Truthout Stories Mon, 22 Dec 2014 00:37:03 -0500 en-gb Four Ways 2014 Was a Pivotal Year for the Internet

The death of the internet is at hand.

Sound familiar? That’s what Internet pioneer Robert Metcalfe predicted in 1995 when he wrote that spiraling demands on the fledgling network would cause the Internet to “catastrophically collapse” by 1996.

Metcalfe, of course, was dead wrong: The internet is still chugging along, with a predicted 3 billion users by year’s end.

Still, the internet’s fate feels distinctly uncertain as 2014 draws to a close. At stake is whether the internet remains a democratic, user-powered network — or falls under the control of a few powerful entities.

Here are the four internet issues that played leading roles this year:

1. Net Neutrality

Net neutrality is hard-wired into the internet as we know it. In a neutral network, users control their experience without their Internet service providers interfering, filtering, or censoring. This revolutionary principle is under attack from the phone and cable companies that control access in the United States.

In a court decision last January, Verizon successfully challenged the Federal Communications Commission’s ability to protect net neutrality, setting in motion a year-long effort to restore the agency’s authority. More than 4 million Americans, including President Barack Obama, have contacted the FCC, with the overwhelming majority demanding real net neutrality protections.

Watch for a decision on the matter as early as January 2015. Momentum is now swinging in favor of keeping the internet open — thanks in large part to the forceful public response.

2. Consolidation

The internet is designed to function as a decentralized network — meaning that control over information doesn’t fall into the hands of a few gatekeepers, but instead rests with everyone who goes online.

This has enabled diverse voices to flourish. It’s amplified the concerns of protesters from Ferguson to Hong Kong, given underrepresented communities a platform, and allowed startup businesses to reach millions of new customers.

What’s missing is choice among internet-access providers: Too many communities can choose from only one or two. We need policies that will foster competition, which in turn would lower costs, improve services, and ensure that no single company gains too much control over content.

This year, Comcast and AT&T are attempting to consolidate their control over all-things-Internet. Comcast, the largest U.S. cable company, wants to gobble up the second largest, Time Warner Cable. If regulators approve the Comcast merger, the company would become the only traditional cable provider available to nearly two-thirds of Americans.

Meanwhile, AT&T wants to take over DIRECTV.

It’s up to the FCC and the Justice Department to block these mergers, which would create colossal, monopoly-minded behemoths. The government’s blessing of these deals would teleport us back to a time when just a few media moguls controlled most public discourse.

3. Online Privacy

In 2013, former NSA contractor Edward Snowden exposed mass spying programs that violate our civil liberties. This wholesale invasion of privacy has chilled free expression online.

There were signs of hope that 2014 would bring new legislation to rein in these government snooping powers. The USA Freedom Act, while imperfect, would have curtailed the NSA’s bulk collection of our phone records and required more oversight and transparency of its surveillance programs.

The Senate, however, voted not to consider the bill in November, leaving everyone at the mercy of an agency with a voracious appetite for data.

4. Community Networks

With big internet providers like Comcast gaining notoriety for dismal customer service, municipal broadband networks have gained traction everywhere from New York City to Monmouth, Oregon.

It’s easy to see why: The big providers often refuse to build networks in low-income or rural communities where potential customers can’t afford to pay their sky-high rates.

The rise of homegrown internet infrastructure has prompted industry lobbyists to introduce state-level legislation to smother such efforts. There are at least 20 such statutes on the books. But in June, the FCC stepped in with a plan to preempt these state laws, giving communities the support they need to affordably connect more people.

If you value free speech, keep an eye on these four issues as 2015 gets underway. To ensure an internet that’s open, fast, secure, and affordable, contact the FCC, call your members of Congress, and support efforts to build a network that works for everyone.

Opinion Sun, 21 Dec 2014 12:25:11 -0500
Why USAID Could Never Spark a Hip Hop Revolution in Cuba

Any attempt to engineer a US-affiliated movement from above is destined to be revealed for the farce that it is.

Between 2006 and 2007, I received numerous visits from two State Department officials at my home in Harlem, New York. I had just written a book on Cuban cultural production, with a large section on rap. I was never home when they came, so they left messages with my neighbors, telling them I should urgently contact them. When they finally found me at home one day, I agreed to meet with them at a nearby Starbucks. During the meeting, they wanted to know about my research on Cuban rap. One of the agents, a male, said that he enjoyed Cuban rap, he listened to it frequently and wanted to know what my favorite groups were. The other, a woman, pressed me for more details about my work in Cuba. I didn’t give out any information. I told them that anything I could say on the topic was already written in my book. After this meeting, the harassment continued. I finally sought out a human rights lawyer, Michael Smith. He informed me that it is never advisable to meet with an agent of the government alone, and that if an agent should try to make contact, one should have a lawyer write to the agent on one’s behalf. Smith then sent them a letter saying that I did not wish to speak to them anymore, and that if they had any questions, they could contact him directly. We didn’t hear from them again.

So last week, when the AP news story broke about USAID infiltrating Cuban rap groups between 2009 and 2010, I was not surprised. Infiltration is something that Cuban rappers have been wary of for some time. Navigating the legions of foreign journalists, producers, researchers, and artists has always been a challenge for Cuban rappers, especially during the heyday of the movement in the early 2000s, and there was sometimes a suspicion of people who didn’t enter the scene through someone known to the community. But in the latter half of the 2000s, when many rappers were emigrating and foreign contacts and state support were drying up, Cuban rappers were more vulnerable to the likes of outside actors like USAID, who sought to infiltrate the movement and manipulate it to its own ends.

But the USAID mission to “spark” a “pro-democracy” movement of Cuban rappers was bound to fail for many reasons. Cubans already had a movement. Over the last several decades, Cuban hip hoppers have built a multi-faceted movement that raises issues of racism within Cuban society, provides a channel of expression for Afro-Cuban youth, makes connections with activists and celebrated artists around the globe, and has had a long-lasting impact on Cuban cultural production. It was an organic movement built from the ground up, from the streets and the housing projects. Cuban rap is hope, and anger, and poetry, and no U.S. agency could create that.

The Cuban hip hop movement was not trying to overthrow the Castro government. Artists found ways to work within the system, while making their criticisms in veiled ways, or even openly at times. The “Hip Hop Revolución” that they talk about is one that is in dialogue with the historic Cuban revolution, and youth have been putting pressure on their leaders to live up to the promises of that revolution. Even the younger, more confrontational artists like Los Aldeanos, one of the groups that USAID tried to infiltrate, didn’t see themselves as trying to topple the government. That was never part of their agenda.

Pro-democracy means something completely different to Cuban rappers than it does to USAID. For Cuban rappers, democracy has been about a more full sense of participation and recognition within their society. It has been about being able to influence policy and express their ideas about racism, inequality, and the contradictions that free market policies have brought to an increasingly dysfunctional bureaucratic socialism. It has been about trying to rethink what revolution might mean for the next generation and how they could see that in practice. For USAID, democracy promotion means overthrowing the Cuban government and ushering in a free market regime friendly to the United States. Those two goals have never been and could never be compatible.

The documents secured by the AP reveal a frightening level of manipulation of Cuban rappers by USAID. Like with ZunZuneo, the failed Cuban twitter project also engineered by USAID, the actions of this agency put Cubans at risk of state repression and threatened a closure of the critical spaces that rappers had already built and defended. USAID realizes the power of culture to provide a powerful political voice for young people. What it doesn’t realize is that in a society shaped by successive generations of revolutionary projects, any attempt to engineer a U.S.-affiliated movement from above is destined to be revealed for the farce that it is.

News Sun, 21 Dec 2014 11:57:04 -0500
Truthout Interviews Michael Meurer on Torture Photos and Uruguay Thwarting Supply-Side Austerity Policies

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Torture(Image: electron; Edited: JR/TO)Truthout contributor Michael Meurer talks about the release of 2,000 photographs of the US torture of prisoners and the ways in which Uruguay has drawn neoliberal wrath for thwarting supply-side economics and corporate governance.

