Archive for the ‘Corporate Power’ category

04.28.14 FCC plans on net neutrality threaten democracy

April 28, 2014

This past week, the FCC’s decision to utterly destroy so-called “net neutrality” has been in the news. Under the new proposal, the FCC will allow the near-monopoly of internet service providers (ISPs, including such beloved actors as Verizon and Comcast) to set up a multi-speed internet, where those who pay more will get their content delivered quicker than those who don’t. Most of the chatter seems to be about the impact on content providers like Netflix and on consumer prices.

Since the giant ISPs are also in the content-production business, handing them more power to extort will only increase their monopoly power, a serious anti-trust concern. (The lack of competition in this space is why the US consumer already pays more for worse internet access than in almost all other industrialized countries.) It is equally outrageous that this proposal serves to transfer wealth from consumers (whose bills will go up) to corporate elites: another drop in the deepening bucket of policies exacerbating wealth inequality in the United States.

Arguments that favoring Verizon and Comcast is necessary to spur technology innovation are completely specious. In fact, monopolies have no incentive at all to innovate. Their only incentive is maximize their rents (profits) by gouging consumers. They don’t need to provide new or better services to do so. Subscribers to Verizon and Comcast experience the resulting nightmare every single day.

These are are powerful arguments against the FCC proposal and in favor of the better alternative: recategorizing broadband internet as a utility, thereby allowing the industry to be regulated for the public good. What amazes me is that an even more powerful argument is being completely ignored in the debate:  Allowing giant corporations to control content delivery is no less dangerous to civil society and democracy then government censorship. This is doubly so in a flawed democracy, like ours, where corporate elites already own the political process and the Supreme Court is handing them additional power daily.

The Tea Party thinks the federal government is oppressing the citizenry? Hah! Sure, the NSA has obliterated privacy, but corporate dominance of politics has already put meaningful action on climate change and wage equity out of reach (notwithstanding broad popular support), and that’s just scratching the surface. Consider the incident when Verizon prevented the abortion-rights group NARAL from using the mobile services it was paying for to send out text messages to its constituents. This was corporate censorship of political speech it didn’t like, pure and simple. So, how long will it be, Dear Readers, before Verizon and Comcast either throttle your access to this very blog for being hostile to their monopoly interests or give the Koch Brothers and Fox News a speed boost, because they favor that kind of speech.

Make no mistake, an uneven internet is an anti-democratic internet. The FCC’s proposed action takes aim at the very foundation of a democracy that is already teetering on the edge.

©2014 Keith Berner

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11.23.13 Impeach Obama

November 23, 2013

Readers of this blog know  I am not suggesting impeachment based on Obama’s being a Muslim socialist who was born in Kenya. (Oh that he were a socialist!) My bill of goods against the president starts with his right-wing stands on civil liberties (and Wall Street) and ends with his complete, nearly incomprehensible incompetence.

Civil Liberties

Barack Obama lost my enthusiastic support in the summer of 2008, when he switched sides on telecom immunity. Until then, he had supported holding the telcos (led by the always-evil Verizon) accountable for  sharing customers’ private data with the government. Then he suddenly decided  these corporate behemoths were golden. I voted for Obama in 2008 and cried when he won. But I knew then that the man others would accuse of socialism was at best a tepid liberal and at worst a  bonafide right-winger.

Obama has gone on to be the worst civil liberties president in American history. Apart from ending torture (which, granted, is a big deal), this administration has taken nearly all of W’s extra-legal, barely legal, or it’s-legal-because-we-say so surveillance and detention tactics and expanded them. It has pursued a drone war that doesn’t discriminate between the guilty and innocent or US citizens and foreigners. And, of course, there’s the NSA, which has shown the big lie in Obama’s promise to lead the most transparent and open government ever. Obama’s obsession with secrecy has led to the highest number of prosecutions against leakers in history, along with truly frightening attacks on the press, the essential institution for holding government accountable and preserving freedom.

The extent of this president’s obsession is shown by his reaction to Edward Snowden. When Obama backed out of a summit with Vladimir Putin earlier this year, do you think it was because of Putin’s dictatorship, with its attacks on civil society or its encouragement of violence against gays? Hell no! It was because Russia had taken Snowden in. Then, the mere possibility that Snowden might be aboard the Bolivian president’s plane, as it transited Europe in July, was sufficient for the US to get pliant allies to ground the aircraft so that our agents could see for themselves.

