You are browsing the archive for 2017 December 23.

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For Christmas, The GOP is Decimating the Middle Class

December 23, 2017 in Blogs

By Leo Gerard, AlterNet

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act is a robbery.

Republicans promised the American people a tax bill for Christmas, and this week they delivered. It’s definitely a bill for working people and the poor because by 2025, they’ll pay more. For them, poverty is the new black.

By contrast, Congress bestowed 83 percent of the new tax law’s benefits on the richest 1 percent. For them, greenbacks are the new black.

On the first day of Christmas

The GOP gave to me

A tax break for the wealthy

The 1 percent have already roasted and eaten the partridge, the pair of turtle doves, the three French hens, the four calling birds, the six geese, even the seven swans. They are, after all, very rich. And now, with these tax changes, Republicans in Congress have swiped Tiny Tim’s turkey and handed it to the wealthy so they can gorge themselves on it too.

Republicans hate income redistribution when it flows from the tony top down to impoverished Cratchits. But they delight in reaching into working people’s pockets and converting those coins into golden rings for the rich. That’s exactly what the GOP tax bill does.

The meager tax breaks awarded the working poor and middle class in this tax bill expire, like Cinderella’s outfit and entourage, before the tolling of a decade.  In addition, the bill increases other costs for workers.

For example, it changes the way tax brackets are indexed to inflation. That means workers will enter higher brackets faster, even though their incomes don’t rise any quicker. This will cost the middle class and poor $25.6 billion, which the GOP used to offset the big fat breaks it gave the rich and corporations.

The new inflation index is meaningless to the rich. They don’t change tax brackets after reaching the top. For them, the marginal rate – lowered from 39.6 percent to 37 percent – remains the same whether they earn $500,000 or $5 million.

On top of the inflation index scam, the tax bill will raise health insurance premiums because it …read more


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Why Twitter and Facebook's Anti-Harassment Strategies Won't Stop the Trolls

December 23, 2017 in Blogs

By Liz Posner, AlterNet

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By trying to make things better, social media platforms may be making things worse.

There’s a good chance that if you regularly spend time on the internet (and who doesn’t these days?), you may have been harassed. The Pew Research Center says 41% of Americans have been harassed online in some way, and about one in five people have been seriously harassed, like receiving “physical threats, harassment over a sustained period, sexual harassment or stalking.” And women are nearly twice as likely to say they’ve reported severe harassment online—frequently on social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter. Entire internal task forces have been created to monitor and police the platforms, and they’ve repeatedly insisted that tackling this issue is a major priority.

But a recent study shows that as they attempt to quell hateful behavior on their platforms, Twitter and Facebook may actually be making thing worse.

They do try. If a woman encounters a troll on Facebook who makes incessant, lewd comments about her appearance, for example, she can follow the site’s instructions for reporting that user. The site will respond with a few scripted statements, programmed by a bot to classify her experience into one of a few categories. Then her complaint will disappear into the void, unlikely to garner a personalized response. With over a billion people on Facebook, it would be impossible to respond to every instance of harassment.

The study, from researchers at the University of Michigan School of Information and Sassafras Tech Collective, “finds that users of popular social media platforms—such as Facebook and Twitter—are frustrated when their harassment experiences aren’t taken seriously, especially when major companies rely on scripted responses that do not acknowledge individual experiences or the impacts of harassment, which include personal or professional …read more


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Virginia Will Draw a Name From a Bowl to Decide House of Delegates Majority, Instead of Examining Digital Images of Paper Ballots

December 23, 2017 in Blogs

By Steven Rosenfeld, AlterNet

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A 19th-century practice, instead of using 21st-century technology.

Next Wednesday, the Virginia Board of Elections will literally pull a name out of a bowl to decide who won the apparently tied 94th House of Delegates race, and thus find out if a blue voter wave has broken this decade’s GOP lock on its legislature.

The BOE will place two candidates’ names on paper inside film canisters and a winner will be drawn—a technique right out of 19th-century America.

What they won’t be doing is use accessible public records created by 21st-century technology to verify the 11,608 votes now awarded to the incumbent Republican, David Yancey, and to Democratic challenger Shelly Simonds.

The BOE could examine digitized images of each paper ballot scanned by the Election Night computers that tallied the vote. But astoundingly, it won’t, citing antiquated state laws, which also prevent it from reexamining provisional and absentee ballots that were initially rejected (possibly as incorrectly filled out or invalid registration status).

