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A Progressive Alternative to Austerity


Passing steeper taxes on the rich isn’t as hard as you’d think.

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BY FRED GLASS

Demographic changes favoring a clear progressive message, coupled with the Occupy movement’s lasting insight that the 1 percent are robbing the rest of us blind, provide the opening to beat back the core conservative idea: that the problem is government and society should seek help from the wisdom of the rich.

“There is no alternative to austerity,” insist the rich, along with their politicians, foundations, think tanks and media.

They’ve been saying it for decades, along with, “taxes are bad,” “government doesn’t work” and “public employees are greedy.”

Consequently, common wisdom had it that “you can’t raise taxes.” Even people who should have known better believed this, while the public sector slid down the tubes.

So how did Proposition 30 succeed? This measure, passed by California voters last November, raises $6 billion a year for schools and services—and in a supposedly “anti-tax” state. The money comes mostly through an income tax hike on rich people, along with a tiny sales tax increase of 0.25 percent.

The story should be better known, because with the right preparation, you could make it happen in your state, too.

Testing the waters

Shortly after Democrat Jerry Brown was elected governor in November 2010, the California Federation of Teachers (CFT) pulled together labor and community groups to craft a ballot measure to raise the revenue needed to keep schools and services afloat. (Full disclosure: I am the CFT’s communications director.)

For two years we had been laying the groundwork for a progressive tax: creating educational materials, publishing opinion pieces, holding training sessions with our members and other unionists, and talking with potential coalition partners.

We funded polls and focus groups, testing how likely various types of taxes would be to gain a majority.

Regressive taxes—like sales taxes and across-the-board income tax hikes—were viewed unfavorably. By spring 2011, people felt ordinary folks had already sacrificed enough, in the worst recession since the 1930s.

The public believed, however, that the rich and large corporations needed to pay their fair share for the common good. They were quite willing to vote for higher taxes on the rich.

As we refined our research, we decided on three principles: bring in the most revenue possible; draw it from those who could most afford to pay; and have the best chance of winning. We arrived at a Millionaires Tax: people who made a million dollars a year would pay an extra 3 percent, and people making $2 million an extra 5 percent, raising $5 billion a year.

Unfortunately, Governor Brown had his own proposal that didn’t follow those principles—it included both a half-cent sales tax hike and an across-the-board income tax increase. People were out gathering signatures for Brown’s initiative, our Millionaires Tax, and a third tax measure sponsored by a wealthy liberal attorney.

The Millionaires Tax ran ahead of the other measures in five straight polls.

In early March 2012, the CFT helped organize a march in the capital against budget cuts and college tuition increases. Thousands of students, faculty, and others paraded Millionaires Tax signs outside the governor’s window.

Two days later, responding to the governor’s charge that three competing measures would all lose, we released the results of a poll testing that idea. It found the others would get less than 50 percent, and the Millionaires Tax would win handily.

At that point the governor called in CFT President Joshua Pechthalt to talk. We compromised and combined the two proposals into Prop 30. The new measure raised the top tax rates on income of $250,000 by 1 percent, on $300,000 by 2 percent, and on $500,000 by 3 percent. We had wanted a permanent tax; Brown’s was for five years. The compromise extended that to seven.

We knew the sales tax was a poison pill and we requested that Brown drop it entirely, but he explained that, to keep the Chamber of Commerce neutral, he had promised not to “demonize the rich,” meaning there had to be a “shared sacrifice” component. He did agree to reduce it to a quarter cent.

Sales tax confusion

Our research was validated during the campaign—people don’t like regressive taxes like the sales tax. Millions of dollars in opposition ads did their best to confuse the voters, calling Prop 30 “a massive tax increase on everyone.”

CFT’s coalition, Reclaiming California’s Future, included the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (which emerged after ACORN’s demise), the Courage Campaign and California Calls, a coalition of community groups dedicated to reforming the tax system through voter education and expanding the electorate.

Our coalition emphasized the “tax the rich” message in our literature, public events and door-to-door canvassing, but we were only part of a much broader Prop 30 coalition. The official campaign’s TV ads included asking the wealthy to pay their fair share, but as one message buried among others.

The polling numbers gradually sank to a bare 50 percent. One poll, three weeks before the election, had Yes on Prop 30 at just 48 percent, while the Nos had crept up to 44 percent.

