Friday, December 17, 2010

Millionaire Tax Relief

Julian Assange has been released from a British prison and is now giving interviews from the splendid estate where he is confined under what his lawyer describes as “mansion arrest.” He is, as he should be, unrepentant and feisty, pledging more document releases and legal battles. If only the Democrats in the White House and Congress had one tenth the backbone of a Julian Assange the poor in this country might stand a fighting chance.

Unfortunately, such strength is in short supply down in DC, where the Democrats capitulated late last night, passing Obama’s millionaire tax relief bill after token opposition from the so-called “liberal” caucus. Arguments have been made by the “less liberal” caucus that this bill was a necessity to ensure that unemployment insurance could be extended, but no matter how much lipstick you slather on that pig, it’s still a pig. This bill creates no jobs and, with its supposedly temporary payroll tax holiday, basically guarantees that the social security trust fund will become insolvent. Republicans are not stupid. Mean, arrogant, batshit crazy, yes, but stupid, no. They know that starving Social Security now will make it all that much easier to sell a gullible public on the idea that there is an urgent need for “reform”, which would likely take the form of privatized accounts with the certainty of Wall Street involvement.

Some Democrats recognize the danger. From the Times:

“Representative Jerrold Nadler, Democrat of New York, said he feared the one-year cut in the Social Security payroll tax, to 4.2 percent from 6.2 percent on income up to $106,800, would weaken Social Security because Republicans would insist on it being made permanent, and Democrats would relent. “We know that politically once you make that tax cut it will be impossible to restore it,” Mr. Nadler said.”

It’s interesting, and a little pathetic, that Nadler takes it for a given that the Democrats will roll over on the issue of restoring the tax, but he’s probably correct. Certainly there’s nothing in the recent actions of Congress or the Administration that would lead one to believe they’re spoiling for a fight. On anything.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Keeping an Eye on Things

 Sorry folks, I’ve been a little off this week. I’ve been fighting a cold that’s taken some zing out of my stinger and I’ve been running around after work a bit lately. It doesn’t mean I’ve given up being outraged and disgusted, but my body has been permitting a little less outrage these past few days.

With the help of Michael Moore and some other members of the Hollywood set, Julian Assange was granted bail yesterday, yet he continues to sit in prison so the government can appeal the judges ruling. So it goes.  If that poor bastard gets out of prison before the US Government indicts him and hauls him off to Gitmo he should consider himself lucky. Meanwhile, Wikileaks keeps churning out the hits. Cable after cable proving that the cynical leftists were essentially right about, well, almost everything. Yet the administration is pissed off because someone turned over their rock and shined a light on the snakes underneath. Amazing. This government has extended the Bush administration’s full frontal assault on civil liberties without apology. Wikileaks is just their big fat chicken flying home to roost for the holidays. Michael Moore in his letter explaining why he contributed to Assange’s bail fund said, “Openness, transparency -- these are among the few weapons the citizenry has to protect itself from the powerful and the corrupt.” Is it any surprise that the powerful and corrupt are calling for show trials and executions? Nah.

Moore goes on to aptly describe what I think is the real benefit to having Wikileaks out there firing rhetorical missiles into the heartland-the possibility for future government restraint.

“Might WikiLeaks cause some unintended harm to diplomatic negotiations and U.S. interests around the world? Perhaps. But that's the price you pay when you and your government take us into a war based on a lie. Your punishment for misbehaving is that someone has to turn on all the lights in the room so that we can see what you're up to. You simply can't be trusted. So every cable, every email you write is now fair game. Sorry, but you brought this upon yourself. No one can hide from the truth now. No one can plot the next Big Lie if they know that they might be exposed.”

I agree that the government needs to be exposed, but unlike Moore I’m not entirely convinced that they’ll change their ways overnight, certainly not without a constant parade of Private Mannings and Julian Assanges holding the torch up to their misdeeds. Repressive governments are like vampires. Once you turn the lights out they’ll come slinking back in the dark to resume sucking your blood. They can’t help it. It’s their nature, the poor dears.

Remember people, whether you accept the paradigm or not, there is a class war going on in this country. It’s the wealthy and powerful against the rest of us, just like it’s always been. You don’t have to take my word for it.  Here’s the unvarnished opinion of the incoming chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, Spencer Bachus, R-Ala., who told the Birmingham news that "in Washington, the view is that the banks are to be regulated, and my view is that Washington and the regulators are there to serve the banks."

At least he's intellectually honest. That must count for something.

Monday, December 13, 2010

A Taxing Plan

Obama’s capitulation on tax breaks for the rich has finally gotten some of the mainstream Democrats pissed off to the point where they are articulating sentiments heretofore unheard in the polite company of the two party system. Here’s one unhappy Obama voter: 

“At this point, only 3 kinds of people think their vote counts for anything: 1) the absurdly naive, 2) the authoritarian cheerleader, and 3) the perpetually stupid. Pick your category.”

