Originally Published: 4/27/2013
CISPA: The stated purpose of the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA) is to “make it easier for the U.S. government to better handle cyber-attacks by allowing companies to volunteer their user data. The bill allows any company the ability to take the information you have given them, whether it’s browsing habits or posts on private forums, and share it without your knowledge or consent.” However, “in reality it makes it so private companies can ignore privacy policies, and as there’s no requirement for private companies to anonymize your data it allows for a complete digital dossier to be created by the U.S. government.” (Geek.com) Last week the House passed the bill. (zdnet.com) Hacktavist group Anonymous called for a blackout of internet sites on Monday (Earth Day) to protest the bill. “At least 347 websites joined the protest on Monday, blacking out their internet pages.” HackersNewsBulleting.com published a list of the participating websites. (RT)
Electronic Privacy: A Senate committee is working on an update to the 1986 Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA). At issue is a requirement that law enforcement get warrants to access people’s electronic communications. Senators Patrick Leahy (D, VT) and Mike Lee (R, UT) are co-sponsoring the bill. (Guardian)
Jordan: The U.S. has sent 200 troops to Jordan “to help deliver aid to refugees and to plan for possible military action” against Syria. According to the LA Times, the troops are “the vanguard of a potential U.S. military force of 20,000 or more that could be deployed if the Obama administration decides to intervene in Syria to secure chemical weapons arsenals or to prevent the 2-year-old civil war from spilling into neighboring nations.” Another war in the making? Guess the corporations need more money. Considering the sequestration, where is the money coming from? Maybe the Pentagon has plenty stuffed under mattresses for just such “emergencies.”
Syria: The White House has sent a letter to Congress, saying that the latest intelligence agencies’ assessment “with varying degrees of confidence” is that Syria’s president Bashar al-Assad has used sarin gas “on a small scale.” But it also said that “more conclusive evidence was needed before Mr. Obama would take action.” (NY Times) Does this explain why we sent troops to Jordan?
Tax Increases: You’ve probably heard people yapping about Obama’s tax increases. Here’s what happened. In 2010 the budget deal he cut with Republicans included a cut in the payroll tax (the FICA, or Social Security, contribution made by individuals, not their employers) in order to put more money in people’s pockets and, thus, to spur the economy. The “holiday” was to last 1 year. (TWW, The Deal, 12/11/10) The holiday expired, as it was meant to do - though Obama wanted to extend it but Congress wouldn’t go for it. Also, the Bush tax cuts, which were to expire in 2010 and were extended for 1 year (TWW, The Deal, 12/11/10), finally did expire for those making over $400,000 a year. (TWW, Averting the Cliff, 1/5/13) So, taxes on the wealthy were increased. Here’s the graph from the Economic Policy Institute laying out the so-called tax increases.
Citizens United: There are many organizations working to undue Citizens United. But here’s a new one. A coalition of Democratic elected officials, shareholder activists, and pension funds “has flooded the Securities and Exchange Commission [SEC] with calls to require publicly traded corporations to disclose to shareholders all of their political donations, a move that could transform the growing world of secret campaign spending.” Will it happen? Maybe. SEC may propose a new disclosure rule. (NY Times) Too bad we won’t have any way to track the money spent lobbying the SEC to keep them from doing this.
Highway Trust Fund: It’s in trouble. Starting in 2008 Congress resolved shortfalls in the fund by transferring needed monies from the general fund. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that starting in 2015 “the trust fund will have insufficient amounts to meet all of its obligations.” The CBO makes some recommendations: Congress could reduce spending for surface transportation programs or they could increase gas taxes or some combination of the two.
Immigration Reform: The immigration bill proposed by the Gang of 8 (TWW, Immigration Reform, 4/20/13) will significantly increase the H-1B visas - those held by highly skilled educated workers. Currently we have a cap, which is filled, of 65,000 H-1B visas for bachelor’s degrees, with another cap of 20,000 for master’s degrees. This is annually. (See Hiring Foreign Workers and TWW, Unemployment, 4/11/09) About 49% of H-1B visa holders are employed in high-tech. This new bill would expand the bachelor’s degree cap to 115,000 and, if the demand is there, to 180,000 and an additional 25,000 for master’s degrees. According to the Economic Policy Institute, this would means that nearly half of all IT job openings “for which a college degree is required” would go to foreign workers.
Air Traffic Delays: There has been a lot of flight delays due to mandatory furlough days for air traffic controllers because of the sequestration’s cuts for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Outrage from the public is spurring Congress to act. The Senate pumped out a bill late Thursday night. (Guardian) The House approved it on Friday. The bill transferred $253 million from the airport improvement funds. They sure can act fast when it effects them, can’t they? What about other programs that are in trouble - like unemployment compensation, Head Start, student aid, Meals on Wheels, etc., etc.? “The action also brought charges that lawmakers known for gridlock could move only when affluent travelers like themselves felt the sting of Congress’s indecision and that the struggles of lower-income Americans affected by the spending cuts were being ignored.” (NY Times)
Media: As if media ownership in this country wasn’t bad enough, now the right-wing Koch Brothers, who spend zillions of dollars funding anything that will make them richer, want to buy the Tribune Company’s 8 regional newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune, the Baltimore Sun, the Orlando Sentinel, and the Hartford Courant. “The papers, valued at roughly $623 million, would be a financially diminutive deal for Koch Industries . . . with annual revenue of about $115 billion. Politically, however, the papers could serve as a broader platform for the Kochs’ laissez-faire ideas.” (NY Times) Since we no longer enforce the anti-trust laws, there will be no way to stop them.
