Article 43

 

Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Supreme Coup

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Despite 234 years of progress toward the American ideal of equality for all, we still have to battle unfairness.

By Jim Hightower
Creators Syndicate
January 30, 2010

How happy, then, to learn that a handful of our leaders in Washington took bold and forceful action last week to lift another group of downtrodden Americans from the pits of injustice, helping them gain more political and governmental power. I refer, of course, to corporations.

Say what? Corporations should get more power over our elected officials?

“Free the corporate money,” cried the movement’s leaders, demanding that America sever the few legal restraints that remain on corporate efforts to buy our elections. “Si, se puede,” chanted these assertive champions of corporate supremacy “Yes, we can!”

So, they did. “They” being the five doctrinaire corporatists who now form the majority on the U.S. Supreme Court. Let’s remember their names: Sam Alito, Anthony Kennedy, John Roberts, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas. These five men, on their own whim, have executed a black-robed coup against the American people’s democratic authority.

They took an obscure case involving a minor violation of election funding law and turned it into a constitutional upheaval. Rushing their handpicked case through the system, they issued a 5-4 decision on Jan. 21 that overturns a century of settled American law and more than two centuries of deep agreement in our Land of the Free that the narrow interests of corporations must be subjugated to the public interest.

Indeed, the founders of our Republic saw corporate power as an inherently selfish and perpetual danger to democracy, and most leaders of that day believed that corporate entities should have no role whatsoever in politics. Thomas Jefferson bluntly declared in 1816 that the country must “crush in its birth the aristocracy of our moneyed corporations.”

The Alito-Kennedy-Roberts-Scalia-Thomas cabal, however, has unceremoniously dumped the wisdom of the founders, along with volumes of American judicial precedent, to assert that poor little corporations today are victims of political “censorship” by Congress, states and cities that have outlawed the use of corporate funds in elections.

Such restrictions, ruled the five usurpers, violate the “free speech rights” of corporations, putting corporate interests at a disadvantage with other political interests.

Disadvantage? This would be hilarious, were it not so dangerous. No other group in American has anywhere near the voice and raw political power that corporations exert every day. Campaign donations from individual corporate executives (and from their PACs, 527s, front groups and other channels) total hundreds of millions of dollars each election year, effectively shouting down the voices of ordinary folks (the Wall Street bailout being but one sterling example).

Yet the Court has just handed these political powerhouses their wildest dream: access to the multi- trillion- dollar ocean of funds held within the corporate entities themselves. Every business empire ח from Wall Street to Wal-Mart, Exxon Mobil to the China Overseas Shipping Company (yes, the five wise guys even waved foreign corporations into our political funfest) can now open the spigots of their vast corporate treasuries and send a raging torrent of their special interest cash into any and all of our national, state and local elections.

Two legal perversions are at work here. First, the Court has equated the freedom to spend money with the freedom of speech. But if money is speech, those with the most money get the most speech. That’s plutocracy, not democracy, and it’s totally alien to our Constitution, as well as a gross distortion of the crucial principle of one person-one vote.

Second, a corporation literally cannot speak. It has no lips, tongue, breath or brain. Far from being a “person,” a corporation is nothing but a piece of paper ח a legal construct created by the state as a mechanism for its owners to make money.

Actual people in the mechanism (shareholders, executives, workers, retirees, lenders, et al.) can and do speak politically in many diverse voices that express very different viewpoints. But the corporate entity, which the court cabal is trying to turn into a Frankenstein monster, is inanimate, incapable of thought, inherently mute and, in itself, no more deserving of human rights than a trash can would be.

To find out more about Jim Hightower, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the CREATORS SYNDICATE

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Posted by Elvis on 01/31/10 •
Section Dying America
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Saturday, January 23, 2010

The Mother of All Privacy Battles Part 18 - Economics

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The conservative case for Net neutrality

By Bill Snyder
Info World
January 21, 1010

Hey there, conservatives: NET NEUTRALITY is your ISSUE, too.