With the release of the US Senate Select Committee report on the CIA's detention and interrogation program, Truthout contributor Michael Meurer puts the spotlight on the still unreleased photographs evidencing torture of prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan. Meurer, in his Truthout piece and in this interview, insists that the time is now to release these photos with the goal of getting as complete a picture of what the US government was thinking and doing during this period so we don't repeat these policies in the future.

In the second half of the interview, the discussion focuses on the country of Uruguay to highlight the ways in which the government is coming under economic attack by neoliberal (or supply-side) international bankers for deviating from austerity programs. Uruguay has also become a lightning rod for the global financial elite because the country is challenging the legitimacy of international trade tribunals that lie at the heart of the proposed TTIP (Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership) and TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership) trade agreements. Meurer's Uruguay article also highlights the country's aggressive anti-smoking campaign and how Uruguay has to defend itself in a lawsuit brought by Philip Morris for the images and labels that are on packs of cigarettes. This lawsuit is not being heard in Uruguay's domestic court system. Rather, the country has to defend itself in Washington DC at an international trade tribunal funded by the World Bank – a legal change that augurs ill for state sovereignty in the future. In the 1990s, George H.W. Bush had a slogan for this kind of supply-side corporate governance. He called it "a new world order" and what's happening in Uruguay exemplifies the shape and form of that order and the disintegration of the social safety net in many countries affected by policies designed to protect global financial and corporate interests - not the human citizens of any state.

News Sun, 21 Dec 2014 11:48:13 -0500
The Unspeakable in Afghanistan

Marines exit a CH-53E Super Stallion as they are inserted into a training area in Helmand province, Afghanistan, April 2, 2014.Marines exit a CH-53E Super Stallion as they are inserted into a training area in Helmand province, Afghanistan, April 2, 2014. (Photo: Sgt. Frances Johnson / US Marine Corps)

2014 marks the deadliest year in Afghanistan for civilians, fighters, and foreigners. The situation has reached a new low as the myth of the Afghan state continues. Thirteen years into America’s longest war, the international community argues that Afghanistan is growing stronger, despite nearly all indicators suggesting otherwise. Most recently, the central government failed (again) to conduct fair and organized elections or demonstrate their sovereignty. Instead, John Kerry flew into the country and arranged new national leadership. The cameras rolled and a unity government was declared.  Foreign leaders meeting in London decided on new aid packages and financing for the nascent ‘unity government.’ Within days, the United Nations helped broker a deal to keep foreign forces in the country, while simultaneously President Obama declared the war was ending—even as he increased the number of troops on the ground. In Afghanistan, President Ghani dissolved the cabinet and many people are speculating the 2015 parliamentary elections will be postponed.

The Taliban and other insurgent groups continue to gain traction and have pulled increasing parts of the country under their control. Throughout the provinces, and even in some of the major cities, the Taliban have begun collecting taxes and are working to secure key roadways. Kabul—a city that has been called the most fortified city on earth—has been on edge due to multiple suicide bombings. The attacks on various targets, ranging from high schools to houses for foreign workers, the military, and even the office of Kabul’s police chief have clearly communicated the ability of anti-government forces to strike at will. In response to the growing crisis, the Emergency Hospital in Kabul has been forced to stop treating non-trauma patients in order continue to treat the growing number of people harmed by guns, bombs, suicide explosions, and mines.

After four years of traveling to Afghanistan to conduct interviews, I have heard ordinary Afghans whisper about Afghanistan as a failing state, even as the media has touted growth, development, and democracy. Using dark humor to comment on current conditions Afghans joke that everything is working as it should; they acknowledge an unspeakable reality. They point out that more than 101,000 foreign forces trained to fight and use violence who have used their training well—by using violence; that arms merchants have ensured that all parties can continue fighting for years to come by supplying weapons to all sides; that foreign funders backing resistance groups and mercenaries can complete their missions—resulting in both increased violence and an absence of accountability; that the international NGO community implements programs and has profited from over $100 billion in aid; and that the majority of those investments ended up deposited  in foreign bank accounts, primarily benefiting  foreigners and a few elite Afghans. Further, many of the supposedly “impartial” international bodies, as well as some of the major NGOs, have aligned themselves with various fighting forces. Thus even basic humanitarian aid has become militarized and politicized. For the ordinary Afghan the reality is clear. Thirteen years of investing in militarization and liberalization has left the country in the hands of foreign powers, ineffective NGOs, and infighting between many of the same warlords and Taliban. The result is the current unstable, deteriorating situation rather than a sovereign state.

Yet, during my trips to Afghanistan, I have also heard another unspeakable whispered, in contrast to the narrative told by mainstream media. That is, that there is another possibility, that the old way has not worked, and it is time for change; that nonviolence may  resolve some of the challenges facing the country. In Kabul, the Border Free Center—a community center in which young people can explore their role in improving society,–is exploring the use of nonviolence to engage in serious attempts at peacemaking, peacekeeping, and peacebuilding. These young adults are engaging in demonstration projects to show how different ethnic groups can work and live together. They are creating alternative economies that do not rely on violence in order to provide livelihoods for all Afghans, especially vulnerable widows and children. They are educating street children and developing plans to decrease weapons in the country. They are working to preserve the environment and to create model organic farms to show how to heal the land. Their work is demonstrating the unspeakable in Afghanistan—that when people engage in the work of peace, real progress can be achieved.

Perhaps if the last 13 years had been less focused on foreign political motives and military aid and more focused on initiatives like the Border Free Center, the situation in Afghanistan might be different. If energies were focused on peacemaking, peacekeeping, and peacebuilding, perhaps people could acknowledge the reality of the situation and create a true transformation of the Afghan state.

Opinion Sun, 21 Dec 2014 11:42:04 -0500
Take the Chains Off: The Struggle for Racial Justice Continues

Protesters in Seattle, December 6.Protesters in Seattle, December 6. (Photo: scottlum)

We jumped in front of traffic. Car headlights blinded us; we held up our hands and yelled, “I can’t breathe.” These were the last words of Eric Garner, a 43-year-old Black man who was strangled to death by NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo on Staten Island. Running between cars, we slapped high-fives with drivers and held signs above our heads.

On December 3, thousands flooded the New York streets after news broke that Pantaleo had not been indicted after murdering Garner. It was the second time in 10 days that a grand jury refused to charge a white cop who killed an unarmed Black man. On November 24 officer Darren Wilson was cleared in the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. The two non-indictments, back to back, ignited our sadness into rage; again we saw deadly abuses of power go unpunished.

Even as I write this, somewhere in America a Black man or woman is being beaten or killed by the police. Most die invisibly. For a few, a rough video of their assault or death will surface and their faces will be framed in protest signs. Each new murder swells the movement that compels us to stage mass die-ins in transit hubs and malls, torch stores and block highways. The people are rising against the state, demanding justice it cannot give and the state cannot crush the protests without risking more rebellion.

A great collision is coming, driven by a question that has been asked repeatedly for nearly four centuries. It was asked by 19 Africans, enslaved in the English colony of Jamestown in 1619, and is being asked again by the protesters across the nation. Can Black life be valued in America?

Why Ferguson Matters

“Let me see your driver’s license,” the cop told me. I handed it over; he swiped it and then handcuffed me. In 2011, a warrant was issued for my arrest because I did not pay a fine for drinking beer in a park. 

I spent the night in jail. More men came in, sullen and hard-faced, arrested like me for an outstanding warrant on a minor violation. Staring at the walls, we cursed the police. I knew the mounting anger in that cell was present around the country.  

In the United States there are nearly 1 million law enforcement officers stacked like a giant pyramid of power at the federal, state, county and city levels who are charged with keeping order in a nation of 316 million citizens. They glide through neighborhoods in patrol cars. They stand on street corners in pairs, badges flashing. They watch us.

But the crime they see is a warped vision of the crime that exists. In the eyes of U.S. police, criminality is visible if contrasted against brown skin. While patrolling highways and streets, they miss vast amounts of ongoing crime committed by whites and especially, wealthy whites. Let the suspect be Black and they will be stopped and frisked, their car inspected, their papers run through the system. The NAACP Criminal Justice Fact Sheet states that white people use illegal drugs five times more often than Black people even though Blacks are jailed at 10 times the rate.

