"In a time of universal deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act." -George Orwell

Posts Tagged ‘Corporate Lobbying’

“The Super Bowl Of Disasters”: Disaster Capitalists Profiting From Crisis In Post-Earthquake Haiti

In Uncategorized on February 24, 2012 at 3:27 pm

US taxpayers are underwriting sweatshop expansion in Haiti. Here, textile workers protest for better rights and working conditions. Photo: Ansel Herz.

Oldspeak:”Many a corporation, lobbyist, and consultant has seen Haiti’s losses as their gain, leveraging humanitarianism for profit. Plenty of the $1.1 billion in disaster aid has gone not to desperate Haitians but to inside-the-Beltway contractors. Often the very same corporations have wrested financial and political gain from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the countries hit by the 2004 tsunami in the Indian Ocean, the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans after the ensuing flood of 2005, and lots of other places.” Disaster capitalism is being practiced all around the world. Review the 4 steps of the Disaster Capitalism and Cycle and consider the implications.  Haiti is at step 2.  The United States is at step 3.

The Disaster Capitalism Cycle

1. The shock of war, torture, disaster, or political upheaval distracts or deconstructs the popular identity, precluding or minimizing protest against free market reform and privatisation, which are usually unwanted by the masses.

2. First World interests, multinational capitalist firms, and a cooperative and corrupt elite benefit the most from these changes, while for the general population wages drop, the cost of living increases, and social services like welfare and healthcare decrease.

3. The privatisation of important sectors, from mining to healthcare to homeland security, takes away citizen power and control over policy making in these areas, as the government limits its own power through the free market legislation and de-regulation. It becomes difficult to undo these reforms.

4. A feedback loop of international scale emerges, the wealthy and powerful becoming more so. Certain sectors and private hands have an interest in maintaining instability, as they learn to profit more and more from war and disaster – as the cycle returns to step 1.

By Deepa Panchang, Beverly Bell and Tory Field, Other Worlds Are Possible:

As Americans were gearing up for last week’s Super Bowl championship, Haiti’s president Michel Martelly was on a plane to the World Economic Forum to recruit players interested in what one businessman dubbed “the Super Bowl of Disasters” – Haiti’s devastating 2010 earthquake.[1] The Irish-owned cell phone company Digicel footed his trip there, and hosted a regional business tour complete with a gala ball before his return to a country still reeling from crisis conditions in housing, jobs, and basic rights.[2]

Haiti’s status as prime-time jostling space for prospective investors is not new. Many a corporation, lobbyist, and consultant has seen Haiti’s losses as their gain, leveraging humanitarianism for profit. Plenty of the $1.1 billion in disaster aid has gone not to desperate Haitians but to inside-the-Beltway contractors. Often the very same corporations have wrested financial and political gain from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the countries hit by the 2004 tsunami in the Indian Ocean, the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans after the ensuing flood of 2005, and lots of other places. The same deals have been cut over Haiti in the past, too, particularly during periods of political instability.

The earthquake has provided a fresh wave of opportunity. In the first year after the earthquake, the US government awarded more than 1,500 contracts worth $267 million. All went to US firms except 20, worth $4.3 million, which went to Haitian businesses.[3] Among the American corporations that received contracts, we’ve seen everything: many millions going to companies that had had previous contracts cancelled for bad practices, that had paid out as much as eight-figure settlements for violence happening under their watch, that had been investigated by Congress for gaming the system, or that had been the subject of federal reports accusing wastage of funds.[4] We’ve seen corporate executives and members of Congress going through a revolving door and leveraging both sides for contracts. We’ve seen public funds given without any competition or transparency, quite a few to friends of the Clintons and other well-placed insiders.

Local labor and production, which are critical elements in economic recovery, have been trumped for American business profits. According to federal procurement data, among contracts which provide products (as opposed to services), 77% were for products manufactured in the US. They don’t list which, if any, of the remaining 23% involve any Haitian materials or labor.[5]

Two months after the earthquake, companies gathered in a luxury hotel in Miami for a “Haiti Summit” to discuss post-earthquake contracting possibilities. The meeting was sponsored by the International Peace Operations Association (IPOA), but these were no peaceniks. Their members are predominantly private mercenary companies that enforce ‘security’ in war and disaster zones for the US government because, unlike elected entities, they can completely avoid public scrutiny and accountability. They included such companies as Triple Canopy, which took over Blackwater’s contract in Iraq.[6] One of the corporate representatives at the Summit described the outlook: “Their infrastructure is pretty much destroyed, communications are destroyed, there’s a lot of opportunities there for companies, particularly US countries [sic] because of the close proximity.”[7] The Summit was apparently worthwhile, as US government paid out more than $10 million to the industry for “guard services,” and almost $20,000 for riot shields and suits.[8]

Below are a few examples of post-earthquake contracts and grants, selected to show just some of the problems at play. They offer a small glimpse into a much larger, secretive world of disaster deals. We’re grateful to our investigative journalist colleagues who, alongside us, have kept heavy on the scent of these corporations and brought buried information to light.

^^^^^^

“American corporations and their stakeholders must understand how helping Haiti over the long term also helps them,” said the non-profit CHF International in its March 2010 board report. “By contributing to Haiti’s reconstruction in a lasting, meaningful way, companies will be helping to build a new, more vibrant Caribbean market for their own goods and services.”[9]

CHF’s involvement demonstrates how even non-profits can drive development that props up American business interests on the backs of poor Haitians. What CHF refers to as “helping Haiti” has meant using US tax dollars to underwrite textile sweatshops, making it easier and more profitable to score the cheapest source of labor in the hemisphere. In 2006, USAID gave CHF a $104 million, 4-year contract to help “existing industries to increase their capacity, efficiency and reach new markets,” primarily through the export textile industry. The money subsidized CHF’s creation of infrastructure such as roads around industrial areas and training of factory workers on skills such as “how to work in a formal work environment.”[10] Bolstered by additional USAID funding, this project continued after the earthquake.

CHF’s post-earthquake USAID contract, for $20.9 million, went to clean-up projects, including cash-for-work.[11] Cash-for-work meant camp residents engaging in hired-hand projects such as digging drainage ditches and clearing debris, for a period of a few weeks. The scheme has come under fire by camp residents and human rights groups, with even a USAID evaluation raising some serious critiques.[12] The jobs are unpredictable, workers have said, and while the short duration can palliate personal crisis for the moment, the program quickly returns the worker’s family to its desperate state. Those hired are paid officially at the unlivable minimum daily wage of 200 gourdes, or US$5, though unofficially they often earn less. A Haiti Grassroots Watch exposé found, furthermore, that cash-for-work hiring is often based on corruption, with many workers having to pay a ‘kickback,’ negotiate sex (in the case of women) for a job, or affiliate with political parties or candidates.[13] USAID also noted that cash-for-work programs it funded increased risks of “serious and avoidable” accidents on the job “by failing to develop and enforce consistent workplace safety rules and accident procedures.”[14]

CHF’s projects, based on factory jobs and cash-for-work, have given neither livable incomes to employees nor offered development opportunities to the nation. Meanwhile, CHF has gained humanitarian clout and an influx of funding, and its garment industry partners sit happily with the perks.

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Using tried-and-true strategies of political manipulation, some corporations have been able to edge their way into post-earthquake contracts despite histories of fraud and corruption.

AshBritt Environmental, for instance, has a record of disaster response elsewhere that spells trouble for Haiti. The company had received $900 million in contracts for Hurricane Katrina clean-up, after hiring lobbyists formerly involved in state government.[15] An MSNBC investigation later brought to light complaints by local contractors, a mayor, and local legislators that the company’s work was too slow, that it overcharged, and that it was not hiring local contractors.[16] The extent of “layer cake” contracting was so extreme that in one case, AshBritt was paid $23 per cubic yard of debris removed but subcontracted through three middleman companies so that the company that actually removed the rubble received $3 per cubic yard.[17]) Even a 2006 federal report accused the company of wasting money in this subcontractor layering after Katrina.[18]

Given its experience, AshBritt wasted no time unleashing its skills in lobbying and political pressure to get in on the Haiti game. Early in 2010, the company paid $90,000 to a lobbying firm to pressure the government for Haiti contracts, according to disclosure records described in the press.[19] In a prime instance of revolving door between public and private sectors, one of the lobbyists working on the case was the former chief of staff for Senator John Kerry.[20] Kerry, in turn, was the senator who co-sponsored the legislation for Haiti relief funding.

With influential people circulating between the givers and receivers of funds, AshBritt was confident enough about future contracts that it spent an initial $25 million setting up for anticipated operations in Haiti with a soccer field-sized base camp and services to house future project managers.[21] In July 2010, AshBritt won a $500,000 US government contract for debris removal, the first of what the company anticipated would be many contracts to come their way.[22] Continuing the revolving door trend, another lobbyist for the firm was the former USAID Mission Director in Iraq, Lewis Lucke, who was paid $30,000 per month to help win contracts via a partnership venture AshBritt set up.[23] Lucke claimed he “played an integral role” in obtaining three contracts for the company, including $10 million from the World Bank and about $10 million more from the Haitian government (one of the first major government contracts for debris removal).[24] As of this writing, not even the company’s website contains an update on what work it has or has not completed in Haiti.

