02.02.15

Privatization Corruption Is Common In Texas

Posted in Around The State, Bad Government Republicans, Corruption, Money In Politics, Privatization, Vouchers at 12:31 pm by wcnews

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It’s amazing me how little Texans care if corporations waste their money.  If the same thing was happening, and it was a state agency doing it, you’d better believe all the government haters on the right would be screaming.  But since it’s the corporations that bankroll their campaigns, think tanks, and PACs that are wasting tax payer money, they don’t seem to mind.

It’s also clear from this Texas Tribune article that privatization corruption is common in Texas.  This is a record of ineptitude that’s striking, In State Contracting, Failure is an Option.

Over the past two decades, Texas has pursued a wave of privatization of public functions with the belief that corporations could save taxpayer money while improving the delivery of essential government services. But multiple contracts representing billions in public dollars have blown up in the state’s face, prompting lawsuits, ethics investigations, wasted funds and frustrated Texans.

The pattern that emerges is one of famously business-friendly Texas repeatedly fumbling its efforts to hold the businesses it hires accountable. [Emphasis added]

An audit released Wednesday found a lack of due diligence with 46 of 53 contracts tested at the Office of Violent Sex Offender Management. Before that, 12 of 14 audits conducted between 2012 and 2014 of various programs found weaknesses in contracting oversight. It’s not a recent phenomenon. Dozens of audits going back to the 1990s have found similar problems with contract management and procurement across a wide stretch of state government agencies. And conflict of interest questions similar to those now dogging the 21CT deal have periodically emerged over other state contracts in the past.

Accenture, IBM, Xerox, EDS have all done it.  The one thing the government must do, when it’s money is being given out in situations like this, is make sure that the tax payer is getting a good deal for their money. Obviously those running our government right not could care less about that.

To keep proper oversight would mean having well-qualified, well-paid government staff that will make sure taxpayer money is being used efficiently. That’s not likely to happen with our current government that thinks the government is the problem.

There is not incentive for those currently in office, that keep getting reelected under this corrupt system, to reform this system in any meaningful way.

As our state government takes up school vouchers we all must pay careful attention to how our elected leaders, or more likely how they won’t, setup an accountability system for taxpayer money in the private education system.

01.26.15

Texas “Conservatism” Exposed

Posted in Around The State, Bad Government Republicans, Money In Politics, Uncategorized at 10:47 am by wcnews

There are many oxymoron’s in politics.  In Texas we are becoming all too familiar with one – responsible conservative.  This article from Lisa Falkenberg at the HChron shows why, Lack of fiscal responsibility dogs conservatives.

Let’s forget for a moment about all the issues that divide us as Texans, from guns to abortion to Confederate flags on license plates.

Let’s focus on something that nearly all of us can agree to hate – bad spending.

I don’t mean debatable spending, such as, say, publicly funding birth control for poor women. In principle you may oppose it, but fiscally, many argue it saves the state money in unplanned Medicaid births.

No, I mean obviously bad spending, including but not limited to stupid spending, shady spending and sleazy spending. We can all join hands, sing Kumbaya, and agree that this kind of spending of taxpayer money is not good.

Yet, if you’ve seen a newspaper lately, there seems to be a rash of it in our “conservative”-controlled state. The Chronicle’s Brian M. Rosenthal in Austin, along with reporters at the Austin American-Statesman, have reported extensively on a state contracting system that lets inexperienced companies win millions in contracts without having to compete. They simply sidestep the bidding process by getting pre-approved for contracts using a process intended for smaller purchases.

The only problem that so-called conservatives have with government spending is who gets the money. Spending for poor, working, and middle class Texans on education, transportation, health care are always bad.  Tax payer give-aways to their corporate donors are always good.

The GOP playing fast and loose with taxpayer money has gotten out of hand.

{Houston] Chronicle reporters Rosenthal and Mike Ward recently confirmed that the Travis County district attorney’s public integrity unit had been looking into another case of no-bid contract dealing by Perry’s administration, this time at the Department of Public Safety.

It involved more than $20 million in contracts given to a Virginia defense contractor, Abrams Learning and Information Systems Inc., to help the state of Texas redevelop border security strategies. See if you see a pattern here: Abrams had little experience in the work it was hired to do. Abrams didn’t have to bid for the contract.