The police crisscross Black, Latino, poor and immigrant neighborhoods and come down hardest on those that are most vulnerable. In Gotham alone, during the 12 years of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s tenure, the New York Civil Liberties Union reported that the New York Police Department (NYPD) conducted nearly 5 million stops and frisks. A quarter of them involved young Black men, who comprise less than 2 percent of the city’s population. 

The goal remains the same under liberal Mayor Bill de Blasio as it was under Bloomberg. It was best summed up by Bloomberg’s top cop Ray Kelly, who said to state Senator Eric Adams that he wanted to “instill fear in them [Black youth] that every time that they left their homes they could be targeted by police.”

The police don’t just want to watch us; they want us to know it and to internalize it and watch ourselves, afraid that the smallest misdemeanor can begin an unstoppable descent toward prison. After I was arrested, my time came for court. The officers took me out of the cell and drove me to the judge. As we talked, I asked them about this mass arrest policy.

“We call it the snowball effect,” one of them said. “You know, it just begins small like a ticket and then another citation, some jail time and next thing you know…boom!” I slumped back in the seat, dizzy with anger and blurted, “If you have a name for how bad it is why don’t you stop it!”

“Policy,” he said and looked away. “Policy.”

And every time a cop stops and frisks us, harasses us for sleeping on the train, writes a ticket, embarrasses us in public — it traumatizes the body, fills it with combustible pain. It’s hard to understand if you don’t experience it. Remember Eric Garner telling the police officers, “Please just leave me alone”? Did you know he brought a civil suit against the NYPD for doing a cavity search for drugs in 2007, right in broad daylight as people walked by? Nothing was found. He wrote of the “injuries to his manhood” caused by the officer searching his rectum and genitals for “his own personal pleasure.”

Ferguson matters because every city in America has a Ferguson inside it. A people enraged at the handprints left by police on their bodies, losing money to tickets, losing jobs to jail time, burying the dead and then being blamed for it. The flames in that small town can spread across the nation. Malcolm X once joked that during slavery, when the master’s house caught fire, field slaves prayed for wind. Many of us are praying now.

The Feedback Loop of Violence

“Black on black crime is the reason for the heavy police presence in the black community,” former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani said on Meet the Press in November. “White police officers wouldn’t be there if you weren’t killing each other.”

Conservatives say the high Black crime rate is the real danger, not rogue white cops. The danger is gangsta rap or single mothers or dumb hood drama. Biological racism in which one race is better than others has been replaced with cultural racism in which one culture is better than another. Conservatives believe in hierarchy, an order that keeps everyone in their proper place. Black culture is the low point in that hierarchy; it is a cauldron of icky morals, drowning everyone in it or close by.

Jason Riley, a Black writer at the Wall Street Journal who wrote Please Stop Helping Us, followed this tradition in his article “The Other Ferguson Tragedy.” He wrote, “Homicide is the leading cause of death among young black men, who are 10 times more likely than their white counterparts to be murdered. And while you’d never know it watching MSNBC, the police are not to blame.”

The Black homicide rate is part of a feedback loop of oppression. It’s the effect of multiple forces, but is framed by conservatives as a cause. The first of these forces is poverty. The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ August jobs report said the Black unemployment rate is at 11 percent, compared to the 5.3 percent rate for whites. During the four decades the bureau has kept records on it, Black unemployment has always been higher, a sign that we’re dealing with intergenerational poverty. Nearly 30 percent of Black people are poor. If you do the math, it’s nearly 13 million people out of 42 million.

The image of urban ghettos that resemble warzones is a staple in the public imagination. What the protests in Ferguson show is that segregation followed people of color into the suburbs. Brown University sociologist John Logan described in a recent report, “Separate and Unequal in Suburbia,” the movement of people of color from cities into the older inner rings of suburbs, and the poverty many of them live with. It is often reflected in failing schools that are underfunded, understaffed and have low graduation rates.

And then there’s geography. Much of urban crime is public. Poor families are packed into small apartments and that density “squeezes” crime out into public space. Beefs start in the street. Drug dealing and addiction are in the street. The fight for turf is in the street. All of which makes it visible and easier to police. 

Much of suburban crime, on the other hand, is private. Drug use, sexual assault and violence happen inside homes, where the police don’t often go. Waves of crime roll through the suburbs but go unreported, giving white America a false veneer of safety and innocence. That veneer is being blown apart by the hashtag #crimingwhilewhite, where whites describe their crimes and the soft treatment they’ve received from police.

Suburban neighborhoods of color, however, don’t get this “benign neglect.” As the crisis in Ferguson blew up, the New York Times editorialized, “The police in St. Louis County’s many municipalities systematically target poor and minority citizens for street and traffic stops — partly to generate fines — which has the effect of both bankrupting and criminalizing whole communities.”

Police are overpolicing poor neighborhoods of color. Decades ago, Black and Latino neighborhoods were neglected, something rapper Flavor Flav of Public Enemy made fun of in his song “911 is a Joke”: “Now I dialed 911 a long time ago. Don’t you see how late they’re reactin’. They only come and they come when they wanna.”

The switch to overpolicing accompanied the rise of the “broken windows” theory, which compels law enforcement to target low-level crimes. As the logic goes, going after low-level offenders will prevent larger crimes. Nice in theory, but in practice it creates the “snowball” effect. Danette Chavis of National Action Against Police Brutality said, “Blacks and Hispanics are arrested on the accusation of a crime. They keep them in jail and tell them…if you plead the lesser charge we’ll let you go. But that’s the trick…once you cop a plea you just got got by the city. Now you got a record, you deemed as a criminal which will serve as your death warrant.”

And then there is the conservative cult of the individual. When liberals point at the structural oppression in society, it’s ballyhooed as an evasion of personal responsibility. But crime, particularly robbery and gang-related homicide, is a form of agency. It’s just a reactionary one. It doesn’t reflect the leftist goal of making society more equal. It reflects the conservative vision of an isolated self, driven by personal gain.

The Strain Theory in sociology posits that if an individual believes in the goals of society but doesn’t have the means to attain them, crime can be the result. A very clear parallel exists between Horatio Alger’s rags-to-riches novel, Ragged Dick, and Jay-Z’s rap career — except in Jigga’s case he got “his” by selling drugs as a youth and then rapping about it as an adult. A dimension of Black crime exists that is not a threat against capitalism but a celebration of it.

And finally there is our gun culture. We’ve drooled over guns ever since European settlers expanded westward in North America and massacred the indigenous peoples they found in their way. The gun was and remains a symbol of freedom, so it circulates with little regulation and flows into poor neighborhoods. Some 300 million guns exist in America. It’s not a “Black” problem, but the problems Black people face, like poverty, depression and rage, become more dangerous when a gun is used to solve them. 

Yet these effects of structural racism and economic inequality get turned around and recycled as a cause. After his NBC interview, Giuliani doubled down and said, “If there were a lot of murders in a community, we put a lot of police officers there. If I had put all my police officers on Park Avenue and none in Harlem, thousands and thousands more blacks would have been killed.”

We needed jobs, not cops. We needed affordable housing, not cops. We needed gun laws. We needed drug rehabilitation centers and childcare. We still do.

License to Kill

That police have a license to kill is a social fact. Compare two cases. In November 2012, 47-year-old Michael Dunn, who was not a cop, got into a yelling match over loud music with four Black teens in a car. He pulled out a gun and shot at them, killing 17-year-old Jordan Davis. He said it seemed Davis was pulling out a gun. But no weapon was found. Dunn was convicted of first-degree murder. 

This December Phoenix police officer Mark Rine shot and killed 34-year-old Rumain Brisbon after mistaking a bottle of pills in his pocket for a gun. He was Black, and no gun was found on him either. Considering how hard it’s proven to be to indict a cop, Rine probably won’t be held accountable. 