The governor campaigned mostly on the idea that Prop 30 would save education from further cuts, but threw in “shared sacrifice” and “paying down the state’s wall of debt” in his public pronouncements.

We agreed with the education message, disagreed with the others, and insisted on a strong emphasis on taxing the rich. We stressed to the governor that, in order to neutralize the opposition’s ads, the public had to understand what services the tax paid for, who it taxed, and by how much.

In the final weeks, as the governor worked with CFT and other allies in rallies and media appearances, his message became clearer and more consistent: Prop 30 would stop cuts to schools and was fair, because, he said (drawing on his Jesuit background and citing St. Luke), it asked “those who are blessed with the most wealth to give back a little bit so everyone could benefit.”

Ninety percent of Prop 30’s revenues would come from taxing the wealthy; and the quarter-cent sales tax, he said, amounted to a “mere penny on a $4 sandwich.”

Reshaping debate

On Election Day, Prop 30 won 55 percent to 45 percent, reshaping the decades-old understanding of California as an “anti-tax” state. It is the single largest progressive tax passed in the state since World War II, both in the amount of revenue raised and as a percent bump on the income taxes of the wealthy.

What are some lessons from this tremendous victory?

If the word can be gotten out effectively, the electorate is ready to pass progressive taxes to pay for common needs like schools and services.

Demographic changes favoring a clear progressive message, coupled with the Occupy movement’s lasting insight that the 1 percent are robbing the rest of us blind, provide the opening to beat back the core conservative idea: that the problem is government and society should seek help from the wisdom of the rich.

Prop 30’s message was that public education is the foundation of a decent society and we can restore that promise if the rich pay their fair share of taxes.

The anti-Prop 30 messages were the same as always—government can’t do anything right; the rich will leave California if we tax them; taxes are too high; if we remove the waste, fraud, and abuse in government there will be plenty of money for schools.

But these ideas, so effective in the past, had lost their potency, because, especially post-Occupy, the public understands that economic inequality is growing.

Spending tens of millions of dollars didn’t work for the rich this time. In fact, it backfired—they proved our point. We didn’t have to “demonize” the rich; they did it themselves.

Another key, of course, was the old-fashioned work of reaching out to core constituencies. The Reclaiming coalition was crucial, along with a ground campaign by the broader labor movement, which was heavily mobilized to fight an anti-union measure on the ballot (which lost).

Volunteers and staff spent countless hours knocking on doors, phonebanking, rallying, educating. We reached out systematically to less-likely voters—young people, college students, immigrants, lower-income communities of color—and convinced them to come out to vote for their own futures.

Credit for this orientation is due especially to California Calls, which has targeted less-likely voters and stayed in touch over several election cycles.

This year California has begun to restore funds for public education for the first time in years. There is an alternative to austerity; its name is “progressive taxes.”

Reprinted with permission from Labor Notes.

ABOUT THIS AUTHOR

Fred Glass is communications director for the California Federation of Teachers

via A Progressive Alternative to Austerity – In These Times.

Cybersecurity: Cloudfare and Barrett Brown, US government


The US government continues to go after computer activists who seek to reveal the truth about the shadowy cybersecurity industry. The latest target is web-hosting company Cloudflare.

The US government has dramatically lifted the stakes in its crackdown on journalism, subpoenaing a US company in an effort to obtain information about the research and writing of articles that exposed its links with the cybersecurity industry.

In a remarkable fishing expedition, the US Department of Justice has used its prosecution of author and activist Barrett Brown to issue a subpoena to web-hosting company Cloudflare for information relating to the Echelon wiki site.

That site was used by Project PM, an international collaborative research project dedicated to piecing together a clearer picture of the US cybersecurity industry, its extensive links with the US government and secret activities such as the HBGaryFederal-Palantir-Berico plot to destroy WikiLeaks. The subpoena demands, inter alia, “account access history including any and all authentication, file transfer, web server logs or other transaction logs containing source IP addresses relating to the subscriber’s use of Cloudflare services”.

Crikey published a piece by Brown on one of the major Project PM discoveries, a US mass surveillance program targeting Arab social media users called Romas/COIN, in 2011.

