Equifax Data Breach Demonstrates Everything Wrong With Modern Capitalism

 

Image result for grasshopper and the ant disney

“Poverty and Misfortune Only Happen to Those That Deserve It”- Equifax Slogan

 

You ever fall behind on your credit card? Miss a car payment? Juggle some bills and end up paying your cable late, since their late fee was more affordable? Ever send in a rent check that ended up getting there a day or two after the 5th? If not, that’s legitimately great. You’ve done well. But for most people in America, the answer is “yes”.

And if that answer is yes, chances are that Equifax knows about it. They have that information. And now, thanks to a breach, hackers have the private information of 143 million Americans.

Equifax, one of the three major consumer credit reporting agencies, said on Thursday that hackers had gained access to company data that potentially compromised sensitive information for 143 million American consumers, including Social Security numbers and driver’s license numbers.

The attack on the company represents one of the largest risks to personally sensitive information in recent years, and is the third major cybersecurity threat for the agency since 2015.

One question you might ask yourself is: why does Equifax even have Social Security numbers, man? After all, eligibility for Social Security is about the only thing in American life that isn’t based upon your credit score. That’s a good question, and the answer is because they want it, and we’ve become conditioned to giving away our Social Security number to any corporation that asks.

We put it on job applications for background checks, and one of the places that they check is with these credit reporting companies. I spent a few years working at a large background check company, checking criminal records, but we also did credit checks. It was a horrible, soul-crushing job, where you could check a box and deny someone employment because they boosted a candy bar once, or because they fell behind on their bills.

Think about the power that these companies have over you. Your whole life is wrapped up in credit scores, a history of your solvency, which impacts every opportunity moving forward. Companies like Equifax exist to make sure that you can never outrace your past.

Yes, it is good that people who didn’t make mistakes, who saved and were thrifty, are rewarded. It is also true that everything you do has consequences, and we shouldn’t set up society to reward grasshoppers who fail to prepare for the winter. Life has consequences, right? Equifax just tallies them up.

Except we all know that isn’t true. If you have money, then dumb decisions don’t have any consequences. If you don’t, making the same mistakes reverberates throughout your entire life. If you have money, you don’t have to make a decision on which bill to pay. If you work full-time and are still below the poverty level (as is the case with ten million workers) then you are going to end up with a bad score from Equifax.

That’s the life we have set up. Even if you work full time, have multiple jobs, you can be poor and struggling to get by. You’ll juggle bills, and your score will be bad. That can hurt future employment. It can make getting a house impossible. If you made mistakes when you were younger, and didn’t have the grace of wealth to bury those errors, you could be screwed for decades. The bosses have the power, and their spies are the credit reporting agencies, to whom we give over our lives. It’s no wonder so many people are on anti-depressants.

Want more proof that this is the perfect American scandal? The company knew about the breach for months before reporting it, obviously, because who cares about the affected consumers when stock prices might be affected. And that’s right: stock in Equifax has dropped. But don’t worry!

Three Equifax Inc. senior executives sold shares worth almost $1.8 million in the days after the company discovered a security breach that may have compromised information on about 143 million U.S. consumers.

Now, the company says the executives weren’t aware of the breach when they sold, but come on. These aren’t exactly credible sources.

This is it in a nutshell. Consequences for thee, but not for me. Our screwups end in golden parachutes and stock selloffs, yours end in zeroed-out opportunities. The grasshoppers are the winners here. We’ve sold our soul to the boss class, and to them its pocket change.

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Foxconn’s Wisconsin Plant Bad for Wetlands and Workers; Another Demonstration of the Race to the Bottom

 

Image result for foxconn nets installed

Foxconn: Worker-friendly enough to install anti-suicide nets

 

So, last week it was announced that Foxconn, which builds stuff for Apple when its employees aren’t killing themselves in China, was opening a plant right in Wisconsin’s 1st District, home of Paul Ryan. This was sort of a win for Trump, who is bringing back manufacturing, etc, and presented as a very good thing for Wisconsin workers.