^^^^^^

Like AshBritt, CH2M Hill, a large engineering and construction firm, should have raised warning signals as a company to be hired on the taxpayer dollar. A government database that monitors federal contracts reveals a track record of corruption, listing nine instances of misconduct for the company since 1995.[25] In one case, the company was paid $4.1 million for a contract in Iraq though no work was actually completed. [26] On the Gulf Coast, a US government investigation of $45 million paid to CH2M and the three other companies in no-bid contracts for Katrina response was declared wasteful spending. [27] CH2M was also accused in a congressional investigation in 1992 of misusing money during its cleanup of toxic waste sites in the U.S. More than two million dollars of this contract were allegedly used for “unallowable and questionable costs,” such as $11,379 for a Christmas party and $2750 for specialty chocolates.[28] The company is listed in the top 50 of U.S.-based contractors and has been a major player in wartime contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan.[29]

The track record was nothing that some strategic lobbying efforts couldn’t mitigate, however. The lobbyist who headed up CH2M Hill’s efforts to win contracts in Haiti was Larry LaRocco, a former congressman from Idaho who now runs his own lobbying firm.[30] And unsurprisingly, the company spent half a million dollars in political contributions in 2010. [31] Thus equipped with politicians in its pocket, CH2M was well-positioned to compete in the latest contract game. It received its first post-earthquake contract just days after the disaster, and was given a joint contract with KBR Global Service (itself notorious due to its Iraq and Afghanistan activities) for facilities operations support at the end of 2010.[32]

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In the case of a few other contracts that we know to be operating in Haiti, we’ve spent hour after hour on the scent. We’ve scoured internet resources, news articles, and company websites to track companies we know received post-earthquake contracts in Haiti. Nothing. Not even a mention, sometimes, in the 100-plus-page 2010 annual reports.

What we have been unable to uncover is at least as alarming as what we have learned about some of the firms receiving millions from the US government, and what they have done with those millions. We wonder whether the US government has had any more knowledge or oversight of the corporate actions than have the corporation’s investors. As for the American people, they have no way to know how their money has been spent or what has been done in their names. The lack of transparency has also given a green light to profiteers to neglect standards, quality, and honesty.

There is one group for whom the secrecy, foul play, taking of power that should never be taken, giving away of what should never be given away, matters most of all: Haitians, the ones whose country is being treated like a Monopoly game. They alone will have to live with the long-term outcome of what foreign companies build, demolish, restructure, or steal in their country.

Copyleft Other Worlds. You may reprint this article in whole or in part.  Please credit any text or original research you use to Deepa Panchang, Beverly Bell, and Tory Field, Other Worlds.


[1] Mike Clary, “Broward Rivals Battle for Work in Post-Quake Haiti,” Sun-Sentinel.com, July 14, 2010.
[2] Paul Cullen, “Attracting trade now focus for Haiti’s president,” The Irish Times, http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/world/2012/0130/1224310943929.html
[3] Alex Dupuy, “One Year after the Earthquake, Foreign Help is Actually Hurting Haiti,” Washington Post, January 7, 2011.
[4] Emma Perez-Trevino, “Beating Death Lawsuit Ends in Settlement,” The Brownsville Herald online, January 7, 2010, http://www.brownsvilleherald.com/articles/rosa-107144-settlement-beating…. Martha Brannigan and Jacqueline Charles, “U.S. Firms Want Part in Haiti Cleanup,” Miami Herald, February 9, 2010.
[5] “Haiti Earthquake Report,” Federal Procurement Data System, data updated as of 9/15/2011, https://www.fpds.gov/downloads/top_requests/Haiti_Earthquake_Report.xls.
[6] See, for example, Jeremy Scahill, Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army (New York: Nation Books, 2007); Naomi Klein, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism (New York: Picador, 2007); Jeremy Scahill, “US Mercenaries Set Sights on Haiti,” TheNation.com, February 1, 2010; and Anthony Fenton, “Private Contractors ‘Like Vultures Coming to Grab the Loot,” IPSNews.net, February 19, 2010.
[7] “Al Jazeera Reports on the Haiti ‘Summit’ for Private Contractors,” YouTube video, 3:32, Al Jazeera reporting, posted by “WebofDem,” May 6, 2010, http://youtu.be/kkNCdy0GXyc.
[8] “Haiti Earthquake Report,” Federal Procurement Data System, data updated as of 9/15/2011, https://www.fpds.gov/downloads/top_requests/Haiti_Earthquake_Report.xls.
[9] Jane Madden, “Corporations Must Consider Haiti’s Long Term Needs,” Philanthropy News Digest online, March 10, 2010, http://foundationcenter.org/pnd/commentary/co_item.jhtml?id=287300002.
[10] “New USAID-Funded Haiti Apparel Center to Provide Training to Thousands of Haitians in the Garment Industry,” press release by USAID, August 11, 2010, http://www.usaid.gov/press/releases/2010/pr100811_1.html.
[11] USAID, Haiti Earthquake: Fact Sheet #48, April 2, 2010,
http://www.usaid.gov/our_work/humanitarian_assistance/disaster_assistance/countries/haiti/template/fs_sr/fy2010/haiti_eq_fs48_04-02-2010.pdf.
[12]Center for Economic and Policy Research, “USAID/OTI’s Politicized, Problematic, Cash-for-Work Programs,” December 21, 2010, http://www.cepr.net/index.php/blogs/cepr-blog/usaidotis-politicized-problematic-cash-for-work-programs; Antèn Ouvriye, Submission to the United Nations Universal Periodic Review: Labor Rights (Transnational Legal Clinic, University of Pennsylvania Law School, 2011), http://ijdh.org/archives/17948; and Office of Inspector General, Audit of USAID’s Cash-for-Work Activities in Haiti (San Salvador: September 24, 2010), http://www.usaid.gov/oig/public/fy10rpts/1-521-10-009-p.pdf.
[13] Haiti Grassroots Watch, “Is Cash-for-work Working?”, http://www.ayitikaleje.org/Dossier2Story2. Haiti Grassroots Watch, “Cash for Work – At What Cost,” http://www.ayitikaleje.org/haiti-grassroots-watch-engli/2011/7/18/cash-for-work-at-what-cost.html.
[14] Office of Inspector General, Audit of USAID’s Cash-for-Work Activities in Haiti, September 24, 2010, http://www.usaid.gov/oig/public/fy10rpts/1-521-10-009-p.pdf.
[15] Jordon Flaherty, “One year after Haiti earthquake, corporations profit while people suffer,” Monthly Review Magazine, January 12, 2010. “It’s who you know,” CorpWatch, August 16th, 2006, http://www.corpwatch.org/article.php?id=14008
[16] Mike Brunker, “Dust flies over Katrina’s debris,” MSNBC, January 29, 20006, http://risingfromruin.msnbc.com/2006/01/fighting_over_t.html
[17] Rita King, “Layers and Layers,” CorpWatch, August 16, 2006, http://www.corpwatch.org/article.php?id=14011.
[18] Martha Brannigan and Jacqueline Charles, “U.S. Firms Want Part in Haiti Cleanup,” Miami Herald, February 9, 2010.
[19] Kevin Bogardus, “Haiti’s recovery aided by U.S. lobbyists,” The Hill, October 11, 2010.
[20] Ibid.
[21] Ben Fox, “Masters of disaster: Foreign firms set up shop in Haiti and wait for construction boom,” Associated Press, June 7, 2010.
[22] Mike Clary, “Broward rivals battle for work in post-quake Haiti,” Sun Sentinel, July 14, 2010, http://articles.sun-sentinel.com/2010-07-14/news/fl-haiti-recovery-rivals-20100714_1_ashbritt-post-earthquake-haiti-debris.
[23] Ben Fox, “Ex-US official sues contractor in Haiti for fees,” Associated Press, December 31, 2010.
[24] Mark Weisbrot, “Haiti and the international aid scam,” The Guardian, April 22, 2011, http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/cifamerica/2011/apr/22/haiti-aid.
[25] Project on Government Oversight, http://www.contractormisconduct.org/
[26] Matt Kelley, “Canceled Iraq contracts cost U.S. $600 million,” USA Today, November, 17, 2008.
[27] Center for Economic and Policy Research, “Impatient to Profit from Disaster,” October 14, 2010, http://www.cepr.net/index.php/blogs/relief-and-reconstruction-watch/impatient-to-profit-from-disaster
[28] Keith Schneider, “Company Accused of Bilking U.S. on Waste Sites,” New York Times, March 20,1992.
[29] Top 400 Contractors Sourcebook cited on http://newsroom.ch2mhill.com/pr/ch2m/industry-rankings.aspx. Statement of Mr. Fred M. Brune, President, Government Facilities and Infrastructure Business Group, CH2M Hill Constructors, Inc. before the Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan, July 26, 2010, http://www.wartimecontracting.gov/…/hearing2010-07-26_testimony_Brune_(CH2M%20Hill).pdf.
[30] Kevin Bogardus, “Haiti’s recovery aided by U.S. lobbyists,” The Hill, October 11, 2010. http://thehill.com/business-a-lobbying/123565-haitis-recovery-aided-by-lobbyists
[31] CH2M Hill Expenditures, Center for Responsive Politics, http://www.opensecrets.org/pacs/expenditures.php?cycle=2010&cmte=C00143305
[32] “Haiti Earthquake Report,” Federal Procurement Data System, data updated as of 9/15/2011, https://www.fpds.gov/downloads/top_requests/Haiti_Earthquake_Report.xls.

