Smart. Sharp. Funny. Fearless.

Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

Tag:

Solar-Power Amendment On Florida’s Ballot A ‘Wolf In Sheep’s Clothing’

Let the scum shine.

The solar-power amendment on Florida’s ballot is a slick, oily fraud. Promoted as a way to expand solar energy and protect residents who want it, Amendment 1 would do just the opposite.

All you need to know is who’s bankrolling the massive advertising campaign: Florida Power & Light, Duke Energy, Tampa Electric Co., Gulf Power, and a few nonprofits funded heavily by Exxon Mobil and a pair of right-wing billionaire brothers named Koch.

When is the last time they all banded together to do something wonderful for the average consumer?

These are not fans of broadening our energy choices. These are politically powerful utility and oil interests seeking to restrict and monopolize the burgeoning solar industry. The last thing they want is free-market competition. The prospect worries them so much that they’ve forked out almost $22 million to push for Amendment 1.

Their political committee calls itself “Consumers for Smart Solar.” The PR wiz who came up with that name must have gotten a good laugh, because consumers would be the long-term victims of this measure.

From its beginning, the secret strategy for selling Amendment 1 was to deceive Floridians into believing it was a populist, pro-solar movement. Last week, reporter Mary Ellen Klas of the Herald obtained a devastating audiotape of a presentation made by an executive of a Tallahassee think tank that provides “research” to the state’s big electric utilities.

On the tape, Sal Nuzzo of the James Madison Institute is heard praising Amendment 1 as “an incredibly savvy maneuver” that “would completely negate anything they (pro-solar groups) would try to do either legislatively or constitutionally down the road.”

After Nuzzo’s comments became public, JMI hastily issued a statement saying he “misspoke” during the industry conference at which he was recorded. But the damage was done, Nuzzo’s confident remarks confirming what opponents of Amendment 1 (including the Florida League of Women Voters) have been saying all along. The whole idea is to screw solar providers that could some day compete with the major electric companies.

The amendment was word-crafted with the sole intent of trickery. The first item supposedly gives electricity consumers a “constitutional right” to own or lease solar equipment “for their own use.”

Guess what? We’ve already got that right — no amendment necessary.

The second part of the ballot item is the trapdoor: “State and local governments shall retain their abilities to protect consumer rights and public health, safety and welfare, and to ensure that consumers who do not choose to install solar are not required to subsidize the costs of backup power and electric access to those who do.”

That language opens the way for municipalities and the state to hit local solar providers with fees and regulations that could prevent them from selling low-cost electricity to customers, which would basically defeat the whole purpose of the technology.

Planting the fear that non-solar users might be forced to “subsidize” grid access for solar customers is a groundless and sleazy scare tactic that exposes the cold desperation of the big power companies.

FPL and Duke Energy are investing heavily in solar, and they don’t want to compete with smaller firms that might offer lower rates to people.

Meanwhile, mulling their huge investments in coal and petroleum, the ever-meddling Charles and David Koch have been waging war on solar power all across the country. They’ve taken a particular interest in smothering that industry in sunny Florida.

Solar is an extremely popular concept here. Many families and business owners like the idea of clean, abundant, affordable energy.

“Solar polls very well,” remarked chatty Sal Nuzzo to his audience of power-company players last month.

No wonder, then, that Amendment 1 has been disguised as a pro-solar, pro-consumer initiative. Otherwise it wouldn’t have a prayer of passing.

“A wolf in sheep’s clothing,” wrote Florida Supreme Court Justice Barbara Pariente in her dissent, when the court voted 4-3 to allow the measure on the ballot.

Because changing the Florida Constitution requires the approval of 60 percent of voters, “Consumers for Smart Solar” has been pulling out all the stops, including buying top advertising positions on the Google search engine.

The TV commercials and “Yes on 1 For the Sun” all-media campaign radiate admiration for the rooftop-panel technology, while promising to protect you and me from unspecified “ripoffs” and “scams.”

But the biggest scam of all is Amendment 1 itself. Florida’s electric monopolies are counting on all of us to fall for it.

Vote no. Show them the light.

Carl Hiaasen is a columnist for the Miami Herald. Readers may write to him at: 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, Fla., 33132

Photo: Solar panels at the Pittsfield Waste Water Treatment Facility (Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection/Flickr)

To Get America Moving, Tax Financial Transactions

The financial transaction tax is not an idea whose time has just now come; it simply has returned. From 1914 to 1966, our country taxed all sales and transfers of stock. The tax was doubled in the last year of Herbert Hoover’s presidency to help us recover from the Great Depression. Today, 40 countries have FTTs, including the seven with the fastest-growing stock exchanges in the world. Eleven members of the European Union (including Germany and France) voted for a financial transaction tax to curtail poverty, restore services and put people back to work.

This is no soak-the-rich-idea. Rather than asking the Wall Street crowd to join us in paying a 6 to 12 percent sales tax, the major FTT proposal gaining support in the U.S. calls for a 0.5 percent assessment on stock transactions. That’s 50 cents on a $100 stock buy versus the $8.25 I would pay for a $100 bicycle.