This is a $10 billion investment, and it could actually go higher if you listen to the President.

President Donald Trump, who has suggested the deal would not have happened without his efforts, said he was told by Foxconn Chairman Terry Gou that the investment could be larger than $10 billion.

“He told me off the record, he thinks he may go to $30 billion,” Trump said at a small business event at the White House on Tuesday of Foxconn’s investment.

“I promised I wouldn’t tell,” Trump said to laughter.

Now, based on track record, this conversation almost certainly didn’t happen. We don’t expect Donald Trump to tell the truth. But still, $10 billion is a lot, and there could be thousands of jobs, both in the plant and in the auxiliary trades.

(There is also a great little part in Reuters: “Trump praised Foxconn chairman Terry Gou at a White House event, asserting: ‘If I didn’t get elected, he definitely wouldn’t be spending $10 billion … This is a great day for America.'” That’s…not praising Gou.)

Now, to be sure, there have been some caveats. For example, a lot of that $10 billion could be spent on automation. Gou wants to have 1 million robots “working” for his factories over the next decade. It will be looking for “automation savvy workers”, which doesn’t always mean the people in Janesville who lost jobs. With retraining, it might. And if Wisconsin invests in such programs, it could create jobs for the state.

But that means money, and all this Foxconn largesse doesn’t come cheap. For example, the state is giving Foxconn $3 billion in tax breaks. And there is some more. As the Journal-Sentinal puts it:

In return for building an industrial campus that could employ as many as 10,000 people in Wisconsin, Foxconn Technology Group almost surely will expect subsidies, tax breaks, job retraining promises, infrastructure improvements and other government incentives.

And it will expect them on a scale that by traditional standards would be staggering.

“They do this everywhere they go,” said Einar Tangen, a Beijing-based Chinese economic expert, echoing the views of many Asian experts. “They extract everything they can.”

They’re not kidding, either. One of the provisions in the bill to lure Foxconn in is fewer protections for the wetlands.

Environmental groups, including Midwest Environmental Advocates and the Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters, said the state’s proposal rolls back protections for wetlands, which act as natural filters for drinking water and wildlife habitats, and protect against flooding…

The draft bill allows Foxconn to discharge dredged or fill material into some wetlands without state permits. The legislation also would allow Foxconn to connect artificial bodies of water with natural waterways without state permits.

This is not great. But it is a perfect encapsulation of the Trump/Ryan/Walker anti-worker and anti-environmental plan.

Let’s review what we have here. A decimated industrial workforce building a factory for high-tech workers who don’t, at all, have to come from the area. They can move there from anywhere (and a recent theme of the President has been people moving to Wisconsin). An anti-environmental race to the bottom where workers move from state to state depending on which lowers restrictions enough to get medium-to-low paying jobs. This is another theme of Trump, who emphasized as much in a lunatic pre-inauguration press conference.

You can do anywhere — you’ve got a lot of states at play; a lot of competition. So it’s not like, oh, gee, I’m taking the competition away. You’ve got a lot of places you can move. And I don’t care, as along as it’s within the United States, the borders of the United States.

The theme is to let the states fight it out. Who can remove the most protection for workers? Who can remove the most environmental regulations? Who can destroy unions the fastest? Who can dive to the bottom of the barrel? This is what Walker has done to Wisconsin, and it is the quintessence of the Republican jobs plan.

It’s to create some jobs, yeah, but to remove any power workers might have. To make them fight over scraps. To have states compete against each other to be “pro-business”. You want us to keep our factory here? Well then get rid of child labor laws.

It isn’t a coincidence this is being built in Wisconsin. Walker has made it the petri dish of right-wing jobs’ programs, in which the workers are reduced to disposable numbers and any idea of duty to the community is laughably archaic. He loves overturning regulations in order to attract “jobs”, because that’s how people get turned into capital. And that is his driving motivation.

