January 8, 2006

BizzyBlog’s Internet Wall Of Shame
(Inductees Courtesy of Reporters Without Borders)

Filed under: Corporate Outrage,Economy,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 11:00 pm

Note: This post will stay at the top on Sunday, January 8, because of the importance of the topic.
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Here’s the wall (images can be shrunk if, as unfortunately expected, there will be future inductees):

NetWallOfShame

Superior renderings are welcome from someone who actually knows what they’re doing, and full credit will be given (CPA does not stand for “Competent Pictorial Artist”). If someone comes up with a better wall, it will replace the small version of it that you see in the right frame.

The story starts below.
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Reporters Without Borders (RWB) names names on a page that should be bookmarked or saved not only to have RWB’s record of the offenses against freedom and free expression committed by the companies identified below, but for RWB’s proposed code of conduct for Internet companies not included here (HT – who else? – RConversation; bolds are mine).

Courtesy of the heavy lifting done by RWB, here is the first group of companies who have now officially been inducted into BizzyBlog’s Internet Wall of Shame (revised from “Chinese Wall of Shame” I proposed in a previous post, because other countries are engaging in repressive practices with the active assistance of US technology companies):

  • Since 2002, Yahoo! has agreed to censor the results of the Chinese version of its search engine in accordance with a blacklist provide by the Chinese government. Reporters Without Borders also recently proved that Yahoo! helped the Chinese police identify and then convict a journalist who was criticising human rights abuses in China. The e-mail servers of Yahoo!’s Chinese division are located inside China.
  • Microsoft censors the Chinese version of its MSN Spaces blog tool. You cannot enter search strings such as “democracy” or “human rights in China” or “capitalism” as they are automatically rejected by the system. Microsoft also closed down a Chinese journalist’s blog following pressure from the government in Beijing. This blog was hosted on servers located in the United States.
  • All sources of news and information that are censored in China have been withdrawn by Google from the Chinese version of its news search engine, Google News.
  • Secure Computing has sold Tunisia technology that allows it to censor independent news and information websites such as the Reporters Without Borders one.
  • Fortinet has sold the same kind of software to Burma.
  • Cisco Systems has marketed equipment specifically designed to make it easier for the Chinese police to carry out surveillance of electronic communications. Cisco is also suspected of giving Chinese engineers training in how to use its products to censor the Internet.

We believe these practices violate the right to freedom of expression as defined in article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was proclaimed by the United Nations when it was founded and which is supposed to apply to everyone, including business corporations. Furthermore, such ethical failings on the part of American companies damage the image of the Unites States abroad.

Cincinnati Enquirer (Finally) Gets Into Areawide Blogging

Filed under: General,News from Other Sites — Tom @ 10:13 pm

OK, the Politics Extra blog has been around since late June (it may have had a different name in 2005), but it was the nearly exclusive “property” of city reporter Greg Korte, with occasional visits from Howard Wilkinson, until the end of 2005, and reported almost exclusively on political news within the city of Cincinnati.

Now the blog has Korte, Wilkinson, Hamilton County reporter Kimball Perry, Columbus reporter Jon Craig, Washington reporter Malia Rulon, and perhaps others I might have missed. It is administered by Government/Public Affairs editor Carl Weiser. The scope has expanded from city politics to the entire metro area, plus relevant news from Columbus and Washington.

That’s really good to see, folks. So good, that you’re now listed in BizzyBlog’s Local Yokels Blogroll (try not to be overwhelmed).

I hope you don’t mind me saying that we really could have used all of you back in May, June, July, and August (sigh).

AP’s Jennifer Loven Spins Bush Economic
Speech as an ‘Attack’ Only on Democrats

Jennifer Loven of the Associated Press is one of AP’s regular reporters covering Mr. Bush and The White House.

She also has an obvious conflict of interest, as her husband, Roger Ballentine, was a senior adviser to John Kerry on energy and environmental issues during the 2004 presidential campaign. Ballentine is currently president of Green Strategies, Inc., an environmental consulting and government relations (read: lobbying) firm. He also continues to be actively involved in the politics of energy and the environment, as this appearance at a renewable energy conference in December 2004 and the promotion for his October appearance on “E&E TV” show.

