Category Archives: Wealth

San Francisco mines the poor to fund the gov’t


Yep, that city fabled in song and story, born of the great California Gold Rush of 1848-49 has found a new mother lode to mine for cash to keep government afloat [the rich, after all, are the fountains of cash for political parties, not government].

From The Young Turks:

Traffic Courts Are Driving Inequality in California

Program notes:

A new study looked at transit-related fines, and how they target the poor and minorities. We’re not supposed to have debtors’ prison in the US, but in many ways we do. Cenk Uygur and Ana Kasparian, hosts of The Young Turks, break it down.

“The story of Mayo’s escalating fine for a minor transit-related offense, and his inability to afford it, is commonplace in California. A study published Monday by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area, a civil legal aid organization, and several partner organizations documents the extent of the problem and its disproportionate impact on black and Latino Californians.

In San Francisco, the report’s authors found, black people make up less than 6 percent of the city’s population yet account for 49 percent of arrests made for failure to pay a fine or appear in court. Civil fines left unpaid also disproportionately lead to the suspension of driver’s licenses for black and Latino Californians, according to the study, with the highest suspension rates concentrated in neighborhoods with high poverty rates and high percentages of black or Latino residents.

“Not only do we know that these fines and fees are harming people economically; we now also have really clear evidence that it’s highly disproportionately racially impactful,” said coauthor Michael Herald of the Western Center on Law and Poverty. “There’s a very consistent pattern where police are stopping blacks in particular at a far higher rate than they do white residents.”

Quote of the day: Silicon Valley fears The Donald


From tech journalist and author Nick Bilton, writing in Vanity Fair:

Stopping Trump has become a fixation for Silicon Valley—an industry that holds itself responsible for changing the world and making it a better place. At Facebook’s recent F8 developer conference, Mark Zuckerberg paused during his discussion about drones and A.P.I.s in order to rebuke Trump’s demonic statements on immigration. “Most of my friends think he’s a fucking idiot,” a venture capitalist said onstage at a recent tech conference. Stopping Trump was one of the main topics at a secret meeting with billionaires, tech C.E.O.s (including Tim Cook, Elon Musk, and Larry Page), and top members of the Republican establishment in March. And it’s the topic du jour anytime I speak to entrepreneurs, bloggers, or V.C.s up North.

But people in technology don’t simply fear Trump on account of the abhorrent and malevolent, and frankly horrific, things that he says. They’re also terrified about what he might do to the Land of Unicorns. “The main political belief here is money,” one San Francisco tech blogger told me last week. “And they’re all petrified that Trump could harm that.”

Indeed, they’re right. Trump has threatened to cut off the H-1B visa immigration program, which would impair Facebook’s and Google’s ability to hire brilliant new programmers from overseas. During the infamous Super Tuesday press conference, in which Chris Christie stood dumbfounded and dazed, the always thoughtful Trump declared, “I’m going to get Apple to start making their computers and their iPhones on our land!” (Where, of course, they would be exponentially more expensive to produce—and probably made by robots anyway.) When the F.B.I.-Apple-San Bernardino squabble occurred, in February, Trump even threatened to switch to a Samsung phone until Apple gave over the info. (This must have sent shockwaves through Cupertino.)

Chart of the day: Indexed change in debt types


From Demos, a look at the relative changes in U.S. family debt burdens between 1989 and 2013, with all types indexed at 100 in 1989:

BLOG Debt

Monsanto presses Argentina for GMO royalties


Monsanto, the most ruthless troglodyte with the biggest club in the Big Agra tribe, is waging a legal war on Argentine farmers they claim are using the company’s patented GMO soybeans without paying the piper.

Their targets are farmers they charge have held onto seeds from previous harvests, as well as those farmers whose own crops have been contaminated by pollen from nearby fields planted with Monsanto crops.

Until the determination of just which crops contained Monsanto DNA was determined by Monsanto’s own labs, though the Argentine government has passed legislation requiring determinations to be made by stare-run labs.

From MercoPress:

Monsanto has rejected a request by Argentina for more time to collect monies owed by small farmers for royalties on genetically modified soybean seeds. Argentine agricultural minister Ricardo Buryaile and members of his staff have met with Monsanto representatives, including chief operating officer Brett Begemann to request a waiver on the monies owed.

