Monday, December 12, 2011
Wednesday, November 30, 2011
As soon as this week, Congress will start debating whether to give the government the power to turn off parts of the Internet. If that sounds like a terrible recipe for abuse of power, that's because it is.
If enacted, a new law would make it so a simple allegation of copyright infringement—with no review process—could lead to the shutdown of sites from YouTube to Wikipedia to MoveOn.org.1 Any website, foreign or U.S.-based, could be wiped out on suspicion and made unavailable to everyone in the world.
For example, if you (or Justin Bieber) wanted to post a video to YouTube of yourself singing a Beatles song, a record company could force the Department of Justice to shut down YouTube. Really.2
But as you may have guessed, Congress didn't come up with this tragically terrible idea on their own. Lobbyists representing Comcast, Pfizer, record and movie companies, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce3 have been pushing Democrats and Republicans to pass bills to allow this new kind of Internet censorship. And they're close to getting their way.
But a small number of Democrats are standing strong and saying "No" to these powerful special interest groups. They need our help.
Senator Ron Wyden from Oregon is one of our champions. He has promised to start a historic filibuster of the Internet Censorship Act where he'll read the names of every person that signs a petition against Internet censorship.4 It's the perfect opportunity for 5 million Internet-connected progressives to visibly add their voice to a Senate debate. The more of us that sign, the stronger this effort to block this terrible law will be.
We know that the Internet's openness, freedom, and lack of censorship are what make it a bastion of infinite possibility, continued innovation, and job creation. Innovative companies like Google, Facebook, Twitter, Mozilla, and Yahoo have spoken out against this law, saying:
We should not jeopardize a foundational structure that has worked for content owners and Internet companies alike and provides certainty to innovators with new ideas for how people create, find, discuss, and share information lawfully online.5
Internet venture capitalists say that the legislation is "ripe for abuse,"6 and leading law professors reject it because it will "allow the government to block Internet access to websites."7
We condemn censorship overseas when it happens in China or Iran. But today, we need to stand up for freedom of speech on the Internet here at home.
1. "House Version of Rogue Websites Bill Adds DMCA Bypass, Penalties for DNS Workarounds," Public Knowledge, October 26, 2011
2. "Why Is Justin Bieber So Hackin Mad?" SaveTheInternet.com, November 2, 2011
3. "Five things to know about SOPA," The Washington Post, November 16, 2011
4. "Wyden to read petition names during copyright filibuster," The Hill, November 21, 2011
5. "SOPA opposition from tech heavyweights Google, Facebook," CBS News, November 17, 2011
6. "The PROTECT IP Act Will Slow Startup Innovation," Union Square Ventures, June 23, 2011
7. "Law Professors' Letter on SOPA," Electronic Frontier Foundation, November 15, 2011
Americans are talking about the economy—a lot. They're talking about Occupy Wall Street and the Super Committee, about an economy that only works for the 1% and about unemployment.
But thanks to Fox News and Rush Limbaugh, lots of talk about the economy means lots of misinformation about the economy.
So if you're spending this Thanksgiving holiday with friends and family, and want to be ready with the facts to gently correct any myths you hear (they are family and friends, after all), we put together a short guide with five common myths you might hear and easy-to-remember facts to respond to them.
Remember that you're the most important source of information for your family and friends, so check it out and then share it on Facebook or Twitter, or just forward this email. Happy Thanksgiving, and of course, thanks for all you do.
–Daniel, Mark, Julia, Elena, and the rest of the team
MYTH #1: The congressional Super Committee failed because both sides refuse to compromise.
REALITY: The Super Committee failed because Republicans' number one, non-negotiable priority is to protect millionaires and billionaires from paying even one more penny in taxes.1 Democrats repeatedly offered to make deep spending cuts—far deeper than most progressives would like—in exchange for raising taxes on the wealthy and closing corporate loopholes, only to be refused again and again.2 So even though the vast majority of Americans say they want to protect Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid benefits, and raise taxes on the rich and corporations,3 that won't happen until Republicans put aside their extremist stance.