But the digitized ballot images are there in Newport News’ voting machinery to conduct a verifiable 21st-century recount, said Chris Sautter, an election lawyer specializing in recounts based in nearby Washington.

“If you are an elections junkie as I am, you have to love this,” he said, sarcastically. “I've been involved in some really close elections, including the 4-vote recount margin in the closest U.S. House race in modern times. Last year, I represented a Virginia candidate in a recount that was decided by 3-votes. But I have never been directly involved in an election that was decided by a lot drawing.”

“The counties involved apparently saved ballot images in this race,” Sautter continued. “But Virginia state law requires that they resolve a tie by lot or flip a coin. It is definitely an anarchism—kind of like a …read more


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Federal Prosecutors Subpoena Deutsche Bank for Kushner Family Business Records: Report

December 23, 2017 in Blogs

By Noor Al-Sibai, Raw Story

It appears to be a separate investigation from the one headed by Robert Mueller.

Federal prosecutors in New York have subpoenaed Deutsche Bank for records pertaining to the family business of President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner.

As The New York Times reported Friday, the exact subject of the subpoena remains vague, and there is no indication that it’s related to special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling.

Though Kushner sold the majority of his stake as Kushner Companies’ CEO in January when Trump took office, he still retains some ownership over the family business. As the Times noted, the vast Kushner “family businesses include many legal entities.”

The subpoenas came from the U.S. attorney’s office in the Eastern District of New York, where three members of Mueller’s team have worked, including one as recently as this year, the report continued.

Though the Brooklyn United States attorney has been investigating Kushner’s use of an alleged visa scam, the report noted that Deutsche Bank “does not appear to have been involved,” suggesting the subject of the latest subpoena “may be unrelated.”

Kushner and his mother “have a line of credit from Deutsche Bank worth $5 million to $25 million,” the Times noted, and the bank also gave the company a $285 million mortgage to “help it refinance a loan to purchase several floors of retail space in the former New York Times” building in Manhattan.

Earlier this month, special counsel Mueller subpoenaed Deutsche Bank for records pertaining to Trump’s accounts.

Related Stories

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Was Scrooge the Victim in A Christmas Carol?

December 23, 2017 in Economics

By Ryan McMaken


By: Ryan McMaken

In the past, a few brave iconoclasts have taken exception to the treatment Ebenezer Scrooge of A Christmas Carol has received from his critics.

While a fictional character created by Charles Dickens, Scrooge has become, in the minds of many, a representative of the imagined miserly financiers who serve as caricatures of capitalists everywhere.

This has led some defenders of markets to step in and offer a defense of Scrooge.

Butler Shaffer writes that Scrooge is one of “the true heroes of the time of which [Dickens] wrote, namely, the industrialists and financiers who created that most liberating epoch in human history: the Industrial Revolution.”

And Michael Levin avers: “Dickens doesn't mention Scrooge's satisfied customers, but there must have been plenty of them for Scrooge to have gotten so rich.”

Levin sensibly points out that so long as Scrooge wasn't in the business of using violence, everyone remained free to refuse to do business with him. Since Dickens gives us no reason to suspect that Scrooge did ever actually rob anyone, we can conclude that everyone who did business with him did so voluntarily.

However, if we're going to look on every non-coercive act as morally neutral or as even laudable — and employ that standard to evaluate Scrooge's actions — then we also ought to extend the same courtesy to all of Scrooge's detractors. When Scrooge's associates engage in non-violent attempts to convince Scrooge to be more charitable — if we are to be consistent — we can't judge those actions to be any more unsavory than Scrooge's many non-violent business dealings.

After all, no human being in A Christmas Carol forces Scrooge to do anything. Some people — such as Scrooge's nephew Fred — engage him in conversations that Scrooge finds unpleasant. Scrooge tells those people to go away and they do. Some men ask him for a charitable donation. Scrooge refuses, and he is free to do so. While it is acknowledged that Scrooge pays taxes to the British state, no one in the story advocates for higher tax rates, or demands that Scrooge pay more in taxes. Taxation is not presented as the solution to the central problems of the story.

