In an effort to gin up a bit of publicity for its annual choice for “Person of the Year,” Time has released its list of ten finalists. They include Pope Francis, President Obama, Jeff Bezos, Miley Cyrus, Ted Cruz, and two Middle Eastern leaders: Bashar al-Assad, the embattled President of Syria, and Hassan Rouhani, the new President of Iran. Of these, Pope Francis is by far the strongest candidate, but even the radical new Pontiff can’t compete with another troublemaker on the list: Edward Snowden, the former N.S.A. contractor who is currently residing somewhere in Russia as the guest of Vladimir Putin, Time’s 2007 honoree.
According to Time, its award, which will be bestowed on Wednesday, goes to the person who, in the opinion of the magazine’s editors, had the most influence on the news. By this metric, it’s no contest. In downloading thousands of files from the computers of the electronic spying agency and handing them over to journalists like Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras, and Barton Gellman, Snowden unleashed a torrent of news stories that began in May, when the Guardian and the Washington Post published a series of articles about the N.S.A.’s surveillance activities. Seven months later, the gusher is still open. Just last week, we learned that the agency is tracking the whereabouts of hundreds of millions of cell phones, gathering nearly five billion records a day.
It’s not just here in the United States. Snowden’s revelations are still causing ruptures and generating headlines all around the world, including in Brazil, which has just said that it wants to question Snowden about revelations that the U.S. agency intercepted the communications of President Dilma Rousseff and her aides; in Germany, where the N.S.A. reportedly tappedChancellor Angela Merkel’s cell phone; and in Australia, where the government was embarrassed by the revelation that it had been spying on the President of neighboring Indonesia. And there are almost certainly more stories to come. Last week, Alan Rusbridger, the editor of the Guardian, said that his paper has so far published only one per cent of the files that it received from Snowden.
The Obama administration’s pro-corporate Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agenda appears to have missed a deadline.
Ministers and delegates representing 12 nations announced Tuesday they have failed to meet the end-of-year goal of clinching the TPP trade deal after four days of negotiations in Singapore ended without an agreement.
The statement immediately follows a Wikileaks release, previously reported by Common Dreams, exposing near zero support for a drastic pro-corporate agenda pushed in the TPP by the Obama administration, including demands for NAFTA-style secret corporate tribunals, limits to bank regulation, and conditions that would increase the cost of life-saving medicines.
Holiday Lunacy: How Americans Are Conditioned to Buy Like Pavlov’s Dogs When the Corporate Bells Ring
Yes, it’s that’s time of year again when working Americans foolishly blow their hard-earned money on junk primarily because of the thousands of advertisements that tell them to do just that at an accelerated rate during the holidays.
Of course, you’re not supposed to know about the mothers and children in miserable conditions that labor to make all that material stuff for a buck a day, much less think about how the Company Men exploit the poor by turning them into automatons.
Just buy the stuff—that’s all that matters. If you don’t, Shame, shame, Oh the power of guilt! Why do you suppose the corporate networks broadcast the shopping malls as if it were a competitive race almost every night until the end of New Year’s?
[...] I don’t know about you, but I dread this time of year when we’re bombarded by the commercial world to buy, Buy, BUY!: the bells, the whistles, the jingles, the flashing lights, the advertised SALES that lunatics literally kill for as they blast through the doors of WalMart or Target—luring the masses in a fit of madness to fill up their enormous carts with tons of plastic garbage and polluting junk, even if they’re still paying off the credit cards from last year’s Christmas. And the winners are…, as Senator Bernie Sanders pointed out, “The Walton family of WalMart now owns more wealth than the bottom 40% of Americans. Meanwhile, we continue to have, by far, the highest rate of childhood poverty in the industrialized world.”
With an endowment larger than all but four of the world’s largest hedge funds, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is easily one of the most powerful charities in the world. According to its website, the organization ”works to help all people lead healthy, productive lives.” So how do the investments of the foundation’s $36 billion investing arm, the Gates Foundation Trust, match up to its mission? We dug into the group’s recently released 2012 tax returns to find out.
U.S. oil company Chevron has suspended exploration for shale gas in northeastern Romania after hundreds of anti-fracking protesters tore down fences.
