B12 Solipsism

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Archive for the ‘government’ tag

Internet groups whine about new online privacy rules for children

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 Miniature Office Globe

Oh, cry me a river. I’d love to have the same options available for myself! Kids luckily have some protection from being subsumed by the data collection industry, but not much. Adults – not even a token bit of assistance.

Internet groups complained Monday that new Federal Trade Commission regulations to protect children’s privacy online are financially burdensome to start-up companies.

Under regulations that went into effect July 1, websites catering to children will no longer be able to collect a range of identifying information without obtaining verifiable parental consent.

The child protection regulations will now hold the owners of sites and apps frequented by children responsible for third-party services — such as plug-ins or ads — that collect personal information from visitors who say they’re younger than 13. The third-party services will be held liable only if the FTC can prove they knowingly collected personal information from children.

Kid-friendly websites that want to use such ads to provide free content to kids, or that want to collect personal information for interactive content, now have to either get parental consent or forgo the content altogether, as some tech experts worry they’ll do.

“The biggest challenge here is that the commission defines personal information in a way that is so incredibly broad,” said Lydia Parnes, the former director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection and now a privacy lawyer, at a gathering of data experts and representatives of Internet companies in Washington.

 

(click here to continue reading Internet groups decry cost of new online privacy rules for children – latimes.com.)

Embarrass
Embarrass

 Have you ever tried to opt out of Acxiom’s database, for instance? Good luck. And they are just one firm out of thousands that Ghostery knows about. Unless you are paying attention to that industry, you’ve never heard of most of them, have no business relationship with them, nor consent to your information being bought and sold. Tough luck, unless you are under 13…

Written by Seth Anderson

July 11th, 2013 at 11:54 am

Posted in Advertising,Business

Tagged with ,

Illinois tax Increase

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Flag Waving

Illinois is in financial trouble, so there are two realistic options, not mutually exclusive1 – drastically cut spending, or raise taxes. I’m hoping the Illinois legislature is not planning to only raise taxes.

That said, despite all talk about percentage increases and so on, the actual dollar increase is not that jaw dropping, is it? I can’t say I’m angry about it, nor am I planning on moving my business to Indiana or Missouri, or somewhere without state income tax. I like it here.

The morning-after reality was this: The state portion of your personal income tax bill is likely to grow by about two-thirds after Gov. Pat Quinn follows through with his vow to sign legislation enacting big tax hikes.

If state taxes would have cost you $2,000 annually under the old rate structure, it’s likely your bill will now jump to about $3,300.

In Quinn’s first year as governor in 2009, he reported adjusted gross income of $157,122 and shelled out $4,468 in state income tax. If the new, higher rate had been in force, his personal tab would have approached $7,500.

(click to continue reading Illinois taxpayers wake up to new reality: 67 percent hike – chicagotribune.com.)

Digest that for a second, the Chicago Tribune is trying to get worked up over what is probably a few hundred dollars a year.2 What percentage of Illinois residents even make $150,000 a year? If you did, your tax went up a couple thousand dollars. I’m not sobbing. Illinois is still middle-of-the-road as far as state tax levels. Ranked 23rd (South Dakota is 1st, Alaska is 2nd, Wyoming is 3rd, and California is 49th, New York 50th, in a study of fiscal year 2011 tax rates by The Tax Foundation) and is probably going to be lowered, but still respectable.

I mean we all want free cheese, but sometimes it isn’t an option. Plus, if I’m not mistaken, if you submit an itemized federal tax return, you can deduct the tax you paid to the state.

I’m sure there is a bunch of waste in the state budget that I would cut out if I was in control of such things, but I don’t want state mental hospitals to close, don’t want bridges to collapse, CTA trains to be reduced, potholes to remain unfilled, etc.

–update, don’t forget that the Illinois legislature has also tried to bridge the budget gap with the short-sighted Amazon tax bill, as previously discussed.

Footnotes:
  1. and not counting the third option, do nothing and ignore the problem. Illinois does not want to follow the Texas model []
  2. You can check specifically what the increase will mean to you in this handy-dandy tax hike calculator []

Written by Seth Anderson

January 13th, 2011 at 10:09 am

1986 Privacy Law Inadequate For 2011 Digital Society

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Popo Starry Pants

The mentality of law enforcement is that since there is information available about suspects, law enforcement officers should have free reign to sift through it, no matter what. However, if one is a suspect, and a warrant is executed for one’s home, the officers are usually limited to certain areas as precisely described by the warrant, they are not1 allowed to look through every single nook and cranny, unless the warrant has been constructed this broadly. Why isn’t digital data treated the same way?2

SAN FRANCISCO — Concerned by the wave of requests for customer data from law enforcement agencies, Google last year set up an online tool showing the frequency of these requests in various countries. In the first half of 2010, it counted more than 4,200 in the United States.

Google is not alone among Internet and telecommunications companies in feeling inundated with requests for information. Verizon told Congress in 2007 that it received some 90,000 such requests each year. And Facebook told Newsweek in 2009 that subpoenas and other orders were arriving at the company at a rate of 10 to 20 a day.

