Tag Archive for U.S. Chamber of Commerce

Good night and good luck, America

I had to say a few things before this election. As I write it isn’t over yet, but whoever wins, the entire campaign will leave a lot of bad taste in many mouths.

I keep wondering how it is that one candidate for President is able to quantify how many jobs he will supposedly “create” if elected. If he truly cared about the country he’d disclose just how, and yesterday. Truth is he hasn’t got any more ability to “create” jobs than your dog. Now just where did he get that number, 12 million?

What if, just suppose that the membership of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has been intentionally holding back on hiring. Why would they do that? Perhaps they hate having an African-American Chief Executive. Or they simply want to be able to do whatever they like. Either way, from what I read, those who do have jobs aren’t getting raises and are just about to work themselves into the ground. Stress and burnout are really good for productivity.

Twelve million sounds like a lot. That requires growing the paycheck lines by about five per cent. Actually, I’m not an economist, but if maybe around eight million were hired in short order, making the “capitalist” candidate look pretty darned good, those mysterious “multipliers” could take care of the other four million.

I would not put it past them. The Chamber has made no secret of its disrespect for and dislike of the sitting President. And many on the “red” side of the aisle (I remember when that meant they’d be Communists) openly express their dislike for the current Chairman of the Federal Reserve, Prof. Ben Bernanke. What now?

Bernanke’s “quantitative easing” has meant a lot of companies were able to hold on when pure “market” economics would have meant doom. These moneyed conservatives hate that. They read Schumpeter. They salivate over buying up assets for pennies on the dollar. They haven’t had many opportunities to do that since 2007, and they’re unhappy. According to this way of thinking GM and Chrysler should have been on the block that way, but the Administration headed off the Indians at the pass. No wonder the candidate with Utah connections has been upset over the bailout of the car companies.

Likewise, the “failed” stimulus. Bull. Picture the Dutch boy with his finger in the dike. When he grows tired or has to honor Nature’s call, he needs someone to stick his thumb in for him, or the Netherlands becomes the New Jersey shore last week. What if no one shows up? Would any Dutchman logically be unhappy if at the last minute some stranger shows up with a fresh thumb? Would anyone in Holland care very much who this new guy is? Truly, if no one fills the hole sooner or later those lowlands are gone. This is pretty much what happened starting in 2007, when that other rocket scientist from Texas sat in the White House. Was his policy misguided? No? You can’t have it both ways, pilgrim.

Onerous regulations are said to be the bane of American business now. If that were true, wouldn’t we expect to see dozens of lawsuits in federal district courts challenging every one of them? No, the Federal Register hasn’t hurt many. Businesses would apparently rather blame their own lack of innovation and creativity on the White House. If that fails, then there’s the Chinese at fault. Once in a while it might be labor unions. Or, if all else fails, there’s that tried-and-true bogeyman, the cost of money. Oops! Interest rates have been lower than a snake’s butt for so long it seems like forever. Corporations have been borrowing like crazy thanks to these tiny rates, trillions of dollars’ worth. Now, if government were run like a business, then they’d borrow and . . . Oh, fudge. There goes another mantra!

It’s sad to admit it, but the USA already has a health care system that rations service by income. Some want education to be the same. Where does that take us? Not to Canada, not to Norway, not even to Saudi Arabia. Try a place like Pakistan, or Niger. Some of these self-styled conservatives might envy Niger, because of their oil. Heck, I even see where some in Longmont have expressed envy over Firestone and Frederick. These people don’t get out much.

If voters want to buy a horse, they would almost always check its teeth. They should go a bit farther with their government. And if they are serious about having a government run like a business, they must ask themselves who benefits. If they have corporate experience, answering THAT question will be easy, and enlightening.

I wonder if Franklin Roosevelt wasn’t saved from assassination just before his first inauguration by the hand of divine intervention. FDR also avoided a coup from wealthy “businessmen” whose utterances would sound very familiar today. Then we were winners in World War II. It was fortunate for the nation that Hoover preceded FDR and not the other way round. A parallel is advocated by some today. If we get this wrong and elect a REAL non-Christian President, then what might befall us? Was Hurricane Sandy a warning? Or was it the wave one candidate needed?