Innovation, economic growth, and the health of content providers are what’s at stake as the FCC MOVES TOWARDS A NEW SET OF RULES governing the Internet. Until now, much of the discussion about the future of the Internet has focused on issues like freedom of expression, fairness, and metered pricing—real concerns, to be sure. But a pair of academic research papers circulated by the Open Internet Coalition puts the issue in economic perspective.

Here’s the core of the argument, in a PAPER by Inimai M. Chettiar and J. Scott Holladay of New York University’s Institute for Policy Integrity:

Without Net neutrality rules, new technologies could lead to pricing practices that transfer wealth from content providers to ISPs, a form of price discrimination that would reduce the return on investment for Internet content—meaning Web site owners, bloggers, newspapers, and businesses would have less incentive to expand their sites and applications.

What’s more, developers and IT as a whole will be hurt if providers are allowed to discriminate against particular applications that might make money for someone else.

The Net neutrality issue is sometimes framed by the usual left/right split in American public life. But I’d argue that conservatives who believe in a free market should join libertarians—and, yes, liberals—in the fight for an open Net.

What a neutral Internet really means

Here’s how the Internet works today: “Last-mile facilities-based broadband Internet access service providers provide users with access to the Internet, but they are expected to route all traffic in a nondiscriminatory manner. They do not charge Internet content or application providers to reach users, and they are expected to route traffic without regard to what that traffic contains, who it is from, or where it is going,” writes Christiaan Hogendorn, a Wesleyan University economist.

To date, those principles have worked really well. The Internet has for years arguably been the most efficient engine of economic growth and job creation in the American economy. But it won’t function nearly as well if the market is rigged by ISPs.

The argument about Net neutrality has been clouded by understandable confusion about what it really means—and what it doesn’t mean.

Many people think the issue has to do with METERED broadband access—that is, paying for data access by the gigabyte instead of a flat monthly rate. That’s something that many of us might object to, but for better or worse, it’s a choice the carriers may well make. The truth is, the issue of METERING HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH NEUTRALITY. And frankly, the market will decide if metered pricing is a viable idea.

The real issues are more subtle. Without Net neutrality, say the researchers, “ISPs could charge content providers again when users access content. Adding these fees would increase the costs of creating Web sites and applications.”

Providers don’t talk about that directly. Instead they talk about “fast lanes” to the Internet. After all, why shouldn’t a company that wants its customers to have faster access pay more? Well, this argument sounds reasonable at first, but think about the implications: If there’s a fast lane, there has to be a slow lane. And companies stuck in that slow lane—likely to include competitors to the providers and to the providers’ business partners—are going to lose business.

Should ISPs decide which technologies will prosper?

The second key issue is about the right of users to access applications of their choosing, and the right of developers to compete on an open playing field. Or as FCC chairman Julius Genachowski said as the commission discussed the issue this week: “Specifically, this proceeding is about preserving consumers’ freedom to access lawful content and applications of their choosing over the Internet; produce and distribute content; and innovate without permission to create new businesses, services, and opportunities that no one has dreamed of yet.”

The providers deliberately obfuscate the issue, by talking about “bandwidth hogs” who download too much video and play too many online games. Why shouldn’t they charge video or game providers extra, since their users are clogging up the pipes?

Again, that issue can be solved by metered pricing. But once the principle has been established that an ISP can discriminate (in the economic sense) against a particular application or technology, the market isn’t free to pick winning technologies.

There’s no telling where the next best idea will come from. It could well be a small company we’ve never heard of, but if those innovators face a discriminatory pricing wall, their ideas will never get off the ground.

The ISPs argue that additional revenue raised by new pricing schemes would allow them to spend more on badly needed infrastructure. Don’t believe it. “Most additional revenue generated for ISPs is likely to be transferred to their shareholders rather than invested in expanding broadband lines,” say the NYU researchers.

