News Analysis

In Fight for Internet Freedom, Community Broadband is Comcast’s Achilles’ Heel

Originally published on January 16, 2018 on occupy.com

Last month, Federal Communications Commission Chair and ex-Verizon lawyer Ajit Pai callously repealed the tenets of net neutrality. Despite the high volume of calls into Congress, widespread protests at Verizon locations and a months-long mobilization by the online coalition known as Team Internet, the FCC went ahead and jeopardized the internet as we know it.

Scores of groups and organizations are already working hard to convince Congress to reverse the FCC’s decision. But an altogether different approach is also underway: Pushing local communities to form their own municipal broadband utility in order to get around the Big Telecom stranglehold.

In communities with a municipal broadband utility, the local government provides, or partially provides, broadband internet access to all citizens. In these towns and cities, internet is treated as a public utility – one that is city-owned and city-operated, much like electricity, water and garbage pick-up.

Cities have been working toward the community broadband goal for some time. According to Community Networks, a project of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, more than 95 U.S. communities already have a publicly-owned Fiber to the Home (FTTH) network reaching most of the community. Some 110 communities in 24 states have a publicly-owned network offering at least 1 Gigabit of services, and 77 communities have a publicly-owned cable network that reaches most of the community.

Still, as the shift to community-owned broadband internet gathers steam, a few disadvantages remain – like its prohibitive cost. The city of Fort Collins, Colo., had to come up with $150 million in bond money to amend the city charter and allocate funds for its broadband construction project. The price of broadband implementation in Seattle, Wa., is somewhere between $480 to $665 million, according to a city-commissioned study.

However, municipalities have gotten creative in their quest to fund these projects. The majority of cities use revenue bonds, but other cities have also turned to bank financing, interdepartmental loans, grants, an increase in taxes, and capital reserve savings.

Big Telecom and other private companies often claim that municipal broadband will lead to government surveillance of website usage through regulatory policy. In response to such concerns, Seattle launched a “digital privacy initiative” that defines exactly what information is shared with government, and how. Furthermore, while private ISPs love to chastise the government for overreach of power, they forget to mention that they openly share customer information with advertisers, governments and law enforcement without warrants or permission from users.

On the other hand, when a community provides broadband internet access, elected officials can be held accountable for misuse, unlike corporate behemoths like Comcast and Verizon.

Now, more and more individuals and communities are starting to ask the question: Is municipal broadband internet better than our current options? Looking again at Seattle as an example, there are currently three ISPs operating in that city. Comcast offers 150 Mbps (Megabits per second) download service, Centurylink started rolling out FTTP gigabit services in two neighborhoods serving 22,000 customers at a cost of $150 a month, and Wave is piloting FTTP service to 600 customers.

Meanwhile, a feasibility study recently concluded that a city-owned public internet service could provide 1 Gbps (Gigabit per second) to every neighborhood in Seattle for a monthly charge of $45 per household. One might consider the economic argument, not to mention the privacy one, settled.

Already there are several problems with the private industry approach. First, individuals are paying a substantially higher amount for vastly degraded service (150 Mbps compared to 1 Gbps). Second, there is not uniform access based on equity; the current ISPs are offering fast service to only a select group of customers. Lastly, if a resident is lucky enough to be offered fast service, s/he must pay the hefty price tag of around $150 a month, triple the broadband cost.

Private ISP companies understand the repercussions of community-owned internet for their businesses. As such, they have gone to great lengths to combat these progressive initiatives. For example, as Fort Collins prepared to vote on its ballot measure to allocate money for community-owned broadband service, the telecom industry spent over $900,000 in a failing effort to defeat the measure.

However, citizens face an additional hurdle for creating widespread city-owned or community-owned internet service: It remains against the law in many states. Currently, 21 states have laws making it difficult or illegal to create community broadband networks. Therefore, repealing this anti-broadband legislation is a giant first step that residents in those states could take.

Citizens will also need to take action in the courts. “Nearly 20 state attorneys generals [sic] have announced they will sue the FCC over their decisions to repeal Title II net neutrality rules and to prevent state’s from taking action to protect net neutrality. Free Press and other nonprofit organizations will also sue,” warned the website Popular Resistance.

Community-owned broadband is a great alternative to the impositions of private companies and their mono- or duopolistic price gouging. In addition to providing a service outside of the hands of profiteering private industry, communities that welcome broadband are taking steps to become more autonomous and self-reliant. It’s little surprise that more residents are now acting to move their cities’ internet service in this direction – creating a web that is more dependable, affordable and equitable.

The Incestuous Relationship Between Bankers, Business, and Congress

Originally published on November 7, 2012 on occupy.com

Reprinted on Truthout

If you look up the individual “Jon Corzine” on Wikipedia, the first sentence you encounter is “Jon Stevens Corzine is an American finance executive and political figure.”

Those two positions strung together in the same sentence may make some people uneasy, but the fact is that you can apply this description to many people in Congress. Looking closer, Jon Corzine may simply be the most poignant symbol of the incestuous relationship between bankers, business and Congress that is systemic in today’s political system.

