NC Senator Bob Rucho Stabs Democracy, Leaves It Bleeding On Senate Floor

Image courtesy of the Raleigh News & Observer

The following is a Facebook post from NC Senator Josh Stein.

Senate Finance Committee Chair Bob Rucho flouted the democratic process yesterday to ram an anti-clean tech bill through committee.

We considered a House bill to curtail the development of solar and other renewables. Before we took the voice vote, Sen. Blue called for division, which is a process where members raise their hands to be counted. The Senate Rules are explicit. When a member calls for division, the chair “shall” do so.

Sen. Rucho refused saying he was exercising his authority as chair. He has no such authority. It was a rank abuse of power. Continue reading

Hold Rupert Murdoch to account. But go no further.

A goodly number of Murdoch’s newspapers run at a loss.  This isn’t because he’s a bad businessman, it’s because of the industry.  His competitors are doing worse.

However, Murdoch loves newspapers and news.  Whatever else his failings, it’s rare to have a newspaper owner who actually loves the medium.  So even though these companies lose money for him (and, in revenue terms, are a tiny proportion of an empire that is mainly about entertainment and media) he keeps them alive and well financed.

Say that the clusterfuck over the infractions of a small number of his newspapers (assuming this goes beyond just News of the World) results in him divesting of news entirely.  Firstly, who’d buy them?  Secondly, what happens if this leads to the final destruction of actual daily newspapers?  Continue reading

The Fourth four years later: Nothing’s changed

As I predicted four years ago on the Fourth of July, little has changed. This year’s fireworks and barbecues offer only a brief respite from the problems of the nation, how they are worsening, and how those who are supposed to address them remain mere chanters of their respective ideologies.

Four years ago, I predicted that the cost of federal elections would continue to rise, that the role of money would increase dramatically. I did not predict — or even dream it could happen — the outcome of the Supremes’ consideration of Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission that deepened the hole in which corporate money could hide while paying for “electioneering communications.”

Sadly, I did not predict that more than 30,000 journalists would lose their jobs in the past four years, lessening the ability of the press to hold government accountable. To me, corporations are now essentially the American government; more journalists, not fewer, trained in the same accounting chicanery that allowed Enron to flourish, are necessary to hold corporate government accountable, too.
Continue reading

Cyber warriors race to Mars

The Hundred Year StarshipNASA and its spooky Sith-lord counterpart, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, are teaming up to achieve the impossible: interplanetary colonialism. DARPA, known for its role in developing such technologies as the internet and GPS, has also funded cyborg beetles implanted with electrodes that control their flight by radio, battery powered human exoskeletons, and ravenous robots called EATRs which find and consume biomass (read humans) for fuel.

The stated purpose of DARPA is to maintain military supremacy through technological superiority. During the dark nights after Sputnik first blinked overhead, Americans gathered in their bomb shelters and grumbled that we should do something before the other guys do it to us. In our innocence, we had no idea what that something might be, so we put together a crack team of scientific geniuses to discover it. Continue reading

Trains, planes, and government deals

China leads the world in solar cell manufacturingA reader responding to my last article pointed out that increasing exports means selling something overseas that we make here. In January 2004, after three years of the George W. Bush administration, manufacturing jobs stood at 14.3 million, down by 3 million jobs, or 17.5 percent from July 2000. Employment in manufacturing was at its lowest since 1950. In spite of this, the United States has remained the world’s largest manufacturer. What are we making? Airplanes. Boeings. Cessnas. The Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II will gross $323 billion in U.S. defense contracts alone in 2010, and Lockheed is also selling them to Israel for $96 million apiece. The UK will want some, too. They have Rolls Royce engines.

It’s pretty amazing that we need all these war birds 20 years after the Cold War ended. Continue reading

South Africa's assault on freedom and property – should anyone in the rest of the world care?

The president should give a fuck?“Instead of standing aggressively behind the status quo, dressed in the cloak of the fourth estate, they need to talk more about responsibility, more about the importance of ethics, more about improvement in the standards of journalism in all respects. … The public interest means publication or non-publication guided by what is in the interest of the public as a whole, not what readers or an audience might find interesting or titillating.”

The words are a gauntlet thrown down before the media and against free speech as a whole. This is a nation that has shown determination to introduce Chinese-style Internet screening and demanding that ISPs censor content.