If this were the case, of course, things would be different. We would then be forced to defend Scrooge from the grasping hand of the state and its cheerleaders. But A …read more


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Gasoline on a Fire: Why Arms Sales to Ukraine are a Really Bad Idea

December 23, 2017 in Economics

By Ted Galen Carpenter

Ted Galen Carpenter

It’s been a very bad month for Washington’s relations with
Moscow, culminating in the Trump administration’s ill-advised
decision to authorize the commercial sale of “defensive” weapons to
Ukraine.  The flippant comment that Secretary of Defense
James Mattis expressed earlier in Kiev apparently summarizes the
administration’s attitude.  According to Mattis, “defensive
weapons are not provocative unless you are an aggressor, and
clearly Ukraine is not an aggressor.” The reality is that given the
already lengthy record of U.S. meddling in Ukraine, especially
encouraging the demonstrators who overthrew the country’s
pro-Russian elected president in 2014, moving to arm Ukraine is
extremely provocative. That country not only is in Russia’s sphere
of influence, it is the single most important entity in Russia’s
core security zone.

The Ukraine arms sale came on the heels of the release of newly
de-classified documents confirming that U.S. leaders assured Russia in
1990 that NATO would not expand beyond the eastern border
of a united Germany. For years, U.S. officials and their defenders in the foreign policy community
and the mainstream media insisted that no such firm commitment had been given. And there was
no evidence of a written agreement.  The new revelations,
though, should effectively torpedo that disingenuous defense. It is
now clear that assurances were given, and that Washington’s
subsequent moves to expand NATO severely damaged trust between the two

The Trump
administration’s decision to approve arms sales to Ukraine is akin
to pouring gasoline on an already simmering fire.

President Trump’s announcement of a new U.S. national security strategy likely added to
Moscow’s irritation. It proclaims that both China and Russia are
“strategic competitors” of the United States. The president’s
speech also contained allegations of specific Russian misdeeds,
ranging from the annexation of Crimea to efforts to split the
Western alliance, to meddling in the internal political affairs of
other countries. Those actions supposedly pose a serious threat to
America’s security and well-being. The document’s language was
disturbingly reminiscent of Washington’s harsh, confrontational
rhetoric throughout the Cold War.

Approving even a limited arms sale to Ukraine, given the context
of those other developments, was especially maladroit.  A
secessionist war in the eastern portion of the country has simmered
since 2014.  Russia backs the rebels and even has unofficially
deployed its own forces at times in the conflict zone. The
situation in eastern Ukraine remains extremely tense and volatile,
despite the signing of the so-called Minsk Agreement designed to dampen the

Washington’s authorization of weapons sales to Kiev risks
destabilizing a very …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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Consumers Are Smarter than Bureaucrats Think

December 23, 2017 in Economics

By Lee Friday


By: Lee Friday

Despite the name of this government agency, Canada’s Competition Bureau lacks an appreciation of the nature of competition. Moreover, the Bureau’s actions can be seen as an insult to Canadians, as it fails to acknowledge the ability of discriminating consumers to recognize uncompetitive offerings. As the Bureau pretends to be the consumers’ guardian angel, it wastes taxpayers’ dollars on counterproductive activities.

The Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) operates numerous department stores in Canada. They say they have spent more than US$425,000 and invested more than 6,500 person-hours to produce 37,000 documents in response to the Competition Bureau's complaint made last February. According to The Canadian Press, the Competition Bureau

is suing Hudson’s Bay Co., alleging that the retailer engaged in deceptive pricing practices for four years …

The Competition Bureau claims HBC misled customers over the prices of mattresses and box springs sold together since at least March 2013 …

“The regular prices of the sleep sets were so inflated above what the market would bear that sales at the regular price were virtually non-existent,” reads the filing.

HBC listed a Mount Royal tight top queen sleep set at $1,998 and then a sale price of $788 in 2014, for example, but never sold one at the regular price, the agency says.

So, HBC supposedly “engaged in deceptive pricing practices” which the Bureau defines as misleading customers about prices. Nonsense. The Bureau reveals its own bureaucratic idiocy when it contradicts itself by admitting that no sales were made at the inflated price.

Consumers are Wise

Consumers were not misled, as evidenced by their decisions not to buy! Why did they not buy? Because they know the market. They shop around. They have done their homework. They know the prices of the Bay’s competitors. They are well informed. And just as consumers were not misled by a ‘high regular price,’ they also would not eagerly embrace a ‘sale price’ unless they find the price more appealing than the prices of HBC’s competitors.

Though the government would have us believe this is a mortal sin, there is nothing wrong with HBC pricing its products far above the market. That is their right. Remember, they cannot force consumers to buy their products. All transactions rely on mutual consent.

In contrast, we must never forget that the government is the only institution that has the legal power to force consumers to buy things (via taxation and government spending) at …read more