Recently, Jon Corzine — CEO of MF Global from 2010 to 2011, CEO of Goldman Sachs from 1994 to 1999, Senator of New Jersey from 2001 to 2006 and Governor of New Jersey from 2006 to 2010 — was subpoenaed before a House committee to answer questions regarding the loss of approximately $1.6 billion of citizens’ money.

The “honorable” Jon Corzine, as his nametag so colorfully and inaccurately described him, claimed he did not know where the funds went. The House committee asked him, along with other MF Global executives: “Where is the money?” His response: “I don’t know.”

“OK,” replied the committee.

Could lawmakers’ passivity possibly be attributed to the amount of money those committee members received from financial agencies and trading groups to keep their mouths shut? Given the evidence, it’s a worthwhile question.

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Committee chairman Spencer Bachus has received $262,177 from securities and investment firms, $78,677 of which was individual donations, the other $183,500 from PACs. He has also received $259,400 from commercial banks and $241,960 from insurance companies, a blend of PACs and individual contributions.

Open Secrets, the website of the Center for Responsive Politics, features a stunning chart demonstrating how the House Financial Services Committee as a whole has received an astonishing $11,425,875 from financial, real estate and insurance firms through PACs, and an additional $10,106,258 from individual contributions in the same fields.

But let’s go deeper — to those with even more power.

Earlier this year on June 13, Jamie Dimon — CEO of JP Morgan Chase, Class A director of the board of directors of the New York Federal Reserve, who worked at and helped to create the Citigroup mega-bank before he left it in 1998 — faced a Senate hearing over JP Morgan’s loss of more than $2 billion.

The Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs has 22 members, and 18 of those members are either directly or indirectly invested in JP Morgan. In between the star-struck gazing, admiration and lax questions, only a handful of senators, including New Jersey Democrat Robert Menendez, managed to make Dimon slightly uncomfortable by asking difficult questions about the company’s malfeasance.

Many of the committee members’ aides are now lobbyists for JP Morgan or investment companies connected with them. For example, Naomi Camper, a committee chair aide from 2001-2004, and Kate Childress, former aide to New York Senator Charles Schumer, have been lobbyists for JP Morgan since 2008. JP Morgan has also helped fund the campaigns of a number of these same committee members.

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Tim Johnson has received $81,335 from JP Morgan employees since 1998; Richard Shelby has received $136,771 from employees since 1990; and Mark Warner received $79,150 in 2012 alone. And one wonders why Dimon walked away without even a slap on the wrist.

Goldman Sachs, perhaps the most notorious of the investment banks on Wall Street and an emblem of the corruption of politics by big money that the Occupy Movement addresses, has also contributed to powerful committees and individuals in Congress. So let’s name a few.

House Speaker John Boehner and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, for example, have both received large sums from Goldman Sachs, all the while having tens of thousands of their own personal dollars invested in the company — about $32,500 between the two of them, to be exact.

Boehner has received about $29,500 while Cantor has received about $48,150 from the firm. And these two are just a fraction of the 19 congressional members who have invested in the company for a sum total of about $812,000; in return the company has paid out about $124,000 in contributions to those candidates.

This is no less true for vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan, who has approximately $8,000 invested in Goldman Sachs and has received double that, or about $15,800, in campaign contributions from them. Though this is nothing compared to his running mate, Mitt Romney, who received a couple of thousand shy of $1 million from Goldman for the 2012 election.

Although President Obama didn’t receive much from the major banks for the 2012 campaign (Wells Fargo was the only big donor, at $289,000), in 2008 he received $1,013,091 from Goldman Sachs, $809,000 from JP Morgan Chase, $736,771 from Citigroup and $512,232 from Morgan Stanley, along with staggering contributions from the University of California, Harvard University, Microsoft, Time Warner, Columbia University, IBM, and General Electric. It’s likely the major banks considered their initial campaign contributions to Obama as a “long-term investment,” one that has paid off immensely: not a single executive from any of the major banks has been criminally prosecuted for their illegal and reckless behavior in the economic meltdown.

And this is the point: both Democrats and Republicans have taken enormous sums from the country’s biggest financial institutions, then repaid those institutions with policies that favor them. With congressional oversight committees under the thumb of the financial sector, banks have been allowed to pursue their fraudulent actions without repercussions. Finally, you don’t need to pay money to get what you want; you just need to hire the right people for influential positions in government. Just look at Obama’s cabinet, and the cabinet of previous presidents:

Tim Geithner – Current Secretary of the Treasury, formerly director of Policy Development and Review at the IMF (2001 to 2003) and president of the New York Federal Reserve Bank. In November of 2007 he rejected an offer to become Citibank’s chief executive.

Henry Paulson – Secretary of the Treasury under George W. Bush, former CEO of Goldman Sachs (1974 to 2006) and a member of Council on Foreign Relations.