Another of Project PM’s targets was a US company called Endgame, a provider of cybersecurity services to many US government agencies, including the Pentagon. Endgame’s services should be enough to make even the most Luddite citizen paranoid. As Business Week —  the only mainstream media outlet to investigate the company — revealed in a 2011 article:

“… Endgame executives will bring up maps of airports, parliament buildings, and corporate offices. The executives then create a list of the computers running inside the facilities, including what software the computers run, and a menu of attacks that could work against those particular systems. Endgame weaponry comes customized by region — the Middle East, Russia, Latin America, and China — with manuals, testing software, and ‘demo instructions’. There are even target packs for democratic countries in Europe and other US. allies. Maui (product names tend toward alluring warm-weather locales) is a package of 25 zero-day exploits that runs clients $2.5 million a year. The Cayman botnet-analytics package gets you access to a database of internet addresses, organization names, and worm types for hundreds of millions of infected computers, and costs $1.5 million. A government or other entity could launch sophisticated attacks against just about any adversary anywhere in the world for a grand total of $6 million …”

“Zero-day exploits” attack previously unrevealed flaws in software before developers can patch them.

“Project PM set about revealing the sordid truth about this shadowy industry. Those who participated are now being targeted …”

Some of the information compiled by Project PM was obtained from the famous HB Gary Federal hack, in which would-be US cybersecurity player Aaron Barr and his company had their emails leaked. The emails provided an insight into the rarely-glimpsed world of high-level US cybersecurity, espionage and surveillance. The emails were also used by outlets such as the New York Times to explore links between cybersecurity firms and the US government.

Now, the US government is using its prosecution of Brown, including for the heinous crime of sharing a link, to go after those involved with Project PM, which may have been up to 20 people around the world who used leaked materials and other publicly available information to generate a clearer picture of a secretive industry. The tenuous connection between the charges levelled at Brown and his Project PM activities relates to the hack of emails of self-promoting “alternative CIA” Stratfor, which forms a limited basis for some Project PM materials.

Many of the Project PM contributors are outside the US, including the current webmaster of the site. Among those who contributed research was Melbourne information and transparency activist Asher Wolf. This is the second time Wolf has been dragged into US prosecutions, after Massachusetts prosecutors tried to subpoena a Twitter hashtag relating to the Occupy movement last year.

“The U.S. Department of Justice is out of control,” Wolf told Crikey. “It is deeply troubling that people who engage in journalism, academic research, or who have an interest in following emerging political movements via social media platforms are finding themselves potentially included in U.S. legal dragnets.  These sort of subpoenas are not only vindictive, but also aim to scare people away from poking around in the guts of allegations of nation-wide corruption and malfeasance amongst infosec contractors.

“The fact that a bit of Saturday night online research into infosec contractors – or simply following an issue on Twitter – has now meant I’ve twice faced potential dragnet inclusion in U.S. subpoenas is bloody outrageous. The U.S. should be ashamed of themselves. They’re acting like thugs.”

The fishing expedition continues the disturbing record of both the Obama administration and state-level US prosecutors in persecuting whistleblowers, undermining the First Amendment by arguing releasing information to the media is “aiding the enemy” and aggressively pursuing online activists in an attempt to make an example of them.

But Project PM, and particularly information about Endgame, was important because it demonstrated that, contrary to the narrative pushed by Western governments (including our own) that they are hapless victims of Chinese espionage, cyberterrorists and online activists, Western governments devote considerable resources to their own espionage and cyberattack efforts, frequently via unaccountable, secretive private firms.

Moreover, cybersecurity remains an issue the mainstream media, with rare exceptions, not merely fails to cover accurately but sends out its journalists to serve as enthusiastic spruikers. Journalists hype threats and impacts to strengthen the case for more government and corporate spending to be directed toward the companies that operate in this space, which are increasingly controlled by big US and European defence contractors.

Unlike professional journalists engaged in hysterics, Project PM set about revealing the sordid truth about this shadowy industry. Those who participated are now being targeted by the most powerful government on earth.

via Cybersecurity: Cloudfare and Barrett Brown, US government | Crikey.

via Cybersecurity: Cloudfare and Barrett Brown, US government | Crikey.