The reason is that officers represent the state, which has a monopoly on legitimate violence. And that legitimacy is derived from it being the only supposedly neutral and universal social body that in an electoral democracy represents everyone equally. It comes from the consent of the governed. 

Yet in practice the state plays an inherently conservative role. It maintains law and order in an unequal society, so the contradictions roil it from inside. It must suppress the very people who are the source of its legitimacy. And it does this by shielding its own agents from public accountability while demonizing its victims. The formula is the same for the cops who shoot unarmed civilians, the CIA agents who torture detainees and the drone pilots who kill innocent people while targeting terrorists. Up and down the chain of command, an aura of untouchability obscures abuses of power.

The Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on the CIA’s use of torture exposed instances of detainees being beaten, force-fed though their anuses, chained to walls in stress positions and denied sleep for days. It also revealed that President Bush was told about the “full nature” of the torture in April 2006. Yet he said on camera in October 2007, “This government does not torture people.”

You know he won’t be indicted. The president embodies the same unaccountable violence as the cop in the street. And today, even as President Obama directs muted calls for calm toward Black people dealing with police violence, he inflicts it on people of color overseas. Obama is the Darren Wilson of the world.

Crime and Innocence 

“Killer cops must go to jail,” yelled Franclot Graham, the father of Ramarley Graham, a Black teen who in 2012 was chased by the NYPD into his grandmother’s home without a warrant and shot dead. No gun was found, just a small bag of weed. On Saturday, December 13, tens of thousands of New Yorkers came out for the Millions March against police brutality in Manhattan. “Go to jail,” Graham said, referring to the police officer who killed his son. “Go to jail!” The crowd repeated. 

The call for justice is building in Black America and beyond. Players for the St. Louis Rams came onto the football field with their hands up in honor of Michael Brown. LeBron James wore a shirt on court that read, “I Can’t Breathe.” The burgeoning movement, led by young Black activists, is challenging the narrative of crime and innocence in America. It’s flipping the script, using the social consensus about the preciousness of life to challenge the hypocrisy of the state. 

Occupy Wall Street exposed the guilt of elites as they waged class war on the poor. Feminists have targeted colleges and the military, exposing male supremacy and the epidemic of rape hidden from view in these institutions. Fast-food workers are calling out the economic violence they endure as their bosses make astronomical profits. Everywhere people are laying claim to universal values and marshalling them against the institutions that have exploited those values as an alibi for their power.

It begins not with ideas but experience. If you’re wondering why this new movement is happening, let me ask you to look at your hands. For a moment, please think of the person you love most in this life. Imagine holding them. Take a slow breath; exhale everything but them from your mind. Maybe you see a lover, a sibling or a parent. Can you almost feel the warmth of their skin?

Keep looking at your hands, holding the person you love. Now imagine them killed. And the murderer walking away. Do you feel helpless? Do you feel sadness weighing in your body?

The heaviness in your palms is what we lift to the sky. Cops who kill unarmed Black men go free, one after the other. It’s why we march through the streets yelling, “Hands up, don’t shoot.” It’s why we shout the names of our dead. We show our hands because we’re scared of being killed by officers who have been given license to kill Black people and go unpunished. 

I’m asking you to take this weight from us. I’m asking you to hold your hands up too.


The newspaper Naomi Klein calls "utterly unique," full of insightful dispatches from around the world, The Indypendent offers a fresh take on today's events.

Opinion Sun, 21 Dec 2014 11:08:03 -0500
Ferguson Reverberates Around the World

Protestors hold images of Michael Brown, left, Eric Garner and Tamir Rice, right, during a march to protest their deaths in New York, Dec. 13, 2014. A march in Washington also drew thousands on a day evoking the civil rights struggles of the past. (Photo: Yana Paskova / The New York Times) Protesters hold images of Michael Brown, left, Eric Garner and Tamir Rice, right, during a march to protest their deaths in New York, December 13, 2014. A march in Washington also drew thousands on a day evoking the civil rights struggles of the past. (Photo: Yana Paskova / The New York Times)

Like everything we’ve published in 2014, this story was made possible by our readers! Will you join the community that supports Truthout by donating today?

At Black Agenda Report we understand the importance of making connections between domestic and international issues and finding common cause with people around the world. That is why we work in partnership with groups such as the United National Antiwar Coalition (UNAC). UNAC didn’t fall prey to the inertia many supposedly antiwar organizations experienced after Barack Obama’s presidential victory. Its members know that the wars abroad and at home occur precisely because of actions taken by Democrats and Republicans working together to advance the interests of the banksters, defense contractors and other malefactors against the interests of people all over the world. This columnist joined a UNAC delegation invited to a conference in Moscow sponsored by the Anti-Globalization Movement of Russia.

I was asked to speak about the police murder of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and the aftermath of protest which spread from that small town to thousands more across the country. The Ferguson protests seized the attention of people all over the world and gave them a sense of the unvarnished truth of black American life.

Our host organization and members of the Russian media were all curious about Ferguson and what it meant. They asked what our legal system can do to stop police brutality. They wanted to know why the police have military equipment. They were curious about Barack Obama’s relationship with the constituency that supported him the most and why their needs are still not adequately addressed. The questions were many and varied and show that the United States is not the paragon of virtue and benevolent exceptionalism that it claims to be.

In my remarks at the December 13th conference I made it clear that the militarization of local police departments is not new and is directly tied to the government’s destruction of the black liberation movement of the 1960s. Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) teams emerged after the urban rebellions and exchanges of gunfire between the Black Panther Party and police departments around the country.

It is true that the Pentagon’s 1033 Program accelerated the supply of military equipment given to the police, but it was not a new experience for black Americans. Police on the beat, like Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri, are a modern day slave patrol, using the slightest infraction or none at all to arrest, assault and even kill on a daily basis.

I spoke not just about Michael Brown but about Eric Garner who was choked to death while crying out that he couldn’t breathe and Akai Gurley whose only crime was taking the stairs in his public housing apartment building when police were on patrol. Even children like twelve year-old Tamir Rice armed with toy guns aren’t safe from police murder if they have black skin.

The world needs to know not only that America’s promise of justice for all is a lie but that it is expressed against the rest of the world, too. The anti-globalization group came into being in response to the United States and NATO attacks on the Russian government and interference in the domestic crisis in Ukraine. It is also ironic that the United States senate report on torture was released during the same week as the Moscow conference. It is not coincidental that a country which developed an officially sanctioned policy of torture is also the world leader in mass incarceration, defense spending and aggression towards the world community.

The United States still occupies Iraq and Afghanistan with troops and has used proxies to destroy Libya, Somalia, Haiti and Syria. Now Russia, though it is stronger than those other nations, has also been marked for destruction by the West. The United States has connived with its ally Saudi Arabia to lower the price of oil and do even further damage to Russia’s energy production sector. Congress has proposed even more sanctions in an effort to destroy that nation’s economy and turn it into a vassal state along with every other country that won’t submit to pax Americana.

What next? That is the question that conference participants often asked. What will happen after Ferguson? How long will the protests continue? It is difficult to make predictions and create hypothetical scenarios, but it is clear that people in a small Missouri town have changed the paradigm.

President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder will not be given deference should they choose not to pursue federal prosecution in the Michael Brown case. They are finally being taken to task and will not be able to explain a decision to let Darren Wilson get away with murder.

I told my hosts and local media that the American system guarantees presidents like Barack Obama. The person who emerges atop the political heap does so by agreeing tacitly and explicitly to maintain the status quo for the rulers in the 1%. White supremacy is followed only by worship of money as the very foundation of American life. A black president will do as little as a white one, perhaps even less, in order to separate himself the group which arrived in chains and still lives at the margins.

It is important for activists in this country to strengthen their coalitions abroad. It is a vital step in making critical change and freeing people from police brutality, CIA “black” sites, mass imprisonment and the wanton destruction of other nations and their people. There is no substitute for direct and personal interaction. It makes us all less susceptible to the lies and manipulations which do the world such great harm.