Even at this minuscule rate, the huge volume of high-speed trades (nearly 400 billion a year) means an FTT would net about $300 billion to $350 billion a year for our public treasury. Plus, it’s a very progressive tax. Half of our country’s stock is owned by the 1 percenters, and only a small number of them are in the high-frequency trade game. Ordinary folks who have small stakes in the markets, including those in mutual and pension funds, are called “buy and hold” investors: They only do trades every few months or years, not daily or hourly or even by the second, and they’ll not be harmed. Rather it’s the computerized churners of frothy speculation who will pony up the bulk of revenue from such a transaction tax.

An FTT is a straightforward, uncomplicated way for us to get a substantial chunk of our money back from high-finance thieves, and we should make a concerted effort to put the idea on the front burner in 2016 and turn up the heat. Not only do its benefits merit the fight; the fight itself would be politically popular. One clue to its political potential is that the mere mention of FTT to a Wall Street banker will evoke a shriek so shrill that the Mars rover hears it. That’s because they know that this proposal would make them defend the indefensible: themselves.

First, the sheer scope of Wall Street’s self-serving casino business model would be exposed for all to see. Second, they would have to admit that they’re increasingly dependent on (and, therefore, making our economy dependent on) the stark-raving insanity of robotic, high-frequency speculation. Third, it’ll be completely ridiculous for them to argue that protecting the multi-trillion-dollar bets of rich market gamblers from this tax is more important than meeting our people’s growing backlog of real needs.

Unsurprisingly, then, Koch-funded operatives and other defenders of privilege are rushing out articles that amount to Wall Street gibberish: “FTT would hurt poor pensioners, farmers, long-term investors, job creation, liquidity … and blah, blah, blah.” There’s nary a mention of who will really be pinged: Wall Street’s gamblers and thieves. After all, to concede that they’ll be hurt, even a little, would elicit a coast-to-coast shout of, “Yes!”

A major push is being made under the banner of the “Robin Hood Tax.” This campaign offers a remarkable democratic opening. It widens America’s public policy debate from the plutocrats’ tired, narrow-minded mantra of defeat: “We’re broke. Big undertakings are beyond us. Shrink all expectations for yourselves, your children and your country’s future.” Instead, a new conversation can begin: “Look under that rock. There’s the money we need to invest in people. Let’s get America moving again!”

A sales tax on speculators can deliver tangibles that people need but Wall Street says we can’t afford — infrastructure, Social Security, education, good jobs, health care for all, etc. Just as important, it can deliver intangibles that our nation needs but Wall Street tries to ignore — fairness, social cohesion, equal opportunity, etc. It’s a gift for America’s future that literally would keep on giving. For more information and to join the fight, go to www.robinhoodtax.org.

To find out more about Jim Hightower, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Web page at www.creators.com.

COPYRIGHT 2016 CREATORS.COM

Photo: A man passes by the New York Stock Exchange in New York’s financial district January 15, 2016. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid 

Analysis: Campaign Cash Already Pours In

By Cathleen Decker, Los Angeles Times

Let’s just go ahead and say it: As far as politics is concerned, 2014 will be the Year of the Boogeyman. Or men. (Aren’t they always?)

On the Republican side, as Democrats have bemoaned for years, are the Koch brothers, billionaire industrialists who have spent huge sums of money — granted, a drop in the bucket to them — in pursuit of what they say are free-market solutions and what Democrats say is their annihilation.

On the Democratic side, George Soros has been supplanted as the ultimate bete noire by Tom Steyer, the California billionaire who, aides said last week, plans to spend at least $50 million of his money to target Republicans running in 2014 who have been skeptical of global warming. (That number would be matched by other environmentalists for a $100 million anti-Republican hit spread across seven states.)

Or, as Steyer strategist Chris Lehane put it in his typically vivid fashion:

“We are not going to be talking about polar bears and butterflies. We are going to be talking about how this issue of climate impacts people in their backyards, in their states, in their communities.”

It took only a few hours for Terri Lynn Land, a Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate in Michigan and one of those in Steyer’s sights, to take umbrage in a Web ad that blamed her Democratic opponent, Gary Peters, for trying to kill 96,000 Michigan jobs.

“Why is Gary Peters waging a war on Michigan jobs and paychecks?” the ad asked, then answered: “Because Peters supports President Obama’s job-killing agenda and is bankrolled by billionaire radical Tom Steyer. Peters also supports Steyer’s call to kill the Keystone pipeline.”

This is not virgin territory for Land. A previous campaign video showed an ominous picture of Steyer’s San Francisco mansion and asserted that “a secret meeting was held in this San Francisco estate, owned by billionaire Tom Steyer. The subject: stopping the Keystone pipeline.” Among the participants: the very same Gary Peters, who, the video said, would benefit handsomely from killing the pipeline, as would Steyer.

“Gary Peters: working for billionaires, not Michigan,” the tag line stated.

