Thursday, April 26, 2012

Congress' newest assault on freedom: CISPA

In the past year we've seen an unrelenting assault against our freedoms. Some of these have been successful, such as the 2012 NDAA and HR 347. Others, like SOPA, have been stopped, at least for the time being. The newest threat is the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act. Who is this supposed to protect us from? Ourselves, of course. CISPA gives the government vast powers in order to fight "cybercrime" (including downloading music) to gather information about you, share it with other agencies, and keep it forever. As the ACLU points out:
Here's how CISPA's scheme might work: imagine you are emailing your doctor from your Gmail account about a medical condition. Your doctor pulls up your medical records from his cloud storage server and sends them your way. Somewhere in that communication, a virus crops up. Under CISPA, Google could send your emails, including the electronic copy of your medical records, to the NSA, so they can gather information on the virus. But, Google would be under no obligation whatsoever to scrub out your private details — which have nothing to do with the virus. And now your medical records are in government hands indefinitely — and the government can use them for all sorts of unrelated purposes like the undefined "national security."
There's a great infographic about CISPA here. Educate yourself about what they're trying to do to our freedoms. The assaults against freedom won't end, but if we stay alert, we can stand up to them.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Filing taxes should be easy - but lobbyists won't let that happen

Matt Stoller over at Republic Report has done a good job of shining light on Intuit's lobbying efforts to keep our tax filing from being simplified:

In other words, Intuit will lose a lot of money if the government makes it easier to file your taxes.  So how did Intuit manage to prevent the implementation of Obama’s campaign promise?  Here’s what Intuit had to say about its strategy. 
"Although the Free File Alliance has kept the federal government from being a direct competitor to Intuit’s tax offerings, it has fostered additional online competition and may cause us to lose significant revenue opportunities. The current agreement with the Free File Alliance is scheduled to expire in October 2014. We anticipate that governmental encroachment at both the federal and state levels may present a continued competitive threat to our business for the foreseeable future.” 
What is the Free File Alliance?  It’s a coalition of 14 software makers that have signed an agreement with the IRS to provide tax preparation software to the public.  You see, the IRS was mandated to provide free online tax prep services to the public, so it outsourced this to existing commercial tax preparers.  This agreement was first signed with the Bush administration IRS in 2002, renewed in 2005, and then renewed again under the Obama administration in November, 2009.  Even today, despite the Obama campaign promise and demonstrated success around the world, the Free File Alliance indicates on its web page that “Treasury has indicated it does not want the IRS to enter into the tax software business.”  And Intuit said on its investor report that this alliance “has kept the federal government from being a direct competitor to Intuit’s tax offerings.”
How do other countries handle things? Stoller has picked out examples from a Reddit conversation on the topic. A number of countries do the taxes for the individual who only has to review them. Take Norway, for example:
In Norway I get a letter in the mail detailing my income, how much income tax I paid over the last year, and if I owe, or are owed, anything. If I do not disagree with the government estimate I can do nothing and it just goes through on default. If I am owed anything I get that transferred to my account in June. The additional documentation and papers that come with the tax forms are for any alternations you feel should be made.
The both articles over at Republic Report really should be read. Once again we see that the problems in our country aren't inevitable. They are the result of deep rooted corruption. We should not stand for this, nor will we.

Sunday political shows' guests: 70% Republican, 86% male, 92% white

Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting monitored the guests on Sunday political shows from June 2011 to February 2012. They found that the guests for one-on-one interviews were 70% Republican, 86% male and 92% white. US government sources accounted for 47% of appearances, and journalists accounted for 43%.

The return of debtor's prisons

Several states are serving as enforcers for debt collectors, on the taxpayer's dollar:
Although the U.S. abolished debtors' prisons in the 1830s, more than a third of U.S. states allow the police to haul people in who don't pay all manner of debts, from bills for health care services to credit card and auto loans. In parts of Illinois, debt collectors commonly use publicly funded courts, sheriff's deputies, and country jails to pressure people who owe even small amounts to pay up, according to the AP...."Creditors have been manipulating the court system to extract money from the unemployed, veterans, even seniors who rely solely on their benefits to get by each month," Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan said last month in a statement voicing support for the legislation. "Too many people have been thrown in jail simply because they're too poor to pay their debts. We cannot allow these illegal abuses to continue."
States can also do this to extract more money from the poor:
According to the ACLU: "The sad truth is that debtors' prisons are flourishing today, more than two decades after the Supreme Court prohibited imprisoning those who are too poor to pay their legal debts. In this era of shrinking budgets, state and local governments have turned aggressively to using the threat and reality of imprisonment to squeeze revenue out of the poorest defendants who appear in their courts."
One thing to keep in mind is that creditors will often charge off old debt, meaning they get a tax break from it. Then they will sell it off at a substantial discount to a credit collection agency. Is the agency telling you that you have to pay them $3,000? They may have paid only $500 to own your debt (or less) - an option you yourself weren't given.

These corrupt practices by business entities in collusion with the government are bringing this country down. We're going to have to mobilize at all levels to stop this.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Our primary debt problem? Healthcare costs.

This analysis of the 2012 budget by the Bipartisan Policy Center does a good job at dealing with some of the major issues facing our economy. One of its most important points is that in the long run, the main threat to our budget is going to be the skyrocketing cost of healthcare. If we can get that under control, we should be in good shape. If we can't, we'll have a crisis on our hands.

This isn't surprising, considering that the US spends much more money on healthcare than other advanced countries:

Our higher spending doesn't seem to give us better healthcare. Perhaps we could learn from these other countries and get our budget back on track.

Undocumented immigrants paid $11.2 billion in taxes in 2010

A study by the Institute of Taxation and Policy estimates that undocumented immigrants paid $11.2 billion in taxes in 2010. Everyone pays sales taxes, property taxes are hard to avoid, and there's a sizable proportion of undocumented workers that pay income taxes as well (particularly useful for individuals that are hoping to become citizens).

Sunday, April 22, 2012

CIA, MI6 captured prominent Libyan dissident for Gaddafi

In 2004, the CIA, with help from MI6, captured Libyan dissident Abdel Hakim Belhadj - along with his pregnant wife - and handed him over to Gaddafi's regime. The regime imprisoned and tortured him, and finally released him in 2010. When the Libyan civil war erupted, Belhadj joined the rebels, and is now one of the most prominent members of of the National Transitional Council. So we helped Gaddafi against Belhadj (as part of the War on Terror), then helped Belhadj against Gaddafi (to remove a tyrant).

Whenever you're told about the need to go to war, remember how so often today's enemies are tomorrow's allies, and today's allies are tomorrow's enemies.

Friday, April 20, 2012

The biggest holder of US government debt? The US government.

With all the talk about US debt these days, we should look at the actual numbers involved. This article lists the largest holders of US government debt - the people the government owes money to. And the group the government owes the most money to is the government itself, holding $6.328 billion dollars, or about 48.6% 38.6% of the debt. China holds around 7% (foreigners owing ~32% of the total debt).

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Why Keynes was right

This article from Forbes tries to debunk Keynes but ends up agreeing with him:

He backed his point with a quote from the 1936 General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money, in which John Maynard Keynes suggested that the government could raise employment, real income and capital wealth merely by burying money under rubbish heaps and inviting private enterprise to dig it up....
This is most easily seen using the model of a commodity money system, such as one based on gold. When people demand more money, rather than consumer or investment goods, it increases the demand for labor to mine, move and monetize gold.... 
The argument for the case of money that isn't convertible into gold, such as our own, is analogous.