Chevron won approval to drill exploratory wells in the town of Pungesti, but halted work for a second time Saturday after residents blocked access to the site.
Hundreds of riot police couldn’t prevent residents from demolishing fences and breaking into the site. Dozens were detained and 14 were charged with destruction of property and carrying knives.
Chevron said it had suspended work “as a result of unsafe conditions” and informed police of destruction to its property.
Thousands of people have rallied across Romania in recent months to protest against government support for shale gas exploration. Chevron had resumed work at the site on Dec. 2.
British police are examining whether Guardian newspaper staff should be investigated for terrorism offenses over their handling of data leaked by Edward Snowden, Britain’s senior counter-terrorism officer said on Tuesday.
The disclosure came after Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger, summoned to give evidence at a parliamentary inquiry, was accused by lawmakers of helping terrorists by making top secret information public and sharing it with other news organizations.
The Guardian was among several newspapers which published leaks from U.S. spy agency contractor Snowden about mass surveillance by the National Security Agency (NSA) and Britain’s eavesdropping agency GCHQ.
Assistant Commissioner Cressida Dick, who heads London’s Specialist Operations unit, told lawmakers the police were looking to see whether any offenses had been committed, following the brief detention in August of a man carrying data on behalf of a Guardian journalist.
When Ofgem head Andrew Wright identified a “deep mistrust of anything the energy companies do or say” last week, the chief executive of Britain’s gas and electricity regulator wasn’t exaggerating.
After four years of inflation-busting price hikes that have increased their average profit per household more than ten-fold, the popularity of the “big six” appears to have sunk to an all-time low. So much so, that 68 per cent of the population wants to see the big energy companies renationalised, according to a poll by YouGov last month. Returning the energy sector to state ownership may be a comforting thought after those bill hikes increased the average big six profit per household from £8 in 2009 to £105 now, leaving ever-larger numbers of people struggling – and in millions of cases failing – to heat their homes.
- 800,000 people ‘lifted’ out of fuel poverty – by redefining it
- Cameron accused of ‘smoke and mirrors’ on energy bills
- Profits at ‘Big Six’ energy companies have rocketed since the financial crisis began
- Energy bills have risen at eight times the rate of earnings in the last three years
- How Big Six energy firms conceal their profits
- Big Six energy firms face investor exodus over political interference in pricing
- Gas industry employee seconded to draft UK’s energy policy
- Labour’s energy price freeze triggers power cuts warning from Npower boss, who refuses to give up bonus as a ‘gimmick’
- Sir John Major calls for excess profit tax on Big Six energy firms
- Owen Jones: The bullies at the Big Six must be stood up to
- Big Energy vs. Small Business – SMEs Buckling Under the Pressure of Energy Hikes
- The other energy scandal – power giants use loophole to cut their own tax bills
- 340 MPs claim £200,000 on expenses for energy bills
Kudos to Kevin Gosztola, who liberated the propaganda the NSA sent workers home with for Thanksgiving to use with family and friends.
I find 3 of the bullet points particularly interesting (all of which Gosztola also touches on).
NSA: we steal secrets, we just use them differently
NSA does not and will not steal industry secrets in order to give U.S. companies a competitive advantage.
The NSA has uttered various versions of this claim since the Snowden leaks started. But I find this formulation particularly telling. NSA is not denying they steal industry secrets (nor could they, since we know they’ve stolen data from corporations like Petrobras and have stolen secrets from a range of hacking targets).
They’re just denying they steal secrets in order to give US companies a competitive advantage.
Guardian editor-in-chief Alan Rusbridger appeared before a British parliamentary committee to answer questions on how the media organization had handled the publication of National Security Agency documents from former NSA contractor and whistleblower Edward Snowden.
The invitation to appear before the committee seemed to be part of an escalation in attacks on the Guardian since it began to publish stories on NSA documents, especially the NSA’s partnership with the UK spy agency, GCHQ.
Chairman of the Home Affairs Commitee, Keith Vaz, who is a Labour Party member, asked Rusbridger if he had been compelled to appear before the committee, since that had been suggested by various groups. Rusbridger was not aware that it was “optional.”