William Daley – Previous Chief of Staff under President Obama (2011-2012), COO of Amalgamated Bank of Chicago, Midwest Chairman of JP Morgan Chase since 2004 and member of Council on Foreign Relations.

Jacob Lew – Current Chief of Staff under Obama, COO of Citigroup’s Alternative Investments unit since 2006, and member of Council on Foreign Relations.

Eric Holder – Current Attorney General, previously worked for Covington & Burling LLP, an international law firm that has represented multinational corporations such as Phillip Morris, Halliburton and Xe Services (now known as Academi, formerly known as Blackwater – a company that changed its name twice to dodge a dismal public relations record).

It should come as no surprise, then, to learn that the (In)justice Department and the SEC has dropped all criminal charges against Goldman Sachs for its involvement with the housing market crisis, despite having $1.3 billion worth of subprime mortgage securities on their portfolio.

The Senate report also documented e-mails that referred to these securities as “junk” and “crap.” The company was charged $550 million – a sum of money that is made in weeks.

The most naked example of how our political system has been robbed by the bankers and corporations is the fact that Green Party presidential candidate, Jill Stein, was arrested for attempting to enter the building where the second debate between Obama and Romney was being held.

Why should a woman who has consistently polled at 3% nationally and has raised enough money (yes, it is a criterion) to get on the ballot in 36 states not have a chance to have her voice heard with the heavy corporate hitters? Because the Commission on Presidential Debates, which sets the agenda for this nationally televised theater, accepts donations from corporations whose funds are contingent on the candidates only debating each other.

Certain topics are not raised in the debates, of course, among them climate change, banker bail-outs, campaign finance reform, Mexico’s U.S.-funded drug war, drone strikes, the illegitimacy of the National Defense Authorization Act, the FISA act, the Patriot Act, our treatment of government whistleblowers, the ongoing war in Afghanistan, etc. There is no point debating the issues, after all, if your party duopoly is in agreement.

It’s more than a revolving door we’re talking about. It’s an incest fest. And it’s at times like these that I, and many others, ask: What Would Jesus Do? He explained to us in John 2:15-16 exactly what he would do: “in the temple courts He [Jesus] found men selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple area, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. To those who sold doves he said: ‘get these out of here! how dare you turn my Father’s house into a market!'”

We, too, must drive the “money changers” out of our political temple before we can rationally and peacefully progress into the 21st century. This starts with a constitutional amendment to repeal the Citizens United ruling of 2010; the elimination of PACs and super-PACs; and imposing extreme limits, with complete transparency, on all political donations and contributions.

Either this, or we apply our savage consumerist mentality in the most practical sense to our political system: when something breaks, don’t fix it. Throw it out and get a new one.

“Austerity” is code for a banking takeover

Originally posted on October 29, 2012 on occupy.com

What is austerity? A dictionary definition will provide you with the definition of a “strict economy.” It will also provide you with an antonym: leniency. Although the current austerity practices in Europe, the U.S. and elsewhere certainly match those definitions, the implications of enforcing these measures against the will of the majority population — and imposing them as a rational solution to the socioeconomic problems we face — are far graver, dangerous and outright scary.

Let’s examine the conditions of the loans aimed at getting countries (like Greece and Spain) out of debt: they want to raise the retirement age, increase the work day and have people work for lower wages, cut funding to education, maintenance and other important public sector areas, cut Social Security, cut pensions, and even privatize the municipal water and electric systems.

But at least the measures are democratic, right? Wrong. These austerity policies have been entered into and implemented despite resounding political opposition. Almost weekly protests all over Europe have been gathering outside centers of governmental power with signs like “No Nos Representan” (They Don’t Represent Us), or scissors with a slash through it, or the European Union flag peeled away to reveal the flag of Nazi Germany, or “No es la Crisis, es el Sistema” (It’s not a crisis, it’s the System). And many just plain and simply read: NO. And you call this government by the people’s consent?

When austerity measures were first introduced in Greece, George Papandreou, the prime minister at the time, attempted to hold a referendum for the acceptance of the bailout deal but was pressured to resign. He was replaced almost immediately by Lucas Papademos, who was governor of the Bank of Greece from 1994 to 2002 and became vice president of the European Central Bank from 2002 to 2010.

Thus in Greece, the “cradle of democracy” was robbed by bankers. And what does Christine Lagarde, head of the cleverly re-named International Mafia Foundation (IMF), have to say about it? “Pay your taxes. I have more sympathy for children in sub-Saharan Africa.”

A similar situation happened in Italy. Silvio Berlusconi, who was sentenced last week to four years in prison for tax fraud, proposed a referendum to accept the austerity package that was proposed in his country at the time. Under pressure from Congress and from population, he resigned and was replaced by Mario Monti, former European Commissioner from 1995 to 2004, and the minister of economy and finance for two years. The austerity measures were implemented.

One result of these austerity measures is that they give rise to dangerous, desperate and misguided ideologies just as the situations are becoming more unsustainable in those countries. For example, the Golden Dawn, an ultra-right, ultra-nationalist party that rails against immigrants now has approximately 14 percent of Greeks’ support, twice as much as it did in June when Greece elected 18 of its party members to Parliament.