Marketplace Fairness: The Marketplace Fairness Act of 2013 has been introduced by Senator Michael Enzi (R, WY). It would allow states to impose sales taxes on catalog and online sellers with annual sales over $1 million in states where they have no physical presence. Marketplace Fairness.org has a good summary of the proposal. Independent small neighborhood businesses are in favor of the act as it makes them more competitive. If they have to collect taxes, why shouldn’t the big guys? (NY Times) The only one that doesn’t like it is the conservative Heritage Foundation who has “9,646 reasons to dislike” the Act, which refers to the number of taxing jurisdictions. This is erroneous as states collect the taxes for disbursement to the various jurisdictions within the state. 20 years ago this would have been a problem, but it isn’t anymore. Many of the larger online sellers are already collecting taxes for the various states.
Education Reforms: A new report from the Broader, Bolder Approach to Education examines the assertions that the market-oriented approach to education - test-based teacher evaluation, increased school choice through expanded access to charter schools, and the closure of “failing” and under-enrolled schools - “will boost falling student achievement and narrow longstanding race- and income-based achievement gaps.” Looking at the Washington, D.C., New York City, and Chicago school districts, the researchers found that “reforms delivered few benefits and in some cases harmed the students they purport to help.” They also identified “a set of largely neglected policies with real promise to weaken the poverty-education link.”
What’s In Your Food?: A man held onto a McDonald’s burger for 14 years, without refrigeration. It didn’t deteriorate. The pickle got bad but there’s “no decomposition to the meat or bun, nor any mold, fungus, or smell. It had no bad oder at all.” (UPI) What’s in it?
GMOs: Senator Barbara Boxer (D, CA) and Rep. Peter DeFazio (D, OR) have introduced the Genetically Engineered Food Right-to-Know Act. It would require any food that contains genetically engineered ingredients be labeled accordingly by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Currently 61 countries “with over 40% of the world’s population,” require labeling, including the entire European Union. Even China requires it. Many countries have an outright ban on products containing genetically modified ingredients. (LabelGMOs.org) Ya think this’ll get through Congress?
Insurance Profits: United Health Group, the largest health insurer in America and the biggest manager of private Medicare Advantage plans, announced that its earnings had dropped 14%, yet it still made a profit of $2.1 billion in the last quarter. (Fox) So, if earnings dropped, how did they make such a large profit? There’s only 2 ways to make profits - increasing revenues and/or decreasing costs. So, if earnings are down, the costs have been significantly reduced. With health insurance, that means they paid out less for medical care.
Climate Change: Congress critters are still denying that (a) it exists, (b) if it exists, that it’s caused by human actions, or (c) that CO2 is a problem. This is amazing. (YouTube)
Oil Prices: The U.S. is producing so much oil that it is now that our greatest export. (TWW, Oil Production, 11/17/12; Tar Sands Pipeline; 1/7/12; War on Energy, 12/3/11) So, if we have that much oil, why haven’t prices gone down at the pump? Well, precisely because we are exporting it. We’re sending it all over the world rather than keeping it here. According to Businessweek, we have surpassed Russia as the largest exporter of refined oil products like gasoline and diesel. “Canada’s fuel imports from the U.S. jumped 15% in 2012. Brazil’s demand for U.S.-made fuel rose 6%. China’s leapt 17%. Exports to Venezuela and India more than doubled. Without realizing it, U.S. drivers are competing for American-made gasoline with consumers in Latin America and Asia, where demand is rising.” [Emphasis added.]
Natural Gas: A vocal group of Congress critters wants to do with natural gas what we’ve been doing with oil: exporting it. A group is calling for quick approval of 19 liquid natural gas (LNG) export permits. Of course, this would set off a frenzy of fracking and then, after U.S. citizens have suffered the consequences of tearing the earth apart, they’ll ship it overseas. (Global Possibilities)
Gray Wolves: The Fish and Wildlife Service is considering lifting their protection across the country, “ending a 20-year effort to bring the animals back to their historic range.” It looks like they’ll keep protections in place in Arizona and New Mexico where “only a small population of about 75 Mexican gray wolves” survive. (Guardian) Back in 2008 the Department of Interior (DOI) attempted to remove them from the endangered species list (TWW, Gray Wolves, 2/23/08) but a lawsuit by environmental and animal rights groups (TWW, Gray Wolves, 5/3/08) led to a preliminary injunction on lifting the ban. (TWW, Gray Wolves, 7/19/08) Further attempts were made later in 2008 (TWW, Gray Wolves, 11/1/08) and in early 2009, just before leaving office, Dubya ordered that they be removed from the endangered species list in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan, Idaho, and Montana. (TWW Gray Wolves, 1/17/09) When Obama came into office his Secretary of the Interior, Ken Salazar, “adhered” to these instructions. (TWW, Gray Wolves, 3/14/09) Idaho then opened up hunting of gray wolves. (TWW, Gray Wolves, 9/5/09)
Rich Getting Richer: According to an analysis of newly released Census data, the Pew Research Center has found that, “during the first 2 years of the economic recovery,” the average net worth declined 4% for 93% of households. But the “wealth held by the richest 7% of households rose 28% 2009 through 2011.” I guess it’s not surprising that a recent Gallup poll found that the majority of Americans “want wealth more evenly distributed” and support heavier taxes on the wealthy.