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Wednesday Toon Roundup 2- More NBA fallout

Wednesday Toon Roundup 1- NBA taking out the trash

Your complete guide to the murder of net neutrality

The beginning of the end of net neutrality? President Obama announces the appointment of Tom Wheeler as FCC Chairman last May. (Andrew Harrer / Bloomberg / May 1, 2013)

You couldn't say the crime is being committed by stealth. Quite the contrary: Tom Wheeler, the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, is aiming to slay net neutrality in broad daylight. The murder weapon is a proposal to allow Internet service providers to charge content companies more for faster access to their subscribers.

Wheeler's proposal, which is scheduled for a preliminary vote by the full FCC on May 15, has been assailed as a full-scale retreat from the open-Internet principle traditionally upheld by the commission, and explicitly supported by President Obama. Wheeler claims he's not backing away from net neutrality at all, and that assertions to the contrary are the product of "a great deal of misinformation."

He's blowing smoke. The critics are right. Wheeler's proposal will turn the Internet as we know it into the private preserve of a handful of rich and powerful companies. It will make them richer and more powerful. And you'll be getting the bill. If the commission votes for the proposal, it will then be subject to months of public comments. But the risk is it could become law by the end of this year.

First, some background. Net neutrality is the principle that Internet service providers can't discriminate among content providers trying to reach you online -- they can't block websites or services, or degrade their signal, slow their traffic or, conversely, provide a better traffic lane for some rather than others.



Ancient hunting camp found beneath Lake Huron

Deep below the surface of Lake Huron, scuba-diving researchers have found an elaborate network of hunting blinds and animal-herding structures dating back roughly 9,000 years.

Lake levels of the day were some 250 feet lower, exposing a narrow bridge of land running from one side of Huron to the other. Prehistoric people evidently thought this isthmus was a perfect place to intercept caribou on their seasonal migrations. The hunting site they built, now inundated, opens a window onto prehistoric America and provides valuable evidence in a region where such artifacts are practically non-existent.

If the hunting structures “were on solid ground, (they) probably would’ve been bulldozed away for a Walmart parking lot by now,” says archaeologist Alan Osborn of the University of Nebraska-Omaha and the University of Nebraska State Museum, who was not part of the discovery team. Underwater archaeology is expensive, but “in this case, it’s revealing a site that’s in pretty much pristine condition.”

Serendipity, the researcher’s friend, is to thank for this discovery as well. A half-dozen years ago, the federal government published new maps showing Lake Huron’s underwater ridge, which runs from northeastern Michigan to southern Ontario, as archaeologist John O’Shea was reading a book about Siberian reindeer herders, who laid down brush to direct their animals’ path. O’Shea, of the University of Michigan’s Museum of Anthropological Archaeology, and his colleagues decided to take a long shot and look for similar features on Huron’s underwater ridge.



Foreclosure Fraud Whistleblower Says Government Is ‘Leaving Money On The Table’

Government prosecutors who relied on a Florida whistleblower’s evidence to win foreclosure fraud settlements with major banks two years ago are declining to help her pursue identical claims against a second set of large financial institutions.

Lynn Szymoniak first found proof that millions of American foreclosures were based on faulty and falsified documents while fighting her own foreclosure. Her three-year legal fight helped uncover the fact that banks were “robosigning” documents — hiring people to forge signatures and backdate legal paperwork the firms needed in order to foreclose on people’s homes — as a routine practice. Court papers that were unsealed last summer show that the fraudulent practices Szymoniak discovered affect trillions of dollars worth of mortgages.

Government prosecutors intervened in Szymoniak’s case in 2012 and struck a deal with Bank of America, JP Morgan, Citigroup, Wells Fargo, and Ally Financial. The specific instances of fraud she uncovered accounted for $95 million out of a broader $25 billion settlement between the government and the five lenders. But when Szymoniak alleged similar misconduct at other major banks, including Deutsche Bank, HSBC, Bank of New York Mellon, and US Bancorp, the government left her to fight singlehanded against a horde of corporate attorneys, Bloomberg reports. A Department of Justice (DOJ) spokeswoman declined to comment on the government’s rationale, according to the report, and representatives for each bank did likewise. One of Szymoniak’s attorneys said the DOJ’s decision means that “they are leaving money on the table.”

Whatever its motives, the public record of the Obama administration’s foreclosure fraud cases and mortgage finance enforcement efforts suggests a pattern of letting powerful and abusive companies off the hook in various ways. The much-touted $25 billion settlement that absorbed Szymoniak’s initial lawsuits ultimately failed to stop the industry from continuing to violate homeowners’ rights. The failures were so persistent and widespread that the government ended up going back and rewriting the terms of the deal last fall. The settlement ended up helping far fewer people than it was supposed to and did nothing to stop the flood of faulty documents in foreclosure cases that continues to this day.


Merger Would Let Pfizer Duck A Billion Dollars In U.S. Taxes Each Year

A major corporate takeover in the prescription drug industry is motivated in part by a desire to duck billions of dollars in U.S. taxes, the Wall Street Journal reported Monday night. If Pfizer is successful in its bid for AstraZeneca, the combined firm would set up its technical headquarters abroad, slashing its tax liability but still allowing the company to conduct day-to-day operations from its current American headquarters.