U.S. Attorney’s Office asks judge to toss motion to intervene in the case of detained hacktivist Barrett Brown


Journalist-turned-hacktivist Barrett Brown has been in a federal detention center since September, when FBI agents raided his apartment while he was engaged in an online chat. And he will remain there until at least September, when he’s due to stand trial for more than a dozen criminal charges, among them threatening an FBI agent, conspiring to release the personal information of a U.S. government employee, identity theft and releasing credit card information.

Brown, the not-a-spokesman for Anonymous and the subject of a D cover story in 2011, has now become an international story: A lengthy piece on the U.K. Guardian‘s website appeared on March 21 beneath the headline “The persecution of Barrett Brown – and how to fight it,” and insists Brown’s being punished by the government for trying to reveal “the secret relationships and projects between … intelligence firms and federal agencies.”

Aside from its myriad indictments, the federal government hasn’t said much about its case against Brown — or what it’s after. But according to a motion to intervene and quash subpoena filed yesterday, the government is attempting to get its hands on records related to domain name server Cloudflare — and, more specifically, those involving someone named Sebastiaan Provost, who, according to the motion, “built newsgathering websites for Mr. Brown.” Jason Flores-Williams, a New Mexico attorney, filed the motion.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office promptly responded, asking the judge to dismiss the motion. Sarah Saldana’s office offers several reasons, among them Flores-Williams isn’t licensed to practice law in Texas and he

“failed to explain why it was not possible to confer with the government” before he filed his motion. U.S. District Judge Sam Lindsay has yet to rule.

Flores-Williams is among a handful of activists attorneys who co-founded the Whistleblowers Defense League, whose creation was announced yesterday. Their website says the WBDL “stands with those brave souls willing to act against and expose the damaging corporate and political forces injuring our democracy.”

In a press release, WBDL co-founder and attorney Jay Leiderman, who has represented Brown in the past, says, “The internet is the new frontier for civil rights. This indictment of Barrett Brown, like Ai Weiwei, is an affront to democracy. We have to stop this government from criminalizing dissent in our society.”

Doug Morris, the public defender representing Brown, says it “appears the government is trying to get information from these folks, and they believe it’s related to Mr. Brown. That’s what it tells me.” And, for now, that’s all he knows about Flores-Williams’ motion. Morris also doesn’t want to comment on how his client is doing behind bars. For that information we must instead turn to Vice, which published an interview with Brown last week — shortly after Brown’s mother pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice by hiding computers for her son.

“I don’t want to talk to you about the case or the people involved at this point, but obviously I’m not terribly worried about it,” he insisted. When asked why not, he responded: “Just because of my knowledge, I know how long they were in there monitoring our stuff. … I know what documents and records of my activities are available. They’re trying to claim that I intentionally tried to spread credit card information, but I was opposed to that. And I was on record being opposed to it. They’re just not aware of that. They don’t have their [expletive] together in terms of going through what they spied on me regarding … and I obviously know what’s there in that evidence so … I’ve always been opposed to spreading credit cards.”

Brown, ruled competent last January to stand trial, was initially scheduled to go to trial in March. But his attorney asked the judge for the OK to put it off until September, which gave them more time for discovery.

“Every case is unique,” says Doug Morris. “If you have an illegal reentry case, that doesn’t take a long time. Felony possession of a handgun — did you have the gun or not? But if it’s computer-generated, there’s a lot of discovery, and it takes time.”

Brown remains behind bars because, according to U.S. Magistrate Judge Paul Stickney’s September ruling, “Mr. Brown is a danger to the safety of the community and a risk of flight.”

via U.S. Attorney’s Office asks judge to toss motion to intervene in the case of detained hacktivist Barrett Brown | Crime Blog.

via U.S. Attorney’s Office asks judge to toss motion to intervene in the case of detained hacktivist Barrett Brown | Crime Blog.

Anonymous ‘spokesperson’ to spend year in jail without trial


Does Democracy and Justice still apply in the USA?

The federal trial against alleged computer criminal Barrett Brown has been delayed by six months. Now the activist once called the “spokesperson” of the Anonymous hacker movement will wait in prison for one full year before being tried.

Brown, 31, was scheduled to stand trial later this month for a slew of charges that have handed down in three separate indictments filed by the government since last September. Per the request of his attorneys, however, legal proceedings have been pushed back for six months, delaying the trial until September 2013.