As Internet services — allowing people to store e-mails, photographs, spreadsheets and an untold number of private documents — have surged in popularity, they have become tempting targets for law enforcement. That phenomenon became apparent over the weekend when it surfaced that the Justice Department had sought the Twitter account activity of several people linked to WikiLeaks, the antisecrecy group.

Many Internet companies and consumer advocates say the main law governing communication privacy — enacted in 1986, before cellphone and e-mail use was widespread, and before social networking was even conceived — is outdated, affording more protection to letters in a file cabinet than e-mail on a server.

(click to continue reading Privacy Law Is Outrun by Speed of Web’s Progress – NYTimes.com.)

For some reason, The New York Times didn’t actually link to this Google tool, I’m not sure why. Anyway, after a few minutes of searching3, found it.

Like other technology and communications companies, we regularly receive requests from government agencies around the world to remove content from our services, or provide information about users of our services and products. This map shows the number of requests that we received in six-month blocks with certain limitations.

(click to continue reading Google Transparency Report: Government Requests.)

As of the current moment, Google has received 4287 requests for information in the United States alone4 from law enforcement in the last six months (an average of 714.5 requests a month, or nearly 24 requests a day).

Footnotes:
  1. officially []
  2. I am not a lawyer, and all my information comes from stupid television shows, so don’t laugh too loudly if I’m wrong []
  3. longer than I thought, actually []
  4. that Google is allowed to mention – perhaps not including some alleged participants in the War on Terror []

Written by Seth Anderson

January 11th, 2011 at 11:48 am

Tax Zealots – Amazon vs. Illinois

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Amazon - The Original Store

Amazon just emailed me:

We regret to inform you that the Illinois state legislature has passed an unconstitutional tax collection scheme that, if signed by Governor Quinn, would leave Amazon.com little choice but to end its relationships with Illinois-based Associates. You are receiving this email because our records indicate that you are a resident of Illinois. …

Please note that this not an immediate termination notice and you are still a valued participant in the Amazon Associates Program. But if the governor signs this bill, we will need to terminate the participation of all Illinois residents in the Associates Program. After that point, we will no longer pay any advertising fees for sales referred to amazon.com, endless.com and smallparts.com nor will we accept new applications for the Associates Program from Illinois residents.

The unfortunate consequences of this legislation on Illinois residents like you were explained to the legislature, including Senate and House leadership, as well as to the governor’s staff.

Over a dozen other states have considered essentially identical legislation but have rejected these proposals largely because of the adverse impact on their states’ residents.

Governor Quinn’s office may be reached here.

I had heard of this happening in other states, but this is the first mention I’ve heard about it happening in Illinois. Frack. I don’t make thousands of simolians using Amazon links1, but I do make enough to pay for the hosting of this blog.

I guess it’s happening though:

A bill seemingly being fast-tracked by the Illinois General Assembly would add a new tax

Beginning July 1, 2011, a retailer having a contract with a person located in this State under which the person, for a commission or other consideration based upon the sale of tangible personal property by the retailer, directly or indirectly refers potential customers to the retailer by a link on the person’s Internet website.

This is widely known as the Amazon Tax. Supporters include the state’s retail merchants. They claim it will raise $150 million a year in revenues. But the Tax Foundation begs to differ

Word is that Illinois legislators are considering click-through nexus, also known as an “Amazon tax,” pushed by revenue officials who claim that it would raise $150 million a year in revenue. Such laws, nicknamed after their most visible target, require retailers that have contracts with “affiliates”-independent persons within the state who post a link to an out-of-state business on their website and get a share of revenues from the out-of-state business-to collect the state’s sales tax. They exist in New York, Rhode Island, North Carolina, and Colorado. […]

Illinois’s version is a traditional first-generation “Amazon” tax that targets affiliates. Contrary to the claims of supporters, Amazon taxes do not provide easy revenue. In fact, the nation’s first few Amazon taxes have not produced any revenue at all, and there is some evidence of lost revenue. For instance, Rhode Island has seen no additional sales tax revenue from its Amazon tax, and because Amazon reacted by discontinuing its affiliate program, Rhode Islanders are earning less income and paying less income tax. There’s no reason why Illinois wouldn’t suffer the same fate.

(click to continue reading Capitol Fax.com » Today’s lessons.)

What bullshit. Utter bullshit. Amazon isn’t going to pay the tax, and I’m not going to report the income anymore, because there won’t be any. How does this help close the monstrous budget gap in Illinois? It doesn’t.