It’s Trump’s, too. All his talk of the white working class was, like everything else, a lie. The plant will be good for people in the short-term, maybe. And the environmentalists will be painted as inhibiting jobs, anti-worker, etc. It’s part of the long-running war to separate the two groups, a false choice proposed by greedy management. This is the new America. Looks a lot like the old one.

 

And Now, The Good News: Chicago Sun-Times Bought By Labor

Historical note: The Tribune was certainly not on the side of labor here

Pictured: New Sun-Times ownership group takes charge.

In what is sure to give Professionally Concerned People cause for concern, the Chicago Sun-Times was purchased today by workers. Sort of.

Edwin Eisendrath and a coalition of labor unions made good on their promise to secure funding to acquire the Chicago Sun-Times and the Chicago Reader, the former Chicago alderman confirmed Monday.

With more than $11.2 million placed in escrow, Eisendrath and his group met the deadline set by the U.S. Department of Justice Antitrust Division to complete the transaction with Wrapports Holdings LLC.

Behind the effort were unions affiliated with the Chicago Federation of Labor and seven individual investors, Eisendrath said.

The other interested party was tronc (sic), who owns the Tribune. The tronc people said they would maintain independent newsrooms, but no one believed them. For one thing, they are tronc, a ridiculous post-human company with no interest in journalism.  It’s not like would have any interest in competing papers. Most likely, the Times would slowly turn into a newsless rag, adverts and celebrity stuff, leaving the Trib the only real game in town.

For another, the Tribune has been moving to the right again. It’s always been the voice of Republicanism in any form. Sure, it endorsed Barack Obama, twice. That was sort of remarkable. They got out of that, though, by endorsing Gary Johnson last year. The endorsement is a thing of beauty. One paragraph on why Trump shouldn’t be President (he angered people, and he wasn’t a real Republican), followed by a paragraph about how they understand why the “elites” forced people to vote for Trump, followed by about 18 paragraphs of why Hillary is pure evil (while admitting she could do the job). Gary “what’s an Aleppo” Johnson is someone voters “could be proud of”.

The paper, de facto, endorsed Trump, by shrugging off his flaws by saying “he’s not qualified”, which is inarguable, but weirdly easy to disagree with, and then spending the rest of the time talking about Benghazi and her foundation and emails. Nothing specific with Trump, but all the ammo Hillary-haters would need. The media doing that is one of the main reasons he won.

And now they might be bought by Sinclair, a hard-right “news” group slowly taking over all the local media. A court ruling last month makes it look pretty damn inevitable. So what do you think? Would the august Tribune and the hard-right talk-radio Sinclair let the Times continue to be scrappy and liberal? Absolutely not. They have an agenda, and turning Chicago into a one-paper town was part of it.

That’s why this is great. I have no idea if Eisendrath’s group will do a good job. And I’m not going to romanticize the Times or even pretend I really read it (the website sucks). But it is great to have two papers, and very exciting that one is owned by Labor. I don’t think it is going to turn into the Weekly World Wobbly or anything like that, but we might actually have a pro-worker slant to a paper.

Yeah, everyone says they are for the working man and the little guy, but how often do you see any news outfits really fight for them? They instinctively side with business, because they are a business. Maybe the Times will be slightly different.

Looking forward to seeing very telling reactions. Having labor own a paper is, of course, bias. News operations should only be run by corporations, which are by definition conservative and business-oriented, and increasingly radical. But that’s fine. That’s how it should be, right?

I don’t expect a wildly liberal Sun-Times. But I do expect a paper that at least pretends a city should care about working people, and not just maximizing corporate profits. It’s nice to be a two paper town where the bad guy is so clearly defined. It’s nice to have a fight, and not just the right-wing homogenization of our media.

Somewhere, Mike Royko is happy. And if that makes you sad, you’re on the wrong goddamn side of this.

Republicans look to decimate poor to fund tax cuts for rich; sun rises.

Paul Ryan, Mike Pence, Kevin McCarthy, Steve Scalise

“And then he died penniless on the street!”