Opinion Sun, 21 Dec 2014 10:11:57 -0500
Utah Land Defenders Stand Up to Dirty Politics

New technologies like fracking - along with government subsidies - have ushered in an energy boom reliant on extreme extraction methods to produce oil and natural gas. Now the Uinta Basin is ground zero for what threatens to become the next phase in extreme energy extraction: strip mining for tar sands and oil shale.

After clear-cutting trees and sagebrush, U.S. Oil Sands digs open-pit mines to test their tar sands extraction process. If the company starts producing tar sands on a commercial scale, 32,000 acres in Utah’s Uintah Basin could be covered with these pits, along with tailings ponds that would store huge amounts of waste water and chemicals used in the extraction process. (Courtesy of Before It Starts)After clear-cutting trees and sagebrush, US Oil Sands digs open-pit mines to test their tar sands extraction process. If the company starts producing tar sands on a commercial scale, 32,000 acres in Utah's Uintah Basin could be covered with these pits, along with tailings ponds that would store huge amounts of waste water and chemicals used in the extraction process. (Photo courtesy of Utah Tar Sands Resistance)

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Also see: Subsidy Spotlight: Publicly Funding a Utah Disaster in the Making

Lauren Wood grew up in a family of river guides in the Uinta Basin region of Utah. She navigates tributaries of the Colorado River like her urban counterparts navigate subway systems. She learned to ride a horse, and then drive a car, on the Tavaputs Plateau. And she can name most any gorge or gully in the place she calls home.

But this landscape so familiar to her has transformed over the past decade to one in which drill rigs are more common than cattle herds, and methane emissions have degraded the air quality in this wilderness region to rival that of Los Angeles.

New technologies like fracking––along with government subsidies––have ushered in an energy boom reliant on extreme extraction methods to produce oil and natural gas. Now the Uinta Basin is ground zero for what threatens to become the next phase in extreme energy extraction: strip mining for tar sands and oil shale.

Tar sands are a sticky mixture of sand, clay, water and bitumen that can be processed into fuel, but require more refining than conventional crude oil, releasing more greenhouse gases and toxins in the process. Despite the fact that Canadian tar sands mining is pushing the Earth toward disastrous climate change, some companies are moving forward with tar sands mining projects in the United States.

Oil shale, not to be confused with shale oil (which is oil released by fracking), is a solid mixture of chemical compounds––called kerogen––inside sedimentary rock. When heated at high enough temperatures, it’s possible to break the kerogen down into liquid hydrocarbons and release them from the rock. This requires a whole lot of fuel just to make more fuel, and also promises to drastically worsen the effects of climate change.

Part one of this article delved into the history of how, in the past, taxpayers have footed costly bills for government-sponsored tar sands and oil shale development that never turned out to be commercially viable. The last of these projects fizzled out in the 1980s. Now, thanks in large part to a provision in the Energy Policy Act of 2005––written by Utah Republican Senator Orrin Hatch––oil shale and tar sands are back on the table.

Red Leaf Resources and U.S. Oil Sands are two companies that have led the renewed crusade to develop oil shale and tar sands in the United States. Red Leaf leases Utah state land for its oil shale mine site near the Tavaputs Plateau in Uintah County. A few miles away, straddling the boundaries of the Uintah-Ouray Reservation, sits the tar sands mine site of Canadian-based U.S. Oil Sands.

In 2008, one of Red Leaf’s Vice Presidents, Laura Nelson, teamed up with a U.S. Oil Sands Executive to co-write a white paper for the Utah Mining Association (UMA), a lobbying group. In it, they spelled out the ways that state and federal governments should subsidize tar sands and oil shale development. Since then, several of their recommendations––including millions of dollars in tax breaks, leasing public land at rock-bottom prices, and government-funded infrastructure projects––have become reality.

A twenty-year tax holiday for tar sands and oil shale

The same year the Utah Mining Association (UMA) white paper came out, a new PAC called The Quality Jobs Coalition registered in Utah.

Of the six listed PAC members, three are former UMA presidents. In 2008, The Quality Jobs Coalition spent over $50,000 in donations to 28 candidates for the Utah legislature, the majority of whom won.

In the following legislative session, one of those candidates introduced a bill that began as a measure to create tax credits for renewable energy projects, (even though it included and emphasized nuclear energy), but was renamed and expanded to incentivize alternative energy projects, including oil shale and tar sands.

The original bill’s tax credits were projected to be valued at $2.6 million in annual revenue for the first two years. With tar sands and oil shale included, that estimate ballooned to $5 million annually for the first few years, and an incredible $360 million annually down the road.

That’s equal to six percent of the 2015 budget for Utah’s General Fund and Education Fund––the two pools of money from which funds are diverted in order to cover the cost of the huge refunds these tax breaks offer.

Companies that take advantage of the Alternative Energy Development Incentive get to write off 75 percent of their state taxes annually for up to twenty years.

And manufacturers of oil shale and tar sands equipment get a completely free ride with the Alternative Energy Manufacturing Incentive, which offers a  full 100 percent state tax refund for up to twenty years.

Royalties buy taxpayers a Road to Nowhere (except a tar sands mine)

Taxes or no taxes, there is still revenue to be made from royalties. More than seventy percent of Utah is public land, and when extractive industries mine or drill on it, they have to pay a certain percentage of their profits to the state and federal governments.

In Utah, that money goes into a Mineral Lease Fund, which gets distributed to various agencies for projects that offset the local impacts of fossil fuel extraction. For example: health services for kids whose asthma is triggered by the ridiculously high ozone levels in the Uinta Basin.

But fossil fuel companies often try to twist the scenario to benefit themselves.

In 2010, Red Leaf Resource’s oil shale research and development site was nestled amongst vegetation in Utah's Uintah Basin region. Now the surrounding acreage looks like a desert, as the company has clear cut a huge swath of the 1,600 acres it leases from the state in order to mine sedimentary rock with deposits of bitumen inside. (Courtesy of EcoFlight).In 2010, Red Leaf Resource's oil shale research and development site was nestled amongst vegetation in Utah's Uintah Basin region. Now the surrounding acreage looks like a desert, as the company has clear cut a huge swath of the 1,600 acres it leases from the state in order to mine sedimentary rock with deposits of bitumen inside. (Photo: courtesy of EcoFlight)

In 2007, Red Leaf founder Todd Dana attended a meeting of Uintah County Commissioners and Vernal City Council, where he said, “delivery is an important concern and it is critical to get the oil south to the railroad for transportation.”

Commissioner Mike McKee responded, “One of the greatest needs is the repair of Seep Ridge Road.”

At that time, Seep Ridge Road was mostly gravel. Starting southwest of Vernal, it wound about seventy miles south, through Ute tribal lands, across the Tavaputs Plateau to the Book Cliffs, an escarpment so steep it’s almost non-traversable by car.

Only hunters, backpackers, ranchers, and locals were generally using the road until Red Leaf and U.S. Oil Sands came on the scene and Seep Ridge Road became the main access point for their mine sites.

So when the county moved forward with a multi-million dollar revamp of the road, to be paid for with money from the Mineral Lease Fund, critics dubbed it The Road To Nowhere, and pointed out the obvious: public coffers were being drained for the sole benefit of the oil shale and tar sands companies.

This November, the last phase of construction was completed and a ribbon cutting held on what’s now a forty-foot-wide highway through the wilderness, made for semi-trucks and megaloads, paid for with $86.5 million in public funds.

Oil shale on stolen––and public––land

Red Leaf was also implicated in a 2012 scandal that brought corporate governance in the Uintah Basin to a new level.

Four years earlier, in 2008, the Bureau of Land Management had announced a plan to open up two million acres of public lands (including land that was part of the Uinta-Ouray Reservation until the Homestead Act divvied it up between white settlers and the government) for oil shale development in Utah, Wyoming, and Colorado. The plan also allotted 431,000 acres for tar sands development in Utah.

The original plan amounted to a huge subsidy to these industries because royalties were set at only five percent––less than half the standard rate for conventional oil and gas.

But public pressure led the BLM to re-assess the plan, and in 2012 they announced a new one that significantly curtailed the amount of land up for grabs.

That’s when Uintah County leaders held an illegal meeting at the Golden Age Senior Center in Vernal, Utah.