Darth Vader

Bill Status of HB3659  96th General Assembly   Full Text Votes  View All Actions  Printer-Friendly Version

Short Description:  PROP TAX-PUBLICATION FEES

House Sponsors Rep. Patrick J. Verschoore – Dan Reitz – Brandon W. Phelps – Linda Chapa LaVia – Frank J. Mautino, Roger L. Eddy, Mark H. Beaubien, Jr., Michael K. Smith, Daniel V. Beiser, Harry Osterman, Mary E. Flowers, Greg Harris, Sara Feigenholtz, Lisa M. Dugan and Naomi D. Jakobsson

Senate Sponsors (Sen. John J. Cullerton – Christine Radogno – Jeffrey M. Schoenberg)

(click to continue reading Illinois General Assembly – Bill Status for HB3659.)

Idiots, all of them.

—-

I was going to make this into an info-graphic, but never got around to it. Anyway, here’s the text-only version:

Old system:
1. I see a film I like (or book, or musical instrument, or whatever), write about it, post a link to Amazon’s DVD, partially because they host an image of the DVD cover, partially because I want other people to watch the film too.
2. My aunt in California sees my post, clicks the link, and buys the DVD
3. Amazon (in Seattle) sends her the disc via UPS
4. I get a 3% commission
5. I report this income in my yearly federal and state taxes (and I do)
6. State of IL makes a little bit of tax revenue

New proposed system
1. I see a film I like, write about it.
2. my aunt in CA sees my post, goes to Amazon and looks for the DVD, buys it.
3. Amazon sends her the DVD
4. I get zero commission in IL
5. I don’t have this income to report on my taxes, so I don’t.
6. State of IL gets zero

Why is the proposed system better for the State of IL?

Footnotes:
  1. if you click a link I put up, and purchase an item from Amazon in the same web session, I get around 3-5% of the purchase price as commission []

Written by Seth Anderson

January 6th, 2011 at 6:04 pm

State Budgets and Public Unions

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Add Drums to the Tumult

Seems to be an obvious focus for the upcoming Republican Congress to focus upon – starve the beast, drown it in a bathtub, right?1

There’s no question that Republicans have introduced a bill which would require more transparency on state public pensions, and that they hope this would provide a road map in the states for where they can cut budgets; namely, on the backs of public employees. That doesn’t mean it will happen in exactly that way, however. And the idea that the next Congress will overhaul the 30s-era law allowing states to go bankrupt seems fanciful to me.

But I don’t think states or municipalities need much help from the federal government in their desire to rewrite public employee union contracts. There has been a concerted effort for years to demonize and delegitimize public employee unions, from both Republican pols and the media in general. This has left a distorted impression about greedy union contracts and well-paid government functionaries. So the new class of Republican governors would certainly want to capitalize on that by pleasing the public, who now favor things like wage freezes (which Obama just instituted at the federal level) and furloughs and bigger pension contributions, punishing those workers. And they are animated by a general hatred of unions, which have maintained their strength in the public sector while fading away in the private sector.

Alongside that, there are legitimate budget problems in the states. The National Conference of State Legislatures estimates a $118 billion dollar shortfall in state and municipal budgets in 2011. And there are certainly some states and municipalities with currently unfunded pension liabilities. While federal aid could offset some of that, there’s no chance it will happen – expect the House to pass, early next year, a resolution basically forbidding “bailouts” of the states. At that point, state governments will either have to cut spending or raise taxes to balance their budgets, which almost all of them are constitutionally required to do. With public employees – or rather, cops, firefighters, nurses, teachers, the people who prepare your state tax refund, the people who get you your driver’s license, the people who get the roads and bridges fixed and basically secure your safe passage through the commons – seen in a negative light, they will in many states be lined up for cuts.

(click to continue reading In Unfolding War on Public Employees, State Lawmakers and Media Likely to Do the Work Themselves | FDL News Desk.)

PCBs

Especially when you read about cities like Hamtramck, MI, or Prichard, AL, or Central Falls, RI, or even Bell, CA

HAMTRAMCK, Mich. — Leaders of this city met for more than seven hours on a Saturday not long ago, searching for something to cut from a budget that has already been cut, over and over. This time they slashed money for boarding up abandoned houses — aside from circumstances like vagrants or obvious rats, said William J. Cooper, the city manager. They shrank money for trimming trees and cutting grass on hundreds of lots that have been left to the city. And Mr. Cooper is hoping that predictions of a ferocious snow season prove false; once state road money runs out, the city has set nothing aside to plow streets.

“We can make it until March 1 — maybe,” Mr. Cooper said of Hamtramck’s ability to pay its bills. Beyond that? The political leaders of this old working-class city almost surrounded by Detroit are pleading with the state to let them declare bankruptcy, a desperate move the state is not even willing to admit as an option under the current circumstances.

“The state is concerned that if they say yes to one, if that door is opened, they’ll have 30 more cities right behind us,” Mr. Cooper said, as flurries fell outside his City Hall window. “But anything else is just a stop gap. We’re going to continue to pursue bankruptcy until the door is shut, locked, barricaded, bolted.”

(click to continue reading In Michigan, Hamtramck Pleads for a Bankruptcy Option – NYTimes.com.)

and in Hamtramck, MI, the city certainly wants to focus cutting the budget on public employees:

Here, the urgent search for services to cut has turned all attention to a realm that is also emerging at the center of budget debates in cities and states around the country: the costs of salaries, benefits and pensions of public workers.