Vaz pushed Rusbridger to detail the location of all the files, which journalists had them and how many files each journalist possessed. Rusbridger did not find it sensible to answer this question but he did acknowledge that files were sent to the New York Times.
Pressed to address claims by the heads of security services, such as MI5′s Andrew Parker, that the files had caused a risk to national security, Rusbridger said the problem with these allegations is that they are vague and do not reference specific stories the organization has published. He noted multiple officials: Norman Baker the Home Office minister, a member of the Senate intelligence committee who asked not to be named, a senior Obama administration official and a senior Whitehall official.” They had not accused The Guardian of causing any damage to national security.
The hearing suddenly seemed like a House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) hearing as Vaz actually asked Rusbridger if he loved his country.
The Japanese government, which already has a long history of cover-ups and opaqueness, is on its way to becoming even less open and transparent after the lower house the Diet, Japan’s parliament, passed the Designated Secrets Bill on Tuesday. With new powers to classify nearly anything as a state secret and harsh punishments for leakers that can easily be used to intimidate whistleblowers and stifle press freedom, many in Japan worry that the if the bill becomes law it will be only the first step towards even more severe erosions of freedom in the country.
[...] Even politicians inside the ruling bloc are saying, “It can’t be denied that another purpose is to muzzle the press, shut up whistleblowers, and ensure that the nuclear disaster at Fukushima ceases to be an embarrassment before the Olympics.”
[...] Outspoken Upper House Councilor Taro Yamamoto, who is known to be a strong supporter of investigative journalism, minces no words: “The path that Japan is taking is the recreation of a fascist state. I strongly believe that this secrecy bill represents a planned coup d’état by a group of politicians and bureaucrats,” he warned.
While his statement may seem alarmist, even a senior official of the National Police Agency agrees. “I would say this is Abe’s attempt to make sure that his own shady issues aren’t brought to light, and a misuse of legislative power.
The fast food industry is notorious for handing out lean paychecks to their burger flippers and fat ones to their CEOs. What’s less well-known is that taxpayers are actually subsidizing fast food incomes at both the bottom — and top — of the industry.
Take, for example, Yum Brands, which operates the Taco Bell, KFC, and Pizza Hut chains. Wages for the corporation’s nearly 380,000 U.S. workers are so low that many of them have to turn to taxpayer-funded anti-poverty programs just to get by. The National Employment Law Project estimates that Yum Brands’ workers draw nearly $650 million in Medicaid and other public assistance annually.
Meanwhile, at the top end of the company’s pay ladder, CEO David Novak pocketed $94 million over the years 2011 and 2012 in stock options gains, bonuses and other so-called “performance pay.” That was a nice windfall for him, but a big burden for the rest of us taxpayers.
Under the current tax code, corporations can deduct unlimited amounts of such “performance pay” from their federal income taxes. In other words, the more corporations pay their CEO, the lower their tax burden. Novak’s $94 million payout, for example, lowered YUM’s IRS bill by $33 million. Guess who makes up the difference?
Combined, these firms’ CEOs pocketed more than $183 million in fully deductible “performance pay” in 2011 and 2012, lowering their companies’ IRS bills by an estimated $64 million. To put that figure in perspective, it would be enough to cover the average cost of food stamps for 40,000 American families for a year.My new Institute for Policy Studies report calculates the cost to taxpayers of this “performance pay” loophole at all of the top six publicly held fast food chains — McDonald’s, Yum, Wendy’s, Burger King, Domino’s, and Dunkin’ Brands.
Google, the tech giant supposedly guided by its “don’t be evil” motto, has been funding a growing list of groups advancing the agenda of the Koch brothers.
Organizations that received “substantial” funding from Google for the first time over the past year include Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform, the Federalist Society, the American Conservative Union (best known for its CPAC conference), and the political arm of the Heritage Foundation that led the charge to shut down the government over the Affordable Care Act: Heritage Action.
In 2013, Google also funded the corporate lobby group, the American Legislative Exchange Council, although that group is not listed as receiving “substantial” funding in the list published by Google.
U.S. corporations are not required to publicly disclose their funding of political advocacy groups, and very few do so, but since at least 2010 Google has chosen to voluntarily release some limited details about grants it makes to U.S. non-profits. The published list from Google is not comprehensive, including only those groups that “receive the most substantial contributions from Google’s U.S. Federal Public Policy and Government Affairs team.”