That bit of cynical wisdom comes from a comment made on responding to an article by former Labor Secretary Robert Reich, which concluded that anyone who still sees government as our last bulwark against privilege and power is aghast at Obama's tax deal.

Nevertheless, the unwashed masses actually support the tax plan, probably because they aren’t mentally tying that 2% payroll tax holiday to the cat food they’re going to be eating when social security goes belly-up. Well, live for the moment has always been the American way.

The government giveth and the government taketh away. Citizens in New York won’t see that much in savings even with the tax cut. The $67 to $178 a month you'll be saving will just go to things like fare hikes and parking meters. One financial planner opined that, "It sounds like you'll be able to live a better life—but when you work it out, it doesn't create any new disposable income." The dirty secret about taxes is that you will never, ever get a real break. The less money the feds have to give to the states, the more local taxes will rise to meet local expenses. It’s a shell game, and you are the nut.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Way Over Yonder in the Monarchy

Things are starting to heat up in Europe. Last night Prince Charles and his wife were taking the Rolls out for a spin when they were set upon by a mob of socialists and anarchists with pitchforks. The crowd was chanting “off with their heads” and “Tory Scum” while smashing the car’s windows and attempting to drag the royal personages into the street to administer a little mob justice. A commenter at the NY Times noted that this might be the first attack on members of the Royal Family on the streets of London since George III's carriage was attacked en route to the opening of Parliament in October 1795. You remember George the III; he was King at the time of the American Revolution. Plus ca change.

The look of utter shock on the royal faces was pretty telling. It was the same startled look of privileged people everywhere who are confronted with agitated serfs. In their heart of hearts the uber-rich and powerful believe that poor and working class people owe them a free life of luxury. Thus, the incredible consternation when they realize the people would just as soon string them up as look at them.  Let’s hope the privileged have many more such shocking surprises in their near future.

The attempted regicide occurred after a day of pitched battles between students and police on the streets of London. It is unfortunate that the attack on the royals has diverted some attention from the fact that England appears to be convulsed in chaos, largely brought on by the government’s attempts to restore the economy on the backs of the workers and students. The students, quite rightly, see the writing on the wall and realize that if the government isn’t stopped now, England will start to resemble the United States, with no healthcare and unattainably expensive higher education. Another commenter on the Times web site hit the nail on the head:

“Why shouldn't the students attack Prince Charles's limousine, paid for no doubt by tax money that could be used to subsidize higher education tuition? English students don't want their educational system becoming Americanized: available to those with money, a heavy if not impossible burden for those who don't.”

Back here in the colonies, the silence has been deafening. We’re all too busy staring at our little screens and venting our frustrations on Facebook to be bothered to get out in the streets and fight for our due. The government is well aware of citizen apathy and takes full advantage thereof. Yesterday I heard a Republican, Jim DeMint float a proposal to make unemployment insurance into a loan, rather than an entitlement, to be paid back with interest and administered by Wall Street.  You would think that in a country with 10% unemployment this would elicit howls of protest from the citizenry. You would think, but you would be wrong.

The only thing that gives me a glimmer of hope, just a glimmer mind you, is that the comments on the last few articles in the Times about the European protests are brimming with barely contained anger at the government. With the Obama tax sellout and the coming evisceration of the social safety net, it feels like we’re sitting on a big pile of gunpowder.  I just wonder who is going to light the match.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Free Speech Under Fire

One of the most valuable things to come out of the Wikileaks brouhaha is that average citizen can finally observe the lengths to which the Unites States government will go to squelch speech that doesn’t agree with the sanctioned narrative. Usually the government uses dirty tricks against someone they’ve defined as a pain in the ass, well outside of the media glare. Tactics like destroying someone’s reputation and sending them down the road to financial ruin have typically been reserved for the more marginal left wing activists, who were unlikely to garner much sympathy from the general public in any event. Here, we have an intelligent, charismatic anarchist who cleans up well and looks good on television-a totalitarian government’s worst nightmare. As a consequence, they were forced to use their biggest guns, and fire them in full view of the media.

Obama’s government, (let’s not lose sight of that salient fact), has thus far exerted pressure on Mastercard, Visa, Paypal, Twitter, the Swiss Banking and legal institutions and the mainstream media, sufficient to drive Wikileaks to the brink of nonexistence, all because it was doing what journalists are supposed to do-report the news. I seem to remember learning way back in civics class that a free press was a vital component of a free society.  The fact that most of the media outlets in this country have abdicated any pretense that they are still practicing anything resembling investigative journalism, seems to have given the government the idea that they are free to squash dissent with cavalier impunity.