Mr. Cooper, the city manager, says that everything else that could be cut already has been, while the city goes on spending 60 percent of its total general fund to pay for its police and firefighting forces — 75 current police officers and firefighters and about 240 former workers and spouses now on pensions. Mr. Cooper said that an entry-level police officer costs the city about $75,000 a year in salary and benefits, and yet repeated efforts to renegotiate contracts have failed.

“They kind of have the Cadillac plan,” Mr. Cooper said, “and we’d kind of like the Chevy.”

The police and firefighters question whether the city’s bankruptcy talk is really just a scare tactic for negotiation. Earlier discussions with city officials, they say, have urged them to accept pay cuts, layoffs, increased worker payments to pensions and even a suggestion that officers might pay for part of their own bulletproof vests — all this while the city has opted not to increase taxes.

“Nobody likes the police until you need them,” said Jon Bondra, the incoming president of Hamtramck’s police union.

So we’ll see…

Footnotes:
  1. rough paraphrase of Grover Norquist’s infamous phrase: “I don’t want to abolish government. I simply want to reduce it to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub.” []

Written by Seth Anderson

December 28th, 2010 at 8:56 am

Posted in government

Tagged with , , ,

Strapped Cities Hit Nonprofits With Fees

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And yet, the US govt is fine with two active wars, and bases in hundreds of locations, and military budgets for planes, warships, SDI, etc., and tax-cuts for billionaires. Priorities, I guess. Though, religions are a business, and should be treated like a business. Small non-profits shouldn’t bare the burden alone.

Facing budget gaps and an aversion to new debt and taxes, states and local governments are slapping residents with an array of new fees—and some are applying them to nonprofits.

That marks a sharp departure from long-standing tax exemptions mandated by state law or adopted on the theory that churches, schools and charitable organizations work alongside governments to provide services to the community.

The issue is on display in Houston, where some flood-prone roads are in such disrepair that signs warn drivers, “Turn around, don’t drown.”

Houston’s taxpayers in November narrowly voted to adopt a “drainage fee” to raise at least $125 million a year toward the cost of improving roads and storm-water systems. The city will charge fees to property owners, and it won’t grant exceptions to churches, schools and charities.

The city has been tightening its budget. “We’re cutting up the city’s credit cards,” says Mayor Annise Parker. “Everyone who contributes to drainage issues has to share in the cost of correcting those issues.”

A number of groups—including schools, businesses, churches and senior citizens—are demanding exemptions. “We’ll defeat this,” says David Welch, of the Houston Area Pastor’s Council, who plans to lobby state legislators in January. “This is really a tax. It is the first time that churches would not be exempt from property taxes,” he says. Some opponents have filed suit claiming the ballot wording was misleading.

At a group called the National Council of Nonprofits, Tim Delaney, chief executive, says, “Governments are taking their public burdens and putting them on the backs of nonprofits, at a time when the demand for our services is skyrocketing.”

Some cities are charging religious groups property taxes on buildings no longer used for worship. Other localities are soliciting voluntary contributions. Albany, N.Y., recently passed an ordinance asking schools, hospitals and other nonprofits to contribute to city services.

As municipalities try to bridge budget gaps with fees that also hit nonprofits, some residents are kicking up a storm. Chicago and Dade City, Fla., scrapped proposals for drainage fees after protests from these groups. Cleveland suspended its proposal after community groups and businesses sued.

(click to continue reading Strapped Cities Hit Nonprofits With Fees – WSJ.com.)

Since the Republicans won the 2010 election with the help of the anti-tax know-nothings, let’s see how many more stories like this one we’ll read.

Written by Seth Anderson

December 27th, 2010 at 7:36 am

Posted in government,religion

Tagged with , ,

House Passes Overhaul of Food Safety Laws – Devil in the Details

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Carrots in Soho square

So the House finally passed the food safety bill that we’ve discussed dozens of times previously, but

The House of Representatives gave final approval on Tuesday to a long-awaited modernization of the nation’s food safety laws, voting 215 to 144 to grant the Food and Drug Administration greater authority over food production.

(click to continue reading House Passes Overhaul of Food Safety Laws – NYTimes.com.)

…the devil is in the details1. For instance, some of the implementation doesn’t start until five years from now, some not until 18 months from now, and with the risk that the whole thing will get changed by then since our country inexplicably elected Republicans to be the majority party in the 112th Congress

Meth Leaves

“The F.D.A. asked for and was given a very long lead time for implementation,” said Caroline Smith DeWaal, food safety director for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, an advocacy group. “But it’s still a vast improvement over what we have today.”

Ultimately, the agency’s ability to carry out and enforce the law will depend on how much money it has available to pay inspectors and maintain or increase its staff. Republicans will gain control of the House next year and have vowed to cut spending on many domestic programs. Deep cuts could hobble the F.D.A. just as it gains the new authority.