Except, these words weren’t spoken in South Africa. They are from Continue reading

WordsDay: Merchants of Doubt

What do the following things all have in common: tobacco safety and the dangers of secondhand smoke, the Strategic Defense Initiative, acid rain, the ozone hole, global warming, and the recent attacks on Rachel Carson (author of Silent Spring)? According to the new book by science historians Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway, Merchants of Doubt, they were all manipulated by a very small group of once well respected scientists whose radical free-market and anti-communist ideologies corrupted them to the point of attacking scientists, scientific organizations, and ultimately the process of science itself.

Merchants of Doubt focuses on seven different areas that are presented roughly how they’ve occurred chronologically, starting with the safety of tobacco in the 1950s, proceeding through nuclear war and the misguided defense of SDI, the opposition to regulation of both acid rain and CFCs, and finishing up with the recent attacks on global warming and attempts at historical revisionism with respect to Rachel Carson and the regulation of DDT. But through all of these areas, the main cast of characters barely changes, the methods used to attack scientific conclusions remain remarkably consistent, and the goals of the attacks become clearer and clearer. Continue reading

You chose it, your politicians arranged it and businesses delivered it. Who's responsible again?

On 31 May 2005, the US Supreme Court overturned accounting firm Arthur Andersen’s conviction for obstruction of justice.  It would be a pyrrhic victory as, by then, a company which once employed 85,000 people around the world had been reduced to penury.

The rush for victim’s justice in the aftermath of the Enron fraud scandal led to the deliberate instruction of the Texas District Court that the jury find Arthur Andersen, Enron’s auditors, guilty “even if petitioner honestly and sincerely believed its conduct was lawful.”

Then Chief Justice William Rehnquist stated in his opinion for the Supreme Court:  “The jury instructions at issue simply failed to convey the requisite consciousness of wrongdoing. … Indeed, it is striking how little culpability the instructions required. … Only persons conscious of wrongdoing can be said to ‘knowingly corruptly persuade’.” Continue reading

Drive-by: That apology to BP

You know, that apology…

“I’m speaking totally for myself, I’m not speaking for the Republican party … but I’m ashamed of what happened in the White House yesterday,” Barton said.

He called it “a tragedy of the first proportion, that a private corporation can be subjected to what I would characterize as a shakedown, a $20 billion shakedown.”

Barton’s point was that BP should pay for damage claims but should be allowed to follow the “due process and fairness” of the American legal system.

I’m certainly not qualified to comment on whether the US president has the right to force BP to cough up $20 billion.  Continue reading

Who should be held responsible? BP, Sovereignty, Personhood and the Corporation – Part 3

Investment from the poorestNot everyone can be Bill Gates or Steve Jobs. We would all love to be the person who invented the microchip or founded WalMart. We can’t be. It may be that we weren’t born into the right family, clever enough, or simply in the right place at the right time.

But we can buy shares in this luck. In 2004, you may have no design skills but you may recognise that the iPhone is the future and buy Apple shares. You would have done well for yourself.

Maybe you’re not that sharp? Well, you can always invest in an index fund and let the market make you an investor.

The last thing you need is a heavy knock on the door and be arrested for crimes committed by Enron even though you only had $12 in the firm. Continue reading

Who should be held responsible? BP, Sovereignty, Personhood and the Corporation – Part 2

Settling the blood feudOn 23 November 2009, the family of a challenger to the incumbent governor of Maguindanao province in the Philippines were on their way to file his certificate of candidacy. They were accompanied by some 34 journalists, lawyers and aids. They were brutally massacred.

Blood feuds are not some medieval throwback. Modern vendettas continue in parts of Europe, the Middle East, and the Philippines.

In places such as this, one bad business experience will be avenged down the generations. This keeps people perpetually looking over their shoulders rather than investing and getting on with things. Continue reading

Who should be held responsible? BP, Sovereignty, Personhood and the Corporation – Part 1

Something horribleOn 20 April, pressure built up in the well 1,500 metres beneath the Deepwater Horizon, an exploratory oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico. The pressure catapulted up the pipeline, overcoming the concrete keeping it in place, as well as the blowout preventer designed to stop exactly this type of occurrence.