Another contributor to this thread is fond of stating that the American public doesn’t like having a President smarter than they are. Well, in 2000 and 2004 they darn sure got exactly that. Now they’re uncertain, as they believe they have another one. I remember clearly during the GOP debate season (21 of them, I believe) that many “men on the street” claimed they wanted “somebody else” and not the man who was eventually nominated. Now in many cases that guy on the street is again saying, with regard to the incumbent President, I’d like to see “somebody else.” The electorate will never be happy. As for me, I am voting for the Presidential candidate who actually strikes me as having a bit of humility. This human quality will serve better than having a wallet at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. In case you’re wondering, this candidate is the one with daughters and not sons.

Good luck, America.

Disclosures: More not Less

In a New York Times / CBS poll 92% of Americans said it was important for the law to require campaigns and outside spending groups to disclose how much money they have raised, where it came from and how it was used. They understand the nexus between campaign money and corruption.

President Barack Obama has drafted an executive order that seeks campaign contribution disclosure by those who seek contracts with the United States Government.

Eight states, the Securities and Exchange Commission and several local jurisdictions currently restrict government contractors from making campaign contributions to those responsible for issuing government contracts. The president’s potential executive order does not prohibit contractor spending on campaigns; it would merely require disclosure.

“In order to increase transparency and accountability…every contracting department and agency shall require all entities submitting offers for federal contracts to disclose certain political contributions and expenditures that they have made within the two years prior to submission of their offer,” reads the draft order.

“This disclosure shall include:

(a) All contributions or expenditures to or on behalf of federal candidates, parties or party committees made by a bidding entity, its directors of officers, or any affiliates or subsidiaries within its control; and
(b) Any contributions made to third party entities with the intention or reasonable expectation that parties would use those contributions to make independent expenditures or electioneering communications

This disclosure shall be required whenever the aggregate amount of such contributions and expenditures made by the bidding entity, its officers and directors, and its affiliates and subsidiaries exceeds $5,000 to a given recipient during a given year.”

The disclosed date “shall be made publicly available in a centralized, searchable, sortable, downloadable and machine readable format on data.gov.”

The president’s order would be a welcome first step since the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission case was decided by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2010. It would go a long way towards eliminating the current Pay-to-Play system. Reporting on the draft executive order, president of Public Citizen Robert Weisman, states, “The pay-to-play system encourages fraud and abuses of power, prevents contracts from being awarded to businesses based on merit, wastes taxpayer dollars, and facilitates privatization and contracting out of services that otherwise could or should be provided by government agencies.”

The real solution, of course, is a constitutional amendment to overturn the Citizens United decision that was made outside the issues before the Supreme Court in that case. In Citizens United, the Supreme Court established personhood for corporations in contradiction to constitutional rights intended for natural persons.

It will come as no surprise that conservative politicians and trade associations, such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, have howled about disclosure. Having achieved their first objective to allow companies to make massive expenditures from their general treasuries to influence election outcomes, including by funneling money through front groups, the focus has turned to manufacturing false premises to prohibit campaign spending disclosure.

It is not enough that corporatocracy virtually owns our various governments. It now becomes necessary to shield that ownership from public knowledge and scrutiny.

More information on efforts to amend the constitution to prohibit corporate personhood can be found at the following sites:

http://movetoamend.org/
http://freespeechforpeople.org/
http://democracyisforpeople.org/

Astroturfing on steroids

Many masks, one voice.

Baseball and Monsanto gave us AstroTurf, a brand of synthetic carpeting designed to look like natural grass. But now the term has been re-branded for a much more cynical purpose.

In the political and corporate world astroturfing is a form of advocacy in support of an agenda designed to give the appearance of a “grassroots” movement. The practice is used widely by corporations to hide their agenda from the public and convince observers that “it’s the people” clamoring for an outcome.

The Tea Party, if not originating as such, was usurped by corporate interests to help recapture Congress and legislatures for the Republican Party. The Tea Party is now under the control of Americans for Prosperity, a front group started by oil billionaire David Koch and Richard Fink (a member of the board of directors of Koch Industries).

Money and an absence of moral principles have allowed organizations to develop highly sophisticated efforts. Covert and overt operations are typically organized by political consultants and often in coordination with opposition research, which is usually undertaken to uncover information that can be used to damage an individual or group opponent.

