* TWITTER ENABLES CENSORSHIP, BOYOTT BEGINS
Source: Common Dreams Staff
Published on Friday, January 27, 2012 by Common Dreams
Social media website Twitter announced Thursday that it will begin blocking certain messages (tweets) on a country-to-country basis. Twitter has been known as a vehicle for free speech as well as a source for social and political organizing — notably during the protests in 2011 from the Egyptian uprising to Occupy Wall Street. Governments will now request Twitter to take down certain ‘illegal’ tweets, which will be blocked from its citizens but may still be visible by users outside of the censored country. Many have now raised concerns that this will open the door for repressive governmental censorship, in some ways defeating the benefits of Twitter all together.
This is a sudden reverse in policy for Twitter who has previously boasted its capacity for free speech.
Users across the world are beginning the protest and a Twitter boycott has been planned for tomorrow. […]
* FORGET SOPA AND PIPA. OBAMA SIGNED ACTA, RESCUING AND WEAKENING CONGRESS AGAIN
By Rob Kall, OpEdNews
[…] Last fall, after President Obama signed the US on to the act, Senator Ron Wyden wrote a letter protesting the signing. The letter said …
Asking why the administration believes the Anti-Counterfeit Trade Agreement (ACTA) does not require Congress’s formal approval. According to legal experts, cited by Wyden, if the USTR ratifies ACTA without Congress’ consent it may be circumventing Congress’s Constitutional authority to regulate international commerce and protect intellectual property and would therefore represent a significant expansion of the executive branch’s authority over international agreements.
“It may be possible for the U.S. to implement ACTA or any other trade agreement, once validly entered, without legislation if the agreement requires no change in U.S. law,” Wyden writes.“But regardless of whether the agreement requires changes in U.S. law”the executive branch lacks constitutional authority to enter a binding international agreement covering issues delegated by the Constitution to Congress’ authority, absent congressional approval.”
ACTA makes SOPA and PIPA look like small problems. It allows the most repressive nations to demand that internet service providers (ISPs) remove content or even whole websites on demand. Picture China demanding removal of a website criticizing some policy or action. Google was just about shut down in China in response to Chinese demands. Imagine if China could have the same chilling effect in the US and the rest of the world. […]
* ACTA EXPLAINED (VIDEO)
By Anonymous, youtube
* KNOWLEDGE IS A UNIVERSAL NATURAL RESOURCE — AND LOCKING IT UP HURTS EVERYONE
By Mike Masnick, TechDirt
from the time-to-face-facts dept
One of the more important points in understanding some of the fights over the ridiculousness of today’s copyright and patent laws is to recognize how knowledge (information) is a natural resource. It is the input that makes other great things. Economist Paul Romer’s famous research really showed how knowledge and information as a resource is what creates economic growth. Once you recognize that fact, you begin to run into problems when you think about locking up that natural resource. Think of other natural resources. Do we think the world is better off if there’s a greater supply of each of those? An abundance? If we have an abundance of wheat, that’s a good thing. If we have an abundance of energy, that’s a good thing. There may be side effects of such abundances, but the overall abundance is something worth cherishing.
The problem, however, comes when you have a new abundance where once there was scarcity. And that’s because anywhere there’s a scarcity, someone has built a business model based on that very scarcity. But that is a business model issue. Years ago, most economies rejected the idea of mercantilism, where governments would purposely build up monopolies and artificial scarcities, because of the realization that, in the long run, everyone was better off with a competitive market. The guy who had the sugar monopoly may have hated it — but everyone else was much, much better off.
And, so, we go back to knowledge and information. Unlike most other resources, knowledge is not just abundant… it is infinite. As Thomas Jefferson once famously wrote:
If nature has made any one thing less susceptible than all others of exclusive property, it is the action of the thinking power called an idea, which an individual may exclusively possess as long as he keeps it to himself; but the moment it is divulged, it forces itself into the possession of every one, and the receiver cannot dispossess himself of it. Its peculiar character, too, is that no one possesses the less, because every other possesses the whole of it. He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me.
That ideas should freely spread from one to another over the globe, for the moral and mutual instruction of man, and improvement of his condition, seems to have been peculiarly and benevolently designed by nature, when she made them, like fire, expansible over all space, without lessening their density in any point, and like the air in which we breathe, move, and have our physical being, incapable of confinement or exclusive appropriation. Inventions then cannot, in nature, be a subject of property. […]
* THE SILENT ANSCHLUSS: GERMANY FORMALLY REQUESTS THAT GREECE HAND OVER ITS FISCAL INDEPENDENCE
By Tyler Durden, zerohedge
Update 2: the first local headlines are coming in now, from Spiegel: Griechenland soll Kontrolle über Haushalt abgeben (loosely Greece must give up domestic control), and Kathimerini: Germany proposes Greece relinquish some fiscal powers, sources say
Update: Formal Greek annexation order attached.