And how did DPS get around the state’s open-bidding laws on this one? There’s loophole in the case of emergency. Perry had proclaimed on the campaign trail that border security was an “emergency.” And that was enough.

But wait, there’s more

It was the emergency that kept on giving. According to reports, the company was initially approved for $471,800 in March of 2006 to establish the state’s Border Security Operations Center in Austin. Only three months in, that amount was hiked by $680,000. It just kept growing.

And Travis County’s investigation? It died a quiet, sudden death when Perry vetoed funding for the public integrity unit. He said he vetoed the funding because District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg wouldn’t resign after her embarrassing drunkendriving arrest.

But this latest revelation casts even more doubt on that claim. Maybe, just maybe, those grand jurors who indicted Perry for threatening Lehmberg, weren’t crazy after all.

And don’t expect those currently in power to try and “fix” the system that got them elected to office.

Now, the only reason we know as much as we do about how our money is being misspent in these cases is because a few dogged reporters told us. Official investigations underway can provide more answers.

But here’s another irony: officials at the Health and Human Services Commission are using the “ongoing investigations” as an excuse to block the flow of public records requested by reporters. A gaping loophole in the Texas Public Information Act, passed a few years ago, lets them get away with that.

Who writes these laws? Who signs off on this bad spending? Who has the power to do something about it?

Mostly people who call themselves conservatives.

A few influential Republican state senators have already condemned the shady contracting and one has called for stronger action at HHSC than has thus far been taken.

But it’s up to the new crop of “conservative” leaders in Austin to remember the modern definition of that word still includes fiscal responsibility.

This is the way responsible conservatives in the Texas GOP operate.

01.22.15

60 percent of 30 percent

Posted in Around The State, Bad Government Republicans, Money In Politics, Taxes at 10:23 am by wcnews

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The only thing sadder then the inauguration this week has been the reaction to it of retiring Texas Village Paul Burka.  Also his lamenting the end of “adult behavior” because the 2/3rds rule is no more.

I have always been a fan of the two-thirds rule because it gave the minority a fighting chance to take on the majority and it required a level of bridge-building and consensus to pass legislation. On a more basic level, it imposed “adult behavior on people who might be otherwise inclined.” Unfortunately for the Democrats, their party just doesn’t have the numbers to fend off the majority, so Patrick doesn’t have to worry about bridge-building, consensus, or adult behavior as the presiding officer.

I’m not sure what Lege he’s been covering for the last 10 years, but adult behavior went out the door quite a while ago. We get it, things have changed over the last 40 years . This is what happens when we have one-party GOP rule, they change the rules.

When 60 percent of 30 percent of registered voters are allowed to pick our elected leaders this is what we get. I wish Scott Turner would have been elected Speaker. The Democrats should have voted for him. Nothing will speed Democrats back to power in Texas faster then giving the wing nuts control. Once they break Texas then maybe we can get back to sane and rational government – Burka’s adult hehavior.

Don’t get me wrong, there will be serious negative consequences because of how our state is now “governed”.  Anyone that’s not wealthy and/or connected is left out.  And as long as our elected officials are allowed to essentially bribe corporations with tax payer money – likely the same corporations that bankroll their campaigns – little is likely to change.

 

01.17.15

See The Corruption Inherent In The System?

Posted in Around The State, Bad Government Republicans, Money In Politics at 4:37 pm by wcnews

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When one party runs it all for an extended period of time this kind of thing happens.

Whitmire cited reported conflicts of interest within Janek’s office and a Statesman investigation that revealed an official in that office skirted procurement laws as he steered millions to 21CT, an Austin data analytics company hired to aid in Medicaid fraud investigations.

That official, Jack Stick, resigned under pressure Dec. 12 from his job of chief counsel for the agency. The next week, his former boss, Inspector General Doug Wilson, also resigned.

Three officials were placed on administrative leave with pay: Erica Stick, Jack Stick’s wife and Janek’s chief of staff; Frianita Wilson, the wife of Doug Wilson and contract manager in the Department of Family and Protective Services; and Cody Cazares, Jack Stick’s chief of staff whose salary more than doubled in three years.

