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Net Neutrality Astroturf

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Coined in 2003 by Columbia University professor Tim Wu, net neutrality has become a deeply politicized catchphrase, coming to symbolize the struggle to keep the Internet free of bias in terms of the traffic it carries. You may have experienced this bias over the last year, facing YouTube videos that stumble and a banner below that informs you that the problem originates with your ISP. If service providers gain the power to treat traffic differently based on its origin, this puts them in the position to ‘tax’ companies like Netflix or to simply censor sites like Wikileaks right out of existence.

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While Congress makes our national laws, a great deal of what matters to big business happens via ‘rule making’ from federal agencies, with the Federal Communications Commission regulating the Internet. These proposed rules are typically open for public comment, a formal process where interested parties register their opinions. These opinions are often generated via ‘grassroots organizing’, a bit of D.C. doublespeak that can be translated as:

Professional political operatives creating websites, letter writing campaigns, and arranging phone banking on behalf of monied interests.

Net Neutrality has been a victim of political astroturfing, and the usual suspects are milling around the crime scene, hoping you won’t notice them. Luckily we have the Sunlight Foundation on our side.

The Net Neutrality Hitman

American Commitment Domain

American Commitment Domain

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An organization called American Commitment submitted 56.5% of the 1.6 million responses the FCC received, all via a single form letter. If you visit AmericanCommitment.org, you’ll find a slick website without even a hint of human involvement. A quick look around with the Maltego penetration tester’s toolkit validates the perception that this is an entirely synthetic entity. Email at GoDaddy, a slight departure from the norm in that the website is in the Amazon cloud, rather than quartered at Smartech in Chattanooga; a very typical profile. One of the big astroturf tells is what is missing – Maltego can’t find even one email address associated with this domain.

Yesterday the Sunlight Foundation released a report on American Commitment, which yielded this snide comment from the organization’s president, Phil Kerpen (@kerpen).

“We’re pleased that the Sunlight Foundation is finally confirming that American Commitment and Americans opposed to regulation of the Internet won the FCC comment period. Better late than never.”

PR Watch, a project of the Center for Media & Democracy, tracks PR flacks like Kerpen, and here they highlight his role in the disastrous near shutdown of our government in 2013. Think Progress notes that Kerpen was involved in the character assassination of Van Jones back in 2009. These are just a few of the first results on Kerpen; getting to the bottom of it all for even one player like him is a full-time job.

The Funding Source

American Commitment is another tentacle of the ‘Kochtopus’, an interlocking group of professional spin doctors like Kerpen and a constant shell game of 501c4 non-profits that typically exist for about eighteen months. These short term entities typically file one belated IRS form 990, but only after they have dissolved, which is a strategy to conceal their funding sources. If you spend enough time looking you will always find a trail back to Alexandria based Donor’s Trust, a tiny outfit that handles the money for those who wish to be heard, but never seen.

D.C.’s dark money cesspool exists to keep you an ignorant and compliant consumer. The handful of civil society organizations that track their dealings are too few and too small to put much of a dent in the corporate juggernaut. This graph was produced by the Center for Media & Democracy, whose own funding matches the very smallest recipients seen here.

Donor's Trust Cash Flow

Donor’s Trust Cash Flow

A Post Neutrality World

There will be many deleterious effects from the loss of net neutrality, but the big one isn’t getting enough attention. The Trans Pacific Partnership, a regional trade agreement being negotiated without public comment by the twelve major nations with Pacific coastlines, contains many questionable intellectual property rules. A non-neutral internet would be just the thing to have to enforce some aspects of the TPP.

Images from CMD and Shutterstock.

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House Pushes Forward With Trump Tax Plan Amid Dissent

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The U.S. House of Representatives is pushing hard to move President Trump’s tax proposal through the legislative process, even as growing dissent rattles confidence in the landmark bill.

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Congressional Analysis

An analysis by the Joint Committee on Taxation concluded Tuesday that tax cuts for lower- and middle-income Americans would fade over the next decade at a faster rate than those for high earners. The analysis found that four out of every five tax filers earning between $50,000 and $75,000 would receive tax relief from the bill in 2019. However, by 2027, that figure would drop to 60%.

Meanwhile, those earning more than $1 million would also see their tax savings fade, albeit at a slower rate than the smaller income brackets. In 2019, about three-quarters of those earning $1 million-plus will get tax relief, a figure that drops to two-thirds in 2027.

The conclusion could spark another round of debate as the Trump administration seeks to push forward on tax reform this year. The tax plan has faced attack from both sides of the political divide, with high-tax state Republicans criticizing individual deductions for state and local taxes.

