In the Belly of the Beast: 4/28/11: Supreme Court effectively kills “class action” lawsuits by consumers

INDEX (stories follow)

The Wikileaks News & Views Blog for Thursday, Day 152

from The Nation Blogs: Media Fix by Greg Mitchell

“POLITICS”

CIVIL LIBERTIES TODAY
“Fascism is the open terrorist dictatorship of the most reactionary sector of monopoly capital”

THE ECONOMY
      

THE ULTRA-RIGHT
      


ENVIRONMENT





NUCLEAR POWER

Radiation readings at crippled Japanese nuke plant highest since accident

      

Headlines for April 28, 2011

from Democracy Now! | Healthcare Reform by mail@democracynow.org (Democracy Now!)

The Wikileaks News & Views Blog for Thursday, Day 152

from The Nation Blogs: Media Fix by Greg Mitchell
“POLITICS”
 

CBS’ Bob Schieffer accuses Trump of racism

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Bob Schieffer writing at CBSNews.com:

Donald Trump has moved on from the “birther” conspiracy to allege President Barack Obama didn’t get good enough grades to warrant entry to Harvard Law School, an assertion that CBS News chief Washington correspondent Bob Schieffer called absurd on the “CBS Evening News” on Wednesday.

“That’s just code for saying he got into law school because he’s black. This is an ugly strain of racism that’s running through this whole thing. We can hope that kind of comes to an end too, but we’ll have to see,” Schieffer said.

   

Wash Post’s “Fact Checker” rips Trump

Trump speculated that maybe Obama was hiding the fact that the birth certificate said he was Muslim, even though the so-called “long form” does not ask for religion. He claimed, without offering evidence, that he had hired investigators who “cannot believe what they’re finding.” To his credit, CNN’s Anderson Cooper confronted Trump with the fact that there was no sign of any Trump-sponsored investigation in Hawaii.

Trump, in response, said that he had just learned that “the birth certificate is missing.” This was two days before the White House released the version that Trump claimed was gone.

Trump also suggested he would release his tax returns if Obama released the long-form document. After Obama took that step Wednesday, Trump said he would do so “at the appropriate time” — meaning it might be a very long wait.

Maddow calls out CNN — Why is the press abetting the “birther racket”?

It’s been birther heaven the last few weeks, with Trump trumpeting his claims (and letting his freak flag fly) and everyone else covering it like it matters.

The O’Donnell program was particularly strange, in that he excoriated the whole world, it seems, for giving voice to The Donald (“that silly man”) and to the racist claims he touts, yet doing so in a show devoted almost entirely those claims and those silly people.

He even dragged in Orly Taitz for a cameo. She didn’t disappoint. It was, well, asking much to take it all in, but sometimes O’Donnell does ask much.

Rachel Maddow did the Diss-the-Donald thing much more succinctly (one segment) by calling out birtherism as “a racket,” then asking, Why, mainstream press, are you covering it?

In her version, CNN’s Ed Henry makes a cameo appearance, in the portion that starts at 11:40. (Ed appears for a close-up at 12:12.) Watch:

Yes, Ed Henry was indeed called out. It makes you wonder. Is he an unwitting tool? A closet “fellow traveler”? A common career-seeker? Or just a guy whose dog really did eat his homework? Who knows — I leave it to the Henry-followers to figure that out.

But something that slipped by me the first time, and didn’t the second, was this (at 1:55) — you can help underwrite ads for the Corsi birther book with a monthly deduction from your account. A monthly deduction.

They might as well just stick their hand in the pocket of the rubes and ask, “Can I leave this here for a while?”

P.T. Barnum on steroids. At least with Barnum, you only paid once to get into the girlie tent. Jeez. (And I mean that literally, since Jesusland is the target for this stuff.)

But back to Maddow’s main question. “Why is it being pushed by journalists?” Why indeed; I leave the reason to your conspiracy-addled imaginations.


GOP Oklahoma lawmaker: Blacks don’t work as hard as whites

Rep. Sally Kern, R-Oklahoma City, said minorities earn less than white people because they don’t work as hard and have less initiative.

“We have a high percentage of blacks in prison, and that’s tragic, but are they in prison just because they are black or because they don’t want to study as hard in school? I’ve taught school, and I saw a lot of people of color who didn’t study hard because they said the government would take care of them.”