I recently read Janesville: An American Story, by Amy Goldstein. It’s all about the GM plant closing down, and an old union town being torn apart by the way life was suddenly rent wide open, by the cruelty of decisions made far away, and the impact that sudden poverty had on a stable middle-class town. There are wealthy people who are fine, and there are people who retired with pensions who are doing ok. There are people who lost jobs because they started a month too late. Really, the book is about, if not fate, then luck, and the breaks that can befall even the best-planned life.

Told through the stories of people in the town, it isn’t directly political, though politics plays a role. And it is extremely political in the broad, general sense of our politics being an outcome of the decisions we make and the leaders we elect. And throughout the book, there is Paul Ryan, the local kid who made the big ticket, and is now the Speaker of the House. He’s all downhome modesty, talking about his Janesville values, and how everything he learned he learned in town. He talks in length about his concern for the town, trying to save jobs, pleading with GM not to close down the plant. A regular Jimmy Stewart.

The act would almost be convincing if one didn’t know Paul Ryan. If one did, though, headlines like this Politico one from over the weekend are not surprising.

Republicans plan massive cuts to programs for the poor. 

That’s sort of…well, that could be a permanent headline, really. In order to pay for Trump’s tax cuts, but also honor his promise not to touch Medicare or Social Security (the promise not to touch Medicaid, of course, was altered by $800 billion or so), the Republicans under the leadership of Paul Ryan is looking to slash “food stamps, welfare, income assistance for the disabled and perhaps even veterans benefits.

If enacted, such a plan to curb safety-net programs — all while juicing the Pentagon’s budget and slicing corporate tax rates — would amount to the biggest shift in federal spending priorities in decades.”

This might be a shift for the government, but it isn’t a priority shift for the Republicans. Because this has been a Republican priority for decades; indeed, it has been the essence of their platform. Because even when Paul Ryan was rubbermasking his mopey concern face about the plant closing, he was fighting to cut unemployment benefits. He was fighting to cut food stamps. He was fighting to privatize Social Security and destroy Medicaid. He was fighting to cut the legs out from under the people who were the direction to which he focused his smuggest sanctimony.

These are their priorities. Most human life, as Ryan’s good buddy Scott Walker so often reminds us, is about becoming sources of capital for the wealthy. It isn’t about getting anything back except whatever salary they want to give you; these are two of the biggest opponents of collective bargaining in America (which a wildly anti-Janesville stance). If you aren’t working, or are poor, or just so happened to hit a spell of bad luck, you’re screwed. You don’t deserve anything. Hurt on the job? Someone else will take your place, desperate and starved, for whatever peanuts they want to throw them. And then you’re on the street, with no safety net.

It is really galling how much they preen and purr about small town values, but do whatever they can to indenture and immiserate any humans, to break the ties of solidarity that come with mutual dignity, and to pit people against each other. There is no comity.  There’s no decency.

Every small town has some kind of legend, a weird swamp monster or a strange dog or that one night everyone heard a strange, almost melodic hum coming from some undefined place, maybe the woods at the edge, or maybe just the air itself. But if small towns really had the values the GOP promotes, if union-proud Janesville was actually a reflection of Paul Ryan, there wouldn’t be any need for these legends. They’d be full of snarling many-mouthed beasts attacking the vulnerable, green drool mixing with blood on the streets, while the very few lived in gated compounds, armed guards keeping at bay both the fiends and their victims.

That’s Paul Ryan’s America. The only value is the dollar, and if you don’t have any, don’t ask. Come talk to us when you’re rich, chump.

 

EPA Replaces Scientists With Industry; Embraces Cartoon Villainy

 

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“Yeah, but those regulations were super onerous…”

 

The phrase “you can’t make this up” is overused, since these days, all you have to do is imagine the worst possible idea being enacted by the worst possible people, and you have a pretty close approximation of reality. Right, NY Times?

WASHINGTON — The Environmental Protection Agency has dismissed at least five members of a major scientific review board, the latest signal of what critics call a campaign by the Trump administration to shrink the agency’s regulatory reach by reducing the role of academic research.