Why Major Newspapers & Corporations Run Fake Job Ads To Avoid Hiring American Workers

In Uncategorized on February 3, 2012 at 2:36 pm

Oldspeak: Behold! The fruits of globalization! “Instead of being about talent, H-1B visa is about importing cheap labor. There’s an insidious way that the high-tech industry denies jobs to US citizens. It’s called the H-1B visa, which allows America’s technological firms – and other specialized employers – to bring in foreign employees, frequently at a lower wage package than might be paid to an individual with the same qualifications who is an American citizen. There are many arguments against the program, primarily the allegation that there is generally no actual shortage of US citizens with high-tech skills for the work done by H-1B visa holders. After the H-1B workers are sent back to their native nations, there are reports that they are rehired by US companies abroad to start offshore high-tech offices that move more US jobs overseas. In short, the H-1B visa could be seen as an outsourcing training program at the expense of highly skilled US professionals.” I wonder if Obama’s “Jobs Czar” GM CEO Jeffery Immelt is aware of this stealth job outsourcing sector of the economy. As CEO of a an American multinational corporation that employs 82% of its workforce outside the U.S., I would surmise, probably so. “Ignorance is Strength” “Profit Is Paramount”

Related Video

Immigration Attorneys Teach Corporations How To  Avoid Hiring Qualified Americans.

By Smoke & Mirrors:

Every Sunday, major newspapers, websites and corporations run fake job ads. Why? The goal is to prove that no qualified Americans are available, so that green cards can be secured for H1B workers (“highly-skilled” foreign workers from “high tech” to architects to nurses and Kindergarten teachers).

The claim is H-1B is a remedy for “labor shortages” and as a means of hiring “the best and the brightest” from around the world. The reality is it’s all about cheap labor.

The fundamental reason for the H1B Visa program, created in 1990, is to substitute cheap, imported, supposedly “skilled” (equivalent to American high school degree)  labor for more expensive American labor. The employer, who reaps a ton of tax advantages, doesn’t have to pay medical benefits, overtime, social security, etc., can also force the departing US worker to train their foreign replacement.  The problem is not lack of enforcement or fraud. Instead, the problem is gaping loopholes in the law.

Congress has allowed the expansion of importation under all VISA programs. 125,000 work authorized visas per month. This includes green cards, L-1, H1-b, H2-b etc  and the state hands out about 320K J-1 student work visas yearly.

Body Shops:

According to Civil Defense Attorney James Otto, who poses the question: “Whether the U.S. should allow the replacement of U.S. workers with foreigners imported under the several visa programs and should Government hire foreigners in stead of U.S workers?”, there are eight main body shops which bring in foreign workers to take American jobs. One body shop, Infosys, faces a lawsuit by former employee Jack Palmer over charges that it abused US visa programs. Per the Economic Times of India “The Infosys charges illustrate the growing conflict between the desires of multinational corporations to source cheaply (even if “cheap” has been mismeasured by not not being adjusted for risk) and what actions need to take place at a country level to make sure these very same multinationals have decent market for their goods.”

On December 7, 2011, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, through the U.S. Embassy in India, announced that the State Department has authorized the U.S embassy to allow the admission of a limitless number of foreign workers into the U.S. to take jobs that millions of unemployed Americans could and would do.

The practical implications of the State Department’s conduct is that every U.S employer can now hire as many foreign workers as they desire to replace all American workers.

So even jobs that require face to face work are not safe from “outsourcing” because of “importing”.

Of course, this is no more the fault of the imported foreign nationals than it is the fault of the workers employed in sweatshops overseas.  The corporations treat them horrendously.  While displacing American workers, the goal is to reduce the salary level to a point where they can get qualified professional American workers at the same cheap price. Just one more government policy that result in We the People suffering in order that corporate profits soar.

Hi-Tech US Corporations Deny Skilled American Workers Jobs Through Abuse of Visa Loophole

By Mark Karlin @ BuzzFlash:

A short time ago, BuzzFlash at Truthout ran a commentary on how US global corporations don’t give a hoot about increasing jobs in America.

In it, we included a section about how Silicon Valley high-tech companies, particularly Apple, use overseas contractors to manufacture their latest technological consumer products. It has been documented that some of these contractors create such harsh conditions and pay such low wages that workers have been driven to suicide, as The New York Times and other publications have detailed.

 

In a two-part Times expose, an Apple executive claimed: “We [Apple] don’t have an obligation to solve America’s problems.” That was in response to Apple shipping so many potential US jobs overseas to these slave-wage sweatshops; e.g., “90 percent of the parts of an iPhone are made outside the U.S.”

But there’s another insidious way that the high-tech industry denies jobs to US citizens. It’s called the H-1B visa, which allows America’s technological firms – and other specialized employers – to bring in foreign employees, frequently at a lower wage package than might be paid to an individual with the same qualifications who is an American citizen. There are many arguments against the program, primarily the allegation that there is generally no actual shortage of US citizens with high-tech skills for the work done by H-1B visa holders.

President Obama appeared blindsided by a question on a Google Plus interactive town hall the other day from a woman whose husband had been laid off by Texas Instruments:

Jennifer Wedel was the second to question Obama, and the four-minute exchange was among the most memorable of the 50-minute online event.

“My question to you is to why does the government continue to issue and extend H-1B visas when there are tons of Americans just like my husband with no job?” she asked.

Obama offered that industry leaders have told him that there aren’t enough of certain kinds of high-tech engineers in America to meet their needs. Jennifer Wedel interrupted him to explain that that answer didn’t match what her husband is seeing out in the real world.

“Jennifer, can I ask what kind of engineer your husband is?”

“He’s a semiconductor engineer,” she told the president, who seemed genuinely surprised.

“If you send me your husband’s resume, I’d be interested in finding out exactly what’s happening right there,” he told her. “The word we’re getting is somebody in that high-tech field, that kind of engineer, should be able to find something right away. And the H-1B should be reserved only for those companies who say they cannot find somebody in that particular field.”

Of course, the high-tech companies are telling the White House and Congress that they can’t find US citizens for the H-1B jobs, but many critics argue that many high-tech companies hire H-1B workers without even offering the positions to Americans. On top of that, after the H-1B workers are sent back to their native nations, there are reports that they are rehired by US companies abroad to start offshore high-tech offices that move more US jobs overseas. In short, the H-1B visa could be seen as an outsourcing training program at the expense of highly skilled US professionals.

It was nice of the president of the United States to offer his personal job placement services to Jennifer Wedel’s husband, but it’s a bit disturbing that the White House appears to have fallen for the Silicon Valley canard.

When it comes to the H-1B visa, it’s the same old story: follow the profits.

Obama’s New Chief Of Staff Jack Lew Is Former Citigroup COO; Heaviliy Invested & Made Millions On Bets Housing Market Would Collapse

In Uncategorized on January 10, 2012 at 1:23 pm

Oldspeak: “Another Clinton-era retread and Wall Street acolyte hired by Obama. Oh and he made millions off of millions of Americans being rendered homeless. It’s no wonder there’s been no significant regulation imposed on Wall Street since the last global economic meltdown it contributed to. Pro-deregulation, de-facto Wall Street lobbyists surround the President and are writing ‘financial regulation’ legislation on Capitol Hill. The conditions for yet another meltdown exist right now, as Wall Street and it’s consorts around the world are hitting the casinos that double as our economies HARD. If you think the last meltdown was bad, The next one’s gonna be a DOOSY.” “Profit Is Paramount”

 

By Truthdig:

Jack Lew is a liberal who worked for Speaker Tip O’Neill and studied under beloved progressive Sen. Paul Wellstone, but he was also the chief operating officer of a Citigroup unit and doesn’t fault deregulation for the shoddy economy.

The president says Lew was chosen by his predecessor, William Daley, who offered a surprise resignation after one year on the job.

Shahien Nasiripour of The Huffington Post reported in 2010 that Lew testified to the Senate that he did not believe deregulation caused the financial meltdown:

Lew, a former OMB chief for President Bill Clinton, told the panel that “the problems in the financial industry preceded deregulation,” and after discussing those issues, added that he didn’t “personally know the extent to which deregulation drove it, but I don’t believe that deregulation was the proximate cause.”

Lew, who headed President Clinton’s Office of Management and Budget during the period when Clinton signed off on the major deregulation of Wall Street and the telecommunications industry, made a fortune while at Citi. That same Huffington Post report notes that his 2009 bonus alone amounted to nearly a million dollars.

When he announced his new chief of staff, Obama declared, “Jack’s economic advice has been invaluable and he has my complete trust, both because of his mastery of the numbers, but because of the values behind those numbers.”