Incompetence

After the GOP shut down the government and nearly forced the US to default on its debts this fall, prognosticators were reporting lowest-ever ratings for that party and predicting Democratic gains in 2014. Since then, it is Obama’s ratings that have fallen off a cliff and Democratic candidates are running scared across the country, as they try to figure out how to distance themselves from the president. The political world has reversed course in little more than a month!

The Obamacare disaster not only has the potential to set back the cause of health-care reform for a generation, but has also breathed new life into the right-wing extremists who own most of the land area of the country and one house of Congress. If the GOP takes the Senate next year, there will be one man to blame: Barack Obama.

No, it wasn’t bad enough that the president forgot to pay  attention to whether the rollout of his signature achievement was going to work. He had to compound that self-inflicted wound (a European friend of mine referred to  it as an “own goal” – when a soccer player scores one for the other team) by repeatedly, knowingly lying to the American people about their right to keep their existing policies. What did Obama think – that no one would notice?!

(Substantively, I have no problem with forcing the cancellation of policies that would undermine the whole system. It’s the lying about it that is the problem.)

So then Obama tried to undo the damage by announcing a “fix” that will allow people to keep these lousy policies. And immediately, analysts declared the fix unworkable. We are now learning day after day (thanks, Washington Post) about the details of the failed website: how the administration hired the wrong people to build it and ignored clear, persistent warnings that it wasn’t going to work.

The operational incompetence is stunning. The lying continues a long pattern of Obama political incompetence. It took nearly 3-½ years for the president to recognize that the GOP wasn’t interested in negotiating a deal, any deal – no matter how right wing. He kept negotiating with himself – publicly — continuously moving farther and farther toward GOP positions and getting nothing in return.

The Obamacare debacle began in 2009, when Obama abdicated all leadership on the matter to Congress, which – of course – was in thrall to the insurance industry and other corporate interests,  producing the complex mess that is teetering on the edge today. Obamacare – if it survives – will do at least as much to enrich private interests as to lower costs (higher than any other industrialized country) or produce better outcomes (worse than any other industrialized country).

In 2010 Obama (granted – with the complicity of spineless Democrats in Congress) ceded the entire political dialogue to the rising Tea Party and the likes of Sarah Palin. While talk of death panels dominated the media in summer and fall of that year, Democrats headed towards a crushing defeat at the polls. I’m not just referring to the loss of the House, but also the loss of statehouses, coast to coast. The GOP dominance in the states then produced the gerrymandering and voter suppression measures that will keep the GOP in power at least until the 2020 census, if not beyond. Much of this is due to Obama’s mind-numbing inability to use the bully pulpit, build effective political alliances, and buck up scared-of-their-own-shadows Democratic lawmakers.

Consider foreign policy. In a space of two years, Obama has taken the US from being a moral, human rights champion to being a realpolitik status-quo power that Henry Kissinger could love. Your blogger (who works for a human rights organization) is sometimes torn between idealism and realism in foreign policy. I get that this stuff ain’t easy. But to go from an embrace of Hosni Mubarak (a personal friend of Bill & Hill) to supporting the Muslim Brotherhood (who were, after all, the winners of a democratic election), to praising Abdul Fattah al-Sisi’s thugs as if they were akin to Thomas Jefferson (why can’t John Kerry just shut his fucking mouth?!)?

The result is that everyone  in Egypt hates and distrusts us, even as we continue funneling billions of dollars to the brutal murderers who now run the place. For god’s sake: if you’re going to support a military dictatorship, at least do so in a manner that wins that dictatorship’s trust and respect! We learned this past week that al-Sisi is trying to negotiate closer ties with Putin.

The promised “pivot to Asia”? Gone south due to other distractions. The relationship with the European allies (who were practically drooling at the chance to start over following the horrific reign of W’s cowboy neocons)? Toast, because of our spying and a general sense of US fecklessness.

And then there are the “red lines.” Use chemical weapons, Obama says, and we’ll do something really, really bad to you. Except that we don’t really mean it. And so when we get a face-saving opportunity to back away from the humanitarian catastrophe in Syria, we jump at it.