Even I was taken aback by Lieberman’s call to investigate whether criminal charges could be brought against the NY Times for publishing the Wikileaks cables, but I guess that is part of the whole plan to re-frame the debate. Two weeks ago, Wikipedia was regularly described in the media as “whistleblowers”. Over the past week, news organizations Reuters, NBC, and the Associated Press have formally decided to stop identifying WikiLeaks as a "whistleblower" organization. Clearly, the media is attempting to turn public opinion to the government’s view of Wikipedia, that is, that they are cyber terrorists.

From the Atlantic: “Gawker's Ryan Tate thinks it is telling that the three news outlets amended their style guidelines to fit with the White House's official characterization of the leaks. "What a coincidence!" he marvels. Tate is also skeptical of the AP's claim that "a website that specializes in displaying leaked information" is a clearer and more accurate designation. "[That] rolls right off the tongue," Tate scoffs.”

Language is power. If you can frame the issue with your language, you’ve won more than half the battle in the court of public opinion. Here, the government has pressed the bankers and the media into service to achieve its totalitarian aim to stifle dissent. This should be resisted firmly by every patriot worthy of the name.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Wikileaks Needs Your Support

Take two days off and the world explodes. I’m not sure which story merits more consideration today, Obama’s complete capitulation to the Republicans on the tax “compromise”, or the concerted global effort to shut down Wikileaks. The Obama tax cut disaster was a foregone conclusion, so I guess venting my spleen at the administration wouldn’t add anything to the conversation. I’d simply like to suggest two words to the suddenly disillusioned Democrats who really, really thought that this time Obama was fighting for their interests: Primary. Challenge. He could care less about you. Dump him in the ditch like a sack of old potatoes and try to find someone liberal enough to stave off the utter dismantling of the social safety net. I’m not saying you’re going to be able to do it, but for heavens sake, at least try. And take that ring out of your nose. The party has led you around by the nose long enough.

Let’s review today’s developments in the Wikileak saga, shall we? Assange was arrested (no surprise there) and denied bail (also not surprising) in England where he will presumably be held long enough for the United States to charge him under some particularly Orwellian section of the Patriot Act. Attorney General Eric Holder is lauding the arrest, which doesn’t bode well for Assante’s future. As I was writing the preceding paragraph, I noticed that Mastercard, Paypal and Visa both shut down electronic donations to Wikileaks, thereby resolving any lingering doubts you may have had about the whether the government and bankers are one and the same. The move also deprives Assange of the funds he will undoubtedly need to avoid ending up in a CIA prison somewhere in Bumfuckistan.

It is perhaps worthy of note that Mastercard, Paypal and Visa continue to allow organizations like the KKK to utilize their services. Not sure about their reasoning there.

Fortunately, Philadelphia-based Xipwire has stepped in and set up a page where Wikileaks supporters can donate. "Our motivation is really simple," Xipline founder Sharif Aleandre explained in an email. "While people may or may not agree with WikiLeaks and the documents it has released, we feel that PayPal's recent decision to refuse to process donations on their behalf effectively silences voices in this democracy. In fact, it was the Citizens United case that basically equated donations with free speech and if the Supreme Court decided that our government doesn't have the power to regulate that speech then it's our opinion that corporations certainly shouldn't have that power either."

I can’t fault his reasoning. Reaction on the interwebs to the concentrated attack on Wikileaks has been pretty intense. Most savvy internet users know that this is bigger than Wikileaks. Glen Greenwald rightly noted over at Salon that 'What's really going on here is a war over control of the nternet and whether or not the internet can actually serve what a lot of people hoped its ultimate purpose was, which was to allow citizens to band together and democratize the checks on the world’s most powerful factions."

If governments are allowed to dictate what can or cannot be published and debated in the public square, the chilling effect on free speech cannot be denied.

Donations to Wikileaks can be made HERE. You can also donate $10 by texting WL to 56624.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Fat Cats vs. We the Sheeple

Deficit reduction is the hot topic in the MSM these days. Various ostensibly "bipartisan” panels are meeting behind closed doors and deciding exactly how much fleecing the citizenry can stand, in order to ensure that a regular supply of money flows unimpeded into the higher income brackets. The media has been dutifully reporting the recommendations presented by these panels of aristocrats (or, aristocats?) without question;  certainly without positing other, more obvious solutions that would impact the wealthy more than the rest of us. In other words, its business as usual.

Excuse me, but General Electric paid NO corporate income tax last year, and you want me to work until I’m 70 years old to pay some bankers year-end bonus? Go fuck yourself!! You know who else paid no federal income tax last year? Bank of America. Yup, one of the largest recipients of taxpayer bailout money had sufficient profits to pay out millions of dollars in bonuses to its top executives, but had a federal tax liability of exactly zero. Let’s see, who else……..oh, I almost forgot, Exxon Mobil also paid NO federal income tax last year, despite raking in $10.3 billion in pretax income. How do they do it? Easy, they report all of the losses in the United States, and declare all of their overseas income, which they don’t have to pay taxes on. Yup, the US Government rewards giant corporations for moving their operations overseas by giving them massive tax breaks.