William Daley Resigns As White House Chief of Staff

By Democracy Now:

In a major shakeup inside the Obama administration, White House chief of staff William Daley announced his resignation Monday just over a year after taking the position. He will be replaced by Jack Lew, head of the Office of Management and Budget. President Obama praised Jack Lew’s public service.

President Obama: “Jack’s economic advice has been invaluable and he has my complete trust. Both because of his mastery of the numbers, but because of the values behind those numbers, ever since he began his career in public service as a top aide to Speaker Tip O’Neil, Jack has fought an America were hard work and responsibility pay off. A place where everybody gets a fair shot, everybody does their fair share, and everybody plays by the same rules. And that belief is reflected in every decision that Jack makes.”

After serving as budget director in the Clinton administration, Lew became chief operating officer of Citigroup Alternative Investments in 2008. The Progressive Change Campaign Committee criticized Obama for selecting Lew because his unit at Citigroup heavily invested in a hedge fund that bet on the housing market to collapse.

Under Industry Pressure USDA Works To Speed Approval Of Monsanto’s Genetically Engineered Crops & Allow “Self-Regulation”

In Uncategorized on December 21, 2011 at 5:23 pm

Oldspeak:” ‘Under a new two-year pilot program at the USDA, regulators are training the world’s biggest biotech firms, including Monsanto, BASF and Syngenta, to conduct environmental reviews of their own transgenic seed products as part of the government’s deregulation process.’ –Mike Ludwig. It’s the equivalent of letting BP do their own Environmental Assessment of a new rig’ –Bill Freese, Center for Food Safety I don’t know what part of demostratably dangerous effects on humans, animals and the environment these people don’t understand. In one of the Bastions of GMO, Brazil a 2 headed baby was just born. I guess when this starts happening more regularly, people will start paying attention to the poison in their food, that has been shown to cause among many things birth defects. o_O “Ignorance Is Strength”

By Mike Ludwig @ Truthout

For years, biotech agriculture opponents have accused regulators of working too closely with big biotech firms when deregulating genetically engineered (GE) crops. Now, their worst fears could be coming true: under a new two-year pilot program at the USDA, regulators are training the world’s biggest biotech firms, including Monsanto, BASF and Syngenta, to conduct environmental reviews of their own transgenic seed products as part of the government’s deregulation process.

This would eliminate a critical level of oversight for the production of GE crops. Regulators are also testing new cost-sharing agreements that allow biotech firms to help pay private contractors to prepare mandatory environmental statements on GE plants the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is considering deregulating.

The USDA launched the pilot project in April and, in November, the USDA announced vague plans to “streamline” the deregulation petition process for GE organisms. A USDA spokesperson said the streamlining effort is not part of the pilot project, but both efforts appear to address a backlog of pending GE crop deregulation petitions that has angered big biotech firms seeking to rollout new products.

Documents obtained by Truthout under a Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA) request reveal that biotech companies, lawmakers and industry groups have put mounting pressure on the USDA in recent years to speed up the petition process, limit environmental impact assessments and approve more GE crops. One group went as far as sending USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack a timeline of GE soybean development that reads like a deregulation wish list. [Clickhere and here to download and read some of the documents released to Truthout.]

The pilot program is named the NEPA Pilot Project, after the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), which mandates that agencies prepare statements on the potential environmental impacts of proposed actions by the federal government, such as deregulating transgenic plants. On July 14, USDA officials held a training workshop to help representatives from biotech firms (see a full list here) to understand the NEPA process and prepare Environmental Reports on biotech products they have petitioned the USDA to deregulate.

Regulators can now independently review the Environmental Reports and can use them to prepare their own legally mandated reviews, instead of simply reviewing the company’s petitions for deregulation. The pilot project aims to speed up the deregulation process by allowing petitioning companies to do some of the legwork and help pay contractors to prepare regulatory documents and, for its part, the USDA has kept the pilot fairly transparent. Alist of 22 biotech seeds that could be reviewed under the pilot program includes Monsanto drought-tolerant corn, a “non-browning” apple, freeze tolerant eucalyptus trees and several crops engineered to tolerate the controversial herbicides glyphosate and 2,4 D.

Activists say biotech firms like Monsanto are concerned only with profit and routinely supply regulators with one-sided information on the risks their GE seeds – and the pesticides sprayed on and produced by them – pose to consumers, animals and the agricultural environment. (The Natural Society recently declared Monsanto the worst company of 2011.) Bill Freese, a policy expert with the Center for Food Safety (CFS), told Truthout that the NEPA pilot gives already powerful biotech companies too much influence over the review process.

“It’s the equivalent of letting BP do their own Environmental Assessment of a new rig,” Freese said.

Monsanto Goes to Court

Freese and the Center for Food Safety have been on the frontlines of the battle to reform the USDA’s regulatory approval process for GE crops. The group was a plaintiff in recent lawsuits challenging the deregulation – which basically means approval for planting without oversight – of Monsanto’s patented alfalfa and sugar beets that are genetically engineered to tolerate glyphosate-based Roundup herbicide. Farmers can spray entire fields of Monsanto’s “Roundup Ready” crops with Roundup to kill unwanted weeds while sparing the GE crops, but in recent years, some weeds have developed a tolerance to glyphosate, Roundup’s active ingredient. The cases kept the crops out of America’s fields for years and prompted biotech companies to put heavy pressure on top USDA officials to streamline and speed up the deregulation process, practically setting the stage for the NEPA pilot underway today.

Under NEPA, agencies like the USDA must prepare an Environmental Assessment (EA) to determine if the proposed action, such as deregulating a transgenic organism, would have an impact on the environment. If some type of significant impact is likely, the agency must then prepare a more in-depth Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) to explore potential impacts and alternative actions. NEPA requires an EIS for actions “significantly affecting the quality of the human environment.” Preparing a full impact statement for a biotech plant implies the government does not think GE crops are safe and the biotech industry has routinely butted heads with environmentalists while attempting to convince regulators and consumers otherwise. In the Monsanto beets and alfalfa cases, the CFS and other plaintiffs argued that the USDA should have prepared an EIS, not just a simple EA, before deregulating both Monsanto crops.

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In the alfalfa case, the CFS and its co-plaintiffs claimed the crop could have significant impacts by crossbreeding and contaminating conventional and organic alfalfa with transgenes. They also argued the crop would increase the use of herbicides and promote the spread of herbicide-tolerant weeds known as “super weeds.” A federal district court agreed and vacated the USDA’s original approval, halting plantings across the country. Monsanto challenged the decision and the alfalfa case landed in the Supreme Court in 2010.  The high court overturned an injunction preventing farmers from planting the alfalfa, but also ordered the USDA to prepare an EIS and issue another deregulation decision. The sugar beet case ended in similar fashion and the USDA recently released a draft EIS on the crop, which is expected to be deregulated in early 2012.

Monsanto won the right to sell its GE alfalfa seed in February 2011, but the lengthy and expensive legal battle captured the attention of food lovers and agriculturalists across the country. Americans debated the potential dangers of GE crops and the merits of the regulatory system that is supposed to protect farmers and consumers. As documents unearthed by a Truthout FOIA request reveal, the biotech industry did not sit idly by as activists challenged the regulatory status quo.

Mounting Pressure

The Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) is a powerful group that represents dozens of biotech companies such as Monsanto, BASF and Bayer, and has spent more than $67 million lobbying Congress since 2000. In April 2010, BIO sent a letter to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack as the Monsanto alfalfa case made its way through the courts. BIO warned Vilsack that the American biotech agriculture industry could be crippled if the legal precedents required the USDA to prepare an EIS for every GE crop up for deregulation:

With 19 deregulation petitions pending with more on the way, requiring an EIS for each product would amount to a de facto moratorium on commercialization and would send an unprecedented message that USDA believes that these products do have an environmental impact, when in fact most do not. Any suggestion by USDA that biotechnology plants as a category are likely to cause significant adverse effects on the quality of the human environment (i.e., require an EIS) would make approvals by other trading partners virtually impossible …

BIO claimed that such a policy would be an “over-reaction to the current judicial decisions” and would threaten America’s economic dominance in the agricultural biotechnology market. Such a policy, BIO representatives stated, would send a message to European countries that American regulators believe GE crops impact the environment, making approvals of GE crops by the European Union “virtually impossible” and allowing “Brazil and China to surpass the United States as world leaders in biotechnology.” BIO also claimed that more rigorous assessments would “undercut” positions consistently take by the Obama and Bush administrations on the safety of biotech agriculture.

Vilsack received similar letters requesting the USDA continue relying on EAs instead of EISs to deregulate GE crops from the Americas Soybean Association and the American Seed Trade Association. Both groups worried that an increase in oversight – precipitated by the more in-depth impact evaluation – could back up approvals for years. The soybean association included in its letter a pipeline chart of 25 GE soybean varieties it “expected” to be approved for commercialization within a decade.

A policy requiring an EIS for every GE seed is exactly what critics of Monsanto and the rest of the industry have spent years fighting for. Unlike the industry, they believe the herbicides that blanket GE crops and the potential for transgenic contamination are potential threats to the agricultural environment and human health.