Kern said women earn less than men because “they tend to spend more time at home with their families.”

Ironic that she trots out that argument since it’s one of the reasons GOP lawmakers aren’t interested in real health care reform: They’ve already got their cushy government-sponsored socialist health care reform, so why lift a finger for anyone else?

Firefighters Union to freeze donations to federal elections, shifting funds to states

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This could be a big deal, the start of a trend. Notice that, in effect, the Union is calling out federal Dems as not being worth sending money to.

USA Today (h/t Sam Seder; my emphasis):

The International Association of Fire Fighters announced today it is freezing donations to federal candidates and party committees and will shift its money to fight anti-union efforts in state legislatures around the country.

The decision could hurt Democrats, who received more than 80% of the money donated by the union’s political action committee in 2010’s midterm elections for Congress, according to data compiled by the non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics. In all, the union said it spent $15 million on federal politics last year.

General President Harold Schaitberger said the union faces legislative fights, ballot measures and recall elections that threaten workers’ rights in at least nine states. At the same time, the union’straditional allies in Congress haven’t aggressively defended firefighters, he said.

They say they are flat out “shutting down any contributions going to any federal candidates or to any federal PACs or committees” until federal Dems are willing to stand up for them.

This is either a very smart act, and they will make it stick (federal Dems have been AWOL on union issues) — in which case, good for them. Or it’s the start of a negotiation with federal Dems — in which case, Don’t Wimp Out, say I.

If nothing else, it’s a conversation that needs having. This, along with the good single-payer news from Vermont, means that maybe the action really is shifting from the impossible Beltway to the doable states.

If so, a hopeful sign.

CIVIL LIBERTIES TODAY
“Fascism is the open terrorist dictatorship of the most reactionary sector of monopoly capital”

WikiLeaks: 700 new Gitmo documents released

Charlie Savage at the New York Times has a good article about a new release of documents acquired by WikiLeaks:

A trove of more than 700 classified military documents provides new and detailed accounts of the men who have done time at the Guantánamo Bay prison in Cuba, and offers new insight into the evidence against the 172 men still locked up there.

Military intelligence officials, in assessments of detainees written between February 2002 and January 2009, evaluated their histories and provided glimpses of the tensions between captors and captives. … The secret documents, made available to The New York Times and several other news organizations, reveal that most of the 172 remaining prisoners have been rated as a “high risk” of posing a threat to the United States and its allies if released without adequate rehabilitation and supervision. But they also show that an even larger number of the prisoners who have left Cuba — about a third of the 600 already transferred to other countries — were also designated “high risk” before they were freed or passed to the custody of other governments.

The document dump is a hodge-podge of everything from proof that some detainees really are dangerous (or were), to proof that some were nobodies caught up in the American tsunami. For example:

The dossiers also show the seat-of-the-pants intelligence gathering in war zones that led to the incarcerations of innocent men for years in cases of mistaken identity or simple misfortune. In May 2003, for example, Afghan forces captured Prisoner 1051, an Afghan named Sharbat, near the scene of a roadside bomb explosion, the documents show. He denied any involvement, saying he was a shepherd. Guantánamo debriefers and analysts agreed, citing his consistent story, his knowledge of herding animals and his ignorance of “simple military and political concepts,” according to his assessment. Yet a military tribunal declared him an “enemy combatant” anyway, and he was not sent home until 2006.

And there are quite a few instances of innocent men made so angry at their captors and their captivity that if they weren’t dangerous before, they are now:

While some detainees are described in the documents as “mostly compliant and rarely hostile to guard force and staff,” others spoke of violence. One detainee said “he would like to tell his friends in Iraq to find the interrogator, slice him up, and make a shwarma (a type of sandwich) out of him, with the interrogator’s head sticking out of the end of the shwarma.” Another “threatened to kill a U.S. service member by chopping off his head and hands when he gets out,” and informed a guard that “he will murder him and drink his blood for lunch. Detainee also stated he would fly planes into houses and prayed that President Bush would die.”

There’s nothing like creating your own opposition to keep a war interesting, a sort of political version ofimpedance.

Like most WikiLeaks document troves, this one is more interesting for the nuggets it reveals (such as the “shwarma” comment above) than for any big-picture artwork. Still, it is interesting; and still, it may well be a war-crime to hold someone illegally for the sole reason that he’s angry about being held illegally. I would be angry as well.