Doug Morris, a public defender appointed to serve as Brown’s defense counsel, asked for an extension in order to evaluate the evidence against his client, the Associate Press reports. US District Judge Sam Lindsay obliged on Wednesday this week.

The AP adds that Brown’s trial for one indictment is now slated for September 3, 2013, with trials for his second and third indictments scheduled to start on Sept. 23. Brown was arrested on Sept. 12 last year and has been in law enforcement custody for the nearly six months since.

The AP describes Brown as having Brown “once served as de facto spokesman for Anonymous, a shadowy movement that has gotten attention for cyberattacks,” although he says he’s never represented himself as such. Although Brown has aligned himself with the Anonymous movement on several occasions in the past and have spoken broadly on matters relating to the group, he wrote from prison last year, “I am not and never have been the spokesman for Anonymous, nor its ‘public face’ or, worse, ‘self-proclaimed’ ‘face’ or ‘spokesperson’ or ‘leader.’”

Brown’s legal issues began last March when FBI agents raided his Dallas, Texas home with search warrants for computers that contained information pertaining to, among other things, the Anonymous collective, offshoot LulzSec and a number of private businesses that were investigated by both groups as well as Brown’s own Project PM, an independent think-tank he designed in part “to develop new methods by which to use the internet for positive change and to encourage others to adapt such methods.”

One day after the March 2012 raid, Brown wrote the FBI “fully intended to take a certain laptop, and did” when the feds raided his mother’s house shortly after the first incident. He also said that federal agents threatened both he and his mother with conspiracy to obstruct justice for the next few months, spawning Brown to lash out at the FBI in a series of YouTube videos and Twitter posts created in September 2012.

“I know what’s legal, I know what’s been done to me… And if it’s legal when it’s done to me, it’s going to be legal when it’s done to FBI Agent Robert Smith — who is a criminal,” claimed Brown in one of the clips uploaded to the Web. “That’s why Robert Smith’s life is over. And when I say his life is over, I’m not saying I’m going to kill him, but I am going to ruin his life and look into his fucking kids… How do you like them apples?”

Hours after that video was uploaded to the Web, a SWAT team raided Brown’s Dallas, Texas apartment and placed him in custody for nearly one month before he was charged with threatening a federal officer. Once behind bars, though, Brown’s legal issues escalated.

While in custody, the Justice Department unsealed two separate indictments against Brown: In December, Brown was charged with sharing an Internet hyperlink that contained over 5,000 credit card account numbers, the card holders’ identification information and the authentication features for the cards.  One month later, Brown was charged with obstructing justice by “knowingly and corruptly conceal and attempt to conceal records, documents, and digital data contained on two laptop computers,” as he hinted at nearly one year earlier.

Attorney Jay Leiderman, who is not representing Brown in this case, wrote on his personal blog when the third indictment was unsealed that the hacktivist could face a century in prison if convicted on all counts.

“He is alleged to have made threatening YouTube videos aimed at the FBI agent that raided his home, he is alleged to have shared a link that contained credit card and access information, and he supposedly hid laptops when the FBI came-a-knocking. That’s right, that sorta stuff could cost you 100 years these days,” he wrote.

Brown is alleged to have shared a link to the credit card details in a chat room after seeing it posted in another. The trove of data contained within the link related to subscriber data pilfered by Strategic Forecasting, or Stratfor, a private intelligence company hacked by Anonymous in December 2011. Thousands of emails obtained in that compromise were later given to the whistleblower website WikIleaks and have been subsequently published online.

Upon release of the credit card numbers, Brown disavowed the hack. He said, “Stratfor was not breached in order to obtain customer credit card numbers, which the hackers in question could not have expected to be as easily obtainable as they were. Rather, the operation was pursued in order to obtain the 2.7 million e-mails that exist on the firm’s servers.”

Jeremy Hammond, a hacker and activist from Chicago, has been behind bars for over one year while awaiting trial for charges relating to the Stratfor hack. Federal proscutors say he spearheaded the hack as a member of the groups Anonymous and LulzSec. He stands to face the rest of his life in prison if convicted.e

via Anonymous ‘spokesperson’ to spend year in jail without trial — RT USA.

via Anonymous ‘spokesperson’ to spend year in jail without trial — RT USA.

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