I'm really having trouble wrapping my mind around this. Rather than suggesting that corporate welfare be eliminated to substantially reduce the deficit, the bipartisan commission actually suggested REDUCING the corporate income tax rate to 26% from 35%! (Presumably this would only apply to those corporations whose accountants aren’t smart enough to figure out how completely elude their tax liabilites.) It's still kind of breathtaking to actually see it written down in the same document that purports to be a responsible approach to the deficit.

 Other highlights from the commission:

 -Collapsing today's five income tax rates into three brackets: 8 percent for the lowest incomes, 14 percent for middle incomes and 23 percent for the wealthiest. (Note the wealthiest would see the most significant reduction in their federal taxes under this plan);

 -Ending $1.1 trillion in popular tax breaks ranging from deducting mortgage interest to receiving health insurance from employers on a pre-tax basis. (That would broaden the tax base and make virtually all Americans pay more in taxes.);

 -Increasing the federal gas tax by 15 cents a gallon to pay for transportation improvements. (I actually agree with this one);

 -Raising the age at which Americans can get Social Security benefits - to 68 by 2050 and 69 by 2075 - reflecting that Americans are living and working longer. (Unless you are poor, or black, in which case you’ll likely die at your desk).

 The deficit reduction seems to forget the fact that the 6-8 billion dollars we’re spending EVERY MONTH in Afghanistan would be better spent here at home, but are you really surprised?

And then there's the tax cuts, which honestly deserve a post all to themselves.The most conservative estimates show that continuing the Bush tax cuts for those making over 250k a year adding adding four trillion dollars to the deficit. Let me say that slowly. Four. Trillion. Dollars. Yet the Deficit Commission declares that they need to get their money by strip mining Social Security and Medicare, Medicaid and from raising taxes on the middle class? Bullshit! (Firedog Lake has a great posting on the Obama administration's duplicity on this issue.)

 The current hysterical urgency surrounding the need for immediate deficit reduction, smells a lot like the manufactured urgency that was used to sell the bank bailout package. Remember how that ended up? Don’t buy it. There’s money aplenty. (After all, we keep printing it when we run out.) This is all a matter of choices, and the banks and the fat cats are making those choices right now, while we the people are distracted by dancing B list celebrities and shiny electronic things. I don't know about you, but I'm more than a little concerned that Americans are behaving more sheepish now than at any time in our history. Now would be an excellent time to get out in the streets and make a little noise. Anybody? Anybody?

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

My Wiki is Leaking

How pissed is the US government at Julian Assange? Well, if I were him I wouldn’t go for any long walks in public without armed guards. Everybody from the CIA to Interpol is no doubt looking for a way for Assange to have an unfortunate single-vehicle accident on a secluded mountain road. Plan B includes fictitious charges of rape followed by a  lengthy prison term where Julian could be more easily dispatched by an intelligence operative disguised as an inmate. This is how our government has dealt with this sort of thing in the past, so I have absolutely no doubt that Assange is for all intents and purposes, a walking dead man, unless he has a secret stash of photos of Obama and Hillary Clinton with a transsexual hooker. Even then, I’d still fear for his safety. The only thing that gives me hope is that the CIA is pretty clueless about how to do anything.

It has been strangely satisfying to watch the administration freak out about having its foreign policy lies exposed for the entire world to see. I only wish these revelations had come out when Bush was still president. He probably would have ordered a drone strike on Sweden and invaded Western Europe to grab Assange and subject him to extraordinary rendition somewhere in a neutral third country. The Obama administration’s response has been a bit more restrained, although it’s starting to sound a little hysterical. I think it’s worthwhile to read Daniel Ellsberg’s take on the government’s response. The man who leaked the Pentagon papers had this to say about the State Department’s assertion that lives would be put at risk as a result of Wikileak’s publication:

That’s a script that they roll out, every administration rolls out, every time there’s a leak of any sort. The best justification for secrecy that they can find is that lives are at stake. Actually, lives are at stake as a result of silence and lies, which a lot of these leaks reveal. Certainly the same charges were made about the Pentagon Papers and turned out to be quite invalid over the years, the same things that Hillary Clinton is saying now about WikiLeaks. As a matter of fact.

Pretty standard, that script. Maybe the media will have the temerity to question the administration on that point. Nah, who am I kidding?

Assange’s life expectancy is sure to be further shortened once he turns Wikileak’s attention to the financial sector, which he has promised to do next. I mean, fuck with the government ok, fuck with the banking system? Swim with the fishes.