MYTH #2: Nobody knows what Occupy Wall Street is about.
REALITY: Occupy Wall Street may not have a formal list of demands, but anyone who's been paying attention understands the core problems that occupiers are protesting—that corporations have far too much power in our political system, that Wall Street banks crashed our economy but were never held accountable, and that the richest 400 Americans have more wealth than half of all Americans—156 million people—combined.4
MYTH #3: Occupiers should stop protesting and just get a job.
REALITY: As anybody who's looked for a job in the last few years knows, there just aren't jobs out there. That's a big part of why occupiers are protesting. In September, there were four times as many unemployed people as job openings.5 And for those who are lucky enough to find a job, median wages today are lower than they were a decade ago.6
MYTH #4: Occupy Wall Street is intent on provoking violence, especially against banks and the police.
REALITY: Occupations across the country have committed themselves to nonviolent protest, in the greatest traditions of protest movements. Some of their protests have been met with acts of police violence—tear gas, pepper spray, rubber bullets7—but in many cases, protesters have reminded police that the police officers are part of the 99%, too.8 And in the few cases when people have shown up at Occupy demonstrations and committed acts of vandalism, other protesters have even repaired their acts of vandalism.9
MYTH #5: The biggest crisis facing our country is out of control government spending.
REALITY: The two biggest drivers of our deficit—by far—are the economic crash and the Bush tax cuts.10 We have millions of people out of work, corporations hoarding cash, and factories sitting idle. If we put all those people back to work—rebuilding infrastructure, educating our children, and researching new technologies—it'll shrink the deficit and make our economy stronger for the long haul. And we can easily afford it if we make sure the rich—who are taking home a larger percentage of income than any time since 191711—pay their fair share.
1. "No, 'both sides' aren't equally to blame for supercommittee failure," The Washington Post, November 21, 2011
2. "Wonkbook: In supercommittee, Dems moved right and Republicans moved righter," The Washington Post, November 22, 2011
3. "CNN Poll: What The Super Committee Produced Is...Exactly What We Don't Want," Talking Points Memo, November 21, 2011
"Medicare, Social Security & The Deficit," National Committee to Preserve Social Security & Medicare, September 2011
4. "Michael Moore says 400 Americans have more wealth than half of all Americans combined," Politifact Wisconsin, March 10, 2011
5. "Fact: 4 job seekers per opening in U.S.," CNN, September 12, 2011
6. "Median household income," Wikipedia, Accessed November 22, 2011
7. "Occupy movement: police reaction in pictures," The Guardian, November 21, 2011
8. "Occupy Demonstrators Mark Two Months of Protests," NPR, November 17, 2011
9. "Occupy Oakland protesters assist in cleanup efforts," News 10 ABC, November 3, 2011
10. "Economic Downturn and Bush Policies Continue to Drive Large Projected Deficits," Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, May 10, 2011
11. "Income Inequality Is At An All-Time High: STUDY," The Huffington Post, September 14, 2009http://www.moveon.org/r?r=268079&id=33178-19991208-xm_wb3x&t=12
Tuesday, November 29, 2011
In April, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives voted to cut Medicare and Medicaid. And this month, even Democrats on the so-called Super Committee have offered deep cuts to these vital programs.
Essentially, Republicans in Congress are telling senior citizens and the poor that tax cuts for billionaires and millionaires are more important than providing a health care safety net for our most vulnerable.
But did you know that members of Congress get great taxpayer-funded health care? In fact, they have one of the best health care plans in the world.
It strikes us as the height of hypocrisy to be accepting government-provided, taxpayer-subsidized health insurance while denying seniors, the disabled, and the poor the basic coverage that Medicare and Medicaid provide.
That's why we're circulating this petition demanding that members of Congress who voted to cut Medicare and Medicaid stop accepting taxpayer-subsidized health insurance for themselves. If they believe our most vulnerable citizens should buy insurance on the corporate, for-profit market, shouldn't they do the same?