The gas exploded as it hit the rig sending it to the ocean floor and taking the lives of 11 of its 126 crew. The immense pressure in the rupture is propelling some 5,000 to 25,000 barrels of oil up into the ocean every day.

No-one knows what went wrong. Whether it was direct negligence on the part of the various operators, or whether something unforeseen happened that we can learn from … for next time. Continue reading

In the future, online news will make us all feel fine …

The Newspaper Association of America is crowing of late over the growth of audiences at online news websites.

Newspaper companies drove record traffic to their websites in the first quarter of 2010, attracting an unprecedented 74.4 million unique visitors per month on average – more than one-third (37 percent) of all Internet users. This new record follows the strong audience newspapers delivered in last year’s fourth quarter, with newspaper websites drawing an average of 72 million unique visitors per month during that period. [emphasis added]

Editor & Publisher points out that these numbers demonstrate continued online growth carried over from the fourth quarter of 2009. The first quarter numbers apparently show visitors showing up and staying on site a while, averaging 44 pages per person during a visit of just more than a half hour.

The NAA is happily tossing confetti and joyfully dropping balloons over this booming Internet traffic. The business model of the future is nigh! Should anyone else celebrate?
Continue reading

And the punch line? 'An honest Congress!'

I know, I know. The two words leave you ROTFL: Congressional ethics.

But this gets funnier. First, House members determine the legal but unsavory and corrupt behaviors that keep them collecting that $174,000 paycheck with generous federal health and retirement bennies. Then they reverse-engineer the ethics code to make all those behaviors ethical. Every now and then they pass serious, consequential ethics reform and lard up a press release touting it, as Rep. Nancy Pelosi, freshly minted as House speaker, did three years ago:

House Democrats got straight to work this week by passing the toughest Congressional ethics reform in history. We have broken the link between lobbyists and legislation: banning gifts and travel from lobbyists and organizations that retain or employ them, banning travel on corporate jets, shutting down the K Street project, subjecting all earmarks to the full light of day …

Oh, don’t stop there, House felons solons. When public outrage rises again, given that Pelosi’s “serious and substantive steps to ensure Congress governs with the highest ethical steps” didn’t work out so well, pass even more ethics reform. This time, pass a bill in 2008 that creates what Common Cause said was “a monumentally important resolution to create an independent, bipartisan panel of non-lawmakers to help review and investigate possible ethics violations by House members.” [emphasis added] Continue reading

Exclusive: How corporations secretly move millions to fund political ads

by Brad Jacobson

“It’s unclear whether the Court was being naive or disingenuous.” – Paul S. Ryan, an attorney and expert in federal election law at the Campaign Legal Center in Washington, D.C., on the Supreme Court’s touting of disclosure provisions during its decision last month in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission.

My latest article for Raw Story:

The Supreme Court’s seismic January ruling that corporations are free to spend unlimited amounts of their profits to advertise for or against candidates may have been the latest shakeup of campaign finance – but gaping holes already allow corporations to spend enormous sums without leaving a paper trail, a Raw Story investigation has found.

Campaign finance experts confirmed that though disclosure rules remained intact in the new Supreme Court decision, there are effective methods to circumvent them.


Take a tea partier to bed to save American democracy

Never thought I’d invite a member of the Tea Party to join political forces with me. But it’s going to take an odd and broad coalition of folks who comprise “We the People” to fight back against today’s U.S. Supreme Court action granting stunning new power to corporate America to buy our government. The Court, in a 5-4 decision, rolled back all limits on the rights of organizations to spend money to influence the outcome of federal elections.

Overturning key provisions of McCain-Feingold campaign finance law and flouting a century of precedent, the decision opens the floodgates to a torrent of spending by banks, insurance companies, energy companies, automakers, pharmaceutical manufacturers, chemical producers, agribusiness giants and media oligopolies — both domestic and foreign – to sway races by buying candidates. And to trash American democracy in the process. Continue reading

The pay wall: Good idea? Or too little, too late?

The word carries a sense of enforced separation — walls, as in pay walls. Keep out those who don’t belong — meaning those who don’t, won’t, or can’t pay.