It’s sometimes difficult to understand how economic instability in Europe affects us in the United States; easier to dismiss them as being across the Atlantic, and left to solve their own problems. But their actions do affect us, they can have severe consequences, and vice versa. The LIBOR scandal, for example, should be the number one story of this year. The key banks that receive the LIBOR rate were manipulating that basic interest rate upon which student loans, car and credit card loans are based all over the world; they knew which way the rates would go, then made bets on them.

Essentially, the crisis “over there” has great parallels to our own in the U.S., where a few major banks knowingly sold sub-prime mortgages and mortgage-backed securities, treating them as AAA products when they were far from it, and insured these securities with institutions such as AIG. When the housing bubble burst, the bankers didn’t want to pay for their lost bets and insurances so they created a scheme to dump it on the taxpayers. To a large extent they’ve succeeded because of our compliance and refusal to study the issue.

Let’s be clear: there is no easy way out of the so-called crisis. The euro has lasted but 10 years. Under our current rigid, unforgiving, global dynasties of bankers and corporations that comprise the economic and political elite, the solution will always be to remove money from the public sector and the working person, to print more increasingly worthless electronic money, to sign away people’s sovereignty and basic human rights, and to centralize power.

But if we, the people, choose to actually look at and study the problem, it isn’t that there aren’t enough funds. It’s that our money is being allocated and distributed in bluntly unethical ways, funneling toward fewer and fewer people while populations bail out the very criminal enterprises that took us down.

And what’s most frightening and discouraging is that these policies — the ethics of austerity — are being entered into undemocratically, that is, without the support of the citizens they are ostensibly being designed to serve. So let’s say it like it is. Let’s call a spade a spade: through “austerity,” international bankers and corporations are imposing economic neo-feudalism on us all, by seizing the governmental levers of power and using that power to craft legislation and social policy that benefit those corporations and bankers, while rendering the everyday citizen powerless.

The question is, once we understand and openly recognize this truth, what are we going to do about it?

CISPA 2.0: Say Goodbye to our Constitutional Rights

Originally published on February, 28 2013 on occupy.com

Reprinted on Truthout

The unrelenting attack on our civil liberties and our privacy continues. Last year we managed to survive an onslaught of legislation that would have destroyed entrepreneurship and free enterprise on the Internet, and our ability to define how we share music, art and information in general.

First there was the Stop Online Piracy Act and the Protect IP Act, or SOPA and PIPA, respectively: two pieces of legislation geared at protecting the copyrights of monopolistic media companies and taking drastic measures to enforce them, like shutting down websites that allow the sharing of this copyrighted material for free. The New Zealand police raid of the house of Kim Dotcom, founder of Megaupload, and the site’s subsequent shutdown by the FBI provided a glimpse of what lies ahead if laws like these are passed.

The Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, or ACTA, took measures a step further by allowing governments to monitor the Internet to enforce copyright law and supposed intellectual property rights. Tens of thousands of Europeans mobilized in response, telling businesses and politicians that companies could not intrude on fundamental human rights, or morph and twist the law to enforce their hand-picked business model.

But despite resounding political opposition in the U.S. and worldwide to Internet censorship and infringements on freedom of speech and privacy, our callous and out-of-touch politicians managed to craft an even scarier piece of legislation: CISPA.

The Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act passed in April of 2012 in the House by a vote of 248 to 168, but stalled in the Senate because of a disagreement over privacy concerns. At the time, the White House threatened to veto the law because Obama’s advisers raised additional privacy concerns, chief among them Howard Schmidt, who resigned suddenly last May after the bill’s introduction. Schmidt also helped author statements against SOPA and PIPA.

But lo and behold, the two principal authors of the CISPA bill, Rep. Michael Rogers (R-Mich.) and Sen. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Calif.), re-introduced the same exact bill several weeks ago on February 12 – presumably in response to recent so-called cyber-attacks from China and security breaches by the hacktivist group Anonymous, whose non-violent actions are a direct response to government’s malfeasance and abuse of online authority.

The provisions stipulated in the CISPA legislation are intimidating and far-reaching. Although CISPA does not require private companies to share information with the government, it opens the floodgates for an unprecedented and endless funneling of private communication information to federal military intelligence agencies such as the NSA and the FBI. The only justification for a company to share information with the government is broadly and vaguely defined by a single term: “cybersecurity.”

Additionally, CISPA would override current privacy law such as the Wiretap Act and the Stored Communications Act; in fact, it grants companies complete immunity from judicial oversight and prosecution for the violation of privacy. Under CISPA, information provided to the government would be exempt from FOIA requests.

Furthermore, CISPA does not require companies to notify the individuals from whom they’re collecting data or information – which makes its section about the ability to form a lawsuit against the government little more than a formality.

“If [this bill is] passed,” claims Namecheap, a domain service opposing CISPA, “the U.S. government gains the power to ask your ISP about any/all of your online activities and personal information. Advocated under the premise of anti-terrorism legislation, this legislation is so broad that it threatens to endanger the privacy of every individual and ordinary and law abiding citizens.