In the same office, Casey Haney, who worked for Janek when he was a senator, received $97,000 in advance for an MBA program at the University of Texas. Patricia Vojack, a deputy executive commissioner, received $37,000 for a graduate degree. Both payments violated state policy.

The newspaper has asked for updates on those employees and their status with the commission, but agency spokesperson Stephanie Goodman has not returned calls.

On Thursday, the Statesman reported that Janek had sought a meeting with House Speaker Joe Straus late last year to discuss 21CT. Straus is on a key legislative panel that was poised to approve a $90 million contract extension with 21CT. It’s not clear if Janek was pushing for the contract approval after the Statesman first began raising questions about the contract in mid-November.

No bid contracts and no oversight. No politician wants those in their party to get in trouble…it makes them all look bad.

And this, Perry veto killed investigation into no-bid contract at DPS, certainly makes outgoing GOP Gov. Rick Perry actions – for which he’s been indicted – look even worse.

A year and a half before a no-bid state contract collapsed in scandal last month, a criminal investigation into tens of millions of dollars worth of deals awarded through a similar process by Rick Perry’s administration was derailed by the funding veto that got the governor indicted, according to the prosecutor who led the probe.

The earlier inquiry, which concerned Texas Department of Public Safety contracts for Perry’s highly touted and controversial border-security program, lasted more than a year before abruptly shuttering, said Gregg Cox, director of the Public Integrity Unit at the Travis County District Attorney’s office.

“We lacked the resources to continue that investigation,” Cox said. “Because the staff was cut when our budget was vetoed.”

Perry vetoed $7.5 million in state funding for Cox’s office in June 2013, saying at the time he had lost confidence in District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg after she was arrested for drunken driving, pleaded guilty and spent three weeks in jail. The governor was indicted last year on abuse of office and official oppression charges, which he and his lawyers have denounced as a politically motivated farce.

Seems like less of a farce now.

And this, our soon to be Lt. Gov. appears to be learning the system pretty well, Patrick Pulled in Hefty Donations After Election.

Patrick raked in $2.6 million between October and December, with many large donations rolling in after the Nov. 4 election, including $50,000 from Dallas telecommunications billionaire Kenny Troutt, $125,000 from the Border Health PAC, $50,000 from the Kickapoo Tribe and $25,000 from the Texas Association of Realtors.

Patrick also enjoyed several lavish fundraisers: a $17,000 event thrown by HillCo, an Austin-based lobbying firm; a $10,000 event hosted by Cowboys owner Jerry Jones; and an $8,000 event given by Dallas tax consultant Brint Ryan. Heading into the 2015 legislative session, Patrick has almost $4 million in his campaign account.

Among Patrick’s other top donors are Texans for Lawsuit Reform, which gave his campaign $125,000; Julianna Holt, the wife of San Antonio businessman Peter Holt, who gave $50,000; and Houston businessman Hushang Ansary, who gave $50,000.

Several members of Patrick’s new Lieutenant Governor’s Advisory Boards also gave large contributions over the last four months. Dallas hoteliers Barry Andrews and Bob Rowling both gave $25,000, Midland oilman Tim Dunn gave $50,000, Dallas energy mogul Kelcy Warren gave $50,000, and Brint Ryan’s Ryan PAC gave $25,000.

Click here to see the full list of Patrick’s donors.

What a man of the people. I’m sure the tea party’ers in Texas see nothing wrong with Patrick becoming one the them.

One party rule, see the corruption inherent in the system?

08.13.14

Not What The Founders Intended

Posted in Around The Nation, Elections, Money In Politics at 12:19 pm by wcnews

There’s just no other way to say it.  This is not what our founders intended.  Via The Hill, Who rules America?

A shattering new study by two political science professors has found that ordinary Americans have virtually no impact whatsoever on the making of national policy in our country. The analysts found that rich individuals and business-controlled interest groups largely shape policy outcomes in the United States.

This study should be a loud wake-up call to the vast majority of Americans who are bypassed by their government. To reclaim the promise of American democracy, ordinary citizens must act positively to change the relationship between the people and our government

The new study, with the jaw-clenching title of “Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens,” is forthcoming in the fall 2014 edition of Perspectives on Politics. Its authors, Martin Gilens of Princeton University and Benjamin Page of Northwestern University, examined survey data on 1,779 national policy issues for which they could gauge the preferences of average citizens, economic elites, mass-based interest groups and business-dominated interest groups. They used statistical methods to determine the influence of each of these four groups on policy outcomes, including both policies that are adopted and rejected.

