Weekly Audit: Crashing the Koch’s Billionaire Caucus


By Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

Oil barons Charles and David Koch held their annual billionaires’ summit in Palm Springs on Sunday, Nancy Goldstein reports in The Nation. Every year, the Kochs gather with fellow plutocrats, prominent pundits, and Republican legislators to plan their assault on government regulation and the welfare state. This is the first year that the low-profile gathering has attracted protesters.

The Kochs are best known for pumping millions into the ostensibly grassroots Tea Party movement. At TAPPED, Monica Potts points to Jane Mayer’s famous 2010 profile of the Koch brothers that made their name synonymous with vast right wing conspiracy. Her colleague Jamelle Bouie questions whether the Koch brothers really deserve their bogeyman status–no single cabal of funders can single-handedly sway public opinion, he argues.

That’s true, but $30 million can go a long way. That’s the amount the event’s organizers expect to raise for the GOP, according to Steve Benen of the Washington Monthly, who also notes the event was off-limits to the mainstream media.

David Dayen reports at AlterNet that about 800 to 1,000 protesters rallied outside Sunday’s summit at the Rancho Las Palmas resort. Twenty-five protesters were arrested for trespassing. Police in full riot gear carted the protesters away. To add a surreal note to the proceedings, conservative provocateur Andrew Brietbart emerged from the summit on roller skates to argue with the protesters.

Several progressive organizations collaborated to draw the crowd including Common Cause, the California Courage Campaign, CREDO, MoveOn.org, 350.org, the California Nurses Association, and the United Domestic Workers of America. The Media Consortium’s own Jim Hightower was a featured speaker at the rally.

Plastic vs. the poor

YES! Magazine highlights a video lecture by racial and environmental justice advocate Van Jones on the hidden economic toll that plastic takes on the world’s poor. When we discard our plastic bottles in the recycle bin, we assume they are destined to be reused or recycled. In fact, Jones says, they are often shipped to developing countries and simply burned. Needless to say, these toxic plastic bonfires aren’t held in the tonier parts of town. It’s the poorest people who bear the brunt of living next door to heaps of flaming pop bottles. Jones’ central point is that treating objects as disposable inevitably leads to treating people the same way, because the most vulnerable are forced to live with the worst consequences of pollution.

Wall Street windfall doesn’t help Main Street

The Dow Jones Industrial Average briefly hovered above 12,000 last Wednesday, prompting the New York Times to proclaim the booming stock market as a sign of an economic recovery. But as George Warner notes in Campus Progress, surging stocks aren’t bringing jobs back:

The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate, 9.4 percent, underestimates the true extent of our employment problems by leaving out the many workers said to have “dropped out of the workforce.” By the Economic Policy Institute’s estimates, we are 11.5 million jobs short. 27 million Americans are unemployed or underemployed. (To see how little our labor market has bounced back, check out this Youtube visualization of the last 3 years…the only thing you can’t see is recovery.)

Warner adds that an analysis released last week by the Congressional Budget Office predicts that unemployment will remain high until 2016. What few jobs have been created are overwhelmingly low-wage positions without benefits. This is hardly a foundation on which to build lasting prosperity. A surging stock market without job creation means that the investor class is getting richer while ordinary people continue to struggle.

Hawkeyes Eying Wage Hike?

Iowa state Rep. Bruce Hunter (D-Des Moines) has introduced a bill that would raise the Iowa state minimum wage, Tyler Kingkade reports for the Iowa Independent. The bill would increase the minimum hourly wage to $7.50 on January, 1, 2012 and to $8.00 on July 1, 2012. The last time Iowa raised the minimum wage was in 2007 when the rate jumped from $5.15 per hour to the current $7.25.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the economy by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Audit for a complete list of articles on economic issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The Mulch, The Pulse and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.



Ask yourself why foreclosure rates are so high

The high mortgage foreclosure rates the country is seeing recently have caught everyone's attention - but have you asked yourself why it's happening? Why were there 1.2 million foreclosure filings in 2006? And why is the number continuing to rise?