“This act makes your private online activity now public, giving ISPs the right to share your personal information completely without your knowledge, due process, or authorization.”

The same day that CISPA was reintroduced, President Obama signed an executive order that deals specifically with information sharing by the owners and operators of CI, or critical infrastructure, such as the banking, communication, transportation and utility industries.

It would not require the passing along of our private information to the government. Additionally, the executive order focuses on the government’s sharing of information that it can already legally collect with the CI companies – instead of its rights to gather new information from private ISPs, as stipulated in CISPA.

Part of the reason SOPA and PIPA were booted from Congress was the overwhelming citizen mobilization against it, but also because companies like Google, Firefox, Tumblr, Twitter, Wikipedia and other giant Internet businesses realized the legislation would devastate their enterprises.

Unfortunately, this time around, we won’t have these companies fighting on our side because CISPA grants them immunity from lawsuits and has provided them with enough assurance that it will not affect their business in any significant way.

The drafting and introduction of SOPA, PIPA, ACTA and CISPA are all examples of our elected leaders’ growing disregard for citizens’ fundamental privacy rights, Constitutional rights and free speech rights as manifested in the digital world. Essentially, this legislation provides the formality our government needs to legitimize and legalize what it is either currently doing or what it wants to do. Just look at the NSA, which is already performing extensive and unprecedented data-mining on U.S. citizens in flagrant violation of the Fourth Amendment – but using only vague legislation to justify it.

Passing CISPA will be a significant step in America’s already far-progressed trudge towards a police state — and will, more specifically, encourage already-compliant businesses to provide our personal information to our government as if those two enshrined words did not exist: Constitutional rights.

How the Monsanto Protection Act Became Law

Originally printed on occupy.com on March 29, 2013

Reprinted on Truthout

Reprinted on Nation of Change

Once again, the largest corporations and their governmental cohorts succeeded in sealing their dominance over our lives without any oversight, transparency or leniency. This time it concerns food safety, as Monsanto and lobbyists have shoved through dangerous legislation that effectively makes any oversight of GMO food void.

The Monsanto Protection Act, which President Obama signed into law this week, will strip judges of their constitutional mandate to protect consumer rights and the environment, while opening up the floodgates for the planting of new untested genetically engineered crops, endangering farmers, consumers and the environment. The result is that GMO crops will be able to evade any serious scientific or regulatory review.

The insistence of our government, and of corporations, is stunning. Like the civil liberties-violating CISPA law that is now being re-introduced in Congress after a year of languishing, Monsanto and its lobbyists are re-introducing the same provisions in the 2013 Farm Bill as they did in 2012. Lobbyists and politicians are relying on Americans’ amnesia to push through their secretive, sweeping agendas.

Modest amendments to the Farm Bill proposal in 2012 were shot down. The Sanders Amendment, introduced by Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, was struck down by a 73-26 vote, 28 of which were Democratic. Sanders sponsored earlier legislation popularly known as the Vermont Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food Act, but Vermont lawmakers allowed the bill to stall after a representative threatened to sue the state if it passed, based on claims that food oversight should not be delegated to the states but handled by the FDA.

Monsanto is no stranger to our political and judicial system – especially when it comes to influencing it. Currently eight lawmakers own stock in Monsanto: Sen. Kay Hagan (D-North Carolina) and Reps. Dave Camp (R-Michigan), Joe Kennedy III (D-Massachusetts), Alan Lowenthal (D-California), Michael McCaul (R-Texas), Jim Renacci (R-Ohio), Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wisconsin) and Fred Upton (R-Michigan).

Additionally, according to Open Secrets, Monsanto spent nearly $6 million on lobbying in 2012 and contributed about $500,000 to federal candidates in the last election.

As a couple of other examples of the breadth of Monsanto’s political influence, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, a purportedly philanthropic organization fund established by Bill Gates, purchased 500,000 shares in Monsanto back in 2010, valued at more than $23 million.

And then there’s the election last fall in California where Proposition 37, which would have mandated the labeling of genetically modified organisms in the state, was debated at great cost – and violations of the truth – before its eventual defeat. Monsanto poured about $8,112,000 into advertising and political campaigns against the legislation. The same organization claimed that the No to 37 campaign, largely funded by Monsanto, fabricated a quote that bore the FDA official logo. The quote read:

“The [FDA] says a labeling policy like Prop 37 would be ‘inherently misleading.’”

The campaign supporting Proposition 37 sent a letter to the Justice Department demanding action against the No to 37 campaign for its flagrant violation of law, specifically section 506 of the U.S. Criminal Code. But we should expect no comment or action from the department.

Regarding its influence on the judicial system, Monsanto recently wrapped up a Supreme Court case in which it pressed charges against an Indiana soybean and wheat farmer, Vernon Hugh Bowman, whom it accused of breaking a patent agreement on second-generation Roundup Ready soybean seeds.