The analysts found that when controlling for the power of economic elites and organized interest groups, the influence of ordinary Americans registers at a “non-significant, near-zero level.” The analysts further discovered that rich individuals and business-dominated interest groups dominate the policymaking process. The mass-based interest groups had minimal influence compared to the business-based interest groups.

The study also debunks the notion that the policy preferences of business and the rich reflect the views of common citizens. They found to the contrary that such preferences often sharply diverge and when they do, the economic elites and business interests almost always win and the ordinary Americans lose.

The authors also say that given limitations to tapping into the full power elite in America and their policy preferences, “the real world impact of elites upon public policy may be still greater” than their findings indicate.

Ultimately, Gilens and Page conclude from their work, “economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence.”

Rich individuals and business interests have the capacity to hire the lobbyists that shadow legislators in Washington and to fill the campaign coffers of political candidates. Ordinary citizens are themselves partly to blame, however, because they do not choose to vote.

This is not news for those of us not in the economic elite. MayDay PAC is working to fix this.

07.07.14

Transportation Trouble – Every Issue Comes Down To This

Posted in Around The Nation, Around The State, Money In Politics, Transportation, Uncategorized at 10:49 am by wcnews

At EOW we’ve written about transportation issues so many time we’re blue in the face.  This post may be a little different, more philosophical let’s say.  Let’s start with the way the government is talked about, as if it’s some abstract entity we have no control over.  Here’s an example from a recent article from Terri Hall, Lawmakers on collision course with taxpayers on transportation.

When the existing gas tax diversions are closer to $1 billion/year, not $600 million, and the existing vehicles sales tax is $3.3 billion/year, and since TxDOT claims to need $4 billion more per year, there is no need to build another one of these loser toll projects that can’t pay for themselves without taxpayers footing part or all of the bill. It’s never been pro-taxpayer or pro-property rights to hand our public roads to private corporations, so this notion of Nichols and other transportation leaders that $14 billion in private equity is going to ‘help’ Texas pay for our highways is a total disconnect with the people of this state. Private corporations aren’t charities, all the money they put into a deal they want back in profit and interest. What may be a good deal for state government is not a good deal for taxpayers who have to pay at the pump and again to use the road. [Emphasis added]

Think about those statements.  How can something be a good deal for state government without it being a good deal for the taxpayer? Unless we’ve elected a government that no longer cares about the what’s best for the taxpayer, or the people.   Shouldn’t our government and the taxpayer be thought of as the same thing.  Too many of us have lost touch with the concept of the commons.

The commons is an old value that’s resurfacing as a fresh approach to twenty-first-century crises such as escalating economic inequality, looming ecological disruption and worsening social alienation.

In essence, the commons means everything that belongs to all of us, and the many ways we work together to use these assets to build a better society. This encompasses fresh air and clean water, public spaces and public services, the Internet and the airwaves, our legal system, scientific knowledge, biodiversity, language, artistic traditions, fashion styles, cuisines and much more. Taken together, it represents a vast inheritance bequeathed equally to every human—and one that, if used wisely, will provide for future generations.

Tragically, this wealth is being stolen in the name of economic efficiency and global competitiveness. As the disparity between the world’s richest individuals and everyone else grows, a massive takeover of the commons is occurring. Through privatization schemes, land grabs, excessive copyright and patenting claims, no-new-taxes policies, neocolonial globalization and the gutting of government services, we are losing what is rightfully ours. These radical policies inflict economic pain but also diminish the natural world, our sense of community and the ability to participate in decisions affecting our future.

The part about giving away our commons to for-profit corporations is certainly true.  But when we allow our politicians to be funded by corporations we should not be surprised when they act in their best interest and not in the people’s best interest.

It’s clear that Hall sees the government as a separate entity from the the people,  and actually working against the people – an adversarial relationship.   In other words it’s clear that she sees the government as working for someone, or something, other then the people.  And it’s not hard to figure out who or what that is.  The politicians are working to perpetuate a system that got them in office and will keep them there.  Which means doing things for their funders, which are almost always counter to what’s best for the people.  For example, toll roads instead of pay-as-you -go roads.

