of semi-retirement fancy. I’m not really ready to ride bulls and I never again will be, though, when a callow youth, I did give some of the younger stock a try. It didn’t take more than a handful of 2 or 3 second dirt journeys (never the full 8 second pro requirement) to deed my imaginary bull riding exploits to the truly great and courageous practitioners like current Professional Bull Rider (PBR) champ, J.B. Mauney, a 26-year-old Moorseville, North Carolina cowboy, who unseated (pardon the pun) the world’s top bull rider, and two-time defending champion, Silvano Alves. And don’t forget the Rodeo Clowns, who, with little credit, save more lives per year than almost any other professionals.
I’ve taken this circuitous route as an introduction to a ‘sport’ that resembles the excitement and dangers of bull riding. I call it Corporate Bull-S**t riding. The bulls are huge corporations. The riders are naive, greedy and desperate states that jump aboard for the riotous few seconds of a promise to locate in their state. Like their human counterparts, most of the states will eventually end up being tossed painfully aside with the same degree of conscience that a bull possesses. In a word; zero. And while I feel distressed for the pain and suffering of the valiant cowboy riders, my sympathy for the states involved barely registers.
The latest bull(censored) corporation is a grizzled veteran of the BS’ing game, good old Boeing. Countless states are falling all over themselves to give away taxpayer money, approaching and often exceeding a billion dollars (one offer is 9 billion), to a hugely wealthy airplane builder with a dollar backlog of orders exceeding the economies of many small countries. But that doesn’t stop Boeing from hustling masochistic states for every tax break, incentive and infrastructure tidbit they can get for the glory of putting together something called 777X. These same states are unable to dig up even a few hundred bucks a month for minorities, the poor, disabled, sick, elderly and all others who don’t have the ‘right’ political connections.
States that purportedly can’t even expand a Medicaid program that is currently free and the expansion, at most, will never cost more than 10% of the nut, suddenly have an enormous warehouse full of greenbacks totaling whatever amount is necessary to lure yet another giant, anti-union, low-wage, multi-billion dollar mooch across their borders.
Our local paper, in response to FedEx establishing a distribution center in our county, blared out the front-page headline “Delivering Jobs.” FedEx joins Amazon and their giant local center. You know the Amazon drill: Get the box, fill the box, carry the box, walk 10-15 miles daily, stick the full box somewhere; repeat. And they call these, “fulfillment centers.” Yippee ki yay!!!
Fedex is bringing in a grand total of 22 full-time jobs and 219 part-time jobs. Of course, part-time is the latest scam to keep corporate job costs at a minimum. So the consumer benefits from those lower costs, right? Ironically, in a separate financial page story a day later (teeny tiny article; buried deep in the wood pulp with but a few lines), we learn that Fed Ex plans to raise ground and Home Delivery rates by an average of 4.9% come January 7, of 2014. UPS,jacks ‘em up December 31st of this year. That’s for openers; the heavier the package over 30 lbs, the higher the rate. Read more about the rates here. All of this while the politician-benefactors of the FedEx and UPS PACs continue their dismantling and weakening of the United States Postal Service.
The free market working it’s magic.
Back to “a fine a day keeps pulling time in the joint away” Boeing. The nation’s largest aircraft manufacturer continues its Hatfields and McCoys relationship with its Machinists’ Union (the nerve of these union bastards not wanting Boeing to renege on its pension promises). Instead, Boeing wants a defined contribution plan. No guarantees for the employee, just a guarantee that investment companies can get their hooks into workers money and maybe lose it all.
The free market working it’s magic.
Miffed, Boeing is again fleeing union worker expertise, dangling the next generation of the 777 Jetliner in front of the mostly ‘right to work’ states for the privilege of assembling the new 777X, or at least some segment of parts contracts.
Alabama is a dirt-poor state except when it comes to giving corporations whatever they ask for. Last year, ‘Bama started construction on a facility for Boeing rival, Airbus, with tax breaks of $158 million for bond expenses plus free infrastructure improvements and something euphemistically called “building costs.” Does that means taxpayers are going to pick up a substantial portion of the estimated $600 million tab for the assembly plant in Mobile? The state is estimated to gain $409 million annually. Those dollars, if even remotely accurate, can go to incentives for yet another corporation..
Property tax revenues will increase by $126,000, a pittance for a project of this magnitude. I also wonder if fed-hater Alamaba, realizes how much these major aircraft manufacturers rely on orders from THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT!!! In fact, the Mobile Airbus facility would have been a fait accompli years earlier had it not been for Boeing winning a huge government tanker contract.
In any event, Washington (a glutton for punishment), Kansas, Texas, North and South Carolina, Utah, Missouri, where the progressive Democratic Governor Jay Nixon, in approving substantial Boeing tax breaks, reluctantly bows to a witless bunch of Republican super-majority, super-radicals in the General Assembly, and yes, there’s Airbus Alabama, in the Boeing mix as well.
The best selling point of all is voiced almost universally by the individual state power-players, “Don’t worry about how you treat your workers. We’ll see to it that no unions will look out for their financial interests, safety, hours, overtime, supervisor maltreatment, maternity leave, pensions, reasonable and effective health insurance or humane breaks. You’ll make billions and, by the way, that dinner last night was delicious and I think our son is leaning toward Yale!”
Will your state be next to mount the corporate bull(y)? One second, two seconds, three seconds…!
Another Obamacare Success: More People Sign Up In 2 Days Than Signed Up In October
By: Jason Easley
Saturday, December, 7th, 2013, 10:05 pm
Here’s some more ACA good news. More people signed up for the ACA in two days this week than were able to sign up during the entire month of October.
CNN reported that a source familiar with the ACA enrollment numbers said, “The data is still being scrubbed but looks like we will be 29,000 for enrollment in federal exchange for the first two days since the site improvement deadline at the end of November (midnight Sunday to midnight Monday),” the source said, noting the number reflects people who have successfully selected a plan, but that haven’t yet paid for it.”
The 29,000 people that enrolled over two days this week were 2,000 more than the total that signed up in October. Over the course of a 31 day month, this projects to 884,500 enrollees, and as the deadline approaches the enrollment pace will quicken.
These numbers reveal that there will be millions of people signed up for the ACA very soon. This is why some Republicans are looking at these numbers and backing away from their position that the law must be repealed. The tide is turning, repealing the ACA is becoming a very unpopular position outside of the GOP. However, Republicans who are up for reelection next year continue to beat the drum of repeal, as a get out the Republican vote effort for 2014.
President Obama was right. The media and the Republican Party were wrong. John Boehner can keep mumbling into the microphone that Obamacare is a trainwreck, but the numbers don’t lie. Ted Cruz claims that Obamacare is hurting the American people, but he can’t explain why if this is the case, people are flocking to sign up.
Obamacare is being defused as a campaign issue by the American people. Republicans are determined to run against the ACA in both 2014 and 2016, but that’s looking more and more like a doomed strategy. Instead of creating jobs, or doing anything to help the American people, Republicans have wasted years trying to repeal a law that is poised to help tens of millions of Americans.
It turns out the law that the media claimed would destroy Obama is taking down the Republican Party.