Bowman bought the seeds from a grain elevator after a farmer, who had purchased Monsanto’s seeds legally, sold them to the grain elevator. The case made it all the way to the Supreme Court, whose line of justices includes a former lawyer for Monsanto: Clarence Thomas. Thomas did not recuse himself from the case. The verdict has yet to be decided, but food advocacy groups are apprehensive about the ruling.

Monsanto devotes about $10 million a year and 75 staffers to investigating farmers for possible patent violations. 93 percent of soybeans, 88 percent of cotton and 86 percent of corn in the U.S. are grown with Monsanto’s patented seeds.

Just as central and major commercial banks are attempting to control the economy, just as corporations and other large entities are attempting to control our politics and elected officials, just as large oil companies are attempting to control the debate on climate change and the environment in general, biotech and agriculture giants are attempting to control food production through patented, genetic manipulation, using dirty political clout to support it and a lack of judicial or legislative oversight to continue it.

From Italy to Iceland: The Promise of Digital, Direct Democracy

Originally printed on www.occupy.com on May 8, 2013

Reprinted on Truthout

Reprinted on Mint Press News

The use of the Internet as a means of spreading political ideas and organizing social movements has sent shock waves throughout the political establishment over the last few years. And as political and economic elites scramble to seize total control over what is currently a free, transparent and equal online environment, citizen activists and other individuals are paving the way for a new type of political mobilization never yet seen. Their tactics include direct democracy and a complete disregard for current political parties. The movement that has perhaps best embodied this trend is “Il movimento cinque stelle,” or the Five Star Movement in Italy.

Beppe Grillo, the leader and main spokesman of M5S, has built the movement’s status and influence chiefly through one medium: the Internet. What began as a blog for his political ranting evolved into a formidable political movement. In the middle of 2005, Grillo launched a “Meetup” station on his blog. He encouraged those who were intrigued by his ideas to begin to meet up in person and to begin to organize face-to-face.

Around 2009, the movement began to take root. Grillo, with the help of his friend and “digital guru” Robert Casaleggio, toured 73 locations around Italy, building an online presence and galvanizing a young, distraught and indignant Italian population whose youth are stuck with a 35 percent unemployment rate.

The five stars, representing the core principles of Grillo’s movement – public water, sustainable transport, development, connectivity, and environmentalism, not to mention a staunch anti-corruption and anti-austerity stance – resonated with the aggravated Italian population; the party secured 25.5% of the vote in Italy’s general election held in February, which equated to 163 of the Italian Parliament’s 630 total seats, denying the frontrunner Pier Luigi Bersani the clear majority he needed to form a working government.

On top of that, the Five Star Movement used perhaps the most important tactic yet: it will not, Grillo vowed, form a coalition government with either of Italy’s two major political parties, which Grillo has deemed are corrupt beyond repair. In an early move to show the movement’s commitment to transparency, public transport, the environment and access to water, one of the M5S’s delegates posted his lunch bill on the Internet, while others took public transport to Parliament — only to be dismayed that the water in Parliament must be drunk with a plastic cup.

On another important front, the Pirate Party — devoted to reforming copyright and patent law, protecting civil liberties and promoting direct democracy and transparency in government — has stormed into parliament in several different countries in Europe in recent years.

The party was officially founded in Sweden on January 1, 2006, with the launch of a website by Rick Falkvinge, the Pirate Party’s founder. In the Swedish elections that took place nine months later, the party garnered .63% of the vote. The Swedish Pirate Party (Piratpartiet) received about .7 percent of the vote in the parliamentary elections in 2010, making it the largest Swedish political party outside of Parliament (it did not win any seats). Most importantly, in 2009, the Pirate Party got 7% of the Swedish votes for the 2009 European Parliament elections, which earned the party two seats in the European Parliament after the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty.

In Germany, the Pirate Party (Piratenpartei) captured 8.9 percent of the vote in Berlin in 2011, winning 15 out of 141 seats in the city parliament. Last year, the Pirates received 7.4% of the vote to win four seats in Saarland; 8.2%, or six seats, in Schleswig-Holstein, and 7.8%, or 20 seats, in North Rhine-Westphalia.

Further north, on April 27 of this year, the Pirate Party took three of 63 seats in the Icelandic Parliament, winning 5.1% of the vote. Parliamentarian Birgitta Jonsdottir, who has worked with Wikileaks and who rose to prominence after Iceland kicked out its government, is one of the three Pirate members in the Parliament and calls the party the “political arm of the information revolution,” one dedicated to freedom of expression and political transparency.

Iceland is becoming a beacon of how to implement and experiment with digital, direct democracy. The country is attempting to draft the first crowdsourced national constitution, a process by which Icelanders submit ideas and contribute through social media websites such as Facebook and Twitter directly to an elected committee drafting the document.

Political parties in Iceland are coordinating with a non-profit organization known as the Citizens Foundation that offers an online platform on which users can debate and suggest policies. Participants can “like” policy ideas, from micro-issues to major budget decisions which affect their community. Those policies that are “liked” enough times move their way up the priority list, spurring faster action.