Vilsack wrote a steady-handed reply to each trade group, reassuring them that the NEPA policy would not change and the USDA would continue preparing an EA for new GE seeds and an EIS only when necessary. Vilsack also wrote that he was “pleased” to recently meet with biotech industry representatives and “discuss improving the efficiency of the biotechnology regulatory process.” Such improvements, he wrote, are “directly related” to the USDA’s “objective of ensuring the United State leads the world in sustainable crop production and biotech crop exports.” He took the opportunity to announce that the USDA would reorganize the Biotechnology Regulatory Services agency and create a new NEPA team “dedicated to creating high quality and defensible documents to better inform our regulatory decisions.” This new NEPA team would go on to develop the NEPA Pilot Project and begin streamlining the approval process.

To Freese, it appears that Vilsack used to the word “defensible” in reference to legal challenges like the ones his group made to Monsanto alfalfa and sugar beets. “Their whole focus is on ‘defensible’ Environmental Assessments,” Freese said after reading the letters. “From our perspective, that’s the wrong goal … it presumes the crop is going to be approved.”

Freese said the correspondence between Vilsack and the industry groups highlights the need for a culture change at the USDA. Regulators should be concerned about the safety of new GE products, not ensuring American exports compete with Brazil and China.

“It should be all about doing good assessments and making sure the crops that are approved are safe,” Freese said.

A USDA spokesperson declined to comment when asked if the agency would like to respond to criticisms of the NEPA Pilot Project and said updates on the project will be made available online.

Watchdogs like Freese know that regulators already work closely with the industry and the NEPA Pilot Project could simply make their work more efficient. Regulators already rely heavily on data provided by private contractors and by biotech companies to prepare EAs. During the Monsanto alfalfa case, internal emails between regulators and Monsanto officials surfaced and revealed the company worked closely with regulators to edit its original petition to deregulate the alfalfa. One regulator even accepted Monsanto’s help in conducting the USDA’s original EA of the GE alfalfa before it was initially approved in 2005.

Genetically engineered and modified crops continue to cause controversy across the globe, but in America they are a fact of life. The Obama and Bush administrations have actively promoted biotech agriculture both at home and abroad. Countries like China, Argentina and Brazil have also embraced biotech agriculture. Regulators in European countries – including crucial trade partners like France and Spain – have been much more cautious and, in some cases, even hostile toward the industry. GE crops are banned in Hungary and Peru, and earlier this year officials in Hungary destroyed 1,000 acres of corn containing Monsanto transgenes. The US, however, continues to allow big biotech companies to cultivate considerable power and influence and, as the letters uncovered by FOIA reveal, top regulators are ready to meet their demands.

“The USDA regards its own regulatory system as a rubber stamp,” Freese said after reading the letters. “At least at the upper levels, there’s always been this presumption that [GE crops] must be approved.”

Obama White House Has Weakened More Lobbyist-Opposed Health, Public Safety Regulations Than Bush Administration

In Uncategorized on December 2, 2011 at 5:22 pm

Oldspeak:”A new report shows that despite a campaign pledge to get lobbyists out of Washington, the Obama White House has weakened regulation in favor of corporate interests more than the Bush administration. The report deals with issues that are of concern to every American; smog in our cities, collapsing mine shafts that kill workers in West Virginia, the Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico, salmonella in peanut paste, a whole variety of public health threats that agencies of the government were set up to avoid. Unfortunately, although we expected a bright new future with President Obama, he has disappointed us in this area to a large extent, inserting politics and pandering to special interests rather than letting science and technology reign.”-RENA STEINZOR. Yet another campaign promise gone unfulfilled. Sadly, due to the frightfully inept and unelectable presidential alternatives offered by Republicans, it’s not likely Obama will be held accountable to the long list of changes for the worse he’s presided over. Moral of the story? The Corporatocracy rules, no matter who you ‘vote’ for. More change I can’t believe in.

Related Story:

“Behind Closed Doors at the White House: How Politics Trumps Protection of Public Health, Worker Safety and the Environment”

By Amy Goodman @ Democracy Now:

A new report shows that despite a campaign pledge to get lobbyists out of Washington, the Obama White House has weakened regulation in favor of corporate interests more than the Bush administration. The study, “Behind Closed Doors at the White House: How Politics Trumps Protection of Public Health, Worker Safety, and the Environment,” examines more than a thousand meetings that took place over a decade between lobbyists and a little known regulatory office, then checks to see how proposed rules were weakened to accommodate industry requests. It found the Obama White House changed rules 76 percent of the time, while Bush changed them just 64 percent of the time. EPArules were changed at a significantly higher rate — 84 percent. We speak to the report’s lead author, Rena Steinzor, professor at the University of Maryland Carey School of Law and President of the Center for Progressive Reform.

AMY GOODMAN: As we end on a new report that shows despite President Obama’s campaign pledge to get lobbyists out of Washington, the White House has weakened regulation in favor of corporate interests even more than the Bush administration. The study examines more that 1,000 meetings that took place over a decade between lobbyists and a little known regulatory office, then checks to see how proposed rules were weakened to accommodate industry requests. It found the Obama White House changed rules 76% of the time while the Bush administration changed them just 64% of the time. EPA rules were changed a significantly higher rate, 84%.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Much of this is due to the man Obama appointed to the head of House of Information and Regulatory Affairs, through which all proposed regulation must pass. Cass Sunstein is know for his academic work on the risks of overregulation. Well, for more we’re joined from Washington, D.C. by Rena Steinzor, Professor at the University of Maryland Carey School of Law and President of the Center for Progressive Reform. She’s the lead author of this exhaustive report, “Behind Closed Doors at the White House: How Politics Trumps Protection of Public Health, Worker Safety, and the Environment.” Rena, welcome to Democracy Now!. Can you talk about this report?

RENA STEINZOR: The report deals with issues that are familiar and of concern to every American; smog in our cities, collapsing mine shafts that kill workers in West Virginia, the Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico, salmonella in peanut paste, a whole variety of public health threats that agencies of the government were set up to avoid. Unfortunately, although we expected a bright new future with President Obama, he has disappointed us in this area to a large extent, inserting politics and pandering to special interests rather than letting science and technology reign.

AMY GOODMAN: Rena Steinzor, the issue of the smog regulations that so blindsided the Administrator of the EPA, Lisa Jackson.

RENA STEINZOR: Yes, Lisa Jackson, was—-when she was appointed there was tremendous relief and joy in the community of public health experts and environmentalists who watch EPA. And she immediately stepped in to try and get a lot of these rules, which were mandated by Congress, back on track and promised to repair the damage that was left by George W. Bush. But, this small office in the White House, which panders to special interests, stepped in and was the president’s point person, point agency to destroy her efforts to strengthen these protections. And anyone who lives in a major American city knows Code Red days when children are not allowed to play outside because the air pollution is so bad.

AMY GOODMAN: We have 15 seconds, if you can summarize what happened.

RENA STEINZOR: Really, it is remarkable that an effort to clean up smog in American cities should be killed by an office at the White House that caters to special interests.

AMY GOODMAN: Rena Steinzor, we will link to your report, Professor at the University of Maryland Carey School of Law, President of The Center for Progressive Reform, lead author in this report, “Behind Closed Doors at the White House: How Politics Trumps Protection of Public Health, Worker Safety, and the Environment.”

 

Internet Censorship Bills Up For Vote Dec 5th – “Stop Online Piracy Act” & “Protect IP” Garner Enthusiastic Bi-Partisan Support In Congress

In Uncategorized on November 30, 2011 at 10:53 am

Oldspeak:“If there’s one thing this latest do-nothing Congress does well it’s draft bills to take things away from you. On the heels of a bill to indefinitely detain Americans without cause or charge , we have a bill that won’t do what it’s supposed to do, (fight piracy), but will put American internet censorship at the same level it is in CHINA. ‘Any holder of intellectual property rights could simply send a letter to ad network operators like Google and to payment processors like MasterCard, Visa, and PayPal, demanding these companies cut off access to any site the IP holder names as an infringer.’-Mike MasnickYou can be found “dedicated to the theft of US property” if the core functionality of your site “enables or facilitates” infringement. The core functionality of nearly EVERY internet website that involves user generated content enables and facilitates infringement. THE ENTIRE INTERNET ITSELF ENABLES OR FACILITATES INFRINGMENT.’-Joan McCarter Under the oft used guise of “security”, media corporations; ‘intellectual property’ owners like Viacom, Universal, Paramount, and Monster Cable will get to compile lists of “rogue sites” “dedicated to infringement”, to be targeted for shutdown,  while providing no substantive evidence of infringement. In reality, the goal is to stifle free speech and competition. Censorship. As American as apple pie.

Related Video:

Wyden Call To Arms — Ask Him To Read Your Name During Filibuster Of SOPA/PIPA Censorship Bills

By Joan McCarter @ The Daily Kos:

Because forcing austerity on the nation isn’t enough to keep Congress occupied and off the streets, they’re also plotting against the internet with SOPA, the Stop Online Piracy Act in the House, and PROTECT IP in the Senate (BANANAS alert if you click that link). In a generally deadlocked body, this one seems to be on the fast track, potentially coming up for a vote in the Senate as soon as Dec. 5.

