Archive for the ‘Regulation’ Category

Most of us use Google products on a daily basis and are familiar with the company’s powerful email and Internet search services. But these days, there is a lot more to Google’s technological operations — and they come with myriad new ways to collect our information. Now the company that used Street View cars to collect unsuspecting people’s information, and received the Federal Trade Commission’s largest civil penalty ever for misleadingly tracking Safari users, is reaching new levels of political power.

A new Public Citizen report, “Mission Creep-y,” explores Google’s accruing power, both in terms of personal data collection, and federal and state government influence, raising the question of whether it could become too powerful to be held accountable.

Key findings about Google’s growing political power:

  • Over the first three quarters of 2014, Google ranked first among all corporations in lobbying spending, according to OpenSecrets.org, and is on pace to spend $18.2 million on federal lobbying this year. In fact, it has spent $1 million more on lobbying than PhRMA, the powerful trade association of the pharmaceutical industry.
  • Since 2012, no company has spent more money on federal lobbying than Google.
  • Of 102 lobbyists the company has hired or retained in 2014, 81 previously held government jobs. Meanwhile, a steady stream of Google employees has been appointed to high-ranking government jobs – an indication of the company’s growing influence in national affairs.
  • Google’s political action committee (PAC) spent $1.61 million this year, according to Federal Election Commission records. That surpasses, for the first time, PAC expenditures by Wall Street bank Goldman Sachs.
  • Google funds about 140 trade associations and other nonprofits across the ideological spectrum – including some working in issue areas relevant to Google’s practices on privacy, political spending, antitrust and more.

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Today is Veterans Day.

Politicians are making speeches honoring the sacrifices made by servicemen and servicewomen. But being ripped off by predatory lenders — many of whom prey specifically on residents of military bases — should NOT be among our veterans’ sacrifices.

The Department of Defense has the authority to rein in the unpatriotic predators who gouge service members. Please join Public Citizen in urging the DoD to support the troops by cracking down on corporate predators.

Service members are targeted by “payday” lenders because military rules require them to maintain good finances, but the realities of service — such as sudden relocations to different parts of the country — often result in unanticipated expenses.

Meanwhile, forced arbitration clauses buried in the fine print of the terms for these high-interest (as in 500 percent) loans mean that our troops are denied their right to a day in court.

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Below is my comment calling on the Federal Election Commission (FEC) to put an end to secret political spending by corporations and others attempting to tilt elections while evading accountability.

You should sign on to Public Citizen’s comment and submit your own personal comment too.

Why should the FEC listen to you?

Well, for starters, because the FEC is in charge of our federal election laws, and you are a voter. You might have noticed our election system is kind of a mess. It wasn’t great before the Supreme Court’s disastrous Citizens United ruling – and it’s now so overrun with billionaire-backed sham campaigns and corporate sock puppet groups that it’s hard to believe any candidate capable of challenging rule by the One Percent can win.

So here’s the comment I submitted urging the FEC to require disclosure of political spending. It won’t fix everything – we need a constitutional amendment to carry things as far as we really need them to go – but it can, at least, fix something.

(And you can help by signing on to Public Citizen’s comment and submitting your own personal comment too.)

To the FEC:

How much are our elections being distorted by secret spending?

How many candidates don’t run because they don’t want to put their families through the horror show of ugly, unaccountable attacks?

And how many don’t run because they don’t want such attacks to occur on their behalf?

My sense is – and I think a lot of Americans would agree – that the kind of people who are so utterly disgusted by the mire of secret spending are the same kind of people who actually should be involved in politics.

Let’s be honest. You know the slash-and-burn political adds that dark money groups run don’t “inform” anyone – they shrink the electorate by making as many reasonable people as possible feel nothing but disgust and contempt for the process. If congressional approval ratings are any indication, they work. And with the electorate reduced to each party’s base of die-hard standard bearers, it’s no wonder nothing gets done. (I know you folks don’t have to look far to notice partisan gridlock causing inaction, do you?)

