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Robin Hood tax march near Lafayette Park on Connecticut Avenue between H and I Street, NW, Washington DC on April 20, 2013. (Photo: <a href=" http://www.flickr.com/photos/95413346@N00/8667812714/in/photolist-ecWNJN-ecRkSX-ecRxhK-ecRsze-ecX2cU-ecRn2g-ecRsJn-ecR9Li-ecX1xj-ecX2Gf-ecRnj6-ecWQwh-ecRoKX-ecRbxF-ecRmCp-ecRa1M-ecRoB8-ecWPkE-ecWQYY-ecX6GU-ecWRbm-ecRsqK-ed8jRT-ede2Bd-eddZjL-ed8h4a-eddQrs-ed8n9c-ed8jae-eddFGJ-ed8gba-eddUjG-eddSF7-eddRdq-ed8hMp-ed8ivg-ed8eCp-ede1aw-eddmQW-ed2s16-ed2drr-eddm2f-ecXHZ1-ed2nPP-ecWBNX-edeG1Q-ecSrTD-ecWHH8-ed7WXL-ecSrug-ed3c2u "target="_blank"> Elvert Barnes Protest Photography / Flickr</a>)Robin Hood tax march near Lafayette Park on Connecticut Avenue between H and I Street, NW, Washington DC on April 20, 2013. (Photo: Elvert Barnes Protest Photography / Flickr)JIM HIGHTOWER ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Have you heard about High Frequency Trading? Get ready to be dazzled! HFT is sweeping, purely speculative financial transactions that have been made possible by huge leaps in technology. Done by super-fast computers, using mathematical algorithms, HFT searches millions of prices at lightning speeds and places bets automatically. Transaction times are measured in milliseconds, as the global network of "trading robots" never sleeps, and its sole function is to allow the wealthiest speculators to skim quick profits out of markets.

Guess how much in taxes folks pay on the sales in the HFT game? When I buy a $3 pack of toilet paper here in Austin, Texas, I pay an extra 8.25 percent in sales tax. But if a high roller in the HFT game buys $10 million worth of corporate stock, he or she pays zero tax on the sale.

So maybe we need an FTT on HFT. A Financial Transaction Tax is not an idea whose time has come, but simply returned. From 1914 to 1966, our country taxed all sales and transfers of stock. The tax was doubled in the last year of Herbert Hoover's presidency to help us recover from the Great Depression. Today, 40 countries have FTT's, including the seven with the fastest-growing stock exchanges in the world. Seven members of the European Union voted for an FTT (including France and Germany) to help blunt rising poverty, restore services and put people back to work.


chevrontoxlegChevron's toxic legacy in Ecuador (Photo: Rainforest Action Network)Yesterday, a New York federal judge overturned a $9.5 billion Ecuadorean court judgment against Chevron for failure to clean up toxic oil drlling waste in an indigenous area, Lago Agrio, of the Amazon.

This was a dramatic and heartbreaking example of how a company with multi-billion dollars in profits, like Chevron, can delay a case -- and then shop around to find a favorable venue (even after losing the lawsuit) until the verdict is overturned.  Meanwhile, the US attorney, Steven Donziger, who had been representing the residents of Lago Agrio, was ultimately the excuse the judge used for reversing the fine against Chevron. It was imposed, remember, by an Ecuadorean court.

Many of the local residents who live near the toxic pits and polluted waters that Chevron was responsible for cleaning up (the toxic time bomb had been created by Texaco, which Chevron acquired in 2000) filed a class action lawsuit in 2003.  They claimed, as was shown in a documentary that damns Chevron with the details of the case, "Crude," that Chevron was allowing the continued pollution of water and the earth that the indigenous Ecuadorians depend upon for subsistence, resulting in illnesses, deaths, and diseased fish and crops.

Intel headquarters in Santa Clara, California. (Photo: <a href=" http://www.flickr.com/photos/25052095@N03/5951260246/in/photolist-a4TLkh-hVnoon-edLofi-8FyPZn-bB6Yyg-f2LQ1F-f2LQ7Z-f2LQ46-f2LQ5a-f326bu-f3269h-f326f3-f2LPYt-f2LQ5z-f2LPZe-f2LPVp-7AXZEg-6aamYY-8Vu2Pr-5s6pst-71GB87-932gtM-5Uoy3N-5n2msf-5mX5F4-4jmUZN-4jmVfJ-4jhRwX-4jhQGD-a4TM3N-a4TNXw-a4TMws-a4TLQ3-a4QVsM-a4TLzs-a4QWFk-a4TNK9-a4TNeG-f2LPXe-f2LQ8V-f2LPWD-f3268U-f326bG-f326cs-f2LPWe-8WhgbH-8Wkkao-8Wkk7E-bDH7tA-deB619-98DKx"target="_blank">Nick Knupffer / Flickr</a>)Intel headquarters in Santa Clara, California. (Photo: Nick Knupffer / Flickr)DAVID SIROTA ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Remember when President Obama was lambasted for saying "you didn't build that"? Turns out he was right, at least when it comes to lots of stuff built by the world's wealthiest corporations. That's the takeaway from this week's new study of 25,000 major taxpayer subsidy deals over the last two decades.