It was tried previously (several times) under “slightly different” circumstances, and failed. Yet when it comes to taking over a country without spilling even one drop of blood, and converting its citizens into debt slaves, Germany’s Merkel may have just succeeded where so many of her predecessors failed. According to a Reuters exclusive, “Germany is pushing for Greece to relinquish control over its budget policy to European institutions [ZH: read ze Germans] as part of discussions over a second rescue package, a European source told Reuters on Friday.” Reuters add: “There are internal discussions within the Euro group and proposals, one of which comes from Germany, on how to constructively treat country aid programs that are continuously off track, whether this can simply be ignored or whether we say that’s enough,” the source said.’ So while the great distraction that is the Charles Dallara “negotiation” with Hedge Funds continues (as its outcome is irrelevant: a Greece default is assured at this point), the real development once again was behind the scenes where Germany was cleanly and clinically taking over Greece. Because while today it is the fiscal apparatus, tomorrow it is the legislative. As for the executive: who cares. At that point Goldman will merely appoint one of its retired partners as Greek president and Greece will become the first 21st century German, pardon, European colony. But at least it will have its precious euro. We can’t wait until Greek citizens find out about this quiet coup.
More from Reuters:
The source added that under the proposals European institutions already operating in Greece should be given “certain decision-making powers” over fiscal policy.
“This could be carried out even more stringently through external expertise,” the source said.
The German demands for greater control over Greek budget policy comes amid intense talks to finalize a second 130-billion euro rescue package for Greece, which has repeatedly failed to meet the fiscal targets set out for it by its international lenders.
It is likely to spark a strong reaction in Athens ahead of elections expected to take place in April. […]
* THE INTERNATIONAL CONTEXT OF GLOBAL OUTRAGE
Source: SHARE THE WORLD’S RESOURCES – STWR
|The International Context of Global Outrage|
|The future of the Arab spring and the Indignados and Occupy Wall Street movements is very difficult to foresee, but one thing is certain: the fight to break the infernal cycle of debt is a vital one. If it is not energetically pursued, there is little chance of overcoming the next neo-liberal offensive, writes Éric Toussaint.
* THOMAS FRIEDMAN WANTS TO TAKE AWAY THE WEEKEND
By Mark Engler, Dissent
The labor movement brought you the weekend. Thomas Friedman wants to take it away.
Even as he serves as a leading champion of corporate globalization, the New York Times columnist and flat-world author has a way of highlighting how ordinary people hardly have reason to be thrilled by what transnational capitalism has on offer. Case in point: in his most recent column, Friedman argues that “Average is Over.” Those with merely par-for-the-course skills and education, he tells us, are bound to find their jobs replaced by foreign workers or by new technology.
In the past, workers with average skills, doing an average job, could earn an average lifestyle. But, today, average is officially over. Being average just won’t earn you what it used to. It can’t when so many more employers have so much more access to so much more above average cheap foreign labor, cheap robotics, cheap software, cheap automation, and cheap genius. Therefore, everyone needs to find their extra—their unique value contribution that makes them stand out in whatever is their field of employment. Average is over.
We should have seen this coming, especially since Friedman used the same title for a chapter in his latest book (That Used to Be Us, with Michael Mandelbaum). But the column still irks.
Many people (Marie Burns at the NYTimes Examiner being just one) have already beaten me to the inevitable Lake Wobegon reference. Others, such as Dean Baker, have taken on some of the economic misconceptions in the column—about productivity, for instance. (In a well-aimed parting shot, Baker remarks that “average” is apparently not over among high-paid professionals; “Thomas Friedman does a good enough job of demonstrating this directly twice a week in the NYT.”) […]
* CLOUDED TITLE: THE GROSS ILLEGALITY OF MERS
By Barry Ritholtz, The Big Picture
“What’s happened is that, almost overnight, we’ve switched from democracy in real-property recording to oligarchy in real-property recording. There was no court case behind this, no statute from Congress or the state legislatures. It was accomplished in a private corporate decision. The banks just did it.”