It’s much easier for a politician to try and sell a so-called not tax toll road, over an increase in the gas tax to pay for new roads.  Just like they’ve been selling the false doctrine of “trickle-down” economics for the last thirty plus years.  While making every day life harder for hard working families.

Toll roads have apparently become so toxic that the GOP’s tea party base doesn’t want them in the platform anymore, Texas GOP changing stance on toll roads.

In the new platform, Republican delegates removed a provision backing “the legitimate construction of toll roads in Texas” and replaced it with language opposing some aspects of toll projects in Texas, particularly the use of public money to subsidize private entities.

[…]

Yet toll roads, often in concert with private partners, remain a crucial part of the state’s transportation strategy. Billions of dollars in new projects are being developed.

At a recent state Senate hearing, transportation officials spoke about the value of public-private partnerships, often as part of toll projects, to expand highway capacity years earlier than otherwise possible. James Bass, TxDOT’s chief financial officer, noted that the state gas tax paid by Texans — and used to finance highways — had not changed since 1991, while construction costs had more than doubled.

This basically shows they’re for “some aspects” of toll roads.  They’re likely for toll roads, just not corporate toll roads, which is a start. But there’s still nothing about how to adequately pay for the massive amounts needed for maintaining and building new roads in across the state.

We no longer see the value of building or creating things for the public good.  If there’s not a PAC involved that’s supported by a wealthy person or a corporation, and the idea will only benefit the public good it has absolutely no chance of getting done.  We’ve must make our election officials beholden to the people again.

Watch this for the solution.

MayDay.us.

Not much will change until we see the government as us, and not some abstract entity we have no control over.

Further Reading:
Ralph Nader has an interesting take, Unstoppable: Twenty-Five Proposed Redirections and Reforms Through Convergent Action.

07.02.14

GOP In Texas Is Corporate-Owned

Posted in Around The State, Bad Government Republicans, Had Enough Yet?, Money In Politics, Uncategorized at 10:03 am by wcnews

Greg Abbott’s response to a question yesterday show exactly what Republican in Texas think the governments responsibility is to the people of Texas….nothing.  Via Wayne Slater in the DMN, Money from Koch interests flows to governor candidate Greg Abbott.

Five months after an ammonium nitrate explosion that killed 15 people in West, Attorney General Greg Abbott received a $25,000 contribution from a first-time donor to his political campaigns — the head of Koch Industries’ fertilizer division.

The donor, Chase Koch, is the son of one of the billionaire brothers atop Koch Industries’ politically influential business empire.

Abbott, who has since been criticized for allowing Texas chemical facilities to keep secret the contents of their plants, received more than $75,000 from Koch interests after the April 2013 explosion at the West Fertilizer Co. storage and distribution facility, campaign finance records filed with the state showed.

The West accident focused public attention on the storage of potentially dangerous chemicals across Texas and regulatory gaps in prevention, data-gathering, enforcement and disclosure to prevent explosions in the future. In addition to the 15 deaths, scores of people were injured, and homes and businesses were leveled.

The issue has re-emerged for Abbott in his run for governor. The Republican nominee recently declared that records on what chemicals the facilities stored could remain hidden, citing state laws meant to deter potential terrorist threats.

The campaign of his Democratic opponent, Wendy Davis, has charged Abbott with protecting campaign donors. On Tuesday, Abbott struggled to explain how Texans might learn of dangerous chemicals in their midst.

“You know where they are if you drive around,” Abbott told reporters at an event in Austin. “You can ask every facility whether or not they have chemicals or not. You can ask them if they do and they can tell you, ‘Well, we do have chemicals or we don’t have chemicals.’ And if they do, they tell which ones they have.” [Emphasis added]

After the West disaster, The Dallas Morning News identified 74 facilities in Texas as having at least 10,000 pounds of ammonium nitrate or ammonium-related material, including a Koch subsidiary, the Georgia-Pacific Gypsum plant in Sweetwater. The subsidiary now makes a nitrogen fertilizer, not the same product as the one that exploded in West.