A new form of astroturfing is now taking hold. Not only commercial entities, but also governments, participate in this exceptionally technical Internet activity.

After writing about astroturfing, George Monbiot, of The Guardian (UK), was contacted by a whistleblower. This individual “was part of a commercial team employed to infest internet forums and comment threads on behalf of corporate clients, promoting their causes and arguing with anyone who opposed them.” What he and Monbiot revealed is a shocking eye opener. It shows how far corporations, and governments, will go in their propaganda wars.

Political hackers obtained emails from HB Gary Federal, a US cyber-security firm. Free Range Longmont has written about them in connection with a U.S. Chamber of Commerce surreptitious sabotage campaign.

“The emails show that:

— companies now use ‘persona management software’, which multiplies the efforts of the astroturfers working for them, creating the impression that there’s major support for what a corporation or government is trying to do.

— this software creates all the online furniture a real person would possess: a name, email accounts, web pages and social media. In other words, it automatically generates what look like authentic profiles, making it hard to tell the difference between a virtual robot and a real commentator.

— fake accounts can be kept updated by automatically re-posting or linking to content generated elsewhere, reinforcing the impression that the account holders are real and active.

— human astroturfers can then be assigned these ‘pre-aged’ accounts to create a back story, suggesting that they’ve been busy linking and re-tweeting for months. No one would suspect that they came onto the scene for the first time a moment ago, for the sole purpose of attacking an article on climate science or arguing against new controls on salt in junk food.

— with some clever use of social media, astroturfers can, in the security firm’s words, make it appear as if a persona was actually at a conference and introduce himself/herself to key individuals as part of the exercise … There are a variety of social media tricks we can use to add a level of realness to all fictitious personas.’”

The U.S. government, through the U.S. Air Force, has tendered companies to supply this software requiring that it 1) appear to originate in nearly any part of the word, 2) provide its astroturfers with “randomly selected IP addresses that can be changed daily and mixed with traffic from users outside the organization, and 3) enable different astroturfers to look like the same person over time.

At the corporate and government level, this software creates armies of organized trolls whose intentions are to misinform, mislead and propagandize readers.

But amateurs, without benefit of sophisticated software, have found ways to accomplish similar objectives at the local level. Local astroturfers need only multiple email addresses and multiple screen names and they are off and running.

The Longmont Times-Call comment streams to its online articles reveal that local conservative radicals are also trolling with the intention of communicating that Longmont is a homogeneous community of rightwing fundamentalists. Analysis of writing styles, frequently appearing phrases, obsessions with certain expressions and areas of concern make it abundantly clear that only a few are posting, but under many screen names.

Even in the absence of computer-assisted astroturfing, there are organizations who train their adherents in blogging the pre-determined political objectives and their “talking points.” In fact, it was one of the stated purposes of Denver’s Coalition for a Conservative Majority.

So if you are inclined to read the online comments to published articles, use a healthy dose of skepticism. What you think are many, may be only a few. What you think is spontaneous, is likely pre-planned.

Astroblogging, I’m afraid, is here to stay, and will probably become more commonplace. However, there’s nothing that can replace true grassroots activity for legitimacy. There, at least, you know that you are talking to a natural person.

Chamber of Commerce’s dirty trick squad

Mudslinging is a very old business

ThinkProgress reports that a law firm representing the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the big business trade association, is working with set of “private security” companies and lobbying firms to undermine their political opponents with a surreptitious sabotage campaign.

Hunton and Williams’ attorney Richard Wyatt and his associates, John Woods and Bob Quackenboss, solicited a set of private security firms — HBGary Federal, Palantir, and Berico Technologies (collectively called Team Themis) — to develop tactics for damaging progressive groups and labor unions. Specifically targeted were ThinkProgress, the labor coalition called Change to Win, the SEIU, US Chamber Watch, and StopTheChamber.com.

ThinkProgress has published a series of articles investigating the Chamber and its activities. It exposed the Chamber’s efforts to coordinate a lobbying campaign on behalf of large banks, including JP Morgan, to kill significant portions of financial reform. In October, it published a series looking into the Chamber’s efforts to solicit donations from foreign corporations for the same account the Chamber used to run partisan attack ads during the midterm campaign, as well as the Chamber’s participation in secret fundraising meetings convened by the billionaire plutocrats David and Charles Koch.

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