ArsTechnica provides the background.

Imagine a world in which any intellectual property holder can, without ever appearing before a judge or setting foot in a courtroom, shut down any website’s online advertising programs and block access to credit card payments. The credit card processors and the advertising networks would be required to take quick action against the named website; only the filing of a “counter notification” by the website could get service restored.It’s the world envisioned by Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) in today’s introduction of the Stop Online Piracy Act in the US House of Representatives. This isn’t some off-the-wall piece of legislation with no chance of passing, either; it’s the House equivalent to the Senate’s PROTECT IP Act, which would officially bring Internet censorship to the US as a matter of law.

Calling its plan a “market-based system to protect US customers and prevent US funding of sites dedicated to theft of US property,” the new bill gives broad powers to private actors. Any holder of intellectual property rights could simply send a letter to ad network operators like Google and to payment processors like MasterCard, Visa, and PayPal, demanding these companies cut off access to any site the IP holder names as an infringer.

If that sounds a little alarmist, it isn’t. Mike Masnick at Techdirt, in the “definitive post on why SOPA and Protect IP are bad, bad ideas” walks through the extensive list of problems with the bills.

The real fear is the massive collateral damage these bills will have to jobs, the economy and innovation.

  • The broad definitions in the bill create tremendous uncertainty for nearly every site online.  This sounds like hyperbole, but it is not.  Defenders of the bill like to claim that it is “narrowly focused” on foreign rogue infringing sites.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  While PIPA targets only foreign sites, the mechanism by which it does so is to put tremendous compliance and liability on third party service providers in the US.  SOPA goes even further in expanding the private right of action to domestic sites as well.  We’ve already seen how such laws can be abused by looking at how frequently false takedown claims are made under the existing DMCA.  Of course, under the DMCA, just the content is blocked.  Under SOPA all money to a site can be cut off.  Under PIPA sites will just end up in court. Or, with both laws, an Attorney General can take action leading US companies to have to effectively act as network nannies trying to keep infringement from being accessible.  None of this is good for anyone building a startup company these days. […] And the definitions are ridiculously broad. Under SOPA, you can be found “dedicated to the theft of US property” if the core functionality of your site “enables or facilitates” infringement. The core functionality of nearly every internet website that involves user generated content enables and facilitates infringement. The entire internet itself enables or facilitates infringement. Email enables or facilitates infringement. […]
  • The risk of these broad definitions on perfectly legitimate companies is not theoretical: Defenders of both bills continue to insist that they’re only meant to deal with the worst of the worst.  If that were really true, the definitions would be a lot tighter and a lot more specific.  Even if this is the intention of the authors of both bills, the simple fact is that the very broad definitions in the bill, mean that any entrepreneur today will need to take significant compliance costs just to avoid the possible appearance of fitting the criteria. […]
  • The risk of these broad definitions on perfectly legitimate companies is not theoretical: Defenders of both bills continue to insist that they’re only meant to deal with the worst of the worst.  If that were really true, the definitions would be a lot tighter and a lot more specific.  Even if this is the intention of the authors of both bills, the simple fact is that the very broad definitions in the bill, mean that any entrepreneur today will need to take significant compliance costs just to avoid the possible appearance of fitting the criteria. […]
  • That uncertainty has extreme and quantifiable effects on investment in new startups.  A very detailed look at the uncertainty in the cloud computing space, prior to and after the decision in the Comedy Central v. Cablevision case, which effectively set the framework for the legality of cloud computing, showedmuch greater investment when the law was clarified to be in favor of letting these new services thrive.  Take that away, and investment in this engine of growth likely would be much lower. […]
  • Broadly expanding secondary liability is a dream for trial lawyers, but will be a disaster for business.  There’s been a move, associated with these bills to somehow demonize important concepts of safe harbors from secondary liability.  The suggestion is that secondary liability somehow “allows” bad activity.  Nothing is further from the truth.  Illegal activity is still illegal.  The point of safe harbors from secondary liability is blaming the party actually doing the action that breaks the law. […]
  • Going down the slippery slope of censorship is fraught with peril, both domestically and abroad.  Supporters of the law get angry any time people bring up censorship, but as law professor Derek Bambauer has made clear, any effort to block content is a form of censorship. […]

That’s just a handful of the problems with these bills Masnick highlights. It’s worth the read and worth taking the time to find out about this legislation, again because it seems to be action Congress is intent upon taking. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) will filibuster the bill if it comes to the Senate floor, and will do it the old-fashioned way. He’ll read the names of censorship opponents from the floor of the Senate, from the list of people who sign the petition at http://stopcensorship.org/. Here he is talking about his efforts:

It’s possible that with enough support for the filibuster, leadership gives up on bringing this to the floor in the near future. After all, they’ve got an awful lot to get through between now and Christmas and if Wyden can find several senators to support him, they can threaten to tie things in the Senate up enough that the vote has to be postponed. That, along with Microsoft’s opposition to it, might just do the trick.

Facebook Forms PAC For Political Donations Ahead Of 2012 Elections

In Uncategorized on October 3, 2011 at 3:36 pm

Oldspeak:”Not content with dominating social networking, Facebook has gotten into the law making/law enforcement business. Facebook is lobbying politicians & running candidates for elected office. This news comes weeks after Facebook warned  a reporter about expressing his political viewpoint on its site.  Facebook’s PAC “will give our employees a way to make their voice heard in the political process by supporting candidates who share our goals of promoting the value of innovation to our economy while giving people the power to share and make the world more open and connected,” spokesman Andrew Noyes Said. Federal records show the company has more than tripled its federal lobbying spending since 2009, from about $200,000 to more than $730,000 this year. Much of Facebook’s recent lobbying activity has focused on net neutrality and privacy issues. The move is the latest in a series of maneuvers boosting the Palo Alto company’s political profile in recent years, joining a steady rise in lobbying spending, several high-profile fundraisers and the failed statewide candidacy of one of its key officers for attorney general last year” –Chase Davis  Why does a corporation that claims to be “about building relationships not a platform for your political viewpoint.”(Nevermind the countless politicians and political organizations with pages on its site) need a political action committee?

Related Story:

Facebook Forms PAC For Political Donations

By Chase Davis @ The San Francisco Chronicle:

Social networking giant Facebook is expanding its political footprint, confirming that it has filed the necessary paperwork to open a political action committee in advance of the 2012 elections.

The move is the latest in a series of maneuvers boosting the Palo Alto company’s political profile in recent years, joining a steady rise in lobbying spending, several high-profile fundraisers and the failed statewide candidacy of one of its key officers for attorney general last year.

News of the Facebook PAC was confirmed earlier this week by congressional newspaper the Hill, which noted that the company registered two domain names – FBPAC.org and FBPAC.us – that were intended for the committee’s use.

Much like Microsoft and Google before it, Facebook’s meteoric rise has been followed by a boost in political activity across the board.

Federal records show the company has more than tripled its federal lobbying spending since 2009, from about $200,000 to more than $730,000 this year. Much of Facebook’s recent lobbying activity has focused on net neutrality and privacy issues.

The company also has added a number of key political players to its bench in recent months. Sheryl Sandberg, who served as chief of staff for the Treasury Department under President Bill Clinton, joined Facebook as chief operating officer in 2008. She held a fundraiser for President Obama this week at her home in Atherton, where Lady Gaga was among the attendees.

Other key political hires have included former George W. Bush administration official Joel Kaplan, who was hired to lead the company’s Washington, D.C., offices, and Tucker Bounds, who ran communications for former eBay CEO Meg Whitman’s failed gubernatorial bid last year.

The company has expanded its footprint in Sacramento, too, spending more than $50,000 on lobbying through the first two quarters of this year and nearly $80,000 last year, when it hired its first state-level lobbyist.

Among the bills it lobbied were a measure that would have required stringent reporting for sex offenders on social networking sites and bills related to privacy and carpooling benefits.

The sex offender issue has come up for Facebook before, notably when the company’s former chief privacy officer, Chris Kelly, ran for California attorney general last year. Kelly, who resigned his post at Facebook in order to run, placed third in the Democratic primary.

The company also plans to co-sponsor a debate between Republican presidential candidates early next year in New Hampshire.

California Watch is a project of the nonprofit Center for Investigative Reporting. Contact the author at cdavis@californiawatch.org. For more, visit californiawatch.org

What If The Tea Party Occupied Wall Street?

In Uncategorized on September 23, 2011 at 4:50 pm

You wouldn't know much about the continued occupation of Wall Street by thousands of activists from the corporate media--outlets that seem much more interested in protests of the Tea Party variety. (photo: pweiskel08) The anti-corporate protests have been lightly covered.

Oldspeak:” “People are down on Wall Street right now, holding a sit-in and a camp-in down there–virtually no news about this protest.” –Michael Moore. “So five days of clogging downtown Manhattan, protesting corporate control of the economy, and you haven’t heard a word about it on the news? If that’s a Tea Party protest in front of Wall Street about Ben Bernanke…it’s the lead story on every network newscast.”Keith Olberman. Not atal a shocker that anti-corporate protests are largely ignored in corporate media. Corporate media focuses its attention on corporate funded anti-government protests like those of the tea party, with the goal of diverting the people’s attention away from real and deep flaws with a hopelessly corrupt financial system, coincidentally controlled, owned and operated by the corporatocracy.” “Freedom is Slavery”

By Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting:

In an action called Occupy Wall Street, thousands of activists took to the streets of Lower Manhattan on September 17.