I want to close this by appealing to conservatives: If you believe in the free market and the ability of the Internet to drive innovation and create jobs and real economic growth, tell the FCC that you support Net neutrality.

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Posted by Elvis on 01/23/10 •
Section Privacy And Rights • Section Broadband Privacy
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Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Hiding From Google

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GOOGLE SHARING is a special kind of anonymizing proxy service, designed for a very specific threat. It ultimately aims to provide a level of anonymity that will prevent google from tracking your searches, movements, and what websites you visit. GoogleSharing is not a full proxy service designed to anonymize all your traffic, but rather something designed exclusively for your communication with Google. Our system is totally transparent, with no special “alternative” websites to visit. Your normal work flow should be exactly the same.

The Basic Problem

Google thrives where PRIVACY does not. If you’re like most internet users, GOOGLE KNOWS MORE ABOUT YOU than you might be comfortable with. Whether you were logged in to a Google account or not, they know everything you’ve ever searched for, what search results you clicked on, what news you read, and every place you’ve ever gotten directions to. Most of the time, thanks to things like Google Analytics, they even know which websites you visited that you didn’t reach through Google. If you use Gmail, they know the content of every email you’ve ever sent or received, whether you’ve deleted it or not.

They know who your friends are, where you live, where you work, and where you spend your free time. They know about your health, your love life, and your political leanings. These days they are even branching out into collecting your realtime GPS location and your DNS lookups. In short, not only do they know a lot about what you’re doing, they also have significant insight into what you’re thinking.

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Posted by Elvis on 01/20/10 •
Section Privacy And Rights • Section Broadband Privacy
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Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Mother of All Privacy Battles Part 17 - RIAA, MPAA, and Net Neutrality

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Entertainment Industry Explains How True Net Neutrality Is Just Another Word For Theft

By
Tech Dirt
January 18, 2010

With comments due last week on the FCC’s proposed new net neutrality rules, we’ve already covered SOME of the filings, while noting the problems of CARVING OUT a special exemption for copyright. But, of course, that special exemption for copyright means everything to an entertainment industry that has no interest in adapting its business models. Both the RIAA and MPAA filed their own comments, which were pretty similar, and equally misleading. The RIAA’S FILING repeatedly referred to copyright infringement as “theft” (you would think lawyers would know the difference) and insisted not just that there should be a copyright exemption, but that the FCC itself should require ISPs to act as copyright cops. The MPAA’S FILING is almost a carbon copy of the RIAA’s. There is very little difference between the two.

But if you want to see an even more extreme argument, check out the FILING from the Songwriters Guild of America (SGA), who we’d already pointed out was running around aimlessly SCREAMING that network neutrality would mean more unauthorized file sharing (they call it “piracy"). In the SGA’s filing, they claim that net neutrality wouldn’t solve any actual problem, and the real problem is the inability of songwriters to get paid in the way they used to, back in the idyllic days before the internet existed. So they’d much rather that the FCC break the internet in order to bring back those days. That’s a bit of a paraphrase, but it’s really not that far off.

The language used by the SGA goes even beyond that of the others, referring to things like “rampant looting” and insisting that with net neutrality we would face the end of songwriting. Seriously. While the SGA claims that it wants to promote new innovation and technology, it appears to only mean technology that can be used to block file sharing. It’s very excited about those technologies, and not at all concerned about all the technologies (even the ones used by lots of folks every day) that would be broken without a neutral internet.

Not that any of these filings are all that surprising, but it does show how low the entertainment industry has decided to stoop in trying to get others to bring back old business models, rather than adapt to the changing times.

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Posted by Elvis on 01/19/10 •
Section Privacy And Rights • Section Broadband Privacy
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Monday, January 18, 2010

The Poor State Of California

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Schwarzenegger budget ax would fall heavily on poor

Reuters
January 18, 2010

The latest budget plan from California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger would force 200,000 children off low-cost medical insurance, end in-home care for 350,000 infirm and elderly citizens and slash income assistance to hundreds of thousands more.

