Class war

I have to laugh every time I see that insinuating little commercial with Obama saying, over and over, “The private sector’s doing just fine.” As if I’m supposed to be mad at him for saying that? It’s the truth! Profits are at the all-time high, worker pay at all-time low. What else would you call it?Go read all of this Alternet piece:

The rhetoric of austerity, sounded loudest from Republicans but often echoed by far too many Democrats, is a language of belt-tightening, of shared sacrifice, of somber speeches by pompous politicians who proclaim that they feel your pain while announcing budget cuts that freeze salaries, lay off workers and force more work onto those who remain. And CEOs use that same language when sorrowfully explaining why they simply can’t create jobs. Morgan Stanley’s CEO, James Gorman, beset by New Yorkers at his bank’s shareholder meeting, blamed the lousy economy when asked why he hadn’t created the jobs his company had promised the city in exchange for massive tax breaks.

Because that’s what rich corporations are able to buy with their record profits; politicians who turn around and hand them even more money, often in the form of tax breaks that hollow out city and state budgets and force even more austerity, even more social service cuts that fall on the backs of the same underpaid workers. (Remember FreshDirect, handed $129 million in tax subsidies to create $8-an-hour jobs?)

Corporate taxes, too—at least the ones corporations actually pay—are at a 40-year low, with an effective tax rate paid of 12.1 percent. They’ve fallen from about 6 percent of GDP to less than 2 percent, according to ThinkProgress’s Pat Garofalo. Once again, that’s what you can buy when you’d rather pay politicians than your workers.

Chris Hayes, in his new book Twilight of the Elites, notes that the ultra-wealthy have spawned a whole “income defense” industry dedicated to preserving their wealth and power, an industry that works tirelessly to push policies that favor the rich. He writes:

Over the last decade, the political arm of the income defense industry has been wildly successful. The tax cuts passed by Bush and extended by Obama represent a total of $81.5 billion transferred from the state into the hands of the richest 1 percent. Meanwhile, hedge fund managers and their surrogates have deployed millions of dollars to lobbyists to maintain the so-called carried interest loophole, a provision of tax law that allows fund managers to classify much of their income drawn from investing gains as “carried interest” so that it is taxed at the low capital gains rate of 15 percent, rather than the marginal income rate, which would in most cases be more than twice that. It was this wrinkle in the law that helped Mitt Romney, a man worth an estimated quarter of a billion dollars, pay an effective tax rate of just under 14 percent in 2010. In 2008, 2009, and 2010, the House of Representatives passed a bill closing the loophole, only to see it beaten back by an intense wave of lobbying in the Senate.

With Citizens United, the Supreme Court gave the ultra-rich yet another weapon in the class war, another tool by which to control our politics. MIT economist Daren Acemoglu told ThinkProgress, “We already had a very serious problem. Instead of trying to stem that tide [of money in politics], we’ve done the opposite and we’ve now opened the sluice gate and said you can use that money with no restrictions whatsoever.”

It’s bad enough when the rich use their money to buy themselves tax breaks that help them get even richer. But millionaires and billionaires from Bill Gates toBetsy DeVos to Mark Zuckerberg are also putting money into pet political ideas; on education, for example, where their money buys them outsized influence over policy. Politics has become a playground for the ultra-rich, where they get to test their pet theories on the rest of us and we’re expected to smile and thank them for their charity.

The FTC and our online privacy

This is a really fascinating story, which points out the FTC, while motivated, is ill-equipped to track online privacy breaches. (Their technologists can’t get unfiltered computers to use for web surfing, for one.) Although they of course would like the tech industry to think they’re watching everywhere, the FTC has “just a handful of iPhones and Androids that are kept under lock and key in the basement,” the report says.

Kudos to ProPublica for digging out this story:

Jonathan Mayer had a hunch.

A gifted computer scientist, Mayer suspected that online advertisers might be getting around browser settings that are designed to block tracking devices known as cookies. If his instinct was right, advertisers were following people as they moved from one website to another even though their browsers were configured to prevent this sort of digital shadowing. Working long hours at his office,Mayer ran a series of clever tests in which he purchased ads that acted as sniffers for the sort of unauthorized cookies he was looking for. He hit the jackpot, unearthing one of the biggest privacy scandals of the past year: Google was secretly planting cookies on a vast number of iPhone browsers. Mayer thinks millions of iPhones were targeted by Google.

This is precisely the type of privacy violation the Federal Trade Commission aims to protect consumers from, and Google, which claims the cookies were not planted in an unethical way, now reportedly faces a fine of more than $10 million. But the FTC didn’t discover the violation. Mayer is a 25-year-old student working on law and computer science degrees at Stanford University. He shoehorned his sleuthing between classes and homework, working from an office he shares in the Gates Computer Science Building with students from New Zealand and Hong Kong. He doesn’t get paid for his work and he doesn’t get much rest.

If it seems odd that a federal regulator was scooped by a sleep-deprived student, get used to it, because the federal government is often the last to know about digital invasions of your privacy. The largest privacy scandal of the past year, also involving Google, wasn’t discovered by federal regulators, either. A privacy official in Germany forced Google to hand over the hard drives of cars equipped with 360-degree digital cameras that were taking pictures for its Street View program. The Germans discovered that Google wasn’t just shooting photos: The cars downloaded a panoply of sensitive data, including emails and passwords, from open Wi-Fi networks. Google had secretly done the same in the United States, but the FTC, as well as the Federal Communications Commission, which oversees broadcast issues, had no idea until the Germans figured it out.

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