The petition is addressed to the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives and says:
If you voted to cut Medicare and Medicaid, you must stop accepting taxpayer-funded health care for yourself and your family.
Will you sign the petition? Click here to add your name, and then pass it along to your friends:
An article from Worldwidetippingpoint.com
After spending 8 years and millions of dollars to create the documentary THRIVE: What on Earth Will It Take? I am honored to have Foster Gamble here on Worldwide Tipping Point in what I believe is his first public interview since the film’s release!
So what is this THRIVE film all about? I have pasted the official movie description below, but it will become quickly evident in this interview with Foster what THRIVE is hear to say.
And yes, Foster Gamble is one of those Gamble’s, a direct descendent of the Proctor & Gamble empire. I ask him some pretty pointed questions regarding his unbiased ability to shine a light on the unsustainable nature of our financial systems while obviously coming from a ‘financially elite’ legacy family described in the film…and his response is fascinating!
But THRIVE is not only a valiant attempt to describe how organized (and motivated) the super wealthy on this planet might really be.
All sorts of topics are weaved into the film including tangible evidence of extraterrestrial life, the meaning of crop circles, and the possibility of unlimited sources of clean, non-combustible energy being accessible right now…a truth that would completely revolutionize the way human beings live on Planet Earth!
I ask Foster about his decision to include all these seemingly unrelated topics, and how this all relates to a world where we can all thrive. Again, his answers are fascinating.
A Focus on Solutions
One thing I noticed while scheduling this interview was that Foster and his wife Kimberly (the film’s co-creator) are most excited about the solutions they have uncovered which are housed on THRIVE’s comprehensive website.
To them, this movie is not only about creating awareness of the problems but more importantly providing real, tangible solutions and actions each one of us can take starting right now!
In the end I find THRIVE to be a timely and relevant film, and a critically important artifact for our times. While I don’t expect all of you to agree with everything in the movie (as I am sure it will be controversial), I believe it’s a film worth checking out with an open mind, always asking yourself ‘what if…just what if’!
So listen to the interview, watch the movie, and share these items with your friends. In the end, it is up to ALL of us to decide how we can reach the Tipping Point and thrive together in our world, and this film certainly provides some intriguing things to think about.
More About THRIVE
THRIVE is an unconventional documentary that lifts the veil on what’s REALLY going on in our world by following the money upstream — uncovering the global consolidation of power in nearly every aspect of our lives. Weaving together breakthroughs in science, consciousness and activism, THRIVE offers real solutions, empowering us with unprecedented and bold strategies for reclaiming our lives and our future.
Visit the THRIVE Movement website to watch and share today!
Saturday, November 19, 2011
(Reuters) - It was a telling moment at the height of the Occupy Wall Street protests.
John Paulson, the hedge-fund trader who famously made billions betting on the collapse of the housing market, was threatened by the demonstrators with a march on his Upper East Side home in New York last month. Paulson responded by putting out a press release that described his $28 billion, 120-person fund as an exemplar of the American Dream: "Instead of vilifying our most successful businesses, we should be supporting them and encouraging them to remain in New York City."
Other captains of finance like to portray themselves as humble entrepreneurs. One owner of a multi-billion-dollar hedge fund grumbled in the midst of the financial crisis that he has to worry not only about making trading decisions but also about "all the hassles that come with running asmall business."
With U.S. cities moving this week to crack down on Occupy Wall Street encampments - including the one in New York's Zuccotti Park - the staying power of the movement is in question. Whatever its future, it's clear that so far, the Occupiers haven't changed many minds on Wall Street over blame for the country's hard times. The cognitive disconnect between the protesters and the captains of finance is alive and well.
David Mooney, chief executive officer of Alliant Credit Union in Chicago, one of the nation's larger credit unions, used to work at one of Wall Street's top banks, JPMorgan Chase. There's a vast cultural gap between Wall Street and his new world, he says: Old friends from the Street, he says, now jokingly refer to him as a "socialist." A credit union is supposed to be run in the interests of all members, he says, while commercial bankers tend to see consumers as customers who can be "exploited" by layering on more fees.
