Thursday, December 30, 2010

Banks Decide Where Money Can Be Used

This is frightening. Visa, MasterCard, PayPal, and Bank of America have refused to process payments to an organization that said that it will release data revealing corruption in the financial industry. Banks and credit-card companies create our medium of exchange. Money is "legal tender for all debts, public and private." Financial services companies cannot be allowed, on their say-so, to select who may and may not transfer and receive money.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Good News on Energy

Good news--there are more energy resources than we thought, and less reason to fight over the Middle East. From John Tierney.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Military-Industrial Complex

This article by Nicholas Kristof makes important points about the U.S. military:

  • The United States spends nearly as much on military power as every other country in the world combined.
  • The United States maintains troops at more than 560 bases and other sites in other countries.
  • After the first gulf war, the United States retained bases in Saudi Arabia on the assumption that they would enhance American security. Instead, they appear to have provoked fundamentalists like Osama bin Laden into attacking the U.S.
  • American troops in Afghanistan are among the strongest advocates of investing more in schools there because they see firsthand that education fights extremism far more effectively than bombs. And here’s the trade-off: For the cost of one American soldier in Afghanistan for one year, you could build about 20 schools.

Kristof cites Andrew Bacevich, Washington Rules: America’s Path to Permanent War. Bacevich is wise in calling for less war, but, I think, too ready, with no evidence, to ascribe motives of honest belief and sincerity to Bush, and of insincerity to Obama. I know of no evidence Bush ever honestly believed in anything other than helping Bush get his. I no of no evidence Obama doesn't, by whatever dim, distorted light he sees, somehow honestly think the current fiasco is the best he can achieve. Their thoughts are known only to them. The fact is, Obama has increased war spending beyond even Bush's level. (McCain no doubt would've done as bad or worse.)

It's curious that commentators, including Kristof, who point out the absurdity of military spending, are quick to insist that the U.S. must stand ready to assert hegemony everywhere. After all, if we cease to occupy, say, Asia, it'll fall into the hands of, well, Asians. Such commentators content themselves with a cry to save some money--say by having a smaller marching band.

The reality is, we can never control the world, or Asia, or Afghanistan, or Iraq. Asia will be dominated by Asians, and our choice is to recognize it before, or after we waste thousands more American lives, tens of thousands more Asian lives, make hundreds of thousands more enemies, and waste hundreds of billions more dollars.

The Price of Inequality

This article, adapted from The Price of Everything: Solving the Mystery of Why We Pay What We Do, by Eduardo Porter, explains that wider communications, bigger companies, and deregulation are creating a pay structure where fewer and fewer people are taking more and more of the money, leaving the vast majority with no hope of sharing the benefits. This is a natural process. Wealth concentrates until the only people who can buy anything don’t need to, and the economy collapses. Both that article and this one point out that, in Frank Rich's words, "America can’t move forward until we once again believe . . . that everyone can enter Frontierland if they try hard enough, and that no one will be denied a dream because a private party has rented out Tomorrowland." Bob Herbert points out that in the recession of 2008 to the present, many unemployed people have lost that hope. As Paul Krugman says in The Conscience of a Liberal 2007 (p. 18), “Middle-class societies don’t emerge automatically as an economy matures, they have to be created through political action.” The political actions we need are progressive taxation, regulation to prevent abuse of economic power, public education, and a social safety net. And we should focus not on Gross Domestic Product, which harmfully accrues disproportionately to the wealthy, but on the average income of the poorest half or poorest 35% of the people, as recommended by Muhammad Yunus, "banker to the poor" and Grameen Bank founder.

Too, corporate executive pay often is more plunder than compensation.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

"Open Internet" for Whom?

The FCC approved its “Open Internet Order” on 12/21/2010.

Paul Venezia, in InfoWorld 12/21/2010, says it appears to be another law written by and for the businesses it purports to regulate, to give them much more of our money, for much worse service.

According to Al Franken, writing on 12/20/2010, the order will
• effectively permit Internet providers to block lawful content, applications, and devices on mobile Internet connections
• Mobile networks like AT&T and Verizon Wireless would be able to shut off your access to content or applications for any reason. For instance, Verizon could prevent you from accessing Google Maps on your phone, forcing you to use their own mapping program, Verizon Navigator, even if it costs money to use and isn't nearly as good. Or a mobile provider with a political agenda could prevent you from downloading an app that connects you with the Obama campaign (or, for that matter, a Tea Party group in your area).
• The FCC has never before explicitly allowed discrimination on the Internet -- but the draft Order takes a step backwards, merely stating that so-called "paid prioritization" (the creation of a "fast lane" for big corporations who can afford to pay for it) is cause for concern.
• the draft Order would have the effect of actually relaxing restrictions on this kind of discrimination.
• Comcast -- this Internet monolith has reportedly imposed a new, recurring fee on Level 3 Communications, the company slated to be the primary online delivery provider for Netflix. That's the same Netflix that represents Comcast's biggest competition in video services. Imagine if Comcast customers couldn't watch Netflix, but were limited only to Comcast's Video On Demand service. Imagine if a cable news network could get its website to load faster on your computer than your favorite local political blog. Imagine if big corporations with their own agenda could decide who wins or loses online. The Internet as we know it would cease to exist.

Likewise, this open letter from freepress to the FCC commissioners points out that the FCC order has several problems:
1. permits paid prioritization
2. exempts wireless connections from neutrality rules
3. is full of loopholes
4. permits “specialized services” rather than an open Internet
5. fails to assert its legal authority to protect consumers
This letter was dated 12/10/2010, regarding the proposed order. It is signed by leaders of many humble organizations.

The FCC website doesn’t appear to have the text of the rules just adopted; all the related links appeared to be broken: as of 2am 12/22/2010, clicking any of the related links on gave “Oops! This page appears broken. DNS Error - Server cannot be found.” The document was supposed to be at

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Judge Invalidates Required Health Insurance

A federal district court invalidated the provision that citizens are required to buy health insurance, on penalty of a fine. SCOTUSblog article. NYtimes readers' comments.

The question for the court is, may the federal government transfer its taxing power to private business interests?

Usually the transfer of wealth to favored industries is done slightly less obviously: the government levies a tax, then forgives part of it if you buy what the favored industry sells. You aren’t required to buy it, but you pay more tax if you don’t.

Linda Greenhouse wrote an excellent analysis of the judge's decision.