— Christopher Peterson, a law professor at the University of Utah, on the “wholesale transfer of mortgages to a privatized database” and why it’s no coincidence more Americans are being foreclosed upon than any time since the Great Depression.
What makes the article so remarkable is it has one of the most powerful anti-MERS arguments I have ever read in the mainstream media. In addition to the quote above, there is this:
At the heart of the clouded-title problem is a Virginia-based company, recently much in the national news, called Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems. MERS was created in 1995 as a privately held venture of the major mortgage-finance operators, chief among them the government-sponsored mortgaging entities Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Its stated purpose was to manage a confidential electronic registry for the tracking of the sale of mortgage loans between lenders, which could now place loans under MERS’s name to avoid filing the paperwork normally required whenever mortgage assignments changed hands. No longer would the traffickers in mortgages have to document their transactions with county clerks, nor would they have to pay the many and varied courthouse fees for such transactions. Instead, MERS was listed in local recording offices as the “mortgagee of record,” the in-name-only owner, a so-called nominee for the lender, so that MERS would effectively “own” the loan where the public record was concerned, while the lenders traded it back and forth.
This centralized database facilitated the buying and selling of mortgage debt at great speed and greatly reduced cost. It was a key innovation in expediting the packaging of mortgage-backed securities. Soon after the registry launched, in 1999, the Wall Street ratings agencies pronounced the system sound. “The legal mechanism set up to put creditors on notice of a mortgage is valid,” as was “the ability to foreclose,” assured Moody’s. That same year, Lehman Brothers issued the first AAA-rated mortgage-backed security built out of MERS mortgages. By the end of 2002, MERS was registering itself as the owner of 21,000 loans every day. Five years later, at the peak of the housing bubble, MERS registered some two thirds of all home loans in the United States.
Without the efficiencies of MERS there probably would never have been a mortgage-finance bubble.
After the housing market collapsed, however, MERS found itself under attack in courts across the country. MERS had singlehandedly unraveled centuries of precedent in property titling and mortgage recordation, and judges in state appellate and federal bankruptcy courts in more than a dozen jurisdictions—the primary venues where real estate cases are decided— determined that the company did not have the right to foreclose on the mortgages it held.
In 2009, Kansas became one of the first states to have its supreme court rule against MERS. In Landmark National Bank v. Boyd A. Kesler, the court concluded that MERS failed to follow Kansas statute: the company had not publicly recorded the chain of title with the relevant registers of deeds in counties across the state. A mortgage contract, the justices wrote, consists of two documents: the deed of trust, which secures the house as collateral on a loan, and the promissory note, which indebts the borrower to the lender. The two documents were sometimes literally inseparable: under the rules of the paper recording system at county court-houses, they were tied together with a ribbon or seal to be undone only once the note had been paid off. “In the event that a mortgage loan somehow separates interests of the note and the deed of trust, with the deed of trust lying with some independent entity,” said the Kansas court, “the mortgage may become unenforceable.”
MERS purported to be the independent entity holding the deed of trust. The note of indebtedness, however, was sold within the MERS system, or “assigned” among various lenders. This was in keeping with MERS’s policy: it was not a bank, made no loans, had no money to lend, and did not collect loan payments. It had no interest in the loan, only in the deed of trust. The company—along with the lenders that had used it to assign ownership of notes—had thus entered into a vexing legal bind. “There is no evidence of record that establishes that MERS either held the promissory note or was given the authority [to] assign the note,” the Kansas court found, quoting a decision from a district court in California. Not only did MERS fail to legally assign the notes, the company presented “no evidence as to who owns the note.”
Similar cases were brought before courts in Idaho, Massachusetts, Missouri, Nevada, New York, Oregon, Utah, and other states. “It appears that every MERS mortgage,” a New York State Supreme Court judge recently told me, “is defective, a piece of crap.” The language in the judgments against MERS became increasingly denunciatory. MERS’s arguments for standing in foreclosure were described as “absurd,” forcing courts to move through “a syntactical fog into an impassable swamp.” (emphasis added) […]
* DESPITE SALARY CAPS, TREASURY APPROVED LUCRATIVE EXEC PAYOUTS FOR DOZENS OF BAILED-OUT FIRMS (VIDEO)
Source: Democracy Now!
New York Daily News columnist and Democracy Now! co-host Juan Gonzalez reports the Treasury Department has approved payouts exceeding $5 million for 49 executives at firms that most benefited from the Wall Street bailout. The executives’ pay came despite the $500,000 salary cap established under the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP).