Industrialists Charles and David Koch have created sprawling political and fund-raising networks that bankroll Republican candidates and business-friendly causes. Their groups are poised to spend millions of dollars to help Republicans win the Senate this fall, and the brothers, who are largely quiet about their political activities, have emerged as the Democrats’ biggest-spending political bogeymen. Opponents warn the Kochs are trying to undo health and safety regulations to benefit their conservative agenda.

What Abbott is saying is that in addition to everything else hard working Texans are already doing – working, taking care of their family, going to school, paying the bills – now they have to do another job, drive around, and get the chemical corporations to disclose information the government already has.  Here’s what Wendy Davis’ campaign had to say about this.

A Davis aide rebuked Abbott for the remarks.

“The only thing more outrageous than Greg Abbott keeping the location of chemical facilities secret is telling Texas parents they literally need to go door to door in order to find out if their child’s school is in the blast radius of dangerous explosives,” said spokesman Zac Petkanas. “Parents have a right to know whether their kids are playing hopscotch next door to the type of facility that exploded in West.”

As the US Supreme Court decisions reinforced this week, we now have a government that’s owned and run for corporations.  And a politician like Abbott better do what he’s told if he wants the checks to keep rolling in.

 

05.16.14

An Example of People Power At The FCC

Posted in Around The Nation, Commentary, Money In Politics at 9:19 am by wcnews

It was a good day at the FCC yesterday for the people, Somehow, Activists Have Put Protecting Net Neutrality Back on the Agenda.

When Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler initially proposed rules to allow telecoms to charge Internet companies for access to a “fast lane” to speed content to their users, plenty of people sounded the death rattle for the principle of net neutrality. A few weeks later, despite today’s passage of a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on a party-line vote similar to Wheeler’s original plan, the tenor of the debate has shifted. Under massive public pressure, the FCC has shown itself more responsive than Congress, opening up a legitimate debate over the rules. Tech firms have linked arms with the public against the Wheeler proposal. And what activists consider the only path to true net neutralityreclassifying broadband Internet under Title II of the Communications Act as a common carrier service, allowing the FCC to regulate it like phone lineshas moved from an impossible dream to a more viable alternative.

People power did thisthat allegedly outdated work of targeted mass organizing that isn’t supposed to make a difference in our increasingly oligarchical society. Over 3.4 million Internet users took action in some form against the FCC’s proposed ruled in the past three weeks, according to Free Press President and CEO Craig Aaron. Dozens of protesters “occupied” the FCC, camping out for a week in tents, joined by hundreds in a mass rally today outside the meeting room.

The grassroots pressure got tech firms off the sidelines. Over 100 of them, including Google, Facebook and Amazon, publicly opposed Chairman Wheeler’s rules, arguing that the rules should not allow “individualized bargaining and discrimination.” Meanwhile, the telecoms could not even round up the same support they had in 2010, when the FCC last proposed open Internet rules. Then, 74 House Democrats joined a letter opposing net neutrality; this time, the telecoms could find only 20 Democrats to back them, while 34 other House Democrats publicly endorsed Title II reclassification.

It’s nice to see that it’s still possible for the people in this country to raise hell and change the debate. Now if we could only get this done regarding our corrupt campaign finance system.  The article ends by stating that it’s time for President Obama to finally take a stand, on the side of the people, in this debate.

Advocates want President Obama, who has for years stated his support for net neutrality, to come off the sidelines and enter the debate. “This is his chairman and his FCC,” said Becky Bond, political director for mobile provider and progressive activist group CREDO. “The ultimate decision may depend on whether President Obama stands up for Internet users or remains silent.”

If nothing else, the FCC showed that it actually managed to listen to the public outcry. “One must think the Founding Fathers are looking down and smiling,” Wheeler said today, referring to the intense political engagement around the issue. Of course, there’s a difference between welcoming activism and actually having it change behavior. “Nothing about this rollout has gone the way the chairman would like to see it,” said Craig Aaron of Free Press. “But it’s going to take more political pressure to change the outcome.”

That last sentence is the most important. Nothing has been won yet. And the only way this will be won is with continued pressure until it is won. Of course the only reason this is a concern is because of whiny corporations. They believe that unless they can gouge consumers they will be unable to figure out a way to make a profit.