TomTom, Apple and the Security-GPS Complex

from Informed Comment by Juan
TomTom, the maker of a popular Global Positioning Device that helps drivers navigate their way in unknown territory, sold its data to the Dutch government. Dutch police requisitioned the data, and used it to set up speed traps for motorists! In other words, TomTom may as well have been spying on people for the government and police and advising the latter how best to stick it to them with nuisance traffic tickets. TomTom’s data did not reveal individual identities, but it still was a form of surveillance for the state on large numbers of individuals.

This gathering of information about your whereabouts via GPS by private corporations who then share it with the government or allow the government easy access to it, is a major threat to individual privacy.

Apple on Wednesday (way too late!) denied collecting data at its own servers on the movements of its iPhone and iPad custormers using ios 4. But it admitted that it had installed a database file on all such devices that has been tracking the whereabouts of its customers and storing that information unencrypted since last summer. It turns out that Google/ Android smartphones do much the same thing.

It is just wrong that Apple did not tell its customers it was creating such a long-term database, unencrypted, on both the device and on the computer on which it is backed up. (Consumers can encrypt the back-up file, but had never been prompted to do so). Apparently Apple intends to ensure in the next operating system upgrade that customers can opt out of being involuntarily tracked on their own devices.

Police, unlike the consumers, have known about these databases for some time and have access to devices that will easily extract and display it. Given that courts have held that border agents can search computers at will, it is difficult to see why they couldn’t also search smartphones, which means anyone who travels abroad and back could be forced to surrender to the government a database of their movements for the past year. Without a warrant and with no reason given.

The government does not have a right to engage in warrantless, unreasonable searches into our private lives (the fourth amendment excludes our “effects” from the prying eyes of constables, and surely a database of our own movements kept on our own phone and computer is enough like a diary that the Founding Fathers would have considered it an “effect”) But the National Security State is enamored of warrantless GPS tracking of Americans.

Now that corporations are inserting themselves into our intimate lives (mainly for marketing purposes), they are creating diary-like information for us against our will and then laying it out in public where it is fair game for government surveillance. There is a Security-GPS Complex growing up that will be the death of the Fourth Amendment if we are not careful. Apple should not want to be part of such an Orwellian structure.

Supreme Court effectively kills “class action” lawsuits by consumers

The Supreme Court gave corporations a major win Wednesday, ruling in a 5-4 decision that companies can block their disgruntled customers from joining together in a class-action lawsuit. The ruling arose from a California lawsuit involving cellphones, but it will have a nationwide impact.

In the past, consumers who bought a product or a service had been free to join a class-action lawsuit if they were dissatisfied or felt they had been cheated. By combining these small claims, they could bring a major lawsuit against a corporation.

But in Wednesday’s decision, the high court said that under the Federal Arbitration Act companies can force these disgruntled customers to arbitrate their complaints individually, not as part of a group. Consumer-rights advocates said this rule would spell the end for small claims involving products or services.

THE ECONOMY

Corporate Welfare Royalty

from Informed Comment by Juan
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Courtesy Moveon.org:

Companies that don't pay their fair share of taxesCompanies that don’t pay their fair share of taxes

Wal-Mart CEO says his shoppers are running out of money

Oil prices are hammering the public and of course, the dollar is being destroyed on the global market these days which will make the problem worse. Is it asking for too much to have our political leadership implement policies that help the middle class as opposed to the continuing strategy that helps Wall Street? CNNMoney:

“We’re seeing core consumers under a lot of pressure,” Duke said at an event in New York. “There’s no doubt that rising fuel prices are having an impact.”

Wal-Mart shoppers, many of whom live paycheck to paycheck, typically shop in bulk at the beginning of the month when their paychecks come in.

Lately, they’re “running out of money” at a faster clip, he said.

“Purchases are really dropping off by the end of the month even more than last year,” Duke said. “This end-of-month [purchases] cycle is growing to be a concern.

Huge profits reported for Big Oil

Today:

Exxon–$10.65 billion–up more than 60%

Shell–$6.3 billion–up 30%

Yesterday:

ConocoPhillips–$3 billion–up 43%

BP–$5.48 billion–just shy of last year (despite a 10% drop in production after the Gulf oil disaster)

The Oil Company Gusher

Robert Reich
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Exxon-Mobil’s first quarter earnings of $10.7 billion are up 69 percent from last year. That’s the most profit the company has earned since the third quarter of 2008 — perhaps not coincidentally, around the time when gas prices last reached the lofty $4 a gallon.