Pfizer currently holds tens of billions of dollars in profits offshore to avoid American taxes, a practice so common that total offshored corporate profits hit $2 trillion earlier this year. Acquiring the British firm AstraZeneca and moving the merged company’s tax home to Ireland, the Netherlands, or some other tax haven country “would still allow me to access the offshore funds and do it in a tax-efficient way,” Pfizer’s top financial executive told the Journal.

Corporate accountants have a name for shifting a company’s tax home without modifying its actual operating structure. Known as an “inversion,” the practice has been around for almost twenty years. Companies used to be able to invert at will — in the late 1990s, for example, American heavy manufacturer Caterpillar simply hired an accounting firm to set up a Swiss subsidiary to hide profits from U.S. authorities — but as rules have tightened, inversions have become more and more difficult to conduct. Today, inversions are only possible as part of international acquisitions of the sort Pfizer is pursuing.



Louisiana About To Make It Illegal For Homeless People To Beg For Money

If you are poor, live in Louisiana, and have the audacity ask someone else for help, be prepared to spend up to six months in jail.

A new bill to outlaw panhandling is quickly moving its way through the Louisiana legislature. HB 1158 would criminalize solicitation, making it a misdemeanor punishable with a maximum fine of $200 and up to six months in jail. The bill is targeted not just at panhandlers, but hitchhikers and those engaged in prostitution as well.

The bill passed the Louisiana House last week by a vote of 89-0. There was no floor debate. It is now being taken up by the Senate, where it will be acted on Tuesday.

The bill’s author, State Rep. Austin Badon (D), told Post TV that he hoped that banning begging will somehow lead to fewer poor people on the streets. He doubted that many were in actual need, saying, “they’re paying their cell phone bills, they’re paying their computer bills. It’s a racket.”


Study: One Out of Twenty Five Death Row Inmates Is Innocent

How many American prisoners have been wrongfully convicted of the crimes they're serving time for? Answering that question would help measure the effectiveness the criminal justice system.

Researchers of a study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences tried to get to this answer by reviewing death penalty cases. Because of the life-or-death stakes involved, a lot more effort is exerted to exonerate death row inmates than any other cohort of inmate.

In fact, according to the research, 1.7 percent of all death row inmates are eventually exonerated. It's a higher number than the one quoted by Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia in Kansas v. Marsh, a case about the death penalty. He claimed the error rate was .027 percent. The researchers dismissed that number; they say it was arrived at by extending the exoneration rate of a small subgroup of inmates (capital cases) to the wider American prison population.

Instead, the researchers used the exoneration rate on death row and extended it to inmates whose capital punishment is replaced by life imprisonment, at which point efforts to exonerate them largely subside. Based on that idea, they estimate 4.1 percent, or one in 25, of all death row inmates are innocent, meaning that they would be exonerated if they remained on death row.



Elizabeth Warren- The Citigroup Clique

Why is Obama appointing so many former employees of one Wall St. bank?

Today, I cast my vote on the Senate Banking Committee for Stanley Fischer to serve in the No. 2 position at the U.S. Federal Reserve. I asked Fischer tough questions – in person, at his nomination hearing, and in writing – and I have been impressed with the depth of his knowledge and experience.

But I cast my vote reluctantly because of my growing frustration over the concentration of people with ties to the megabank Citigroup in senior government positions.

In recent years, Wall Street institutions have exerted extraordinary influence in Washington’s corridors of power, but Citi has risen above the others in exercising a tight grip over the Democratic Party’s economic policymaking apparatus. Fischer, after all, is just the latest Citi alumnus to be tapped for a high-level government position. Starting with Robert Rubin – a former Citi CEO – three of the last four Treasury secretaries under Democratic presidents have had Citigroup affiliations before or after their Treasury service. (The fourth was offered, but declined, Citigroup’s CEO position.) Directors of the National Economic Council and Office of Management and Budget, as well as our current U.S. trade representative, also have had strong ties to Citigroup.

No one doubts that there are smart, hard-working people at Citigroup and elsewhere in the financial industry. When I worked to set up the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, I interviewed, hired and worked alongside many people with private-sector experience. Private-sector experience can be valuable and should not disqualify someone from serving in the upper levels of government.

Read more: http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2014/04/the-citigroup-clique-106125.html

United Church of Christ sues over NC ban on same-sex marriage

A group of Charlotte-area ministers helped launch the country’s first faith-based challenge to same-sex marriage bans, claiming in a lawsuit filed Monday that North Carolina’s laws block them from practicing their religion.

The local religious leaders, who include a rabbi, are joined by colleagues from Asheville and Raleigh along with a national denomination, the United Church of Christ. All support the rights of same-sex couples to marry.

They say state prohibitions, including a constitutional amendment passed by voters in 2012, violate their First Amendment right of freedom of religion. And they are asking the federal courts in the Western District of North Carolina to overturn the ban as quickly as possible.

“North Carolina judges some of its citizens as unfit for the blessings of God. We reject that notion,” said the Rev. Nancy Allison, pastor of Holy Covenant United Church of Christ and one of the plaintiffs in the case.

The sacraments of baptism and communion are open to all, she said. “So should all God’s children be able to receive marriage.”

Read more here: http://www.charlotteobserver.com/2014/04/28/4871111/united-church-of-christ-sues-over.html
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