It has apparently never occurred to AP that her husband’s point of view could affect the objectivity of Ms. Loven’s reporting, though, as this post at Powerline supplied by me back in September 2004 shows, she went so far as to ridicule a 2002-2003 Bush Administration environmental initiative in one of her “objective” reports using language that parroted her husband’s environmental advocacy statements.

Whether it’s Iraq, the Joe Wilson charade (a report that led Powerline to call her a “Democrat Operative”), or the economy, Ms. Loven’s reports on day-to-day happenings in the administration have been consistently negative and sometimes even hostile. In early December (go to end of post), Ms. Loven just had to respond to the report of 215,000 new jobs created in October by reminding us (as if it was relevant to the report) that Mr. Bush was ” faced with the lowest approval ratings of his presidency.” All in all, she may be as close to “Exhibit A” as exists as to why we can no longer trust The Associated Press to do the job it was designed to do: give us the news, straight up — so spin, no shading.

Ms. Loven continued on her merry antagonistic way Saturday as she reported on the President’s Friday speech at The Economic Club of Chicago:

Bush attacks Dems in first 2006 speech

CHICAGO — President Bush on Friday opened a sharp election-year attack against Democrats, who he said would devastate the economy and turn back recent job gains by blocking free trade and raising taxes.

It was Bush’s first 2006 speech on the road and, with Republican control of Congress potentially at stake in the November elections, the president pulled no punches.

“Just as this economy is getting going, there are some in Washington who want to take the money out of your pocket,” the president said in a speech before a friendly audience from The Economic Club of Chicago. “They think they can spend it better than you can.” He mentioned Democrats only once but it was clear they were the target of his remarks.

Really? Given that the GOP controls Congress, Mr. Bush’s main problem, and arguably his principal object of criticism, could just as easily have been the roughly half-dozen Republican senators who are wavering on making the current tax structure permanent. Though they almost unanimously oppose permanent extension, Democrats have not threatened a filibuster (yet). So the characterization of Mr. Bush’s speech as exclusively an attack on Democrats simply is not supported by the current political reality he faces.

Loven went on to explain that Mr. Bush criticized one unnamed Democrat (Nancy Pelosi). Okay, fine, he did — But the headline says “Democrats” (plural), and she is the only one named.

Even if we somehow buy into Ms. Loven’s idea that Mr. Bush was solely criticizing Democrats, characterizing the above excerpted quote as an “attack” is a long, long stretch.

In contrast, Ms. Loven characterized Nancy Pelosi’s contentious response as a “reply.”

Cross-posted at NewsBusters.org.

This Needed to Be Said About Congressman Murtha

Filed under: Taxes & Government — Tom @ 6:14 pm

And given the political climate, it needed to be said by a vet (the author, Kieran Michael Lalor, is the founder of Eternal Vigilance Society [eternalvigilancesociety.org], and is an Iraq War veteran; link requires free registration):

Murtha’s call last year for a cut-and-run strategy in Iraq was one thing — irresponsible and unwise, but basically just stating a policy position. This is different.

What a nice New Year’s treat for the beheaders and suicide bombers to know that a decorated Marine and lawmaker thinks the U.S. military is not only “broken” but not worth joining. Abu-Musab al-Zarqawi will no doubt use Murtha’s words to inspire his band of thugs to hold out longer and kill a few more Americans assuring them that ultimately we will wilt like Murtha.

Why would Murtha not want to be part of a military that in the past four years has liberated 50 million souls and heroically brought aid to tsunami and earthquake victims, saving untold lives? Surely he knows that all was chaos in New Orleans in the wake of Katrina until Gen. Russell Honore’s 1st Army and the 82nd Airborne came to town and provided relief and a security presence.

Evidently, Murtha doesn’t think this is noble work.

Or, rather, the congressman doesn’t like the way Iraq is going, so he disparaged the entire military — forgetting about our sailors working tirelessly to keep the seas open, Marines bravely guarding our embassies and soldiers standing watch in Korea and elsewhere to protect the democratic from the despotic.

Thirty-seven years in the Marine Corps should have taught Murtha that our military has historically been and continues to be the world’s greatest meritocracy. No other institution has allowed people to climb the ranks and reach their potential regardless of their socioeconomic status like the U.S. military.

Similarly, Jack Murtha should know that millions of men and women have personally benefited from the discipline, training and structure of the military and used the traits learned in uniform to make countless contributions to civil society after their service.