The US is way behind most other developed countries in broadband speed, and we pay a much higher price, Here is why your Internet is so pathetic and so expensive.

Comcast is seeking to acquire Time Warner Cable, in a deal that would combine the two largest cable providers in the United States in a single firm with control of about a third of the market. Comcast and Time Warner are nearly monopolists already in the cities where they operate separately, and the fact that the U.S. market for broadband access has failed should be clear from the chart above. (The image is used by permission of the artist. The data is from the OECD.) Americans typically pay more than $2 a month per megabit per second of connectivity, more than people elsewhere in the developed world, despite the piles and piles of money that cable companies are claiming as profit. Some countries have even higher costs, usually because their networks are controlled more exclusively by monopolists (such as Mexico’s Carlos Slim.)

A more competitive broadband industry would likely guarantee Americans to enjoy lower prices and faster speeds. Cable companies use their dominance of local markets to charge exorbitant rates for basic broadband connections, encouraging subscribers to buy more lucrative cable television subscriptions. Less competition, in the long term, will force federal regulators to run the entire industry from Washington, in the same corporatist style in which the Federal Communications Commission and AT&T collaborated to provide telephone access many years ago.

Broadband and wireless should have been treated like electricity was in the last century. Think of the innovation that could happen if broadband and wireless access were not only fast, no matter what, but was extremely inexpensive, or even better free.

Go here to tell the FCC what you think.

 

04.09.14

Inherently Incompatible With Democracy

Posted in Around The State, Bad Government Republicans, Commentary, Money In Politics at 12:08 pm by wcnews

Apparently there’s nothing illegal about this, Prolific Donors Are Behind Perry’s Marketing Tool.

When Gov. Rick Perry announced last summer that he wouldn’t run for re-election, he said he was committed to spending his last 18 months in office working to create more jobs and opportunity in Texas. It’s a pledge he has taken seriously, traveling to places like California, New York and Israel in the last year to promote the “Texas Miracle” and recruit companies to bring jobs to the state.

Supporting Perry’s travels is TexasOne, a quasi-governmental agen­cy that has become the governor’s chief marketing tool to tout the state’s “wide open for business” model and that funds his regular promotional trips.

[…]

TexasOne is controversial in part because of how it’s funded: Many of the same corporations and donors that have contributed millions of dollars combined to the governor’s campaigns also donate to TexasOne, which helps woo corporations to bring jobs to Texas.

The practice is lawful, and it’s not unusual for governors to have close relationships — both financial and business — with influential industry leaders. TexasOne officials say that these donor-members, who contribute $1,000 to $250,000 annually to the program, are solely interested in the state’s economic development.

“No one joins because they feel like they’ll get access to Perry,” TexasOne Chairman Bruce Bugg said. “That’s not how it works.”

Well of course not, they already have access to Perry. It may not be illegal, but what’s going on here is something that is inherently incompatible with democracy. This is plutocracy or corporatism. It just seems wrong that the governor of Texas is allowed to gallivant around the world to do the bidding for corporations.

Then there’s this.

One of the beneficiaries of the Enterprise Zone Program is a top-tier TexasOne donor, Dallas-based accounting firm Ryan LLC, which contributes $250,000 a year for its TexasOne membership. The firm’s success in Texas is rooted in its work helping major corporations obtain large tax rebates from the state’s incentive programs, including the Enterprise Zone Program. CEO Brint Ryan benefited from the program himself in 2008 after his firm qualified for a $1.25 million tax refund.

(The exact amounts paid to companies through the program are confidential under the state’s tax code.)

Ryan is a prominent Perry donor and helped found Make Us Great Again, a Super PAC that supported the governor’s unsuccessful presidential run in 2012. Ryan personally contributed $250,000 to the PAC. Representatives for Ryan declined to comment on whether his company’s involvement in TexasOne or his contributions to Perry presented a conflict with his state benefits.

ExxonMobil qualified for a combined $8.75 million in tax refunds from the Texas Enterprise Zone Program starting in 2004. That same year, ExxonMobil became a member of TexasOne with a $25,000 contribution. ExxonMobil currently contributes $100,000 annually to the program. Representatives for the company could not be reached for comment.