“It’s going to be crucial for the next Congress to recognize that F.D.A. can’t fulfill the promise of this new law without the resources it needs to do the job,” said Erik D. Olson, who heads food policy for the Pew Health Group, an advocacy organization.

Footnotes:
  1. whatever the frack that means []

Written by Seth Anderson

December 22nd, 2010 at 3:36 pm

hexavalent chromium found in drinking water in Chicago and elsewhere

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Tracing Patterns in the Air

[Lake Michigan, near Green Bay, WI]

Hexavalent chromium1 found in drinking water in Chicago and elsewhere, and yet the EPA refuses to add it to their list of toxins to pay attention to. Criminal oversight, if you ask me.

Michael Hawthorne writes, in part:

The cancer-causing metal made infamous by the movie “Erin Brockovich” is turning up in tap water from Chicago and more than two dozen other cities, according to a new study that urges federal regulators to adopt tougher standards.

Even though scientists at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and National Toxicology Program have linked the ingestion of hexavalent chromium to cancer, the EPA doesn’t require Chicago or other cities to test for the toxic metal. Nor does the EPA limit the dangerous form of chromium in drinking water.

To take a snapshot of what is flowing through taps across the nation, the Environmental Working Group, a Washington-based research and advocacy organization, hired an independent laboratory that found the metal in treated drinking water from 31 cities. The amount in Lake Michigan water pumped to 7 million people in Chicago and its suburbs was 0.18 parts per billion, three times higher than a safety limit California officials proposed last year.

A handful of other cities were significantly above the proposed California limit, including Norman, Okla.; Honolulu; Riverside, Calif.; and Madison, Wis., according to a report to be released Monday. Levels in Milwaukee water were the same as in Chicago.

(click to continue reading Pollution: Dangerous form of chromium found in drinking water in Chicago, other cities – chicagotribune.com.)

We’ve used a reverse osmosis water filter for many years, I hope it filters out hexavalent chromium. Seems like it does

A Screaming Comes Across the Sky

So what is the main cause of this pollutant? Besides a lax, underfunded EPA that is? Industry, of course. Industry that spends millions of dollars defeating regulations that would at least mitigate some of this contamination.

Last year alone, records show, the U.S. Steel and Arcelor Mittal mills dumped a combined 3,100 pounds of chromium into Lake Michigan and its tributaries, less than 9 miles away from Chicago’s water-intake crib off 68th Street. (The federal Toxics Release Inventory doesn’t require industry to report specific types of the metal, but chromium-6 and chromium-3 convert into the other form and back in the environment.)

Indiana officials once sought to relax limits on chromium discharges from U.S. Steel’s massive Gary Works, the largest industrial polluter on the Great Lakes.…Industry has fought for years to block tougher federal and state limits on chromium, which has contaminated drinking water supplies across the country. The award-winning movie “Erin Brockovich” dramatizes one of the most high-profile cases: a miles-long plume of hexavalent chromium dumped by a utility in rural Hinkley, Calif., that led to a $333 million legal settlement over illnesses and cancers.

Update:

If you are curious what specific toxic chemicals are in your water, the New York Times took the data from the Environmental Working Group and turned it into a slick little database. Click through, and check out your community:

The 35-year-old federal law regulating tap water is so out of date that the water Americans drink can pose what scientists say are serious health risks — and still be legal. Examine whether contaminants in your water supply met two standards: the legal limits established by the Safe Drinking Water Act, and the typically stricter health guidelines. The data was collected by an advocacy organization, the Environmental Working Group, who shared it with The Times.

(click to continue reading What’s in Your Water – Interactive Feature – The New York Times.)

Footnotes:
  1. aka chromium-6, a clear cause in stomach cancers []

Written by Seth Anderson

December 19th, 2010 at 6:49 pm

Wisconsin high-speed train work halted due to Republican Jerk

with 4 comments

Road closed

Incoming Wisconsin governor Scott Walker is an ass. Infrastructure improvements help all of us, we need a national transportation policy that doesn’t consist simply of making more interstates. The proposed high speed rail shouldn’t be cast aside for partisan reasons – Republicans ride the rails too.

Preliminary work was halted Friday on Wisconsin’s plans for high-speed passenger train service between Milwaukee and Madison, officials said.

While the announcement by outgoing Gov. James Doyle, a Democrat, suspending design and engineering work did not kill the $810 million federally funded project, the proposed extension to Madison is in jeopardy.

The proposed route would connect with Amtrak’s existing Hiawatha service between Chicago and Milwaukee, and it would increase top train speeds to 110 mph from 79 mph. In addition, Wisconsin has been partnering with Minnesota to extend the high-speed corridor to Minneapolis.

Doyle’s decision follows Tuesday’s election of Republican Scott Walker to become Wisconsin’s next governor. Walker campaigned against building a high-speed rail network, saying his priority would be to repair roads and bridges. He called the passenger rail project a waste of taxpayer money.