Whether or not to bomb Syria was not an easy decision – see my post on the topic. The problem was the stark declarations from Obama without, apparently, any consideration of what should come next. This administration doesn’t stop and ask: hey, what will we do if the other guy doesn’t respond the way we expect him to? There is no Plan B. Only destined-to-fail Plan As.

Facing Facts

Now hear this, Obama fan-boys and –girls: we are not comparing Barack Obama to W or Mitt. Of course Obama is better than any GOP alternative!

We ought to be comparing Obama to what he could have been and to what this country (and the world) need. We ought to be holding this man accountable for repeatedly handing our enemies (the Tea Party right) the rope to hang us with.

To those who say, “Well, being president is hard. What do you expect?” – I ask, is it too much to expect basic competence and a commitment to tell the truth (at least in our own self-interest)? Is it, really?

The title of this blog post is serious. I don’t expect it to happen, but I would be delighted to see Barack Obama resign or be removed from office. Let’s give Joe Biden a chance to see if he can get the basics of governance and leadership right.

The Obama administration is finished, kaput, done. All two-term presidents lose power as their lame-duck status grows. None has experienced a collapse of this magnitude at the very inception of the second term. None has faced entrenched, fanatical enemies like the GOP is today. Democrats and progressives would be smart to move on, to try something — anything — rather than sitting back and whimpering as this failed president sets the table for GOP victories to come.

©2013 Keith Berner

12.30.12 Root causes: use your money to make a difference

December 30, 2012

For many years, one of my household’s largest annual contributions has gone to Common Cause, the national organization dedicated to political reform, including getting money out of politics, redistricting reform, and the like. My feeling was that no matter what one’s favorite cause might be — from hunger to abortion rights to the environment — only political reform could get us there, that this reform agenda was the root cause underlying all the other ones. (Our other largest annual contributions have gone to the ACLU, a local homeless shelter or food kitchen, and anti-global-warming organizations.)

At the end of the year, my email inbox fills with appeals from many worthy organizations. Today I received one that gave me a new insight. The email from Sum-of-Us made the same argument I have made for years about political reform as a root cause, but this time targeting corporate power:

“At the end of the year, I reach for my wallet to give to good causes. I might give to the homeless shelter down the street, or I might buy a piece of rainforest in the Amazon, or donate for livestock for farmers facing famine in Africa.

But sometimes it feels like those donations are just a Band-Aid, addressing symptoms but not causes. Because those homeless families, that beautiful rainforest, and those starving farmers all have something in common: Their problems have root causes. And increasingly in our society today, those root causes are related to corporate power and corporate greed.

It’s not random fate that the family in the shelter down the street went bankrupt — it’s because the parents were fired from their jobs after the private equity firm that owns their employer put short-term profit over long-term prosperity. That piece of the Amazon is disappearing because fast food giants’ demand for cheaper and less sustainable beef is causing more and more rainforest destruction. And droughts are wreaking havoc on farmers’ land across Africa — not to mention many other parts of the world — as the fossil fuel industry continues to deny climate change and pump dangerous greenhouse gases into our atmosphere.

So my ask for you is this: This year, as you think about your end-of-year donations, give to those good causes like the homeless shelter and the livestock. But reserve a portion of your giving now and for the coming year for strategic advocacy and campaign work — for groups like SumOfUs that are working to address the root causes of the massive problems we face, not just the symptoms.” [emphasis in original]

Even as I despair that much of Common Cause’s agenda is unachievable: you can’t get money out of politics as long as there is money in politics, I believe there is hope in taking on corporate power head on. We need organizations like Sum-of-Us and Public Citizen.  To a certain extent, these guys are not taking on the system, as Common Cause is. Rather they are fighting instances of corporate abuse case by case.

This fight is necessary: big business is the greatest single source of evil in our society today. From the Koch Brothers’ enterprises, to the gun manufacturers that underwrite NRA extremism, to the energy companies that fight tooth and nail against all efforts to mandate renewable energy sources and reduce consumption — even the money from corporate interests that fund politicians who vote to dumb-down the education system and consolidate media into a single pro-corporate bullhorn — billionaires and the corporations they control are making life worse for everyone else, every single day.

I am not calling for reducing support for Common Cause, but rather for adding to the mix organizations whose major purpose is combatting corporate evil. Please join me in doing so.

©2012 Keith Berner