Despite Land’s characterization, Steyer is hardly a flaming “radical” but a former financier who has taken to spending his millions to propel action on what he considers an urgent issue, climate change.

He is no more radical, that is, than the Koch brothers, who have chosen to spend tens of millions on ads against Obamacare and other issues and on behalf of multiple candidates.

The Koch brothers and Steyer are doing something that these days is utterly American — spending a ton of money to advance their political aims, aided by U.S. Supreme Court decisions that have loosened campaign finance rules.

In a campaign that so far has only a vague hold on the public, money continues to rain down, and the battle of the boogeymen rages.

Photo via Flickr

American Bridge Targets Koch Brothers And GOP Beneficiaries

On Thursday, the Democratic SuperPAC American Bridge launched realkochfacts.com, a digital project that delves into the Koch brothers, their policy agenda, business impact, and political spending, including a state-by-state analysis of how the big-spending conservatives have affected local legislation.

The website’s release comes on the same day that Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) plans to take to the Senate floor in support of a constitutional amendment that will reinstate limitations on campaign spending, contributions, and independent group spending. These limits were recently eliminated by McCutcheon v. FEC, which further loosened campaign spending regulations that were previously weakened by the Citizens United decision in 1988.  J. Gerald Hebert, executive director of the Legal Center, said that the decision “exponentially increased the already significant political influence of the very richest while further undermining the influence of the overwhelming majority of Americans.” 

With realkochfacts.com, American Bridge hopes to draw attention to a specific subset of the very richest: Charles and David Koch. According to the website, in conjunction with Americans For Prosperity, the Koch brothers spent more than $122 million during the 2012 electionPolitico also reports that this year, the Koch brothers aim to spend more than $125 million “on an aggressive ground, air and data operation benefiting conservatives.” And according to a Politico source close to AFP, the $125 million number is a “very conservative estimate.”

According to a recent New York Times article, the chief aim of AFP is not only to advance Republican candidates, but more importantly, to convince “Americans that big government is bad government.” And with a veritable arsenal of financial ammunition, American Bridge believes that “voters need to know what’s at stake,” especially with midterm elections on the horizon. Gwen Rocco, the spokesperson for American Bridge, told The National Memo,

The organizations the Kochs fund and the extreme conservative candidates they support show the truth behind their agenda: supporting tax cuts for the wealthy, weakening Medicare, and eliminating the minimum wage. The Real Koch Facts project will serve as a daily research, communications and rapid response effort to show voters just how dangerous the Kochs’ self-serving agenda is for working families.

AFP has advanced that agenda in a variety of ways, notably opposing Hurricane Sandy relief, renewable energy, and environmental protection. Given that Koch Industries, America’s second largest private company, is a titan in the petroleum and fossil fuel industry, AFP’s resistance to alternative energy sources and stemming pollution comes as little surprise. It also shows how closely tied the Koch brothers’ personal interests are to their political maneuverings and AFP’s donations.

Following the Hurricane Sandy disaster, AFP’s director of policy wrote to the Senate: “Unless the legislation is fully offset with other spending reductions, I urge you to vote NO on the Hurricane Sandy disaster-aid supplemental.” AFP also sent the same message in opposition to an amendment that sought to provide “$33 billion in funding for long-term projects, including repairs to federal buildings, coastlines and subway tunnels to protect against future disasters.”

In regard to environmental issues, Greenpeace reports that since 1997, the Koch brothers have given over $67 million to groups denying climate change. This is likely spurred by the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts Amherst’s finding that “Koch Industries ranked in the top 30 polluters nationwide in airwaterand greenhouse gases.” A Greenpeace examination of lobbying records show that for the past decade, the Koch brothers have deployed more lobbyists than Dow, Dupont, American Petroleum Institute, and the Chamber of Commerce in order to block legislation that seeks to address the “bulk storage of poison gasses at dangerous chemical facilities such as oil refineries, chemical manufacturing facilities, and water treatment plants.” The only organization with more lobbyists for this cause was the American Chemistry Council.

Sen. Reid’s support of Thursday’s proposed constitutional amendment, which he hopes will “grant Congress the authority to regulate and limit the raising and spending of money for federal political campaigns,” comes as a direct attack on the Kochs, their agenda, and their financially backed political influence. With Mitch McConnell voicing the opinion of seemingly the entirety of the GOP, that “in our society, spending is speech,” there is a pronounced inequality in representation. In excerpts of Reid’s remarks obtained by the Washington Post, the Majority Leader points out,

The Supreme Court has equated money with speech, so the more money you have, the more speech you get, and the more influence in our democracy. That is wrong. Every American should have the same ability to influence our political system. One American, one vote. That’s what the Constitution guarantees. The Constitution does not give corporations a vote. And the Constitution does not give dollar bills a vote…

In Reid’s view, “the Kochs’ bid for a hostile takeover of American democracy is calculated to make themselves even richer” — and realkochfacts.com seems poised to prove his argument. 

Screenshot via Al-Jazeera