Entitled "Subsidizing the Corporate One Percent," the report from the taxpayer watchdog group Good Jobs First shows that the world's largest companies aren't models of self-sufficiency and unbridled capitalism. To the contrary, they're propped up by billions of dollars in welfare payments from state and local governments.

Such subsidies might be a bit more defensible if they were being doled out in a way that promoted upstart entrepreneurialism. But as the study also shows, a full "three-quarters of all the economic development dollars awarded and disclosed by state and local governments have gone to just 965 large corporations" — not to the small businesses and startups that politicians so often pretend to care about.


atppcur(Photo: GlobalTradeWatch)It is difficult for critics to attack specifics of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), allegedly nearing a completed agreement.  That is because, as almost all progressives are aware, the TPP is being negotiated in secret with only corporations, lobbyists and governments privy to the talks.

The TPP represents the longstanding US doctrine that global corporations (led by US-based companies) and concentrated capital should determine -- with the consent of nation states -- international financial and, therefore, labor policy.

There are no dissenting advocacy groups involved in TPP (meaning no public input), no unions, no environmental groups that might urge the prevention of climate change, no one to challenge the power of the captains of industry and their fan clubs represented by officials of national governments (mostly in the developed world).

The TPP is rumored, from leaked sections and conversations, to be vast in scope and has been described as NAFTA on steroids.


AssassinNinja(Photo: Katsushika Hokusai)The Pentagon's budget proposal for next year was announced last week by Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel. In an interview with The New York Times, Hagel argued that to meet today's national security needs, the Department of Defense (DoD) must shift its focus and capabilities away from "fighting grinding ground conflicts" and towards "new arenas of combat." To achieve these ends, the budget calls for a realignment of the military that would reduce the total number of ground troops to its lowest level since 1940 and discontinue some military equipment deemed obsolete or unnecessary. According to Hagel, current levels of both assets are "larger than we can afford to modernize and keep ready." The proposed budget also includes reductions in personnel benefits and base services, as well as base closings. The targeted cuts, however, are only one aspect of the budget. The other involves the new sources of priority spending.

The budget plan includes a call for greater expenditures on computer-based technologies and special operations. The Nation's Bob Dreyfuss reports that the "cuts would fund new projects including cyberwarfare capabilities, $1 billion for a more fuel-efficient jet engine, and plans for a new Navy surface ship." Despite the cuts to traditional aspects of the military, the DoD has no plans to shrink or limit programs that would undermine America's ever-growing hegemonic objectives. Dreyfuss writes, "Major weapons systems that might have been cut were sustained, the US special forces units are being increased substantially from already high levels" and "the US Navy would maintain all eleven of its aircraft carriers."

According to National Priorities Project, a nonprofit, non-partisan federal budget research organization, even as Hagel is requesting "cutbacks in a number of military programs, the Pentagon isn't planning any major reductions in spending any time soon." While the cuts translate to savings in specific areas, "the new Pentagon budget does not project a commensurate decline in spending." In fact, the United States will continue to carry a defense budget which exceeds that of the next 10 countries combined.


astoptar(Photo: someones.life)As hundreds of activists were arrested (in front of the White House) Sunday protesting the proposed new northern leg of the Keystone XL pipeline, the "toxic sludge" propaganda of its owner, TransCanada, is flooding the media.
First, here is some background.
BuzzFlash reported last week that while the focus of activists trying to save planet Earth has been on the new northern leg of the Keystone XL pipeline, Canadian tar sands oil have already started to flow through the current older pipeline to Cushing, Oklahoma, and from there through the brand new sourthern leg of the Keystone pipeline that President Obama eagerly approved awhile back.  Tar sands oil, as we reported last year, has also flowed through other pipeline systems, causing massive spills in Michigan and Arkansas.
In short, the notion that stopping the new Keystone XL pipeline northern branch will keep tar sands oil out of the US is false.  The tar sands crude is already flowing into the US, just not at the volume its producers want in order to create more profit.  The increased damage to our atmosphere due to Alberta tar sands oil being transported via pipelines is already underway, as we again emphasized in a BuzzFlash at Truthout commentary last week, "First Canadian Tar Sands Oil Flows Through Southern Keystone XL Pipeline as Senators Warn of Cancer Risks."


AVotingBooths2(Photo: Electiontechnology)Growing up in Jim Crow Arkansas, Bill Clinton saw how the state's dominant political and racial elite maintained power by suppressing the rights of minority voters who threatened its authority — and as a young activist, worked to bring down that illegitimate power structure. So when Clinton says, "There is no greater assault on our core values than the rampant efforts to restrict the right to vote" — as he does in a new video released by the Democratic National Committee — the former president knows of what he speaks.

In the segregationist South of Clinton's youth, the enemies of the universal franchise were Democrats, but times have changed. Not just below the Mason-Dixon Line but across the country, it is Republicans who have sought to limit ballot access and discourage participation by minorities, the poor, the young and anyone else who might vote for a Democratic candidate.