A spokesman for the E.P.A. administrator, Scott Pruitt, said he would consider replacing the academic scientists with representatives from industries whose pollution the agency is supposed to regulate, as part of the wide net it plans to cast. “The administrator believes we should have people on this board who understand the impact of regulations on the regulated community,” said the spokesman, J. P. Freire.

What’s interesting here is how they don’t even pretend to be talking about citizens anymore. Normally, they say things like “those egghead bureaucrat scientists in Washington DC don’t understand the kind of water that we enjoy here in Mudville. Our citizens are just fine with a little bit of cadmium in their soup.” But that’s not even what J.P. Freire is saying. He’s talking about the “regulated community”, i.e., the businesses themselves. It might be a different definition of “community” than you or I understand, but remember, my friend: corporations are people.

There’s not even anything to unpack here; there’s not even the tribute vice pays to virtue. They are straight-up saying that any regulations will be vetted by the people whose profits are impacted by regulations, and how that is the only concern.

It’s a pretty clear baseline. What matters is the impact regulations have on the bottom line of the company. The baseline isn’t what deregulated pollutions has on the humans who lives around the company. That is, at best, secondary. That’s not the impact that matters.

So it doesn’t matter, just to take a quick jaunt around recent headlines, that:

None of that matters (the attack on indigenous rights might actually be a bonus for these jackals). What we need are fewer regulations, and they should be vetted by the industries themselves.

It’s easy to see the counterarguments. More regulations are job-killing, and these plants and factories and industries are the lifeblood of the community, and if those science pinheads continue to ram their globalist climate-hysteric ideologies down our throats, we’ll be forced to close shop and go pollute Mexico. And why should the Mexicans get all our good pollution?

It’s a seductive argument, except it is also a completely phony one. The choice isn’t between “pollution and jobs”; it is between “pollution or slightly reduced profits.” It’s always been a lie that a company can’t follow simple environmental regulations. They made the same argument when smokestacks were regulated to reduce deadly smog, and industry didn’t collapse. It’s a choice made by companies to chase greater profits by moving to deregulated countries.

Reducing or eliminating regulations doesn’t actually help anyone. There will always be a place that cares even less about its citizens, that slashes regulations, that lets you dump paint right into the well. That the US is rushing to join these countries isn’t pro-worker; it is showing absolute contempt for the worker. It’s saying “you can keep your job, but only if we can lower wages, kill your collective bargaining rights, and poison you and your family, working you until you die young or are too broken to be of use.”

That’s Scott Pruitt’s vision of the future. It’s another reason why this administration has to be resisted at every step. Everything they do is carcinogenic. That’s unfortunately too often literal.

Wednesday Good Reads: SETI, El Faro, and Labor

 

FREE BOOKS! | Forever Free | Georgia Pathway to Language  Literacy

“Go to the one about organized labor, Madison

 

A few good reads from the last few days. What’s stopping you? You have nothing to lose, and everything (or, well, three things) to gain.

Searching the Skies for Alien Laser Beams, Marina Koren, The Atlantic

Some scientists believe that the best way to find alien life is to look for pulses of laser beams shot out across the dark eons. While SETI doesn’t always get priority for telescope use (understandably), researchers have found a workaround: poring through data collected by other observations and looking for anomalies. Of course, this presupposes that aliens have seen our planet, want to send some form of contact, and have also decided that laser pulses are the best way, but that makes some sense. It’s easier than sending, like an expedition, and it isn’t really committal (“Oh, jeez, sorry, we were sending that to Rigel 7.”), but there’s something very romantic about it. It’s like being at camp and blinking your flashlight across the lake, wondering if there were campers over there, wondering if you were somehow making a connection through the darkness.

(Granted, I doubt the aliens are hoping, as we campers did, just to make contact with girls, but the general principle holds.)

Democrats and Labor: Frenemies Forever, Erik Loomis, Boston Review

I don’t think there is anyone concerned with labor and with unions (the only thing that can bring back any form of rough economic equality) that isn’t frustrated with the Democrats. Even a very pro-labor government like Obama’s saw labor decline. But as Loomis argues, deciding the abandon the Democrats is ridiculous. A labor-driven third party can’t work, and the Republicans are fully committed to destroying what’s left of unions.