And that’s the best-case scenario under Schwarzenegger’s prescription for filling the state’s $19.9 billion deficit.

Refusing to consider broad TAX hikes, he is relying mostly on $8.5 billion in reduced expenditures including drastic cuts to health and social spending that has long made CALIFORNIA one of the leading U.S. states in providing help to the needy.

Schwarzenegger also is counting on the US GOVERNMENT contributing nearly $7 billion that he says is due CALIFORNIA because of various federal mandates.

If federal money fails to materialize, the governor’s plan would trigger deeper cuts that would dismantle entire programs, including the state’s welfare-to-work system, CalWorks.

Enactment of the Republican governor’s proposal, with or without Washington’s cooperation, is far from certain given that leaders of the Democratic-controlled state legislature immediately rebuffed it as too harsh.

Even representatives of Schwarzenegger’s own government acknowledged the drastic scope of his proposed cuts, which the governor himself described as “draconian.”

“They are major reductions in health and human services in California, whether we get the federal funds or not,” said Amy Palmer, spokeswoman for the state agency overseeing many of the programs hardest hit. “If we don’t get the federal funds, the reductions ... are devastating.”

Critics say many such cuts ultimately would cost the state more money than they save, as when elderly patients forced out of adult day-care facilities end up in nursing homes.

HOLES IN THE SAFETY NET

“You’re blowing entire holes in the SAFETY NET,” said Kelly Brooks, an analyst for the California State Association of Counties, which lobbies on behalf of county governments that stand to bear much of the added burden from such cuts.

No one understands better than Anthony Arias, 25, who sought assistance from CalWorks in 2008 after he was laid off from his warehouse job in the midst of the recession.

UNABLE TO FIND STEADY WORK, and sharing custody of his 3-year-old son, Arias had to drop out of community college east of Los Angeles as he slipped into a financial tailspin.

“It was getting bad to the point where there were days when I didn’t have food,” he recalled.

But with a monthly CalWorks check that helps pay his rent, and state-subsidized child support, Arias has since managed to complete training to become a barber—a more gainful vocation with flexible hours that will enable him to return to school to earn a degree as a paralegal assistant.

“There’s no way I would have been able to survive without the help of CalWorks,” he said.

Arias is just one of 1.3 million CalWorks beneficiaries—most of them children—who will see their monthly assistance checks cut by 16 percent under Schwarzenegger’s proposal, even if federal dollars sought by the governor arrive.

His plan also would immediately reduce CalWorks child-care payments and kick some 24,000 legal immigrants off the rolls.

Without extra federal money, CalWorks would be eliminated altogether, leaving California the only U.S. state no longer a part of transforming the nation’s welfare system into a program aimed at moving POOR, jobless Americans into full employment.

Others programs on the chopping block include transitional housing for foster youth; low-cost Healthy Families medical insurance for needy children, the Medi-Cal healthcare plan for the poor, and a network of subsidized in-home care for the elderly and disabled.

At least 200,000 children are slated to lose eligibility for Healthy Families, with that number growing to 900,000 if the program is gutted entirely.

Nearly 90 percent of the 400,000 recipients of In-Home Support Services stand to lose care under Schwarzenegger’s best-case scenario, and state reimbursements to providers of those who remain would be slashed to minimum-wage levels. Otherwise, the program would be abolished, throwing 350,000 caregivers out of work.

For Medi-Cal, Schwarzenegger has proposed clamping new limits on health services while raising premiums and patient co-pays if he gets the extra federal money he wants. Medi-Cal for legal immigrants in the country less than five years would be eliminated, unless they were pregnant.

If additional federal funds fail to arrive, some 450,000 Medi-Cal recipients would be stripped of eligibility and most optional adult benefits, such as reimbursements for hearing aids and other medical equipment, would be scrapped.

THE NEXT DEPRESSION PART 40 - STATES IN STRESS

Posted by Elvis on 01/18/10 •
Section Dying America
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