Wisconsin Transportation Secretary Frank Busalacchi, chief architect of the state’s high-speed rail plans, said the project is on hold while he and other officials study “the real-world consequences” of the incoming administration’s agenda.

(click to continue reading Wisconsin high-speed train work halted – chicagotribune.com.)

Maybe I Was Dreaming, Maybe It Was Real - Agfa Scala

Also in Ohio, the idiots are now in charge:

Meanwhile, Ohio Gov.-elect John Kasich reiterated his opposition to spending money on high-speed train service between Cleveland, Cincinnati, Columbus and other cities in the state.

High Speed Rail proposal

There’s a Sierra Club petition you can sign, if you are into such things:

Wisconsin recently received grant funds to build a high-speed rail line between Milwaukee and Madison. This project is part of the Midwest Regional Rail Initiative, a plan that calls for a 3,000-mile passenger rail network serving nine states with frequent service and top speeds of 110 MPH. Please sign this statement of support for High-Speed Intercity Rail for Wisconsin.

Written by Seth Anderson

November 6th, 2010 at 9:43 am

Fast Track to Banana Republic

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or Third World country, or whatever phrase you want to use. The US became the economic juggernaut it once was by having a healthy, wealthy middle class. If all the cash gets sucked up by the leeches in the upper bracket, there isn’t enough left for the rest of us.

The clearest explanation yet of the forces that converged over the past three decades or so to undermine the economic well-being of ordinary Americans is contained in the new book, ““Winner-Take-All Politics: How Washington Made the Rich Richer—and Turned Its Back on the Middle Class” (Paul Pierson, Jacob S. Hacker)

The authors, political scientists Jacob Hacker of Yale and Paul Pierson of the University of California, Berkeley, argue persuasively that the economic struggles of the middle and working classes in the U.S. since the late-1970s were not primarily the result of globalization and technological changes but rather a long series of policy changes in government that overwhelmingly favored the very rich.

Those changes were the result of increasingly sophisticated, well-financed and well-organized efforts by the corporate and financial sectors to tilt government policies in their favor, and thus in favor of the very wealthy. From tax laws to deregulation to corporate governance to safety net issues, government action was deliberately shaped to allow those who were already very wealthy to amass an ever increasing share of the nation’s economic benefits.

“Over the last generation,” the authors write, “more and more of the rewards of growth have gone to the rich and supperrich. The rest of America, from the poor through the upper middle class, has fallen further and further behind.”

As if to underscore this theme, it was revealed last week (by David Cay Johnston, a Pulitzer Prize-winning former reporter for The New York Times), that the incomes of the very highest earners in the United States, a small group of individuals hauling in more than $50 million annually (sometimes much more), increased fivefold from 2008 to 2009, even as the nation was being rocked by the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.

(click to continue reading Bob Herbert’s Fast Track to Inequality – NYTimes.com.)

Electricity comes from other planets

All the more reason to vote, if you haven’t already

Written by Seth Anderson

November 2nd, 2010 at 7:13 am

U.S. Will Enforce Marijuana Laws, Despite Wishes of Voters

with one comment

Disappointing decision by Eric Holder and the Obama administration. What purpose does locking up non-violent drug users accomplish anyway? Other than let politicians check off the box that says, “tough on crime” on their reelection mailers, that is.

Single serving pod

LOS ANGELES — The Department of Justice says it intends to prosecute marijuana laws in California aggressively even if state voters approve an initiative on the Nov. 2 ballot to legalize the drug. Related

The announcement by Eric H. Holder Jr., the attorney general, was the latest reminder of how much of the establishment has lined up against the popular initiative: dozens of editorial boards, candidates for office, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and other public officials.

Still, despite this opposition — or perhaps, to some extent, because of it — the measure, Proposition 19, appears to have at least a decent chance of winning, so far drawing considerable support in polls from a coalition of Democrats, independents, younger voters and men as Election Day nears. Should that happen, it could cement a cultural shift in California, where medical marijuana has been legal since 1996 and where the drug has been celebrated in popular culture at least since the 1960s.

But it could also plunge the nation’s most populous state into a murky and unsettling conflict with the federal government that opponents of the proposition said should make California voters wary of supporting it.

(click to continue reading U.S. Will Enforce Marijuana Laws, State Vote Aside – NYTimes.com.)

Grass Fed Change

So which officials in California are for the bill?

The state Republican Party has officially come out against Proposition 19 and plans to urge people to vote no, said Ron Nehring, the party chairman. He called repeal a “big mistake” and mocked the notion that placing the proposition on the ballot would help Democrats.

“We call that their Hail Mary Jane strategy,” he said.

John Burton, the chairman of the California Democratic Party, said his party had decided to stay neutral on this issue. Asked if he supported it, Mr. Burton responded: “I already voted for it. Why not? Brings some money into the state. Helps the deficit. Better than selling off state buildings to some developer.”

Mark Baldassare, president of the Public Policy Institute of California, noted that polls showed the measure breaking 50 percent, but said that given the history of initiatives in the state, that meant its passage was far from assured.