For these reasons, our political leaders and the corporate entities that control them are scrambling so diligently to stifle and control the Internet. Whether it is SOPA, PIPA, ACTA, CISPA, the ITU, the secret chapters on intellectual property rights in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or the legislation that aims to fine technology companies for failing to comply with wiretap orders: those in power are attempting to shut down and monitor any opportunity for citizens to express political opinions in the digital world and to mobilize around those opinions – using outdated copyright law as a justification.

“No longer bound by conventional political rules of engagement,” writes Gerald Celente in the Spring 2013 issue of The Trends Journal, “freed from the necessity to raise mega-millions to wage campaigns and no longer solely reliant on media approval for coverage, the Internet candidate will be a new-millennium voice speaking a new-millennium language that appeals to the politically disenchanted and disgusted.”

Why Transcanada’s $15 billion lawsuit against the U.S. is a bad omen for the Trans-Pacific Partnership

Originally printed on January 11, 2016 on www.occupy.com

Reprinted on Popular Resistance

The latest expression of our corporate-controlled economic structure revealed itself last week when TransCanada, the Canadian-based energy giant that hoped to build the Keystone XL pipeline, filed a $15 billion lawsuit against the United States government for rejecting the pipeline’s construction, under guidelines set forth in NAFTA. The lawsuit presents the most recent evidence of the prioritization of corporate profits and interests over the rights of citizens in a sovereign, domestic nation. Yet instances like this will only increase with the passage of the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

In a statement accompanying the news, TransCanada announced that it had “undertaken a careful evaluation of the Administration’s action and believe there has been a clear violation of NAFTA and the U.S. Constitution in these circumstances.” The company also called the government’s decision to reject the pipeline “arbitrary and unjustified.”

Arbitrary and unjustified indeed. The pipeline, about 1,200 miles long, would have carried over 830,000 daily barrels of crude oil, or tar sands, from Alberta, Canada, to refineries on the Gulf Coast. It would have been built over precious aquifers throughout the midwestern U.S., namely the Ogallala Aquifer. It would also violate tribal sovereignty and potentially pose problems with eminent domain – where landowners would be forced to give up their land to a foreign corporation under the argument that it was somehow serving the “public interest.”

How dare we, as a free nation, come to the conclusion that this pipeline is bad for our country?

But here’s the real kicker: not only can TransCanada sue the U.S. government over the costs of the project, but the company is also allowed to seek an array of damages taking the form of “expected future profits.” What we have here is a foreign corporation suing the American taxpayers because their government made a democratic, sovereign, autonomous decision to reject a commercial project, on both ecological and economic grounds. The process is occurring in an extrajudicial forum completely outside the realm of U.S. domestic law, cites the non-profit Public Citizen, “in which three private attorneys are authorized to order unlimited sums of taxpayer compensation.”

“The amount is based on the ‘expected future profits’ the tribunal surmises that the corporation would have earned in the absence of the public policy it is attacking,” the group writes. “There is no outside appeal. Many of these attorneys rotate between acting as tribunal ‘judges’ and as the lawyers launching cases against the government on behalf of the corporations.” The private attorneys aren’t bound by conflict of interest or impartiality rules, and “if a government doesn’t pay, [the plaintiff] has the right to seize government assets in order to extract our tax dollars.”

In fact, the American taxpayers have already shelled out over $440 million as a result of these extreme investor-state systems included in many U.S. trade deals. Most of the lawsuits were filed under the domestic state tribunal guidelines outlined in NAFTA, which we can thank former President Bill Clinton for signing into law.

Prelude to the TPP?

The TransCanada lawsuit, in short, is a forerunner of what we can to happen should the TPP come into effect. When speaking in front of Nike, in Beaverton, Ore., Obama mocked individuals that claimed that the TPP and similar trade agreements were circumventing national governmental decisions.

“Critics warn that parts of this deal would undermine American regulation, food safety, worker safety, even financial regulation. This is…(chuckles)…they’re making this stuff up. This is just not true. No trade agreement is going to force us to change our laws,” said the president. He went on, “[The TPP] reflects our values in ways that frankly, some previous trade agreements did not. It’s the highest standard, most progressive trade deal in history. It’s got strong enforceable provisions on…child labor [and] on the environment…NAFTA was passed 20 years ago. That was a different agreement.”

One can argue about the meaning of the word “progressive,” but in the traditional American rhetoric, it’s probably not supposed to be used to describe a policy granting supranational judicial powers to corporate entities. To use it with a superlative is particularly unsettling. And “our values?” Please speak for yourself, Mr. President.

Obama’s statements contradict Public Citizen’s findings. Lori Wallach, head of the group’s Global Trade Watch, has indicated that “the actual language that TransCanada is using in this case…is the same language that, word-for-word, is replicated in TPP.” But more important to discuss are the implications of the corporate tribunal system that allows foreign multinational corporations to sue sovereign nations for making decisions that could, potentially, impact their profits. Businesses that didn’t get what they wanted with the passage of NAFTA have contributed to the secret crafting of the Trans-Pacific Partnership and its Atlantic twin, the Transatlantic Free Trade Agreement, or TAFTA.