The protests are continuing, with demonstrators camped out on the Financial District’s Liberty Street in support of U.S. democratization and against corporate domination of politics (Adbusters9/19/11).

But you wouldn’t know much about any of this from the corporate media–outlets that seem much more interested in protests of the Tea Party variety.

The anti-corporate protests have been lightly covered in the hometown New York Times: One piece (9/18/11) largely about how the police blocked access to Wall Street, and one photo (9/22/11) with the caption “Wall Street Protest Whirls On.”

The protests have been treated with brief mentions on CNN, like this one from host Wolf Blitzer (9/19/11): “Protests here in New York on Wall Street entering a third day. Should New Yorkers be worried at all about what’s going on?”

From the ABCCBS and NBC network news, we could find nothing at all in the Nexis news database. On the PBS NewsHour (9/19/11), the protests got a brief reference, tacked on to the end of the stock market report:

Away from the trading floor, some 200 protesters marched for a third day, charging the financial system favors corporations. At least six people were arrested.
Some voices in the media have noted the lack of coverage. On the Rachel Maddow Show (MSNBC9/19/11), Michael Moore said, “People are down on Wall Street right now, holding a sit-in and a camp-in down there–virtually no news about this protest.”

At the top of his Current TV show (9/21/11), Keith Olberman said:

So five days of clogging downtown Manhattan, protesting corporate control of the economy, and you haven’t heard a word about it on the news?
He later remarked, “If that’s a Tea Party protest in front of Wall Street about Ben Bernanke…it’s the lead story on every network newscast.”

The media preference for Tea Party gatherings over progressive activism is well-documented. A September 2009 Tea Party rally in Washington, D.C., garnered far more coverage than a similar gay rights rally the following month (Extra!12/09). Thousands of activists at the U.S. Social Forum in Detroit in June 2010 did not merit anywhere near the coverage accorded to 600 attendees at the Tea Party Convention in Nashville (Extra!9/10). The One Nation Working Together rally (10/2/10) brought thousands to Washington– but little media attention (FAIR Media Advisory, 10/6/10).

And even the size of a given Tea Party gathering does not seem to much matter. When about 200 Tea Partiers gathered in Washington earlier this year (FAIR Blog4/1/11), an account in Slate (3/31/11) noted, “There was at least one reporter for every three or four activists.”

The answer to the problem of non-coverage would seem to be simple: If the people occupying Wall Street want more media attention, they should just call themselves Tea Party activists.

ACTION:
Ask the nightly newscasts why they have decided to give little to no coverage to the Occupy Wall Street protests– especially given their interest in Tea Party demonstrations.

CONTACT:

NBC Nightly News
nightly@nbc.com
212-664-4971

ABC World News
Feedback form

CBS Evening News

evening@cbsnews.com
212-975-3247

PBS NewsHour
onlineda@newshour.org
703-998-2138

Obama’s “American Jobs Act”: Why Less Is More Of The Same

In Uncategorized on September 15, 2011 at 11:51 am

President Barack Obama holds a copy of the American Jobs Act while announcing he is sending the $447 billion jobs package, his plan to create job growth, to Congress. (Photo: Philip Scott Andrews/The New York Times)

Oldspeak: “Look beyond the rhetorical wizardry.  What we got from Obama was a 2009 “Stimulus Light” proposal. This so-called “American Jobs Act” is 60% tax cuts (which don’t create jobs), half the size of the 2009 stimulus (that already wasn’t big enough to create jobs and had the NET EFFECT OF CUTTING JOBS), is too light on shovel-ready jobs (Construction and infrastructure jobs are long term. What is needed today is IMMEDIATE job creation.) Is too heavily weighted in favor of subsidies to the states (Local government laid off hundreds of thousands of workers since June 2009 despite the $263 billion in subsidies received) and does not go far enough in taxing the rich. Why is this man touring the country passionately selling a proposal that won’t work for the vast majority of the American people, and is basically another massive giveaway to the rich? Nevermind the fact that it doesn’t compel the banking cartels to lend the trillions they’re hoarding to small business owners which would create the conditions for job creation. Nor does it compel large multinational corporations to stop hoarding the trillions in tax savings they have stashed offshore to create jobs in the U.S. Obama has already bestowed the Corporatocracy with 1 TRILLION in tax cuts the past 2 years, why is he trying to give them more? Look no further than his list of campaign contributors. While the fact that legions of ordinary americans have contributed to him has been played up in corporate media, his biggest and most influential donors are wall street banks, hedge fund managers, media conglomerates, dirty energy conglomerates, big business interests, all denziens of the Corporatocracy. And what have the American people received in return? Toothless financial reform, expanded support for dirty energy policy, Business friendly health care reform, media and communications consolidation, weaker regulation, utterly ignored poor and working poor. Oh and 6 wars. Quid pro quo par excellence. More change I can’t believe in.”

By Jack Rasmus @ Truthout

On Thursday, September 8, President Obama proposed a $474 billion “Jobs Act.” What we got from Obama was a 2009 “Stimulus Light” proposal, with all the problems of the prior 2009 stimulus package in the form of inadequate magnitude of spending, wrong composition and targets and bad timing.

First, on the matter of the magnitude of spending in the proposal, some think it was bold. But put it in context; $447 billion just won’t achieve the job creation it claims. It’s once again too little for an economy the size of the US, for an economy in as deep an economic hole as it is and in an economy facing growing downward momentum at home in the context of a global economy also rapidly slipping.

In February 2009, President Obama proposed $787 billion in economic stimulus. Unemployment was about 25 million. More than two years later, after the $787 billion has been spent, unemployment (measured by the Labor Department’s U-6 rate) is still around 25 million. Why, therefore, should Obama’s latest proposals to create jobs, consisting about half the size of the 2009 stimulus, expect to create jobs when the larger stimulus did not?

Even more important than Obama’s Jobs Act’s insufficient magnitude, the composition is also seriously deficient – just as was the 2009 stimulus. Like the stimulus in 2009, it is once again overloaded in tax cuts. In fact, a greater percentage (60 percent) of the total Jobs Act is composed of tax cuts than was the 2009 stimulus (38 percent). Then and now, tax cuts simply cannot and will not create jobs, given the kind of “epic” recession in which the US economy now finds itself entrapped.

The 38 percent tax cut mix in 2009 amounted to about $300 billion in total tax reduction. That $300 billion followed a $90 billion tax cut less than nine months before in spring 2008. Another $50 billion in tax cuts was further added later in 2009-2010 in various bills and administrative actions. That’s a total of $440 billion in tax cuts. There’s more. Add to that $440 billion another $270 billion in Bush tax cut extensions in late 2010 for 2011, plus another $100 billion in this year’s payroll tax cut. Now, add the Job Act’s tax-heavy $270 additional billion. Now, we’re well over $1 trillion in tax cuts in just the past two years. And what’s been the result in jobs? Still 25 million unemployed today as in June 2009.

If someone needs still further evidence that tax cuts don’t create jobs in today’s environment, just step back a decade. In 2001-2004 George W. Bush passed another $3 trillion in tax cuts, overwhelmingly biased again toward the rich and their corporations in the form of capital gains, dividends, inheritance, business depreciation, and other corporate largesse. Over 80 percent of the $3 trillion went to the wealthiest 20 percent households and most of that to the wealthiest 5 percent and 1 percent. And what kind of job creation resulted? We had the longest jobless recession in US history up to that point. It took 46 months just to recover to the level of jobs we had before the first Bush recession in 2001.

Furthermore, most of the jobs that were created under Bush were in the finance and housing sectors of the economy at the time, which were both undergoing a boom due to speculative excesses before an eventual bust. The jobs mostly created in finance and housing had little to do with Bush’s tax cuts of 2001-2004, however. Instead, millions of jobs were being lost in manufacturing while the tax cuts were taking effect last decade.

In 2004, Bush also pushed through a bill to allow multinational corporations to repatriate their then $700 billion hoard of cash they were keeping offshore in their subsidiaries in order to avoid paying the US 35 percent corporate tax rate. The multinationals blackmailed Congress to let them pay only 5.25 percent instead of 35 percent. In exchange, they said they’d bring back the money (saving 29.75 percent for themselves) and use it to create jobs. Did they? No. They money brought back was used to buy back their stock, payout more dividends and to use for mergers and acquisitions that, in fact, resulted in fewer jobs. Now the same “game” is being proposed in Congress, except this time their offshore cash hoard is $1.2 trillion.

The historical record of the past decade is clear: tax cuts simply don’t create jobs, especially tax cuts for the rich and corporations. So, why has Obama given them $1 trillion in tax cuts the past two years and now proposes more?