Such examples of the overlap among donors to TexasOne and Perry and state benefits they’ve received “fit a pattern of pay-to-play politics” in Texas that have been common under Perry’s long tenure as governor, said McDonald of Texans for Public Justice.

But Bugg, the TexasOne chairman, said the program is focused on economic development and does not engage in political activities.

That may be the way Bugg feels and believes, but because of the way Perry has governed that statement is incorrect. Perry has made economic development a political activity and because of these donors incestuous practices it’s obvious who these corporations favor politically.

Should we allow our state government to be used in this way? Is our state government nothing more then a piece of the marketing puzzle for corporations, the chamber, and local economic development corporations? Those are the ultimate questions this article brings forward, (though it likely wasn’t the intent).

It’s obvious from this, and the actions of our state over the last decade, that the priority isn’t education, health care, infrastructure or anything else the people, “demos”, of this state need.  Marketing corporations is a political issue in Texas.  When we have a government that puts corporations ahead of the people it can’t help but be a political issue.

Further Reading:
Money buys results & erodes trust.
Rich people rule!

04.03.14

A Bad Day For Democracy In America

Posted in Around The Nation, Money In Politics at 9:32 am by wcnews

 

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SCOTUS sides with the Plutocrats (as usual), With McCutcheon Ruling, An Activist Court Opts for Full-On Plutocracy.

Any doubts about the determination of an activist United States Supreme Court to rewrite election rules so that the dollar matters more than the vote were removed Wednesday, when McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission was decided in favor of the dollar.

The court that in 2010, with its Citizens United v. FEC decision, cleared the way for corporations to spend as freely as they choose to buy elections has now effectively eliminated the ability of the American people and their elected representatives to establish meaningful limits on direct donations by millionaires and billionaires to campaigns.

The Citizens United ruling, coming after many previous judicial assaults on campaign finance rules and regulations, was a disaster for democracy. But it left in place at least some constraints on the campaign donors. Key among these was a limitation on the ability of a wealthy individual to donate more than a total dollar amount of $123,000 total in each two-year election cycle to political candidates and parties.

With the ruling in the McCutcheon case—where the court was actively encouraged to intervene on behalf of big-money politics by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky—a 5-4 court majority (signing on to various opinions) has ruled that caps on the total amount of money an individual donor can give to political candidates, parties and political action committees are unconstitutional. In so doing, says U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisconsin, says the court has further tipped the balance of power toward those who did not need any more influence over the affairs of state.

“It is far too often the case in Washington that powerful corporate interests, the wealthy, and the well-connected get to write the rules,” says Baldwin, “and now the Supreme Court has given them more power to rule the ballot box by creating an uneven playing field where big money matters more than the voice of ordinary citizens.”

And this from Ari Berman, The Supreme Court’s Ideology: More Money, Less Voting.

In the past four years, under the leadership of Chief Justice John Roberts, the Supreme Court has made it far easier to buy an election and far harder to vote in one.

First came the Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United v. FEC, which brought us the Super PAC era.

Then came the Court’s 2013 decision in Shelby County v. Holder, which gutted the centerpiece of the Voting Rights Act.

Now we have McCutcheon v. FEC, where the Court, in yet another controversial 5-4 opinion written by Roberts, struck down the limits on how much an individual can contribute to candidates, parties and political action committees. So instead of an individual donor being allowed to give $117,000 to campaigns, parties and PACs in an election cycle (the aggregate limit in 2012), they can now give up to $3.5 million, Andy Kroll of Mother Jones reports.

The Court’s conservative majority believes that the First Amendment gives wealthy donors and powerful corporations the carte blanche right to buy an election but that the Fifteenth Amendment does not give Americans the right to vote free of racial discrimination.

These are not unrelated issues—the same people, like the Koch brothers, who favor unlimited secret money in US elections are the ones funding the effort to make it harder for people to vote. The net effect is an attempt to concentrate the power of the top 1 percent in the political process and to drown out the voices and votes of everyone else.

It’s all part of the plan to make sure certain people don’t vote.

Here’s Sen. Bernie Sanders on Democracy Now talking about the decision.

If you like that be sure and check out, Bernie Sanders: ‘I Am Prepared to Run for President of the United States’ [Updated on March 19].

PDiddie has more on the decision.

And many more links from billmoyers.com:

The big one: McCutcheon.

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