The seed company rejected that request, two unnamed Monsanto staff told press agency Bloomberg. The firm also rejected a request for more time to collect the royalties from small farmers.

Monsanto is set to challenge Argentina’s attempts to retain control over lab analysis to verify the origin of its grain exports.

On April 15, the Argentine government of President Mauricio Macri passed a resolution that gives the Agriculture Ministry control of the analysis of seeds in the country, a move that would render obsolete a Monsanto-funded network of labs set up to detect its seeds at Argentine ports and help enforce payment.

Frack the poor! Industry lays out basic strategy


From the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

Two environmental organizations will ask the state’s Office of Environmental Justice to review Range Resources’ past and future shale gas development practices to determine if the company has avoided drilling in wealthier neighborhoods and targeted poorer areas of the state.

The Center for Coalfield Justice and the Pennsylvania Chapter of the Sierra Club raised that question after they said Terry Bossert, Range’s vice president for legislative and regulatory affairs, told a Pennsylvania Bar Institute gathering in Harrisburg earlier this month, that the company tries to avoid siting its shale gas wells near “big houses” where residents might have the financial resources to challenge the industrial-type developments.

“We heard Range Resources say it sites its shale gas wells away from large homes where wealthy people live and who might have the money to fight such drilling and fracking operations,” said Patrick Grenter, an attorney and Center for Coalfield Justice executive director, who attended the lawyers’ forum. A handful of attorneys in the audience confirmed that account

Joanne Kilgour, an attorney and director of the Pennsylvania Chapter of the Sierra Club, who attended the meeting, said Mr. Bossert’s statements “pose significant environmental justice issues, and raise the question whether the companies coming into communities are really operating in the best interests of those communities.”

Quote of the day II: Antidemocratic foundations


From Joanne Barkan, writing in Nonprofit Quarterly:

Regardless of political stands or projects, all philanthro-barons with their own foundations are generously subsidized by taxpayers. When a baron says, “It’s my money to use as I please,” he or she is wrong. A substantial portion of every tax-exempt foundation’s wealth—39.6 percent at the top tax bracket for filing in 2016—is diverted each year from the public treasury, where voters would have determined its use. Taxpayers subsidize not only the philanthropy of the Koch brothers, Soros, and the others but also their political work. Part of the megaphilanthropist’s wealth goes into a personal cache; part goes into a tax-exempt cache. The money saved by not paying taxes goes wherever the philanthropist wants, including to political work.

American democracy is growing ever more plutocratic—a fact that should worry all admirers of government by the people. Big money rules, but multibillionaires acting as philanthropists aggravate the problem by channeling vast sums into the nation’s immense nonprofit sector. Their top-down modus operandi makes this a powerful tool for shaping public policy according to individual beliefs and whims. And they receive less critical scrutiny than other actors in public life. Most people admire expressions of generosity and selflessness and are loath to find fault. In addition, anyone hoping for a grant—which increasingly includes for-profit as well as nonprofit media—treats donors like unassailable royalty. The emperor is always fully clothed.

So, what to do? The measures required to rein in plutocracy in the United States are plain to see and difficult to achieve: radical campaign finance reform to end the corruption of politics by money, and steeply progressive taxation without loopholes to reduce inequality in wealth and power. Private foundations, too, are due for reform. Congress hasn’t overhauled their regulation since 1969, and watchdog agencies are woefully underfunded. But few, if any, megaphilanthropists give these reforms top priority, although many talk endlessly about reducing inequality and providing everyone with a chance at a good life. The interests and egos of philanthro-barons rarely incline toward curbing plutocracy.

Questioning the work of megaphilanthropists is a tricky business. Many readers of this article will be fuming in this way: Would you rather let children remain illiterate, or allow generous people to use their wealth to give them schools? Would you rather send more money to our bumbling government, or let visionary philanthropists solve society’s problems? Here is a counterquestion: Would you rather have self-appointed social engineers—whose sole qualification is vast wealth—shape public policy according to their personal views, or try to repair American democracy?

Headline of the day IV: Evil is as evil does. . .


From the Guardian:

Koch brothers said to be funding plan to block Grand Canyon conservation

Tax forms reveal donor from their network channeled money into Arizona-based group fighting plan that would ban uranium mining around the landmark