But Obama’s once again tax-heavy proposal is not the only problem with his “Jobs Act.” The Jobs Act shares another deficiency with the president’s prior 2009 stimulus. It’s too heavily weighted in favor of subsidies to the states as well. The 2009 stimulus provided $264 billion in subsidies to the states. It was supposed to create jobs. It didn’t. Local government laid off hundreds of thousands of workers since June 2009 despite the $263 billion. What guarantees are there that this won’t be repeated when they’re given the added subsidies? Will they get the subsidy only if they first prove they’ve added the jobs? Don’t count on it.

Another problem with the “composition” of the Jobs Act announcement by the president is it once again repeats the promise of the 2009 stimulus that infrastructure spending will quickly create jobs. In 2009, about $100 billion was allocated to infrastructure-related spending that was supposed to create four million jobs. That didn’t happen. There were 6.4 million construction workers employed in June 2009. There are 5.5 million today. Nearly a million fewer construction jobs was the result. There just weren’t as many “shovel-ready” jobs as was claimed. Construction and infrastructure jobs are long term. What is needed today is immediate job creation. Infrastructure programs just won’t cut it, especially when they are of the minimal magnitude in Obama’s recent proposal.

Obama promised his proposals would focus on small business by subsidizing their hiring of workers for each job they create. But for small businesses to create jobs, it needs more than a partial hiring subsidy. It needs funds in addition to cover all the other costs of production. For that, small businesses need bank loans. And for two years now, they just can’t get the loans from the big banks. Bank lending to small businesses declined for 15 consecutive months after June 2009, and it’s not much better today. Obama and the Federal Reserve bailed out the big banks to the tune of $9 trillion in recent years, in the expectation they would start lending. They didn’t. They still aren’t. Like the big corporations hoarding their $2 trillion and not creating jobs, the big banks are hoarding their cash reserves as well and not lending to small businesses that might create jobs if they could get the loans. Obama would have done better to propose the federal government bypass the banks and directly loan to small businesses at 0.25 percent. After all, that’s the interest rate at which the Fed today “loans” to the big banks. No, I take that back. Actually it’s only 0.1 percent and then the Fed pays the banks 3 percent to temporarily park the free money with the Fed in the interim. What a deal: the Fed pays the big banks to take its free money.

In summary, what we got from Obama’s “Jobs Act” was more of the same in terms of poor composition (i.e. excessively tax cut heavy), poor timing (long-term infrastructure projects) and too little magnitude of spending in any event.

There’s no reason to believe that the Obama jobs package that repeats the problems of poor composition and bad timing of the 2009 stimulus – which didn’t create, although it may have saved some jobs – is going to do any better when it’s also half the size of the stimulus.

Of course, the proposed Jobs Act won’t pass anyway because the Teapublicans will oppose it. At best, they might try to cherry-pick out the business tax cuts proposed by Obama and then add even more tax cuts to the “Jobs Act” – a proposal which anyway should be appropriately renamed “The Business Tax Cut Expansion Act of 2011.”

Just a day before the president’s address, the Teapublican candidates gathered to hold their latest debate. They stumbled all over each other to see who could promise corporate America even greater tax cuts. Rick Perry even promised to end all corporate taxes. Rick Santorum promised to lower capital gains and dividends taxes to zero. Others proposed no income taxes whatsoever for earners of $200,000 income a year. Grovel for those campaign contributions, fellas. These same candidates, after proposing cutting hundreds of billions a year in tax cuts for the rich and corporations, will turn around and cry about the budget deficits and demand equivalent cuts in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid to make up for their ever generous handouts to the wealthy.

But this kind of mercenary, Robin-Hood-in-reverse policy of “No taxes whatsoever” for the rich and their corporations is expected from the radical right. Yet, it seems Obama is being drawn into their tax-cut-for-the-rich frenzy with his proposal for yet another $270 billion in cuts. He just agreed, less than nine months ago, to give them $270 billion by extending the Bush tax cuts last December. Now, he proposes hundreds of billions of dollars more. This past year witnessed the president’s adopting their central agenda demand to cut deficits. Could he now be tailing the Teapublicans once again down the “Cut more taxes for Corporate America” road as well?

A real jobs program today would be proposals and programs to recreate, in 21st century form, a Works Progress Administration – paid for not by giving the rich and their corporations still more tax cuts, but by taxing their $2 trillion cash hoard, their $1 trillion in excess free Fed money bank reserves, their $1.2 trillion held in offshore subsidiaries and by taxing the more than $6 trillion they’ve all stashed away in their tax havens around the globe from the Cayman islands to the Seychelles to Vanuatu and, of course, Switzerland.

Politics in America today, sadly, is not about what will ensure true economic recovery and give the 25 million Americans a job. It’s about how to extend tax cuts for corporate America and its shareholder beneficiaries; it’s about how to ensure the Great American Tax Shift of recent decades is never rescinded and instead further extended; and it’s about how to make everyone else in American pay for their bailouts so that the corporations and wealthiest themselves do not have to.

Fracking The IRS: CEO Pay, Political Lobbying, Exceeds Company Tax Bill At Major Corporations

In Uncategorized on September 1, 2011 at 11:58 am

Oldspeak: “21st century welfare queens: CEOs of Verizon, Boeing, Honeywell, General Electric, International Paper, Prudential, eBay, Bank of New York Mellon, Ford, Motorola, Qwest Communications, Dow Chemical, and Stanley Black and Decker. While the U.S. Gov’t relentlessly harasses and pursues actual flesh and blood citizens, many “corporate citizens’ are given a pass, as hundreds of thousands are layed off to maintain profits and millions in revenues are lost. Oligarchy in action.”

By Chuck Collins @ The Institute For Policy Studies:

As the Super Congress eyes trillions in budget cuts that will undermine the quality of life for most Americans, here’s a stunning fact to contemplate: 25 hugely profitable U.S. companies paid their CEOs more last year than they paid Uncle Sam in taxes.

In other words, the more CEOs dodge their civic responsibilities, the more lavishly they’re paid. That’s the key finding of a new Institute for Policy Studies report,Massive CEO Rewards for Tax Dodging, which I co-authored.

These artful dodgers include the CEOs of Verizon, Boeing, Honeywell, General Electric, International Paper, Prudential, eBay, Bank of New York Mellon, Ford, Motorola, Qwest Communications, Dow Chemical, and Stanley Black and Decker. Their average annual compensation totaled $16.7 million, well above last year’s average of $10.8 million for the CEOs of S&P 500 companies.

Click here to see the full infographic.

Instead of paying their fair share, these companies spend millions lobbying for additional tax breaks and loopholes. Twenty of the 25 companies spent more lobbying Congress last year than they paid the IRS in federal corporate taxes. General Electric invested $41.8 million in lobbying and got $3.3 billion in tax refunds. Boeing spent $20 million on lobbying and got a $35 billion contract from the U.S. government, while paying a paltry $13 million in U.S. taxes for a company with $4.3 billion in U.S. income last year.

Eighteen of the 25 companies aggressively use off shore tax havens to shift profits around the globe to avoid U.S. taxes. These 18 companies together had 556 subsidiaries in the Cayman Islands, Singapore, Ireland, and other havens. The offshore scam works like this: companies pretend their profits are earned in low-tax or no-tax jurisdictions — and then feign losses from their U.S. operations at tax time.>

Whatever happened to corporate civic leadership? A previous generation of CEOs would have been ashamed to be compensated so lavishly while their companies abandoned responsibility for paying their fair share. They would have been embarrassed to go year after year contributing little or nothing to the public investments that make the United States a vibrant business environment.

  • Chesapeake Energy paid its CEO Aubrey McClendon $21 million last year but paid zero federal corporate income tax in 2010. Chesapeake is fracking the tax code, drilling it for every possible subsidy it can extract — while lobbying to preserve antiquated tax breaks for oil and gas industry.
  • Online retailer eBay paid its CEO John Donahoe $21.4 million last year while collecting a federal tax refund of $131 million. eBay’ 31 subsidiaries in Switzerland, Singapore, and seven other tax havens facilitate its efforts to move money around the planet as a tax-dodging strategy.
  • Insurance brokerage Marsh & McLennan paid its CEO Brian Duperrault $14 million yet collected a $90 million tax refund from Uncle Sam. The company has 105 subsidiaries in 20 off shore tax havens, including 25 in Bermuda — a favorite locale for insurance companies seeking to avoid both taxes and regulation.

These super-moocher companies happily benefit from the privileges and advantages of doing business in the United States. If a competitor tries to steal their product or idea, these corporations rush to the U.S court system and law enforcement agencies for remedies and justice. The U.S. military guards their global assets.

They use the fertile ground of publicly funded research and infrastructure to bolster their own profits. They create new products from a foundation of Uncle Sam’s investments in medical and scientific research and government funded technologies like the Internet. Our taxpayer-funded roads, ports, and bridges bolster their business environment. Our public schools and universities educate the workers these companies rely on. In fact 16 of these 25 CEOs attended public universities. They personally were educated with help from U.S. tax dollars.

These CEOs profess to love America. But when it comes time to pay the bills, they’d rather outsource that job over to you or the small business down the road.

Congress should pass the Stop Tax Haven Abuse Act which would limit some of these tax shenanigans. In the face of growing fiscal austerity, these companies should contribute to the solution and pay their fair share of U.S. taxes.

Read the full report, here