If Murtha wouldn’t want to be a part of a military that did in Afghanistan in three months what the Red Army couldn’t do in seven years and that put genocidal maniac Saddam Hussein behind bars and his brutal sociopath sons in the ground, I am glad he is not.

But he’s surely undermined military recruiting. Think he’ll resign his committee assignments relevant to the military?

He should.

WSJ: Sarbanes Oxley May Be Reviving Shareholder Class-Action “Strike” Suits

Hard to argue with this, but I hope they’re wrong (requires subscription):

Class-Action Sarbox

….. At first glance, the study from Stanford University and Cornerstone Research seems to be good news, noting that the number of class-action suits filed in 2005 dropped to 176 from 213 in 2004 — a 17% decrease. Good-governance types are claiming this decline is a direct result of the 2002 Sarbanes-Oxley legislation working as intended, keeping companies on the straight and narrow.

Yet as any first-year Wall Street analyst knows, this minor legal reprieve is better attributed to last year’s relatively stable stock market. Class-action suits arise out of booms and busts in equity markets: As share prices dive, plaintiffs’ lawyers swarm. Yet with last year’s stock market less volatile than at any point since 1996, the “strike suit” pickings were lean.

So what then accounts for those 176 suits? Try . . . Sarbanes-Oxley. It appears the tort bar is now using the law’s strict financial-reporting requirements as its latest excuse to sue. A whopping 89% of the suits alleged misrepresentations in financial documents, while 82% claimed false forward-looking statements. Lawyers have certainly used financial documents as a reason to sue in the past, but this year’s notable uptick in the number of suits filed that cite this cause of action suggests that the tort bar has found a whole new line of business.

The real news here is that lawyers managed to drum up so many results-related suits in a year when the stock market was stable and corporate earnings were strong. Just wait for the next economic downturn, when class-action lawyers will be able to exploit Sarbox’s new “internal controls” documentation as a roadmap.

The 89% and 82% stats look pretty convincing to me, though I would like to have seen comparable percentages from prior years.

Anyway, here’s just one more piece of possible evidence that SarBox is holding the economy back. If the government can’t punish and prevent the rampant corruption and collusion involved in many of these “shareholder-strike suits,” look out below when stock market volatility returns.
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UPDATE: 93 year-old Milton Friedman had a one-on-one discussion about a number of economic matters with The American Prospect’s overmatched Robert Kuttner, who brought up SarBox (bold is mine):

MF: I think Sarbanes-Oxley is a terrible law.
RK: Because…?
MF: Here you say to every CEO in the country: you’ve got to swear to the accuracy of things you can’t possibly know. You’re going to make a perjurer of him. And you say to him, for God sakes whatever you do, don’t take risks. We’ve been having something of a slowdown, not in the economy as a whole thanks to the housing boom. But in what I describe as the healthy party of the economy: manufacturing, services, etc., the free market part of the economy. And one of the reasons why I think we’ve been having this slow down is because Sarbanes-Oxley is saying to CEOs, for god sakes don’t take any risks. And yet progress depends on doing risk.

Friedman states as a fact something that I have believed for some time (though I can’t find a link at the moment): Despite the fact that the economy is doing pretty well, SarBox is holding it back from what it could be. A half-point of missed economic growth in a $12 trillion economy is $60 billion of economic activity ($200 for every man, woman and child in the country, year after year) that should have happened, didn’t, and compounds itself in future years.

Call me a cynic, but I believe SarBox was written to do exactly what is described in the bolded sentence in the excerpt: First, cause CEOs and their companies to take less risk, causing the you know-who’s economy not to grow as much as it could; and second, to have a continuing stream of show trials where hapless CEOs are put in jail or cop pleas for things they weren’t responsible for and, as Friedman said, could not possibly know.

The fact that the GOP majority and the President got intimidated into supporting it because of Enron, which, as Friedman noted at another point in the interview, was outed by the private sector, is a disgrace we will be paying for, for many years.

Positivity: Teen Saves Family from Fire

Filed under: Positivity — Tom @ 12:18 am

William Stewart, 14, of Elkhart, IN, earned hero status when he woke up his dad, Eugene, his mom, Joyce and little sister, Hannah, 6 late Christmas night in time for them to escape a house fire:

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