The remains of a bird are mired in an oily pool at the site of a tar sands test mine. (Courtesy of Before It Starts)The remains of a bird are mired in an oily pool at the site of a tar sands test mine. (Photo: courtesy of Utah Tar Sands Resistance)

Among the the thirty-two people in attendance were county officials from Utah, Colorado, and Wyoming; a lobbyist from Red Leaf and another oil shale company; the director of a national oil shale lobby group; a board member of a nonprofit with ties to Red Leaf; an official from the Uintah-Ouray Reservation; and the George W. Bush-era BLM Director who oversaw the original land lease proposal and was an adviser to Utah Governor Gary Herbert at the time of the meeting.

Behind closed doors––in violation of the state’s sunshine laws––they crafted a plan for elected officials from each county to pass resolutions opposing the BLM plan. In follow-up emails they shared draft resolutions that could serve as models for the industry to push in the relevant counties. In little more than a month, the resolutions were passed and officials from six counties held a joint press conference lauding their actions.

When an open records request brought the meeting to light, public outcry caused some County Commissioners to rescind the resolutions. But their actions had the intended effect; the BLM conducted yet another assessment and expanded their plan to offer a total of 830,000 acres of public land for oil shale and tar sands development. This time, the agency didn’t set a royalty rate at all.

Tar sands and oil shale election money

A key player in all of this is Uintah County Commissioner Mike McKee. In 2006, the year before the Seep Ridge Road project took off, he reported zero contributions to his election campaign. In 2014––eight years into the region’s oil and gas boom––he reported $20,096, possibly a record for Uintah County, where local campaigns rarely garner more than $10,000.

$5,000 of McKee’s campaign money came from Uintah Resources, which Todd Dana founded in 2009 after selling his share of Red Leaf. Another $5,000 came from an oilfield equipment company, and several thousands more from various companies and individuals in the fossil fuel industry.

Laura Nelson, the Red Leaf VP who co-wrote the Utah Mining Association white paper, has circled through a revolving door from the Utah state house to Red Leaf, and back to the state house––this time as Director of Utah’s Office of Energy Development.

It’s worth mentioning that Nelson contributed $5,000 to Governor Herbert’s campaign in 2012 (when she was still an employee of Red Leaf), and that other Red Leaf executives, their main lobbyist, and the company itself, have donated a combined $26,000 to Herbert’s campaigns and his PAC.

So it’s no surprise that earlier this year, at the third annual Governor’s Energy Development Summit, Herbert announced that oil shale and tar sands were second on his list of five energy priorities for 2015.

That was on June third. On July 21––the same day Nelson was appointed Director of Energy Development––twenty-one people were arrested at the U.S. Oil Sands mine site.

The land defenders

They started arriving in May––dozens of people from all over Utah and all over the country––to camp together on the Tavaputs Plateau. From the encampment, they could hike two miles to the U.S. Oil Sands site to monitor developments and plan actions.

Land defenders block the road leading to a tar sands mine site. The protest prevented the company U.S. Oil Sands from clearing vegetation on land where it plans to dig open pit mines and tailings ponds for toxic waste.Land defenders block the road leading to a tar sands mine site. The protest prevented the company US Oil Sands from clearing vegetation on land where it plans to dig open pit mines and tailings ponds for toxic waste.

In the early morning hours of July 21, fifteen people entered a fenced-off cage where U.S. Oil Sands kept equipment used for clear-cutting. They chained themselves to machinery and the fence, as sixty more people surrounded the area with banners and blockaded the road.

By the middle of the afternoon, twenty-one people were in jail and two were hospitalized with injuries inflicted by police. But no land on the Tavaputs Plateau was leveled that day.

“It’s a pretty emotional thing to be up there and see people actually stopping it from happening,” says Lauren Wood, the river guide and a co-founder of Peaceful Uprising. Peaceful Uprising is one of the groups that organized the action camp, along with Tar Sands Resistance and Canyon Country Rising Tide.

Parts of U.S. Oil Sands mine site extend onto Ute tribal lands. The Environmental Protection Agency warned the company in June that it didn’t have permission to operate on Ute land. On July 21, 2014, fifteen people chained themselves to a fence and to machinery on the tar sands mine site operated by U.S. Oil Sands.Parts of US Oil Sands mine site extend onto Ute tribal lands. The Environmental Protection Agency warned the company in June that it didn't have permission to operate on Ute land. On July 21, 2014, fifteen people chained themselves to a fence and to machinery on the tar sands mine site operated by US Oil Sands.

Aside from the immediate impact and thrill of a day-long work stoppage, the groups are confident that the cumulative effect of their persistence will be to stop the mines.

Will Munger works as a cowboy in the Uintah Basin, where tar sands and oil shale development are threatening water sources critical to ranching and agriculture. (Courtesy of Will Munger)Will Munger works as a cowboy in the Uintah Basin, where tar sands and oil shale development are threatening water sources critical to ranching and agriculture. (Courtesy of Will Munger)Red Leaf, U.S. Oil Sands and the other companies pioneering tar sands and oil shale development are small and financially precarious, even with the millions of taxpayer dollars wasted on their projects.

The land defenders say that with enough pushback, investors may get nervous. Stock prices can tank. There really is a window of time for preventing a U.S. tar sands and oil shale industry.

Another land defender, Will Munger, works as a cowboy on the Tavaputs Plateau and camped out at the protest site.

Munger takes a long view of the past and the future when he talks about the relationships between climate change, government, and corporations.

“The West has been defined by these boom and bust cycles since colonization,” he says.

“What we need out here in the desert is a way of relating to the land and relating to each other where there is a stable, functional economy that preserves the ecosystems that keep us alive. Not schemes that are part of this economic model that looks at short-term profit over long-term sustainability.”

There were a few more actions and arrests in the months after July. By the end of October, the last of the campers had packed up as development at the mines slowed down and winter set in.

But they’ll be back come spring, and anyone is welcome to join them.

News Sun, 21 Dec 2014 09:59:20 -0500
Fallen Heroes of 2014

Hundreds of social justice advocates and organizers passed away in 2014, leaving their work behind as their legacy, but often also leaving an irreplaceable hole in their movements.

In this week's edition of Making Contact you'll hear about the life and work of social justice leaders, many who spent their entire lives fighting for racial and economic justice, and though they've passed away they inspire us to do our work today.

Black Liberation activists like Chokwe Lumumba, Darby Tillis freed from wrongful conviction and imprisonment, Yuri Kochiyama anti-imperialist supporter for political prisoners, and young George Carter who was a "rethinker" of schools in New Orleans.

On today's edition of Making Contact we honor and revisit the lives of just a few of those fallen heroes who passed away this year.


  • Chokwe Lumumba, former mayor of Jackson MS
  • Morgan Powell, Bronx River Sankofa founder
  • Charity Hicks, Detroit People's Water Board co-founder
  • Darby Tillis, death penalty opponent
  • Yuri Kochiyama, civil rights activist
  • Ted Gullickson, San Francisco Tenants Union director
  • George Carter; Kids Rethink New Orleans Schools participant
  • Leslie Feinberg, author of Stone Butch Blues
  • Eddie Ellis, prison reform advocate
  • Mark Naison, Fordham University African-American history professor
  • Lila Cabbil, Rosa Parks Institute president emeritus
  • Diane Fujino, author of Heartbeat of Struggle, the revolutionary life of Yuri Kochiyama
  • Taiyo Na, author
  • Randy Shaw, Tenderloin Housing Clinic executive director
  • Qasim Davis, Kids Rethink New Orleans Schools project manager
  • Perry Cobb, Darby Tillis' co-defendant
  • Dr. Divine Pryor, executive Director of the center for NuLeadership on Urban Solutions
News Sat, 20 Dec 2014 13:47:37 -0500
Who's Afraid of Shareholder Democracy?

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, one of biggest corporate trade associations, and ALEC, one of biggest corporate lobbying groups are both startlingly hostile to shareholders. At two recent meetings in Washington DC, these two powerful groups -- who frequently hold themselves out as speaking for the business community -- grumbled about shareholders being too pushy.