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The reform bill, which promises to reduce the number of tax brackets, cut the corporate tax rate and implement a one-time repatriation fee, has been described as the most ambitious since the Reagan administration. Through Reagan’s tax reform, the U.S. economy managed to grow by an average of 3.4% annually until the beginning of the Obama administration. And that includes three recessions between the two presidents.

To his credit, President Jimmy Carer before him implemented the biggest regulatory overhaul in postwar history.

Mid-Terms Loom

Republicans have good reason to raise questions about Trump’s tax reform, especially those in high-tax states such as California. Already faced with a difficult re-election next year, California’s GOP Representative Darrell Issa said he wouldn’t endorse changes that “may make it the tremendous burden felt by California taxpayers even worse.”

Republican Ed Gillespie of Virginia was defeated in state elections on Tuesday, a clear sign that the GOP-controlled Congress is under attack. South Carolina is seen as an important barometer of the Democrats’ chances of winning in crucial swing states ahead of next year’s midterms.

Democrat Ralph Northam will be the next governor of Virgina, various news outlets reported late Tuesday.

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Libertarian Speaks: Ron Paul Says U.S. Government Should Not Intervene in Cryptocurrency

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The U.S. government has no place intervening in cryptocurrency, according to former U.S. presidential candidate Ron Paul.

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In an interview with Kitco on Oct. 27, Paul said the government should “stay out” of bitcoin if people want to use it. The former Congressman acknowledged that he didn’t know much about cryptocurrency, but that he was “amazed” by the market’s growth.

“I take some very strong political positions on competing currencies,” Paul said, when asked if he was a believer of cryptocurrency. “And if you can come up with a competing currency, and there is no fraud, I think it should be.”

Although a lot has been said about bitcoin’s black market roots, Paul says government involvement shouldn’t be a given. That message has been lost on several nations, which have grown uneasy about the growth and widespread adoption of cryptocurrency. Major economies like  China, South Korea and Russia have already stepped in to halt the expansion of crypto-assets.  However, most policymakers appear to be open to regulating cryptocurrency insofar as its criminal elements can be controlled.

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Libertarians like Ron Paul are very weary of government involvement in all aspects of life. It should therefore come as no surprise that bitcoin and its altcoin competitors have received strong buy-in from the libertarian, free market community. While the United States has a strong libertarian presence across key segments of its society, this has largely failed to translate into meaningful political reform.

Bitcoin’s market capitalization climbed back above $100 billion over the weekend, with the sum of all coins valued at around $179 billion. Cryptocurrency is by far the fastest growing asset class of 2017, dwarfing stocks, crude oil and other traditional financial assets.

“I am amazed,” Paul said, ” at all the capitalization on these cryptocurrencies. It’s a huge amount of money.”

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Draft of U.S. Tax Bill Coming Within Days, According to GOP Lawmaker

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It won’t be long now before congressional Republicans table their first draft bill to reform the U.S. tax code, according to House conservative Mark Meadows. GOP lawmakers are under the gun to meet President Trump’s ambitious goal of delivering a major tax overhaul by the end of 2017.

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Draft Bill Coming in Less Than Ten Days

House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows says the House Ways and Means Committee has promised to release a preliminary tax bill about seven days after this Thursday’s vote on a budget resolution. Based on that timeline, the tax bill should be published on or before Nov. 3, according to Bloomberg.

Last week, Republicans stuck together to pass a 2018 budget plan that many say is the preamble to tax reform. The budget resolution was approved by a 51-49 vote. Rand Paul of Kentucky was the lone GOP member to vote against the measure.

Before giving the final approval, lawmakers must go through another voting process that will begin Thursday and run into Friday morning.

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The new plan, which was first unveiled by the White House this past spring, is pursuing drastic changes to the tax regime. This includes reducing the number of tax brackets, slashing the corporate tax rate and instilling a one-time repatriation tax to encourage multinationals to bring offshore profits back home.

Challenges Remain

President Trump and fellow Republicans face numerous challenges implementing the most ambitious tax reform of a generation. This includes balancing promises of major overhaul against a self-imposed $1.5 trillion limit on the size of those cuts over the decade.

Analysts say that President Trump has considerable leeway to influence the proposal, but that the ultimate penning of the bill is a legislative process. This means it will be Congress, not the president, that will put the final details together.

Tax overhaul was a cornerstone of Trump’s election campaign. Combined with deregulation of key industries and massive infrastructure spending, tax breaks are expected to boost economic growth and make the U.S. more resilient to cyclical downturns.

That’s exactly what happened under the Reagan tax cut more than three decades ago. Although often maligned today, the Reagan tax plan laid the foundation for 25 years of strong, noninflationary growth. The U.S. economy grew an average of 3.4% annually between Reagan and Obama despite three recessions. To be sure, President Carter also helped lay the foundation by leading the biggest deregulatory effort in the postwar era.

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