The answer? The mortage lending industry spent nearly $210 million on Washington lobbying and campaign contributions over the past seven years, all in order to stop Congress from taking action to restrict lending abuses. They were generous...and they were successful.

As consumer and housing advocates won successes in states around the country for more regulation of mortgage lenders, the industry went to work in Congress. Their goal was to block strict regulatory legislation and pass federal legislation pre-empting state restrictions - their tool was money. Below are some eye-opening numbers on lobby expenditures and PAC donations from the largest subprime mortgage lenders, their trade associations, and corporate parents.

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Net Neutrality Trends

As video moves to the internet, having strong protections for the architecture of the network is going to become increasingly critical for our ability to organize and act as citizens in an internet-enabled democracy.  There's a bunch of news on the net neutrality front.  Coverage of the issue continues to be rather pathetic, as Celia Wexler from Common Cause notes. 

Indeed, when I asked a question about net neutrality -- the right of individuals to access any information and use any lawful application on the Internet without the interference of an Internet Service Provider -- the panelists were almost totally unresponsive.  Dana Priest, a very big-time Washington Post reporter, asked: "What's net neutrality?" The fact that she asked the question truly is an indictment of her own newspaper, which continues to cover media issues as business stories, and buries them in the business section of their paper.

But far more disappointing was the response of Scott Moore, vice president for Yahoo! News, who explained net neutrality to his colleagues on the panel, but then claimed it was "a tempest in a teapot," offering the bogus argument that in a competitive media marketplace, any company that withheld content that people wanted would find those individuals choosing another cable or broadband provider.  Of course, that argument is so fraught with inaccuracies, it is pathetic.  First of all, everyone knows that when a consumer contracts with a cable or telephone company for a bundle of services, it is extremely difficult to switch services.  Secondly, companies are not going to cut off access to information, they are just going to make some information way more difficult to get to.  You won't be able to find www.commoncause.org on a search engine, or when you try to access us, it will take far longer to reach us.

It is no secret that cable and phone companies want to make the Internet a vehicle for selling things and entertainment, a replica of cable with all its lack of choice and big profits.

The business coalition pushing net neutrality has always been weak, and it's getting weaker as companies like Yahoo jump ship.  Yahoo is cutting deals with AT&T to deliver IPTV, which could explain the lack of enthusiasm for net neutrality.  With the exception of Google and eBay, this coalition has been largely irrelevant, content to free ride off of our work.  Fine.  They didn't matter that much last cycle anyway.

Meanwhile, Columbia Law Professor Tim Wu, who came out with a superb paper a few weeks ago on the mobile industry and mobile net neutrality, is being slimed by telco troll Scott Cleland.  Wu is something of a legend in copyright and telecom law, and he's making some very important points about how our mobile infrastructure restricts innovation.  Of course such honest discourse can't happen without a whole bunch of smearing going on, and Cleland steps up to the plate as he often does.

In Congress, Federal protections on net neutrality are stalled, which means that the fight is at the state level.  In Maine as in Maryland, a state-level net neutrality bill is being introduced.  That's two states, and I imagine that number is going to increase.  It's interesting, this really is people-powered, and it's going to be fascinating to see how the debates over architecture play out over the next five years.  The trends are looking good for us.

I'm a consultant for Free Press, which works on free media issues like net neutrality.

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Straight from the voters: 1-866-MyVote1

Common Cause's voter hotline, 1-866-MyVote1 is getting calls, a lot from PA, IN, OH.  We also just finished a tele-conference with reporters. One, from Computer World, noted that he had problems on eSlate machines this morning in Lancaster County, PA.  We're checking it out further.  More to come.

Here's a report from our TX office:

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Protect Your Vote! Read This Site Tomorrow!

This site will be tracking electoral problems tomorrow:  http://www.protectourvotes.org/

Read it.  Know it.  Submit problems to it.  

(Update, Jerome)

Also, Common Cause has a voter hotline (1-866-MyVote1) that allows voters to call in and record their problems they're having on Election Day.

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