Opposition has come from a number of fronts, ranging from Mr. Baca and other law enforcement officials to the Chamber of Commerce, which has warned that it would create workplace health issues.

Still, the breadth of supporters of the proposition — including law enforcement officials and major unions, like the Service Employees International Union — signal how mainstream this movement is becoming.

“I think we consume far more dangerous drugs that are legal: cigarette smoking, nicotine and alcohol,” said Joycelyn Elders, the former surgeon general and a supporter of the measure. “I feel they cause much more devastating effects physically. We need to lift the prohibition on marijuana.”

Written by Seth Anderson

October 17th, 2010 at 9:26 am

Hey, Small Spender: The False Narrative

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Paul Krugman writes in response to the oft repeated assertion that Obama is ballooning the federal government:

Recovery.gov

Here’s the narrative you hear everywhere: President Obama has presided over a huge expansion of government, but unemployment has remained high. And this proves that government spending can’t create jobs

Here’s what you need to know: The whole story is a myth. There never was a big expansion of government spending. In fact, that has been the key problem with economic policy in the Obama years: we never had the kind of fiscal expansion that might have created the millions of jobs we need.

Ask yourself: What major new federal programs have started up since Mr. Obama took office? Health care reform, for the most part, hasn’t kicked in yet, so that can’t be it. So are there giant infrastructure projects under way? No. Are there huge new benefits for low-income workers or the poor? No. Where’s all that spending we keep hearing about? It never happened.

(click to continue reading Paul Krugman – Hey, Small Spender – NYTimes.com.)

Daughter to a Sister of Thought

and the reason why people think there was a massive increase in federal programs is a familiar, if discouraging reason, namely lies, more lies, and a partisan and or ineffective media.

The answer to the second question — why there’s a widespread perception that government spending has surged, when it hasn’t — is that there has been a disinformation campaign from the right, based on the usual combination of fact-free assertions and cooked numbers. And this campaign has been effective in part because the Obama administration hasn’t offered an effective reply.

Actually, the administration has had a messaging problem on economic policy ever since its first months in office, when it went for a stimulus plan that many of us warned from the beginning was inadequate given the size of the economy’s troubles. You can argue that Mr. Obama got all he could — that a larger plan wouldn’t have made it through Congress (which is questionable), and that an inadequate stimulus was much better than none at all (which it was). But that’s not an argument the administration ever made. Instead, it has insisted throughout that its original plan was just right, a position that has become increasingly awkward as the recovery stalls.

And a side consequence of this awkward positioning is that officials can’t easily offer the obvious rebuttal to claims that big spending failed to fix the economy — namely, that thanks to the inadequate scale of the Recovery Act, big spending never happened in the first place.

But if they won’t say it, I will: if job-creating government spending has failed to bring down unemployment in the Obama era, it’s not because it doesn’t work; it’s because it wasn’t tried.

Written by Seth Anderson

October 11th, 2010 at 8:00 am

Step Forward for Genetically Engineered Salmon

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Catch Anything?

Follow up on the AquaBounty Frankenfish FDA hearing held yesterday…

Still some panel members did say the studies the F.D.A. relied on to reach its own conclusion that the salmon would be safe were flawed, often using only a few dozen fish or even fewer.

“I do get heartburn when we’re going to allow post-market surveillance to finalize our safety evaluation,” said one committee member, Michael D. Apley, a pharmacology expert at Kansas State University.

The criticisms could add to the time needed to approve the salmon. It could also provide grist for consumer and environmental groups, many of which testified on Monday that the salmon should not be approved.

Approval of the salmon could pave the way for other such biotech animals to enter the food supply, like a pig developed in Canada that has more environmentally friendly manure.

(click to continue reading Step Forward for Genetically Engineered Salmon – NYTimes.com.)

Fish head surprise

Humanity has been modifying food since agriculture was invented, but grafting apple saplings or breeding milk cows is not quite the same as modern techniques. It could be absolutely harmless, but I don’t see the need to rush the salmon to market without conducting comprehensive, exhaustive tests. Especially because the reality of a laboratory is much different than the reality of a factory farm, especially after a decade of production.

The company said that fish would not escape because they are grown inland in facilities with containment mechanisms. If any did escape, it said, the rivers outside the Canadian and Panama facilities would be too salty or warm for the fish to survive. And the fish would all be female and almost all would be sterile, so they would not interbreed with wild salmon.

But some committee members, as well as some environmental groups, said the government’s environmental assessment should evaluate what would happen if the salmon were grown widely in many facilities.

“The F.D.A. must consider issues related to realistic production scenarios,” said Anna Zivian, a senior manager at the group Ocean Conservancy.

One test showed a possible increase in the potential to cause allergic reactions that was almost statistically significant even though only six fish were used in each group in the study.