Managers of content-provision corporations — there’s no point any more in calling them “newspaper companies” — are desperate for revenue after enduring print ad losses. So, after 15 years of giving away the milk for free online, they’ve finally mustered up the cojones to at least talk about charging for content on their websites. They speak of this in a language the reporters they’ve fired would never use — the content provision managers talk of monetizing their sites, of incorporating paid-content strategies, of generating additional digital revenue.

And if you believe pay-content impresario Steven Brill of Journalism Online, about 1,000 publishers — er, content-provision specialistsexpect to make $900 million at $8.33 a month from the 10 percent of online website visitors Mr. Brill thinks would be willing to cough of up the cash. But an American Press Institute study says only 51 percent of publishers (who voluntarily completed a survey) think they can charge successfully for online content.

But what does “successfully” mean? And who gets to define it? Easy: Cui bono?
Continue reading

Campaign finance hearing may have ramifications for corporate personhood

2009corpperson-top35According to Fortune Magazine, the largest American company in 2009 was Exxon Mobil Its total revenues were $442.85 billion. Second was Wal-Mart, with total revenues of $405.61 billion. Rounding out the top 10 were Chevron ($263.16 billion), ConocoPhillips ($230.76 billion), General Electric ($183.21 billion), General Motors ($148.98 billion), Ford Motor ($146.28 billion), AT&T ($124.03 billion), Hewlett-Packard ($118.36 billion), and Valero Energy ($118.30 billion).

According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the 182 nations of the world had a combined GDP of nearly $60.9 trillion (or $60,900 billion) in 2008. But comparing the GDP data to the Fortune 500 data produces the table at right (click for the top 182 nations and corporations each, in order). If Exxon Mobil were a country, it would rank 25th in the world, right between Norway and Austria. Wal-Mart would rank 27th, sandwiched between Austria and Taiwan. Chevron would rank 28th, ConocoPhillips 42nd, GE 49th, GM 59th, Ford 60th, and AT&T, H-P, and Valero would be ranked 64-66 respectively.

In fact, all of the Fortune 500 would rank above the 40 smallest national economies in the world. And the smallest company on Fortune’s list of the 1000 largest U.S. companies would be larger than the national economies of 28 entire countries. Exxon Mobil’s revenue is greater than the combined GDP of the 78 smallest countries (out of a total of 182) in the world. Continue reading

Yo, Rupert: Think that 'pay wall' will work?

The newspaper industry promises it will begin charging for news online. But it shares a similar problem with the music industry. It has allowed consumers of news for well more than a decade to treat news as a free good.

Further, during that decade, the newspaper industry has purposely deteriorated its product in a vain attempt to chase the last dram of declining advertising revenue. To do this, it has cut costs in the two principal areas it can — paper and people. Physically, newspapers have shrunk in height, width and number of pages, reducing the amount of newsprint required. In 1990 America’s daily newspapers had 56,900 staffers; 5,900 journalists lost their jobs in 2008; and thousands more have been whacked this year. And it’s the expensive high end of the experience spectrum that the industry has callously discarded. So profit levels remained tolerable to shareholders, but only because of decreased costs — not increased revenue.

And the titans of the industry now say they’re going to charge for a product produced by fewer people with less experience that’s led to far more editing errors and one-source stories that reveal much in their shallowness about the quality of the product being sold? Good luck with leading the paid content charge, Rupert.
Continue reading

A jobs act that created no jobs: a lesson in profitable lobbying

You’re a coalition of multinational corporations. Imagine this deal: Invest $1 in lobbying. Get a return on investment of $220. Save $100 billion on taxes, too. Nice, eh?

That’s the conclusion of three University of Kansas professors who undertook an empirical analysis of the American Jobs Creation Act of 2004 to study rates of return for money spent on lobbying, reported The Washington Post in an April 12 story by Dan Eggen.

This law — this shady excuse for a law with a name only charlatans could love — allowed companies that had earned profits overseas to inexpensively bring that money back into the States. The customary tax rate on such profits was 35 percent. But this elegantly named process — repatriation of profits — gave companies a one-time chance four years ago to haul the money home, paying only 5.25 percent.

The act was a tax holiday sought by a coalition of companies, primarily big pharmaceutical and high-technology corporations, all because they sought to pay little or no taxes on profits generated overseas — and they concocted a successful scheme to pull it off.
Continue reading