But of course the solicitation of comments for this rule is supposed to signify a change at the FEC, right? You’re working together to make some things happen now, right?

Too often, “bipartisanship” means Republicans and Democrats getting past their differences in order to dupe the public and deliver what corporate lobbyists want.

I hope the FEC’s new emphasis on working together is not that.

Here’s to hoping the FEC’s efforts really can result in new rules requiring disclosure of the corporations and individuals behind the dark money campaigns corrupting our elections.

If I didn’t believe it could make a difference, I wouldn’t be submitting this comment.

But after the past five years or so – especially since the Supreme Court’s appalling ruling in Citizens United v. FEC – it’s hard to imagine anyone who cares about our elections isn’t feeling at least a little bit cynical.

But cynical is better than hopeless.

And if you still think your agency is capable of addressing our dysfunctional elections, then by all means give it the best damn shot you can.

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Today the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) released a fantastic study finding that the EPA’s proposed Clean Power Plan underestimates how much progress we can make on renewable energy. The agency could nearly double the amount of renewables in its carbon-reduction targets for states, from 12 percent of 2030 electric generation to 23 percent. The UCS analysis isn’t just wishful thinking. It’s based on the actual pace of renewables growth in the recent past, as well as state laws in place that require particular increases in renewables. As the National Wildlife Federation points out in its comment on the UCS study, the EPA’s targets for renewables fall short of what the U.S. Energy Information Agency projects will happen under a business-as-usual scenario. Why do less, when we can do much more?

The best news in the study is that by raising the targets for renewables, EPA can dramatically boost the efficacy of the Clean Power Plan overall. Rather than reduce carbon emissions just 30 percent from 2005  levels by 2030, the Plan could achieve a 40 percent reduction. That’s because the Plan works primarily by replacing coal with another fossil fuel — natural gas. If we go further and replace some of that natural gas with renewables (and reduce the need for electricity with energy efficiency measures), we can make much more significant, sustainable reductions in carbon emissions.

A fossil-fuel-industry front group that calls itself the “60 Plus Association” has released a “study” claiming that the EPA’s proposal to curb carbon pollution, known as the Clean Power Plan, would raise utility costs for seniors. Don’t buy it.

The group relies on a sleight-of-hand to make its claim: It cites only the EPA’s projection that electricity prices will increase under its rule (Clean Power Plan Regulatory Impact Analysis (RIA) Table 3-21) while ignoring the projection, just a few pages later in the very same document, that electricity bills will actually decline. The rule includes efficiency measures that will result in consumers using significantly less power. (RIA Table 3-24). So raw electricity prices will go up a bit, but we will use less power—and pay less overall.

Also, 60 Plus looks only at the agency’s analysis for 2020, rather than its longer-term projections. What happens in the long term is obviously more important. It’s also much more favorable.

Here is a chart that shows projected electricity prices and bills under one of two main scenarios that the EPA analyzes:

Projected Retail Electricity Prices Under EPA’s Option 1, State Compliance Scenario Projected Change in Utility Bills
Cents/kWh Without Rule Cents/kWh Under Rule Percent Change
2020 10.4 11.1 6.5% 3.2%
2025 10.8 11.1 2.9% -5.3%
2030 10.9 11.3 3.1% -8.4%
Source: RIA Tables 3-21, 3-22, 3-23, 3-24.

 

60 Plus points out that electricity prices will rise 6.5 percent in 2020, but it ignores that actual bills will rise by less than half that (3.2 percent) in 2020 and will decline 5.3 percent by 2025 and 8.4 percent by 2030. The numbers are even more favorable under the EPA’s other major scenario, in which states band together and comply in regional groups rather than comply separately. There, bills would fall by 8.7 percent by 2030. (RIA Table 3-24).

Media outlets should ignore this kind of junk from 60 Plus. But at least one local TV station was duped by this release. WDBJ 7 in Virginia not only reported the study, but misreported in just the way 60 Plus wants: by saying it shows that electricity bills will increase under the EPA plan.

Let’s hope no one else picks it up.

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