More tests please…

Written by Seth Anderson

September 21st, 2010 at 10:38 am

Posted in Food and Drink,government

Tagged with , , ,

Most Wealthy OK with Tax Increases

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For all the gnashing of teeth about restoring taxes to what they were before Bush temporarily lowered them, turns out most of those in the upper brackets actually wouldn’t mind the increase. Unfortunately, the one-third is louder than the two-third majority…

Lloyds Bank Ltd Law Courts Branch

As Congress and President Obama fight over the Bush tax cuts, a small number of left-leaning rich people have come out in support of paying higher taxes. The most famous are the members of the Responsible Wealth Project, who say they pay too little in taxes and want to address inequality.

They may be an eccentric minority, or (in the view of conservatives) a lunatic fringe. But a Quinnipiac University poll this year showed nearly two-thirds of those with household incomes of more than $250,000 a year support raising their own taxes to reduce the federal deficit.

(click to continue reading ‘Tax Me More’ Says Wealthy Entrepreneur – The Wealth Report – WSJ.)

Garrett Gruener recently wrote:

For nearly the last decade, I’ve paid income taxes at the lowest rates of my professional career. Before that, I paid at higher rates. And if you want the simple, honest truth, from my perspective as an entrepreneur, the fluctuation didn’t affect what I did with my money. None of my investments has ever been motivated by the rate at which I would have to pay personal income tax.

As history demonstrates, modest changes in the tax rate for wealthy taxpayers don’t make much of a difference if the goal is to build new companies, drive technological development and stimulate new industries.

(click to continue reading The Bush tax cuts: an entrepreneur’s perspective – latimes.com.)

and a little historical perspective:

When inequality gets too far out of balance, as it did over the course of the last decade, the wealthy end up saving too much while members of the middle class can’t afford to spend much unless they borrow excessively. Eventually, the economy stalls for lack of demand, and we see the kind of deflationary spiral we find ourselves in now. I believe it is no coincidence that the two highest peaks in American income inequality came in 1929 and 2008, and that the following years were marked by low economic activity and significant unemployment.

What American businesspeople know, and have known since Henry Ford insisted that his employees be able to afford to buy the cars they made, is that a thriving economy doesn’t just need investors; it needs people who can buy the goods and services businesses create. For the overall economy to do well, everyday Americans have to do well.

Now that the Bush tax cuts are about to expire, Republicans are again arguing that taxes should remain low for the wealthy. The idea is that this will spur people like me to put more capital to work and start more ventures, which will create new jobs, power the economy and ultimately produce more tax revenues. It’s a beguiling theory, but it’s one that hasn’t worked before and won’t work now.

Instead, Congress should let the Bush tax cuts expire for the wealthiest Americans and use the additional tax revenues that are generated to invest in infrastructure and research. “Invest” is the right word. Putting money into infrastructure — such as roads, bridges, broadband, the smart grid and public transit — as well as carefully chosen research initiatives provides a foundation for future growth. As important, it puts funds in the hands of those who will spend them, generating demand that will pull us out of our economic crisis and toward a new cycle of growth.

Job growth, especially of the small business and micro business size is not predicated on personal tax rates. If you are an entrepreneur and you have a good idea for a start-up, you aren’t going to wait for favorable tax rates, or be discouraged by unfavorable tax rates.

And Mr. Gruener’s larger point is exactly correct: the government should be investing in infrastructure (fiber optics, efficient energy, transportation), not hoarding pennies.1

Footnotes:
  1. Especially not pennies, remember? []

Written by Seth Anderson

September 21st, 2010 at 9:31 am

Toothless FDA Nibble on Frankenfish

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Unlabeled genetically engineered salmon: such a crowd pleaser that the FDA is working overtime to change the subject and make excuses, and the AquaBounty “fish” isn’t even on the market yet. Too bad we don’t have any regulatory agencies that are concerned with public opinion, and public safety.

Fresh Copper River Sockeye Salmon

The FDA’s apparent readiness to approve the AquaBounty salmon has inflamed a coalition of consumer, environmental, animal welfare and fishing groups, who have accused the agency of basing its judgment on data compiled from small samples supplied by the company, rushing the public portion of the review process and disclosing insufficient information about the fish.

The FDA does not have an approval process designed specifically for genetically engineered animals and is evaluating the salmon under the process used for new veterinary drugs. That means that much of the data provided to FDA to demonstrate the safety of the fish is considered a trade secret.

The process doesn’t allow enough public participation, doesn’t give the FDA enough leeway to consider environmental factors and doesn’t give the agency enough power to withdraw the salmon from the market if something should go wrong, said Greg Jaffe, director of the Biotechnology Project for the Center for Science in the Public Interest and a member of the FDA advisory committee that will evaluate the agency’s findings.

(click to continue reading FDA advisors to vote on genetically engineered salmon – latimes.com.)

So is this frankenfish safe to eat or not? I couldn’t tell you, but I’d sure like the FDA to conduct more tests instead of rushing this beast to market.

Fishy Fishy Fish

Written by Seth Anderson

September 20th, 2010 at 7:02 pm