Says Mooney: "I don't say this lightly, but the consumer is simply an income stream and exploiting that is the purpose of the banking organization."
In conversations with nearly two dozen current and former bankers, finance professionals and money managers across the United States, the prevailing sentiment is that the anger at Wall Street's elite is misguided and misdirected. Blame the politicians and policymakers in Washington, many of them say, for encouraging people to buy homes they couldn't afford and doing nothing to stop or discourage U.S. consumers from piling on more than $10 trillion in household debt.
"I think everyone gets what the anger is about... But you just can't say, 'Well I want all debts forgiven.' That is not happening," says one West Coast trader, who like most still working in the financial services industry, declined to be identified by name in this article.
The disconnect, says Jason Ader, a former top Wall Street casino analyst turned hedge fund manager, is in part a simple product of Wall Street's isolation from the hardship out there. Ader says he spends a lot of his time in Las Vegas, one of America's hardest-hit housing markets, and thus wasn't too surprised by this fall's anti-Wall Street outburst.
"I see plenty of despair in places like Las Vegas, where in some neighborhoods every other house is vacant or foreclosed and lots are overgrown by weeds," says Ader, who sits on the boards of Las Vegas Sands Corp and a small Nevada community bank called Western Liberty Bancorp.
But the 43-year-old Ader, who manages $200 million in his hedge fund, says it's a different story for many of the wealthy who work in finance in New York City and don't spend a lot of time in states with high unemployment and high foreclosure rates. Living in Manhattan or the Hamptons or hedge fund havens like Greenwich, Connecticut, can lead to a bit of myopia, he says.
"At first I had friends who were scratching their heads at the protests," says Ader.
To put it bluntly, many on Wall Street still see the events leading up to the financial crisis as a case of banks having legitimately sold something - whether it be mortgages or securities backed by those loans - that someone wanted to buy.
Thomas Atteberry, a partner and portfolio manager with Los Angeles-based First Pacific Advisors, a $16 billion money management firm, says his success "wasn't a gift" and he had to work hard to get where he is. Atteberry says he understands the frustration many feel about income inequality. But he said the problem isn't with those who are successful, but rather our "tax codes and regulations."
While some members of the financial elite say they are willing to pay higher taxes, they note the picture for Wall Street firms is not as sunny as some on Main Street might paint it. Wall Street banks already are beginning to shed jobs, and consulting firm Johnson Associates Inc. is predicting bonuses for those who remain will shrink by 20 percent to 30 percent.
Complaints over new financial regulations burdening Wall Street firms are a major reason blamed for the layoffs. Sit down with a hedge fund manager or a top trader and it won't take long before he or she grabs some spreadsheet that shows all the new rules and regulations coming out of the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill.
Many of America's well-to-do, not just Wall Streeters, say they don't feel particularly advantaged. A recent survey by marketing firm HNW Inc. found that half of the nation's richest 1 percent "don't see themselves as being part of that elite group." Also, 44 percent of those surveyed told HNW's pollsters they already pay too much in taxes.
Maybe it is just the ethos of Wall Street, where success is defined solely by who makes the most money, that makes it hard for financiers to feel they've wronged anyone. But in a time of 9 percent unemployment and 15 percent of U.S. citizens receiving food stamps, some Wall Street alums say the financial elite are doing themselves no favors by giving the appearance of shrugging off the current mood.
"I think Wall Street hasn't taken in how much anger there is out there and they haven't taken partial responsibility for the financial crisis," says Brookings Institution fellow Douglas Elliott, who was an investment banker for two decades before joining the liberal-oriented public policy group. "I think both sides - Wall Street and Main Street - misunderstand each other."
Some who get paid to advise the rich on how to deal with the media and the public are telling clients to pay attention.
Robert Dilenschneider, founder and principal of The Dilenschneider Group corporate consulting group, recently sent a report to his clients telling them that many of the protesters taking part in the Occupy movement are not a bunch of unemployed crazies and hippies.