What Google considers “substantial” is not explained — no dollar amounts are given — but the language suggests significant investments from Google and, with a stock value of $330 billion, Google has considerably deep pockets.
Google has a distinctively progressive image, but in March 2012 it hired former Republican member of the House of Representatives, Susan Molinari as its Vice President of Public Policy and Government Relations. According to the New York Times, Molinari is being “paid handsomely to broaden the tech giant’s support beyond Silicon Valley Democrats and to lavish money and attention on selected Republicans.”
The Real Reason Amazon Announced Delivery Drones Last Night: $3 Million In Free Advertising On Cyber Monday
Last night, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos went on “60 Minutes” and announced that Amazon’s R&D department is working on drones that can deliver packages within 30 minutes. He called the service Amazon Prime Air.
The thing is, Amazon Prime Air won’t be available for many years.
Even Bezos said last night that the earliest Amazon Prime Air could be in service is 2015 because that’s the soonest the FAA could update its laws.
But The Wall Street Journal reports that the FAA isn’t planning on beginning the certification of commercial drones until 2020.
There is a good reason for this. Drones can be very dangerous.
[...] The fact is, there is a very good chance that, last night, Amazon “announced” a service that will never exist in reality.
Why did Amazon do that?
The answer is free advertising. Even better: free advertising the night before the biggest e-commerce shopping day of the year, Cyber Monday.
Nearly 40 news organizations have accused the Obama administration of improperly controlling images of the president by limiting the access granted to independent photojournalists while allowing free rein by the White House’s own photographers.
In a letter and a meeting last week, the news outlets and journalism groups complained to White House Press Secretary Jay Carney about the practice, saying the White House has prevented an unvarnished view of government business, while encouraging officially sanctioned competition for private news organizations.
Limitations on photographers’ access to President Barack Obama create “a troubling precedent with a direct and adverse impact on the public’s ability to independently monitor and see what its government is doing,” charged the letter from the 38 organizations, including the White House Correspondents Association and the Tribune Co., owner of the Los Angeles Times.
The White House said it has limited access by photographers only as necessitated by logistics or a desire to preserve a zone of privacy for the president and his family. Carney noted that previous presidents, including George W. Bush, battled with the media over how much of their activity to put into the public domain.
Still, in an email response to questions, Carney said the White House is “working to address some of the concerns raised by photographers covering the White House.” He added: “We certainly do not believe that official photos released by the White House are a substitute for the work of independent journalists.”
The issue has been pushed to the forefront by the expanding role of the Internet and websites like Flickr and Twitter, which allow the White House to quickly share images of Obama, his family and his staff.
- Obama’s photo policy smacks of propaganda
- McClatchy updates policy on handout photos: ‘it’s important to take a stance’
- White House Pic of the Day of Media Enrages Media
- White House Photographers Protest Most Control Freak Presidential Administration Ever
- White House rejects press access complaints
- AP editors: Obama relies on staged propaganda photos
The TV business is having its worst year ever.
Audience ratings have collapsed: Aside from a brief respite during the Olympics, there has been only negative ratings growth on broadcast and cable TV since September 2011, according to Citi Research.
Media stock analysts Craig Moffett and Michael Nathanson recently noted, “The pay-TV industry has reported its worst 12-month stretch ever.” All the major TV providers lost a collective 113,000 subscribers in Q3 2013. That doesn’t sound like a huge deal — but it includes internet subscribers, too.
A feisty, London-based news outlet with a print circulation just shy of 200,000 — albeit with a far bigger footprint online with readers in the many millions — the Guardian, along with The Washington Post, was the first to publish reports based on classified data spirited out of the United States by Snowden. In the months since, the Guardian has continued to make officials here exceedingly nervous by exposing the joint operations of U.S. and British intelligence — particularly their cooperation in data collection and snooping programs involving British citizens and close allies on the European continent.
In response, the Guardian is being called to account by British authorities for jeopardizing national security. The Guardian’s top editor, Alan Rusbridger, is being forced to appear before a parliamentary committee Tuesday to explain the news outlet’s actions. The move comes after British officials ordered the destruction of hard drives at the Guardian’s London headquarters, even as top ministers have taken to the airwaves to denounce the newspaper. Scotland Yard has also suggested it may be investigating the paper for possible breaches of British law.