In particular ALEC and the Chamber don't like that one of the top topics of shareholder resolutions over the past few years has been transparency of political spending both in elections and in lobbying expenditures. Just this year, five public firms witnessed a majority of their shareholders vote in favor of such political transparency. Those firms in case you were curious are Sallie Mae, Lorillard and Valero Energy, where a majority voted for disclosure of lobbying — and Dean Foods and Smith & Wesson, where a majority voted for disclosure of campaign spending.

Ownership, as they say, has its privileges. One of the points of buying stock rather than just loaning a company money is by actually buying a little piece of the firm, the shareholder gets a tiny voice in how that firm is run. Apparently the Chamber and ALEC do not appreciate shareholders, well, acting like they own the joint.

Of course, shareholders don't get to run the firm day to day, but they do get to pipe up once a year at the annual general meeting (AGM) by voting on the board of directors, the auditor, management proposals and shareholder proposals.

As reported in Bloomberg BNA by Kenneth P. Doyle, this attention by shareholders on corporate political spending is rubbing the President of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce the wrong way. "The whole thing comes down to efforts by some to stop the business community" complained President Thomas Donahue at a December 3rd conference sponsored by the U.S. Chamber Foundation.

Meanwhile the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) was also meeting in DC on December 3rd and they too were peevish about shareholders having the temerity to ask where corporate money in being used in politics. As reported by PR Watch, at the ALEC meeting there was a workshop titled "Playing the Shame Game: A Campaign that Threatens Corporate Free Speech."

This is all a little surreal since these are shareholders after all who at the end of the day would like a reasonable return on their investment, like any good capitalist. If anyone is for businesses turning a profit, it is the people whose life savings are tied up in these firms and thus it is reasonable to ask if money spent on politics is money spent wisely.

From the press reports of these two DC meetings, it sounds like the Chamber and ALEC may be pining for the 1950s. Back then, shareholders almost never brought up social issues on the proxy. One of the few exceptions was James Peck, a white civil rights activist who had the "crazy" idea that blacks and whites are equal. Peck partnered with black civil rights lawyer Bayard Rustin to ask Greyhound to desegregate its buses through the corporate proxy card. James Peck failed at every turn in the early 1950s. He was met with a wall of resistance from the company, the SEC and the courts. And it was like that for other shareholders for two more decades.

This all changed with a case called Medical Committee for Human Rights v. SEC brought by shareholders of Dow who complained about its production of napalm during the Vietnam War. The case was litigated up to the D.C. Circuit in 1970. The court found that the shareholders should be able to vote on a broader array of issues because:

[w]e think that there is a clear and compelling distinction between management's legitimate need for freedom to apply its expertise in matters of day-to-day business judgment, and management's patently illegitimate claim of power to treat modern corporations with their vast resources as personal satrapies implementing personal political or moral predilections.

A key factor in the case was the fact that Dow's own documents showed "that the decision to continue manufacturing and marketing napalm was made not because of business considerations, but in spite of them..." The Dow case was a turning point in the rights of shareholders. Shortly thereafter the SEC revised its rules to allow political and social shareholder proposals.

And shareholders have been exercising this right ever since. Now in a typical year, hundreds of shareholder proposals are filed at firms. Today many of the shareholder resolutions are about sustainability and environmental issues like climate change, greenhouse gases, pollution, genetically modified food, and impacts on public health of manufacturing.

A report from the Sustainable Investment Institute (Si2) which tracks these things noted, "[i]nvestors concerned with environmental and social issues filed 454 shareholder proposals at U.S. companies in 2014, a big jump from 402 in 2013 and far more than in any previous year."

Ever since Citizens United in 2010 there has been a notable uptick in shareholder resolutions on the transparency of political spending. And the votes on political transparency this year averaged (as of August 2014) 23.7%. This is remarkably high given how broadly public companies are held. Which might explain why some corporate groups who are fond of spending secretive "dark money" are having a toddler style temper tantrum just because shareholders are exercising their right to vote their proxies.

The alternative to the private ordering that shareholders are engaged in is a generally applicable rule from the SEC providing uniform disclosure of corporate political spending, which is also popular among shareholders if a short review of the over one million comments filed at the SEC is any indication.

If the Chamber and ALEC bristle at shareholder democracy where there is an actual ownership stake, one can only imagine what they think of real democracy where every citizen over 18 no matter how rich or poor, investors and non-investors alike, gets to vote.

News Sat, 20 Dec 2014 13:23:07 -0500
Unbelievable: Telecoms Claim They're Worried About Your Bill!

Update: Since this article was written the two false pillars of the PPI study have disappeared. Brian Fung of the Washington Post sums up the claim that investment would decrease with Title II with his reporting on how executives from the telecoms say Title II will not impact their investment plans. The other pillar was the claim that there would be increased taxes but Congress has extended the tax exemption for the Internet so now that claim has also disappeared. After final passage of the omnibus spending bill, Free Press published: Congress Puts to Rest the Great Internet Tax Hoax of 2014: Phone and cable industry misinformation about Title II once again fails to stand up to scrutiny, which puts the nail in the coffin of this telecom falsehood. The bottom line: Title II will not increase taxes or the bills of consumers. Let's watch and see if the cable lobbyists stop the big advertising campaign based on this phony study.

The 'false-on-its-face' telecom claim of increased costs to consumers is designed to protect their unregulated monopolies that charge too much and provide terrible service.

The Citizens of the Internet Can Defeat the Telecom Mafia

In a claim that must have people laughing out loud, the telecom and broadband providers are fighting net neutrality by claiming that they will raise the rates of consumers! It is hard to believe that even telecom lobbyists, well-paid to mislead Congress and regulators, could make this claim without smirking as cable bills have been rising at four times the rate of inflation without net neutrality.

Now they claim to be concerned about consumer costs. Why? Because they want to protect their monopolies that currently allow them to gouge consumers and provide sub-par service.

The telecoms remind us of the mafia: "If you reclassify the Internet as a public utility, it's gonna cost you." It is time to stand up to these bullies. The Internet community is strong enough to defeat them in any arena. The truth is that the FCC will be able to control telecom costs if they reclassify the Internet because Title II gives the FCC the power to control the fees they charge, and the telecoms know and fear this. 

The falseness of the telecom claim is obvious on its face, but because some in Congress are well paid to believe the lies of the industry, we need to debunk them. The National Cable and Telecommunications Association (NCTA) spends $19.8 million annually on lobbying making it the fifth largest spender in Washington, DC (Comcast, AT&T and Verizon combined spent an addition $48 billion). As far as political donations, during the 2013-2014 election cycle Comcast gave $3.4 million, AT&T $3.1 million, Verizon $2.6 million and the National Cable and Telecommunications Association $1.8 million. So, Congress hears a lot of lies from people who pay them well to listen.

But there is strong evidence that the politics have changed and the people of the Internet can defeat the dollars of the telecoms in Congress. The Internet community can also debunk their lies, no matter how much they spend to tell them.

No amount of money will turn telecom lies into truths

First, anyone with basic common sense knows that the real problem regarding cost of cable and Internet access is unregulated monopolies. When consumers have no choice, monopolies can charge whatever price they want and not worry about the quality of their service or how they treat consumers.

Every American has experienced the dramatic rate increases in fees from telecoms but the numbers are still shocking. Last year cable rates increased at 6.5% while inflation was 1.7%. The average annual rate increase since 1995 has been 6.1%, consistently higher than inflation.

As to their dismal service, Informit reports that the US ranks 31st in the world in download speeds; our connection speed is worse than Estonia, Slovakia and Uruguay among many others; and we rank 48th in upload speeds making us worse than countries like Zimbabwe and Armenia.

The US pays too much for Internet services that deliver less than other countries because during the Clinton era the Telecommunications Act of 1996 became law which allowed major providers to split up markets for the purpose of regional monopolization. Then in 2002, Michael Powell's FCC reclassified the Internet as an information service removing the Title II powers needed to regulate these monopolies. The result: unregulated monopolies that gouge consumers and provide lousy service.