To watch the complete daily, independent news hour, read the transcript, download the podcast, and for the additional reports, visit http://www.democracynow.org.
* LANNY BREUER, TASK FORCE LEADER, DOESN’T BOTHER SHOWING UP FOR MORTGAGE FRAUD PRESS CONFERENCE
By Matt Stoller, Naked Capitalism
Eric Holder has come out with details on the task force. But first, let’s look at a smoke signal. At this press conference announcing the task force, Holder had to apologize for Lanny Breuer, Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division, one of the key leaders of the investigative unit. Breuer, you see, couldn’t make it to the press conference because he was traveling. That’s how important this task force is to Breuer, so important that his travel schedule couldn’t brook interference. Such a bureaucratic snub has been no doubt noticed by the various underlings at the DOJ and the US Attorney offices.
Ok, let’s go to the substance.
I am pleased to report that this Working Group has considerable Department resources behind it as it builds on activities that have been underway through the broader Task Force. Currently, 15 attorneys, investigators, and analysts – here at Main Justice and throughout our U.S. Attorneys’ Offices – are supporting the investigative efforts that this Working Group will be focusing on going forward. And the FBI has assigned 10 agents and analysts to work with the group immediately. In the coming weeks, another 30 attorneys, investigators, and support staff from U.S. Attorneys’ Offices will join the Group’s work.
So that’s a total of 55 people, 10 of whom are FBI agents. Let’s do a few comparisons. During the Savings and Loan crisis, Bill Black reminds us that there were about a thousand FBI agents working on the various cases. That’s one hundred times the number of people working on a scandal that is about forty times larger and far more complex. […]
* ALEC BILL BEHIND PUSH TO REQUIRE CLIMATE DENIAL INSTRUCTION IN SCHOOLS
By Stephen Horn, desmogblog.com
On January 16, the Los Angeles Times revealed that anti-science bills have been popping up over the past several years in statehouses across the U.S., mandating the teaching of climate change denial or “skepticism” as a credible “theoretical alternative” to human caused climate change came.
“Texas and Louisiana have introduced education standards that require educators to teach climate change denial as a valid scientific position. South Dakota and Utah passed resolutions denying climate change. Tennessee and Oklahoma also have introduced legislation to give climate change skeptics a place in the classroom.”
What the excellent Times coverage missed is that key language in these anti-science bills all eminated from a single source: the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC.
ALEC Exposed: No, Not Alec Baldwin*
In summer 2011, “ALEC Exposed,” a project of the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD)**, taught those alarmed about the power that corporations wield in the American political sphere an important lesson: when bills with a similar DNA pop up in various statehouses nationwide, it’s no coincidence.
Explaining the nature and origins of the project, CMD wrote, “[CMD] unveiled a trove of over 800 ‘model’ bills and resolutions secretly voted on by corporations and politicians through the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). These bills reveal the corporate collaboration reshaping our democracy, state by state.”
CMD continued, “Before our publication of this trove of bills, it has been difficult to trace the numerous controversial and extreme provisions popping up in legislatures across the country directly to ALEC and its corporate underwriters.”
CMD explained that ALEC conducts its operations in the most shadowy of manners (emphases mine):
“Through ALEC, behind closed doors, corporations hand state legislators the changes to the law they desire that directly benefit their bottom line. Along with legislators, corporations have membership in ALEC. Corporations sit on all nine ALEC task forces and vote with legislators to approve ‘model’ bills…Corporations fund almost all of ALEC‘s operations. Participating legislators, overwhelmingly conservative Republicans, then bring those proposals home and introduce them in statehouses across the land as their own brilliant ideas and important public policy innovations—without disclosing that corporations crafted and voted on the bills.”
So, what is the name of the “model bill” this time around? […]
* FIGHTING BACK AGAINST CORPORATE PERSONHOOD
By Bill Moyers, Truthout
Rarely have so few imposed such damage on so many. When five conservative members of the Supreme Court handed for-profit corporations the right to secretly flood political campaigns with tidal waves of cash on the eve of an election, they moved America closer to outright plutocracy, where political power derived from wealth is devoted to the protection of wealth. It is now official: Just as they have adorned our athletic stadiums and multiple places of public assembly with their logos, corporations can officially put their brand on the government of the United States as well as the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of the fifty states.
The decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission giving “artificial entities” the same rights of “free speech” as living, breathing human beings will likely prove as infamous as the Dred Scott ruling of 1857 that opened the unsettled territories of the United States to slavery whether future inhabitants wanted it or not. It took a civil war and another hundred years of enforced segregation and deprivation before the effects of that ruling were finally exorcised from our laws. God spare us civil strife over the pernicious consequences of Citizens United, but unless citizens stand their ground, America will divide even more swiftly into winners and losers with little pity for the latter.
Citizens United is but the latest battle in the class war waged for thirty years from the top down by the corporate and political right. Instead of creating a fair and level playing field for all, government would become the agent of the powerful and privileged. Public institutions, laws, and regulations, as well as the ideas, norms, and beliefs that aimed to protect the common good and helped create America’s iconic middle class, would become increasingly vulnerable. The Nobel Laureate economist Robert Solow succinctly summed up results: “The redistribution of wealth in favor of the wealthy and of power in favor of the powerful.” In the wake of Citizens United, popular resistance is all that can prevent the richest economic interests in the country from buying the democratic process lock, stock, and barrel. […]
* INVERTED TOTALITARIANISM
By Sheldon Wolin, The Nation
The war on Iraq has so monopolized public attention as to obscure the regime change taking place in the Homeland. We may have invaded Iraq to bring in democracy and bring down a totalitarian regime, but in the process our own system may be moving closer to the latter and further weakening the former. The change has been intimated by the sudden popularity of two political terms rarely applied earlier to the American political system. “Empire” and “superpower” both suggest that a new system of power, concentrated and expansive, has come into existence and supplanted the old terms. “Empire” and “superpower” accurately symbolize the projection of American power abroad, but for that reason they obscure the internal consequences. Consider how odd it would sound if we were to refer to “the Constitution of the American Empire” or “superpower democracy.” The reason they ring false is that “constitution” signifies limitations on power, while “democracy” commonly refers to the active involvement of citizens with their government and the responsiveness of government to its citizens. For their part, “empire” and “superpower” stand for the surpassing of limits and the dwarfing of the citizenry.
The increasing power of the state and the declining power of institutions intended to control it has been in the making for some time. The party system is a notorious example. The Republicans have emerged as a unique phenomenon in American history of a fervently doctrinal party, zealous, ruthless, antidemocratic and boasting a near majority. As Republicans have become more ideologically intolerant, the Democrats have shrugged off the liberal label and their critical reform-minded constituencies to embrace centrism and footnote the end of ideology. In ceasing to be a genuine opposition party the Democrats have smoothed the road to power of a party more than eager to use it to promote empire abroad and corporate power at home. Bear in mind that a ruthless, ideologically driven party with a mass base was a crucial element in all of the twentieth-century regimes seeking total power.
Representative institutions no longer represent voters. Instead, they have been short-circuited, steadily corrupted by an institutionalized system of bribery that renders them responsive to powerful interest groups whose constituencies are the major corporations and wealthiest Americans. The courts, in turn, when they are not increasingly handmaidens of corporate power, are consistently deferential to the claims of national security. Elections have become heavily subsidized non-events that typically attract at best merely half of an electorate whose information about foreign and domestic politics is filtered through corporate-dominated media. Citizens are manipulated into a nervous state by the media’s reports of rampant crime and terrorist networks, by thinly veiled threats of the Attorney General and by their own fears about unemployment. What is crucially important here is not only the expansion of governmental power but the inevitable discrediting of constitutional limitations and institutional processes that discourages the citizenry and leaves them politically apathetic. […]
* WHETHER OF NOT THE U.S. IS DECLINING IS THE WRONG QUESTION
By Stephen M. Walt, Foreign Policy
[…] The United States remains very powerful — especially when compared with some putative opponents like Iran — but its capacity to lead security and economic orders in every corner of the world has been diminished by failures in Iraq (and eventually, Afghanistan), by the burden of debt accumulated over the past decade, by the economic melt-down in 2007-2008, and by the emergence of somewhat stronger and independent actors in Brazil, Turkey, India, and elsewhere. One might also point to eroding national infrastructure and an educational system that impresses hardly anyone. Moreover, five decades of misguided policies have badly tarnished America’s image in many parts of the world, and especially in the Middle East and Central Asia. The erosion of authoritarian rule in the Arab world will force new governments to pay more attention to popular sentiment — which is generally hostile to the broad thrust of U.S. policy in the region — and the United States will be less able to rely on close relations with tame monarchs or military dictators henceforth. If it the United States remains far and away the world’s strongest state, its ability to get its way in world affairs is declining. […]