"The CEOs in big board rooms in Paris, in Zurich and New York don't normally think about people who are demonstrating in parks," says Dilenschneider, whose firm advises some of the biggest companies in the world. "In the banking and financial area, we are telling our clients you have to explain more completely what makes up your business and why your profits are what they are."
MOM AND POP HEDGE FUNDS
Some of the disconnect is simply a matter of lifestyle and the fact that the super wealthy really do live differently from everyone else. Hedge fund managers and bankers fly around on private jets, live in palatial penthouse apartments overlooking Central Park and have second homes in the country.
In New York City, the average pay for those working in finance is $361,183, more than five times the average salary of $66,106 for all workers in the city, according to the New York State Department of Labor.
This disparity in income and attitudes was evident in the response of hedge fund managers like Paulson who portrayed themselves as humble businessmen. Says Wall Street historian Charles Geisst, "Hedge funds may be small businesses in terms of labor intensity, but in terms of capital intensity they are just the opposite."
A spokesman for Paulson said he had nothing more to add on the subject.
Former Wall Street practitioners say the Street does not lend itself to a lot of introspection. "The world of investment bankers and especially the trading floor region is notoriously hermetically sealed,'" says Kenneth Froewiss, a retired JPMorgan Chase investment banker and former finance professor at New York University's Stern School of Business. "The walls may be filled with screens beaming the latest news, but there is typically an obliviousness as to what is happening across the street."
There are exceptions, of course. Some are saying it may be time for the government which has bailed out the banking system to help millions of struggling homeowners.
One of those is former top Pacific Investment Management Co executive Paul McCulley, best known for his analysis on central banks and monetary policy when he worked at the world's biggest bond fund. McCulley, who retired a year ago from Newport Beach, California-based PIMCO to become a consultant with a public policy firm, enjoys the wealth he accumulated in his old role. He lives in a house by the water where he docks his two boats. But he says Wall Street went too far.
"Our society was ripe for a convulsion about social justice, and Occupy Wall Street was the catalyst for that," says McCulley. "New York can be very insular. It is not the real world and neither is Newport Beach."
Now that he's no longer working for PIMCO, McCulley is a bit more free to speak his mind. And he says the only way to jumpstart the U.S. economy is for the federal government to get behind a serious program to encourage consumer debt forgiveness and principal reductions on mortgages by banks. (tinyurl.com/3cbdjpk)
McCulley noted that mortgage firms Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have been propped up by about $169 billion in federal aid since they were rescued by the government in 2008, yet there's a "a moral overtone" to the argument against reducing mortgage debt burdens for individual borrowers.
"Wall Street capitalism has given us a foul stench in our society," says McCulley.
The disconnect continues.
Just this week, top executives at Fannie and Freddie found themselves drawing fire on Capitol Hill for trying to distribute nearly $13 million in bonuses to key employees.
And the October 31 collapse of MF Global Holdings is prompting some critics to say Wall Street hasn't learned any lessons from the financial crisis. The futures brokerage house filed for bankruptcy after investors and traders became fearful that MF Global had taken on too much exposure to European sovereign debt in a bid to juice revenues.
The risky trade was put on by former New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine, a former Goldman Sachs Group chief executive. Last year, Corzine was saying Wall Street investment banks had taken on too much risk in the months leading up to the financial crisis. On the lecture circuit Corzine was calling for tighter regulation of Wall Street, even while his firm was borrowing more and more money to bet on some of the riskiest European debt. A Corzine representative declined to comment. (link.reuters.com/xad25s).
William Cohan, the author of several Wall Street-related books and a former Lazard investment banker, said MF Global was acting as if the 2007-2008 crisis never happened: "You would have to be living under a rock if you didn't get the message of the financial crisis."
(Reported by Matthew Goldstein and Jennifer Ablan, with additional reporting by Sam Forgione; editing by Michael Williams and Claudia Parsons)