Published: Thursday 28 June 2012
Occupiers from around the country will gather to discuss the future of the movement.

 

Since the end of 2011, when police shut down most encampments, the Occupy movement’s future has been uncertain. Without the long-term occupations that gave the movement its name, where would participants meet and make their presence felt? Would the movement be able to sustain itself without these rallying points? Would it release policy demands or try to bring down a big bank?

The upcoming five-day Occupy National Gathering in Philadelphia will address some of these questions, but without attempting to speak for Occupy Wall Street, the Occupy movement as a whole, or anyone beyond those in attendance.

“I think this could ...

Published: Tuesday 8 May 2012
“Lawsuits and other legal actions in four states turned up evidence that AT&T and Verizon charged local school districts much higher rates than it gave to similar customers.”

After 15 years of neglect, federal regulators are finally planning to tell phone companies selling services to schools and libraries how to comply with a rule requiring them to charge bargain prices.


Last week ProPublica revealed that the Federal Communications Commission had failed to provide guidance for the low pricing rule case since the 1997 launch of the school program, called E-Rate. Lawsuits and other legal actions in four states turned up evidence that AT&T and Verizon charged local school districts much higher rates than it gave to similar customers or more than what the program allowed.


The preferential pricing rule, called lowest corresponding price, was designed to give schools a leg up in the complicated world of voice and data pricing, and to make sure school children had access to the Internet. But despite evidence of inflated pricing, the FCC never brought an enforcement case against a service provider for violating the rule.



While the main victims of this failure are the nation's schoolchildren who receive suboptimal broadband access, there's another set of victims: the vast majority of people with a cellular or landline phone contract. That's because the program provides a subsidy to schools to help them pay for the telecom services. Telephone consumers pay for this subsidy, usually through a “Universal Service Fund” charge on individual phone bills. The subsidy fund is capped at about $2.25 billion a year.



Schools and libraries draw on this fund to help pay for the services provided by the telecom companies — virtually all schools are eligible, but the poorer the school, the more it can draw. Here's the rub: Requests for help almost always exceed the available funding. So when phone companies charge inflated rates to ...

Published: Saturday 21 April 2012
For most Americans, April is a month marked by terrible stress, paper pushing and a last minute mad dash to get the taxes finished before April 15 (or the 17th, this year).

I am big fan of the post office in general and of my local post office in particular. I go there as often as I can (honestly, I do). But, when I needed stamps on Monday, I was not prepared for the line snaking out the door. I had completely forgotten about tax day! I girded myself for a long wait, but the clerks were the very picture of efficiency and I was in and out and all stocked up on bonsai stamps in ten minutes.

While I stood in line, I thought about the peculiarity of our tax system. For most Americans, April is a month marked by terrible stress, paper pushing and a last minute mad dash to get the taxes finished before April 15 (or the 17th, this year). People plan and pine and worry and most pay a sizable percentage (16-20 percent even for people of lower income brackets) of their annual income in taxes.

Corporations?  Not so much. The New York Times reported last March that for 2010, General Electric paid no taxes on $5.1 billion in U.S.-based profits. Behemoth Bank of America made $4.4 billion in 2009 and got back a very tidy tax return from the federal government — $2.3 billion. Most Americans are lucky if they can pay off an overdue credit card bill (probably from Bank of America) or treat themselves to a nice dinner out or weekend away with their tax returns. Verizon (can you hear me now?) “earned” 

Published: Sunday 12 February 2012
“Public interest groups have waged a spirited campaign to prevent a corporate takeover of the Internet.”

AT&T spared no expense in 2011 when it sought government approval of its $39 billion deal to acquire T-Mobile. The merger would have created a duopoly, leaving AT&T and Verizon in control of nearly 80 percent of the wireless market.

AT&T would then have been able to set higher prices, at a cost to people on modest incomes who depend on their cell phones to connect with work, family, and the details of modern life.