The American Customer Satisfaction Index of 2014, which reviews 43 household consumer industries, finds that customer satisfaction from cable and broadband providers is the lowest among all the industries surveyed. The average for all industries was 75.6 in satisfaction out of 100, while the cable companies had a score of 63. Customer satisfaction from these companies continues to decline with drops in satisfaction across the board. Comcast and Time Warner Cable plunged 8% and 14%, respectively, to very low ACSI scores in the 50s. Comcast and Time Warner Cable both score lower for Internet service compared to their pay TV ratings. In fact Comcast earned Consumerist's 'Worst Company in America' title twice, first in 2010 and again this year, 2014, beating out Monsanto, a company most associated with the word "evil."

Because the telecom and broadband providers are so unpopular and have no credibility when it comes to keeping consumer costs down, they had to find a front group to do their dirty work. They found a perfect front group in the misnamed "Progressive" Policy Institute. PPI is the think tank for the big business Democratic corporatists, the Democratic Leadership Conference. The DLC was successful in getting big business money, especially from Wall Street and the telecoms into the Democratic Party. PPI was organized to support the DLC and advocates Wall Street friendly policies that favor de-regulation and corporatization. PPI justifies big business friendly policies with phony progressive rhetoric. AT&T has been funding PPI since its founding in 2000. As Phillip Dampier wrote "PPI would likely not exist without its corporate sponsors — among them AT&T, hardly a disinterested player in the telecommunications policy debate."

PPI gave the telecom industry the "research" they wanted for a false propaganda campaign in a last ditch effort to stop reclassifying the Internet as a common carrier under Title II so that net neutrality could once again become the law of the land. The study makes the false claim that Title II net neutrality regulations will result in $15 billion in various new Federal and State taxes and fees. These are totally made up numbers from a completely false fantasy thesis that Title II will mean less investment and slower innovation that would result from reclassification.

Indeed, Edward Wyatt of the New York Times reports that a Verizon executive debunked the myth of less investment under Title II at the annual UBS media and communications investment conference. He reports that Francis J. Shammo, Verizon's chief financial officer, said "the company planned to continue to invest in its FiOS fiber-optic network and its wireless systems regardless of the outcome of the broadband debate." Shammo specifically said that the broadband debate "does not influence the way we invest."

As John Eggerton reported in MediaChannel, FCC Chair, Tom Wheeler is now saying Title II will not threaten investment: "When Verizon makes that kind of statement, I think it is logical. I think it is reflected in what various Wall Street analysts have said in terms of Title II being less of a bugaboo if it is done correctly." Matt Wood of Free Press provides more details telling us Wheeler said "that broadband investment in Title II services remains high, that auction revenues are booming despite him telling CTIA that mobile Net Neutrality would be stronger, and even noted that wireless voice has been subject to Sections 201/202 for twenty years."

This is consistent with the history of Internet investment as the evidence shows investment was greater when the Internet was classified as a common carrier under Title II. The telecoms build on this false claim with more false claims telling consumers through their allies in the corporate media that there would be a $19 per month increase in fees to the consumer for Internet access. They are now running advertisements with a scary graphic wherever there is an article about Title II and net neutrality in places like The Hill.

Does a Lie Repeated Become the Truth?

But it is all false. It is just a lie repeated with a megaphone of big money spending and corporate media allies. This will be an excellent test of the "Big Lie" theory, that a lie repeated becomes the truth.

Congress has, as predicted by almost everyone, extended the tax exemption for the Internet. Prior to the extension, Tech Dirt explained the false basis for the claim because it was based on the slim potential of increased taxes, with had nothing to do with Title II but was based on the tax exemption:

"On the state level, Internet access has long received a Congressional exemption that's set to expire December 11 — an issue totally unrelated to the Title II push. Congress can make sure the exemption is extended, keeping state sales taxes far away from broadband access. If they don't, again, it has nothing to do with Title II. Realize this, and nearly all of the PPI's estimate of $15 billion in new taxes as a direct result of Title II goes up in smoke right out of the gate."

Tim Karr of Free Press points out in a tweet the irony of the advertisement appearing on the same page in the Washington Post where the ad is debunked. The budget bill passed by Congress ends the possibility of increased taxes as Congress extended the exemption. There was never any doubt this tax exemption extension would pass, but the telecoms needed a scare story so they made one up.

Free Press explains the falsehood, a "mistake" that is really an attempt to mislead, as coming "from ignoring the difference between services that cross state lines and those that exist entirely within one state." They explain: If Congress extends and updates the Internet Tax Freedom Act and the FCC declines to include broadband in the [universal service] revenue base at this time, the increase would be exactly zero. Congress has now extended the Tax Freedom Act, so another false foundation of the PPI study is removed.

In fact, the FCC could take various actions to prevent unreasonable fee increases under Title II. Free Press points out that the FCC could waive the requirement for providers to contribute a portion of their retail broadband revenues to the federal Universal Service Fund. PPI chooses to ignore the basic truth about Title II regulation; it gives the FCC flexibility in regulating the industry, including keeping costs down.

Free Press sums up the facts and concludes there would be no increase in taxes or fees as a result of reclassification under Title II and net neutrality regulations, explaining:

"The bottom line is this: If the FCC does nothing more than stick with precedent and designate broadband as an interstate telecom service, the average potential increase in taxes and fees per household would be far less than PPI estimates. If Congress extends and updates the Internet Tax Freedom Act and the FCC declines to include broadband in the revenue base at this time, the increase would be exactly zero."

What It All Means: People of the Internet Will Defeat The Telecom Mafia

The telecom and broadband providers are desperate to keep their unregulated monopolies that can raise prices and provide lousy service without any retribution from the consumers or government. They pay big money to elected officials to serve as a shield to regulation. They keep the FCC in fear of Congress and the courts. It is our job – the millions of people who are demanding net neutrality to be organized and mobilized to defend the FCC when it reclassifies.

When it comes to the courts, in Verizon, when the court threw out the net neutrality rules, it made it clear that only Title II reclassification would give the FCC the authority to regulate the Internet and prevent fast lanes and slow lanes. Court decisions make it evident that the easiest to defend net neutrality rules will be if the Internet is reclassified under Title II. There is no other legal path that gives the FCC a strong legal foundation that is defendable in court.

When it comes to Congress, recent experience shows the people are the dominant power on Internet issues. The politics of the Internet has changed: the people of the Internet can defeat the dollars of the telecoms. This has been seen in repeated battles over SOPA and PIPA and will be seen in net neutrality as well. Larry Downes wrote in Forbes analyzing the new political power of the Internet: "A new and profoundly different political force has emerged ... a constituency that identifies itself not by local interests but as citizens of the Internet."

This new political power has shown itself over reclassification and net neutrality, where it produced nearly 4 million comments to the FCC, far eclipsing any previous rulemaking; overwhelmingly, literally 99% of the comments, supported net neutrality. The Internet can generate emails, petitions and phone calls and it has been a key factor in mobilizing people to take action.

The FCC does not have to fear the telecom and broadband providers. Their old school 'pay to play' politics will fail with the reality of people power that can be organized rapidly and coordinated on the Internet. Indeed, the Internet can make sure that their massive political spending will create a boomerang against elected officials who take donations from the telecoms. Politicians will find telecom dollars will cost them votes.

And, the politics is on the side of the Internet community. Both political parties want the funding of Silicon Valley and the votes of Internet citizens. Polls show people across the political spectrum – Republicans, Democrats and independents – support net neutrality. Republicans are quickly learning they must be on the side of the Internet. People want an open Internet with equal access for all.

The politics comes down to this: side with the most hated corporations in America or side with millions of people and the funders of the future, the Internet corporations made up of entrepreneurs, start-ups and innovators. The Internet has already shown its current political power, but more importantly, it is obvious which side is the political power of the future.

The FCC should go forward in confidence that Comcast, Verizon, Time Warner and AT&T are political powers of the past that should be taken on and not feared. The Internet will be on the FCC's side if they do the right thing.

News Sat, 20 Dec 2014 12:43:33 -0500