The government treatment of the Guardian is highlighting the very different way Britons tend to view free speech, a liberty that here is seen through the prism of the public good and privacy laws as much as the right to open expression.
Cyber Monday is a sham and an anachronism. It’s the only fake holiday that’s even stupider than Black Friday, and we should all boycott this insult to our intelligence.
Four days ago, we gave thanks for what we had. The next day—nay, that very same night—we were implored to figuratively bust the doors of Best Buy and Wal-Mart in pursuit of sales, presumably so we’ll have something new to be thankful for next year. (“I’m thankful for my wonderful wife, this delicious turkey, and that incredible extra 30 percent off I took on a not-quite-flat screen around this time a year ago.”) Then came Small Business Saturday, a well-meaning yet fundamentally annoying effort to get people to patronize all the merchants they managed to avoid on Black Friday.
Now, on our first day back at work after stuffing our faces and unstuffing our wallets, we’re supposed to “log on” for yet more unbelievable, never-to-be-seen-again markdowns on the hottest remaining items of the holiday season. Humbug.
A copy of Tory Baroness Thatcher’s will shows she left a £4.7million estate to be shared among family members.
But the £12million Central London mansion where the Iron Lady spent the last years of her life is owned by an anonymous trust registered in the British Virgin Islands – a notorious tax haven.
Through this arrangement she could have avoided up to £5million in inheritance tax – the 40% that would have been due if it was owned by a UK individual.
In the will, made in 1997, Thatcher intended to leave £1million to husband Sir Denis, but he died in 2003 – 10 years before her. Instead, her estate is split between her family, with a third each going to her twins Mark and Carol, and the remaining third shared by her grandchildren when they reach 25.
Expert Richard Murphy, of Tax Research, said: “It has always been strange that Margaret Thatcher, that most British of prime ministers, enjoyed the benefits of a property registered in the British Virgin Islands.
“It is possible that Denis Thatcher set up the trust or other offshore arrangements in order to save tax.”
A massive fire has destroyed one of Bangladesh’s largest garment factories, which supplies major Western brands such as Gap and Walmart, after a group of angry workers torched the facility in response to rumours that a colleague died in a police shooting.
According to authorities, a number of workers set fire to their own factory, a ten-storey Standard Group building at Gazipur, 40 km from the capital, Dhaka, even though police officials have dismissed the shooting claim as ‘baseless’.
“We are investigating to find out the reason for this heinous act,” said Mohammad Kamruzzaman, the officer in charge of the Joydevpur police station that guards the area, according to a number media reports.
The rumoured shooting reportedly occured at a road-block demonstration against the factory by workers, as police attempted to break up the crowds.
The war on democracy: How corporations and spy agencies use “security” to defend profiteering and crush activism
A stunning new report compiles extensive evidence showing how some of the world’s largest corporations have partnered with private intelligence firms and government intelligence agencies to spy on activist and nonprofit groups. Environmental activism is a prominent though not exclusive focus of these activities.
The report by the Center for Corporate Policy (CCP) in Washington DC titled Spooky Business: Corporate Espionage against Nonprofit Organizations draws on a wide range of public record evidence, including lawsuits and journalistic investigations. It paints a disturbing picture of a global corporate espionage programme that is out of control, with possibly as much as one in four activists being private spies.
The report argues that a key precondition for corporate espionage is that the nonprofit in question:
“… impairs or at least threatens a company’s assets or image sufficiently.”
[...] The CCP report notes that:
“A diverse array of nonprofits have been targeted by espionage, including environmental, anti-war, public interest, consumer, food safety, pesticide reform, nursing home reform, gun control, social justice, animal rights and arms control groups.
Many of the world’s largest corporations and their trade associations – including the US Chamber of Commerce, Walmart, Monsanto, Bank of America, Dow Chemical, Kraft, Coca-Cola, Chevron, Burger King, McDonald’s, Shell, BP, BAE, Sasol, Brown & Williamson and E.ON – have been linked to espionage or planned espionage against nonprofit organizations, activists and whistleblowers.”