Bloomberg: More dangerous than the Koch brothers

From Salon:

It’s one thing to be a rich, dogmatic media owner. To also be a self-financed politician and movement leader? Scary

Tuesday, Jul 16, 2013

In the trial following their overthrow that led to the execution of Romania’s communist dictator Nicolae Ceacescu and his wife, Elena, a darkly comic moment occurred when Elena told the prosecutor: “Such impudence! I am a member and chairman of the Academy of Sciences! You cannot talk to me in such a way!” A few lines later in the transcript, her husband pointed out: “She was not a deputy prime minister, but the first deputy prime minister.”

One of the things that distinguishes a democratic republic from a banana republic is the fact that the president or first lady is not also head of the air force, chairman of the public utility commission, owner of the biggest bank in the country, director of the national sports franchise and “chairman of the Academy of Sciences.” Which is why I will be glad to see New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg leave office.

I have nothing against Bloomberg, an honorable, intelligent and public-spirited individual. I agree with him on some issues, though not all. But I think that the citizens of a republic must be troubled when a single individual — no matter how enlightened or benevolent — is simultaneously the mayor of America’s second most important city, after Washington, D.C., the owner of a major media outlet, and an important funder in national politics, financing, among other things, the quasi-third-party “No Labels” movement and the gun control campaign. There is such a thing as “civic tact” in a republic, and that means, among other things, that if you are a rich American, you restrain your personal ambition and don’t try to buy too many prizes and too much attention for yourself.

If the plutocratic drift of American politics needs a poster boy, it is Michael Bloomberg. We have had self-financed billionaire politicians, like Ross Perot and Mitt Romney. We have had rich, opinionated media owners, like Rupert Murdoch. We have had billionaire patrons of political movements, including the Koch brothers on the right and George Soros on the center-left.

Bloomberg is Perot and Romney and Murdoch and the Koch brothers and Soros combined. Such a combination of political, media and economic power in a single individual should be a source of concern, even if the individual happens to be decent and public-spirited.

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Why We Should Stop Subsidizing Sky-High CEO Pay

From Robert Reich:

Robert Reich
July 17, 2013

Almost everyone knows CEO pay is out of control. It surged 16 percent at big companies last year, and the typical CEO raked in $15.1 million, according to the New York Times.

Meanwhile, the median wage continued to drop, adjusted for inflation.

What’s less well-known is that you and I and other taxpayers are subsidizing this sky-high executive compensation. That’s because corporations deduct it from their income taxes, causing the rest of us to pay more in taxes to make up the difference.

 This tax subsidy to corporate executives from the rest of us ought to be one of the first tax expenditures to go, when and if congress turns to reforming the tax code.

We almost got there twenty years ago. When he was campaigning for the presidency, Bill Clinton promised that if elected he’d end the deductibility of executive pay in excess of $1 million.

Once in office, though, his economic advisers urged him to modify his pledge to allow corporations to deduct executive pay in excess of $1 million if the pay was linked to corporate performance – that is, to the value of the company’s shares. (I hate to sound like a told-you-so, but I was the one adviser who wanted the new president to stick to his campaign promise without creating the pay-for-performance loophole.)

Clinton agreed with the majority of his advisers, and a new provision was added to the Internal Revenue Code, Section 162(m), allowing corporations to deduct from their tax bills executive compensation in excess of $1 million, if the compensation is tied to company performance.

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This week in press freedoms and privacy rights

From The Guardian UK:

The travesty calling itself “the Bradley Manning court-martial”, the kangaroo tribunal calling itself “the FISA court”, and the emptiness of what the Obama DOJ calls “your constitutional rights”, Saturday 20 July 2013

I’m on a (much-needed) quick vacation until Sunday, so I’ll just post a few brief items from what has been a busy and important week of events, particularly when it comes to press freedom and privacy:

(1) In the utter travesty known as “the Bradley Manning court-martial proceeding”, the military judge presiding over the proceeding yet again showed her virtually unbreakable loyalty to the US government’s case by refusing to dismiss the most serious charge against the 25-year-old Army Private, one that carries a term of life in prison: “aiding and abetting the enemy”. The government’s theory is that because the documents Manning leaked were interesting to Osama bin Laden, he aided the enemy by disclosing them. Harvard Law Professor Yochai Benkler explained in the New Republic in March why this theory poses such a profound threat to basic press freedoms as it essentially converts all leaks, no matter the intent, into a form of treason.

At this point, that seems to be the feature, not a bug. Anyone looking for much more serious leaks than the one that Manning produced which ended up attracting the interest of bin Laden should be looking here. The Obama White House yesterday told Russia that it must not persecute “individuals and groups seeking to expose corruption” – as Bradley Manning faces life in prison for alerting the world to the war abuses and other profound acts of wrongdoing he discovered and as the unprecedented Obama war on whistleblowers rolls on. That lecture to Russia came in the context of White House threats to cancel a long-planned meeting over the Russian government’s refusal to hand over NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden to the US to face espionage charges.

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‘Nobody understands’ spills at Alberta oil sands operation

From The Toronto Star:

Oil spills at an oil sands operation in Cold Lake, Alberta have been going on for weeks with no end in sight, according to a government scientist.

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