No doubt this is why, at long last, the Democratic Party has launched a national organizing project, spearheaded by Clinton, to educate voters, demand reforms, and push back against restrictive laws. Returning to his role as the nation's "explainer-in-chief," Clinton may be able to draw public attention to the travesty of voter ID requirements and all the other tactics of suppression used by Republicans to shrink the electorate.

His first task is to debunk the claims of "voter fraud," fabricated by Republican legislators and right-wing media outlets, as the rationale for restrictive laws. Lent a spurious credibility by the legendary abuses of old-time political machines, those claims make voter suppression seem respectable and even virtuous.


ElderlyRetiring(Photo: Nicholaes Maes)The dream of a comfortable retirement is dying for many Americans. It's being extracted as a form of tribute to the very rich, a redistribution of our nation's wealth, a "tax" imposed on the middle and lower classes and paid for with their retirement savings.

1. A $6.8 Trillion Retirement Deficit in America. But $8 Trillion in New U.S. Wealth Was Created in 2013.

The problem is that most of the new financial wealth went to the richest 10% (almost 90 percent of all stocks excluding fast-disappearing pensions). Basically you already had to be rich to share in the new wealth, and the people taking the wealth can defer taxes as long as they want, and then pay a smaller rate than income earners. Meanwhile, according to the National Institute on Retirement Security, Americans are at least $6.8 trillion short of what they need for a comfortable retirement.

2. $6,500 is the Median Retirement Fund for Upper-Middle-Class 50- to 64-Year-Olds.

That's based on an analysis of the second-highest quartile of Americans by the Schwartz Center for Economic Policy Analysis. It may get worse before it gets any better. The percentage of 75- to 84-year-old seniors falling into poverty doubled from 2005 to 2009. That was BEFORE the recession. And the number of elderly Americans, notes the Administration on Aging, is steadily rising, likely by 75 percent between 2010 and 2030, to almost 70 million people.


avera2.jpaAnti-Fracking activist Vera Scroggins is under virtual house arrest in PA. (Photo: James Pitarresi) It seems every week or so you can hear language borrowed from the War On Terror, the Salem Witch Hunts and the McCarthy hearings. Some prosecutor is hurling invective at fossil fuel resisters, who sit in the courtroom with their pro bono lawyers, staring with the disbelief of newcomers to the evils of the plunderers of our Earth -- and the collusion of our government with them.

We know that there are heroes like the Sea Shepherd sailors, the Arctic 30, and Tim "Bidder 70" DeChristopher. Although some of these activists are young, we tend to think of them as veterans who are making a stand for the rest of us. But an increasing movement seems to be building, in which the heroes are people who might be described as local activists. These are volunteer citizens who oppose fossil fuel projects near where they live - who resist with their bodies because they don't have the money to pull the strings in government like the fossil fuel industry. Something about these under-equipped protesters is making Big Oil go crazy.

Three Michigan women - Lisa Leggio, Barbara Carter, and Vicci Hamlin - chained themselves to an excavator in the little town of Mason. They were polite in that Midwestern way throughout their protest of Enbridge, the Canadian firm that leaked 800,000 gallons of oil in their community, and can't seem to clean it up. After the conviction was read, Judge William Collette, a Republican and former bomber pilot, marched the ladies - one of them a great-grandmother - straight to jail from their defense table, despite their intentions to appeal.

Here we have a signature tactic of fossil fuel injustice. Call it "overcharging," accusing nonviolent defendants of felonious crimes that will later be dropped, but meanwhile holding them in prison because the bail is too high. In this way, the personal turmoil in the families of the accused is maximized. 

Friday, 28 February 2014 06:39

Basking in Republican Paradise


ElephantHerd(Photo: Arnabjdeka)According to a New York Times/CBS poll taken at the end of February, 2014: "Republicans are in a stronger position than Democrats for this year's midterm elections, benefiting from the support of self-described independents, even though the party itself is deeply divided, and most Americans agree more with Democratic policy positions, the latest New York Times/CBS News poll shows." How could that be, you might say? After all, the Times story went on to say: "A majority of Americans surveyed also said they wanted both parties to do more to address the concerns of the middle class, reduce the budget deficit with both tax increases and spending cuts, and let illegal immigrants stay in the country and apply for citizenship. Mr. Obama shares those positions on the budget and immigration."

On top of that, a majority of U.S. were against two of the major national legislative initiatives of the GOP last year, which were to shut down the government in October and come perilously close to driving the nation into default. On their other major initiative, repealing what they have conveniently labelled as "Obamacare," the House of Representatives of course voted a zillion times (well, that's an over-statement, but I think they did it 40-plus times) to repeal it. Because of the Democratic majority in the Senate, that went nowhere legislatively. And so, they became the Party of No.

A majority of U.S. also disagree with them on such issues as marijuana legalization, same-sex marriage, and (hold your breath now) gun control. And still they appear to be ahead of the Democrats in the upcoming Congressional races next November. Once again, how could that be, you might say? Because since the 2008 election they have created a Republican Paradise and President Obama and most elected Democrats, at the national, state, and local levels, have allowed them to bask in it.

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