Loomis diagnosis how, oddly, the grassroots/progressive liberal wing helped to strip unions of their power, which accelerated the Democrats no longer needing them as much for votes, and relying on small donors/huge corporate cash, which pushed them toward unfettered free trade, which helped destroy the unions. It’s a complicated story where good guy/bad guy is pretty blurry, but there are ways to get back. The alliances that shattered unions can be used to build them back up.

Other unions have embraced grassroots activism to elect liberal and friendly Democrats. The latter is unions’ best answer if combined with committing as many resources as possible to organizing. Because, paradoxically, unions have little choice but to continue tying their fate to the Democratic Party. Indeed it is even more important now than five decades ago. Even though Democrats have helped create their demise, unions’ only chance against a full-on war with the Republican Party is a moderately favorable relationship with the Democrats acting as a kind of political bulwark.

The whole thing is worth the read.

‘I’m a Goner’: El Faro’s Last Hours as Ship Sails Into StormJason Dearen, AP

The El Faro was nearly 800 feet long and could carry 31,000 tons. It wasn’t one of the neo-Panamax megaliners that are transforming global shipping, but it was a beast. It also had bad boilers which could hurt its engine, and old-fashioned lifeboats that were essentially useless in a big storm. On Oct 1st, 2015, it

On Oct 1st, 2015, it rushed headlong into a big storm. Hurrican Jaoquin, near the Bahamas, a Category 3 with winds up to 130 mph. Battered by waves, unable to turn, the ship broke up and sank, taking its crew of 33 with it to the bottom.

In the AP, Jason Dearen crafts a story out of transcripts recorded on the bridge, and they tell a harrowing story of calm professionalism over growing terror. The list of things that went wrong is terrifying and maddening. The ship listed a bit, which meant the parts that brough oil to the engines didn’t quite reach the reserves, which made the pumps not work, which brought on more water. It couldn’t steer into the waves, and so was pummeled by them, hundreds of feet high. They couldn’t even call for help, since the company that owned the boat (the one that signed off on the boilers and the lifeboats) had an answering service set up after hours. There was no way to contact them directly (though it might not have mattered in the face of a hurricane, that’s still pretty cold).

They do their jobs and try to figure it out. But eventually, there is no way out. The ship is sinking. Some panic, some try to just find the next way to survive. None do. It’s a terrible story, written with a modest and removed reserve, which heightens the true natural terror. And that boat, that human immensity, carrying with it the dreams and memories of dozens, disappears, swallowed unremarkably by a roiling sea.

 

In Privatizing Prison Nurses, Bruce Rauner Shows Depth of GOP Ideology

 

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“Why should the lucky ducks who work here get all the breaks?” -Bruce Rauner

 

 

Sometimes, it’s the big and obvious stories (like, say, delegating your son-in-law to handle Iraq, because “the kid had a globe as a child”) that reveal the whole ballgame. Sometimes it is obvious. But most of the time, the real roots of an ideology are hidden at the margins, small-seeming and usually state-level decisions that are page 8 stuff, legislative battles in sleepy capital cities. That’s where decisions that impact people’s lives are made, and far from the spotlight, that’s where the worst of Republican “governance” flails its tentacles.

That’s the case in Illinois, where Bruce Rauner is sort-of-unwittingly showing exactly what “no government” looks like. To sum up broadly, in case you haven’t been paying attention: Rauner wants to turn Illinois in Walker’s Wisconsin by starving the government, imposing austerity, and cutting off any social programs so that the rich can have tax cuts. It’s sheer Ryanism; it looks like Trump’s budget. The Dems, led by boss Mike Madigan, haven’t wanted to let him do this, for reasons both noble and political. Namely, Rauner wants to destroy unions, which is a huge Democratic base of power in Illinois, one of the few states that still has strong public and private sector unions.

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