It is the right of any free nation to dictate its own laws and guidelines – especially if those laws and guidelines help strengthen food and water safety, financial regulation, and environmental regulation. Supranational lawsuits like TransCanada’s directly contradict and infringe upon that right. As corporate leaders secretly tighten their grip on the economy, governments, and particularly the citizens of those governments, fear they will slowly become subservient to those corporate entities. More frighteningly, with the airtight, secretive trade agreements being crafted behind closed doors, there will be no legal or political recourse to reverse the decisions.

Government’s Newest Trade Deal is PPP: Poison the Population for Profit

Originally published on February 4, 2016 on www.occupy.com

By now most of us know about the story that has unfolded in Flint, Michigan, where Gov. Rick Snyder appointed an emergency manager, Darnell Earley, who, in April of 2014, redirected the city’s water source from the Detroit Water and Sewage Department to the Flint River in an effort to save money. As a result, the corrosion from the water wore out the lead solder on the water pipes, leading thousands of children and families to be permanently poisoned.

What began in Flint, however, didn’t stay in Flint. Recently, news came out about water poisoning in Sebring, Ohio. And just last week, The Detroit News revealed that, in fact, many Michigan cities have a similar if not worse water contamination crisis on their hands. Now, incidences of poisoned water are snowballing into a colossal emblem of state governments’ prioritization of corporate interests and profit over the basic health needs of the population.

But while the issue has only recently taken the spotlight, in truth it’s a very huge snowball that is already far advanced.

What is the common thread tying together these neglectful and unforgivable actions on the part of our political leaders? Corporate usurpation of our government and, with it, a rewiring of the legislative, executive and judicial neurons of the body politic in an effort to serve none other than the 1%.

The pathological elites, those who seem enshrined in political immunity for their actions, couldn’t care less about the state of the water when it isn’t their children who are drinking it. They receive the facts well before anyone else and, true to form, they take care of themselves. Newly discovered e-mails show that Michigan officials trucked in clean water to the state building in Flint as far back as January of 2015.

Sadly, the individuals who have been working most diligently to reprogram our societal nervous system have already deflected most resistance to that reprograming. They have accomplished this by shifting the accountability for their actions on to others – otherwise known as “emergency managers” – so that despite the severity of the crime it appears that no one in the room is to blame. Not so, by a long shot.

Removal of accountability

The poisoning of our precious resources, like what happened in Flint, offers a stark illustration of not only political malfeasance – but the associated criminal immunity that comes with it.

Laws that allow for the appointment of emergency managers are a way of circumventing democracy and accountability for the benefit, and profit, of the 1%. Appointed individuals are not answerable to the public, and instead represent a concentration of power in the hands of unelected individuals instead of elected city councilors and mayors. Gov. Rick Snyder is an elected official. Darnell Earley – who moved on from water to education, and abruptly stepped down Tuesday as the emergency manager of Detroit’s public schools – is not.

According to The New York Times, “Under the administration of Mr. Snyder, who has held office since 2011, seven cities or school districts have been declared financial emergencies and placed under appointed management, state officials said. During the eight-year tenure of his predecessor, Jennifer M. Grenholm, a Democrat, five cities or school districts were given emergency managers.”

The irony, of course, is that if funding had not been removed from city budgets in the first place, the appointment of emergency managers would not be necessary. Some heads have already rolled: Susan Hedman, an administrator that oversaw the EPA’s regulations in Midwestern states, has resigned. Additionally, the director of Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality, Snyder’s chief of staff and chief spokeswoman, and the Flint director of Public Works have all been forced out. But these are merely pawns shielding the true criminal orchestrators behind the scenes.

Gov. Snyder, save some massive public uprising, will not pay a significant price for the crimes in Flint because he is enshrined in the political elite and, therefore, is granted immunity. Case in point: the Board of State Canvassers recently rejected a petition to recall Governor Snyder.

He is not alone. In the same vein, President Obama will not face repercussions for backtracking on his promise to pull out of Afghanistan. Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld will not be charged as war criminals for stoking lies that brought about the invasion of Iraq. BP will not face criminal charges for spilling oil in the Gulf of Mexico. The six banks convicted on felony charges of rigging the LIBOR rate will never face criminal charges. The list goes on and on.

Journalist Glenn Greenwald beautifully laid out the two-tiered justice system in his book “Liberty and Justice for Some: How the Law Is Used to Destroy Equality and Protect the Powerful. The Flint water crisis is just the latest extension of this already well-developed, dichotomous brand of justice.

Water is a human right and a basic necessity. The flagrant neglect to protect Flint residents’ health by elected officials, and those they appointed, illustrates the immoral if not unthinkable degree of crimes carried out in the name of profit and a corporate-controlled politics. If the people don’t demand justice from those who injured us, no one in a courtroom will.