This gusher is an embarrassment for an industry seeking to keep its $4 billion annual tax subsidy from the U.S. government, at a time when we’re cutting social programs to reduce the budget deficit.

It’s specially embarrassing when Americans are paying through their noses at the pump.

Exxon-Mobil’s Vice President asks that we look past the “inevitable headlines” and remember the company’s investments in renewable energy.

What investments, exactly? Last time I looked Exxon-Mobil was devoting a smaller percentage of its earnings to renewables than most other oil companies, including the errant BP.

In point of fact, no oil company is investing much in renewables — precisely because they’ve got such money gusher going from oil. Those other oil companies also had a banner first quarter, compounding the industry’s embarrassment about its $4 billion a year welfare check.

American Petroleum Industry CEO Jack Gerard claims the gusher is due to the “growing strength in our economy.”

Baloney. If you hadn’t noticed already, this is one of the most anemic recoveries on record. $4-a-gallon gas is itself slowing the economy’s growth, since most consumers are left with less money to spend on everything else.

Gerard then claims the giant earnings “reflect the size necessary for [American] companies to be globally competitive with national oil companies” around the world.

Let’s get real. The crude oil market is global. Oil companies sell all over the world. The price of crude is established by global supply and demand. In this context, American “competitiveness” is meaningless.

Republicans who have been defending oil’s tax subsidy are also finding themselves in an awkward position. John Boehner temporarily sounded as if he was backing off – until the right-wing-nuts in the GOP began fulminating that the elimination of any special tax windfall is to their minds a tax increase (which means, in effect ,the GOP must now support all tax-subsidized corporate welfare).

Boehner is now trying to pivot off the flip-flop by reverting to the trusty old “drill, drill, drill” for opening more of country to oil drilling and exploration. “If we began to allow more permits for oil and gas production, it would send a signal to the market that America’s serious about moving toward energy independence,” he says.

This argument is as nonsensical now as it was when we last faced $4-a-gallon gas. To repeat: It’s a global oil market. Even if 3 million additional barrels a day could be extruded from lands and seabeds of the United States (the most optimistic figure, after all exploration is done), that sum is tiny compared to 86 million barrels now produced around the world. In other words, even under the best circumstances, the price to American consumers would hardly budge.
Whatever impact such drilling might have would occur far in the future anyway. Oil isn’t just waiting there to be pumped out of the earth. Exploration takes time. Erecting drilling equipment takes time. Getting the oil out takes time. Turning crude into various oil products takes time. According the federal energy agency, if we opening drilling where drilling is now banned, there’d be no significant impact on domestic crude and natural gas production for a decade or more.

Oil companies already hold a significant number of leases on federal lands and offshore seabeds where they are now allowed to drill, and which they have not yet fully explored. Why would they seek more drilling rights? Because ownership of these parcels will pump up their balance sheets even if no oil is actually pumped.

Last but by no means least, as we’ve painfully learned, the environmental risks from such drilling are significant.

Let’s not fool ourselves – or be fooled. There’s no reason to continue to give giant oil companies a $4 billion a year tax windfall. Nor any reason to expand drilling on federal lands or on our seashores.

But there are strong reasons to invest in renewable energy – even in a time of budget austerity. Use the $4 billion this way. And why stop there? Why not a windfall profits tax to the oil companies, to be used for renewable energy?

THE ULTRA-RIGHT
     

ENVIRONMENT
    



NUCLEAR POWER

Radiation readings at crippled Japanese nuke plant highest since accident

Radiation readings at Japan’s Fukushima Dai-Ichi station rose to the highest since an earthquake and tsunami knocked out cooling systems, impeding efforts to contain the worst nuclear crisis since Chernobyl.

Two robots sent into the reactor No. 1 building at the plant yesterday took readings as high as 1,120 millisierverts of radiation per hour, Junichi Matsumoto, a general manager at Tokyo Electric Power Co., said today. That’s more than four times the annual dose permitted to nuclear workers at the stricken plant.


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This entry was posted in Background & Analysis, Civil Liberties, Corporations, Corruption, Events, Human Rights, Nuclear Power, Obama, Racism. Bookmark the permalink.

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