The poor and people of color would have been hard-hit. The National Hispanic Media Coalition, for example, said the merger would increase the cost of wireless services for Latinos. And the Center for Media Justice noted that the merger would have resulted in “fewer options and higher prices” for people of color, who disproportionately depend on access to the Internet through mobile devices.

Knowing there would be opposition to this deal, AT&T began doling out money in Washington, D.C. The company spent $16 million on lobbying during the first nine months of 2011 in its drive to pass the merger, dished out $2 million in campaign contributions to both Democratic and ...

Published: Saturday 3 September 2011
Since this Depression began at the end of 2007, America’s potential labor force – working-age people who want jobs – has grown by over 7 million, but since then the number of Americans with jobs has shrunk by more than 300,000

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports today no jobs were created in August. Zero. Nada.

Well, not quite. The strike at Verizon reduced the labor force by 45,000. Minnesota government employees returned to work, adding 22,000. So in reality, America added 23,000 jobs. Almost zero.

In reality, worse than zero. We need 125,000 a month merely to keep up with population growth. So the hole continues to deepen.

Since this Depression began at the end of 2007, America’s potential labor force – working-age people who want jobs – has grown by over 7 million. But since then the number of Americans with jobs has shrunk by more than 300,000.

If this doesn’t prompt President Obama to unveil a bold jobs plan next Thursday, I don’t know what will.

The problem is on the demand side. Consumers (whose spending is 70 percent of the economy) can’t boost the economy on their own. They’re still too burdened by debt, especially on homes that are worth less than their mortgages. Their jobs are disappearing, their pay is dropping, their medical bills are soaring.

And businesses won’t hire without more sales.

So we’re in a vicious cycle.

Republicans continue to claim businesses aren’t hiring because they’re uncertain about regulatory costs. Or they can’t find the skilled workers they need.

Baloney. If these were the reasons businesses weren’t hiring – and demand were growing – you’d expect companies to make more use of their current employees. The length of the average workweek would be increasing.

But the length of the average workweek has been dropping. In August it declined for the third month in a row, to 34.2 hours. That’s back to where it was at the start of the year – barely longer than what it was at its shortest point two years ago (33.7 hours in June 2009).

It’s demand, stupid.

So what does a ...

Published: Tuesday 9 August 2011
Clean Up Your Act, Verizon!
At 12:01am on Sunday over 45,000 Verizon employees in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states went on strike as a result of failed negotiations between workers and management on Saturday evening. The collective action has been initiated and organized by the Communications Workers of America (CWA). Late last week management at Verizon Communications Inc. demanded that the workers accept a bevy of concessions. According to CNET, the company is attempting to “change employment contract terms to allow it to more easily fire workers, tie pay increases to job performance, halt pension accruals this year, and require union workers to contribute to health-plan premiums.” Most participating in the strike are field technicians whose base pay, by Verizon’s own admission, begins at $19,864/yr. Meanwhile over the past year, Ivan Seidenberg, the company’s CEO has witnessed his compensation burgeon by more than 4% to $18.1 million. Know this: Seidenberg accrues, on average, 947 times more than the field technicians he employs. Critics of the strike argue that slashing worker benefits is a necessary cost-saving measure during difficult financial times. Perhaps; but how then does Verizon explain its demands in light of its record profits? Verizon’s quarterly report released on January 10, 2011, claimed that that its profits nearly doubled from the same point in 2010 ($4.65 billion compared to $2.37 billion). Then, on April 21, 2011 Bloomberg reported that the company’s profits “more than tripled after Verizon began offering services on Apple’s iPhone. If these figures aren’t troubling enough, Verizon paid an effective corporate tax rate of 19.2% last year, a rate significantly lower than my federal income tax rate and I’m a graduate student. What makes this story so remarkable is precisely that it isn’t. Whether it’s Verizon or Boeing or Starbucks the capitalist mantra has changed very little over the past few centuries: privatize profit, socialize debt. Repeat. Is it ...
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