Can US Hold Corporations Accountable Anymore?

In the UK the News-Of-The-World/News Corp/Murdoch scandal seems to be reawakening democracy. A big, powerful corporation has been found to be engaged in criminal activity, manipulating news, paying off police and politicians, and generally getting its way. The people, press and politicians are rising up, holding the company and its executives legally accountable and are taking back control of their system. Could this happen in the US?
This is my last full day in the UK. The top story in the media for the two weeks I have been here has been the News-Of-The-World “phone-hacking” story that I explained in some detail last week. This newspaper was engaged in criminal activity, was caught a few years ago, but used American-style damage-control techniques to manipulate the government, police and public opinion into accepting that the criminality was limited to the sacrificial lamb they threw to them. So the damage to Murdoch’s News Corp. was limited at the time, and News Corp appeared to have impunity. But, unlike how things are now done in the US, investigative reporters (particularly at the Guardian) continued to dig into the story and continued to reveal to the public that News Corp. was engaging in criminal activity until the story could no longer be ignored by the powerful.
The latest big news is that the head of Scotland Yard has resigned, in part because earlier investigations into Murdoch-corporation activities “didn’t get to the bottom of this.” The press is full of questions about how this criminal company was able to operate for in this manner so long, and who in the government looked the other way. This is now as big a story as the original and ongoing criminal activities of Murdoch’s companies.
Another story is the way executives left Murdoch’s companies and entered government into positions where they could protect the interests of Murdoch’s company, including influencing the phone-hacking investigations. And finally, the story here is about politicians who are “cozy” with Murdoch’s media empire, who were propelled into government by the power of that empire.
Not yet part of the story: the manipulation of government policy to serve the interests of the owners of the criminal company. In fact, just as the media was beginning to touch on this aspect of the story the company took extraordinary steps to build a firewall and attempt to contain the scandal. Top executives in the UK and in England were removed from their posts, an “apology” was printed in all the papers here, and Murdoch himself made public apologies and News Corp started a major counterattack. So far News Corp’s second-largest shareholder, Saudi Prince Al Waleed bin Talal has been kept in the background. Prince Al Waleed was interviewed by the BBC Thursday on his yacht in Cannes. Immediately the firewall began to be constructed.
(These are questions, not accusation. While being part-owner of the conservative News Corp., Al Waleed also speaks out for democratic reform and women’s rights in Saudi Arabia.)
But questions about News Corp. pushing policies that benefit its owners have yet to be pursued. Does News Corp. push climate-change denial to benefit the interests of oil-producing Saudi Arabit? Did News Corp push the invasion of Iraq to benefit Saudi Arabia?
What About In The US?
Does all of this sound familiar to any of you reading this in America?
And so the parallels to American standard-operating-procedure stand out. Criminal corporations manipulating government, police and public opinion. A revolving door through which corporate executives pass into government and protect the interests of their companies. A conservative media empire manipulating news and propelling politicians to benefit their financial interests. Politicians cozy with corporate executives who never seem to be held accountable.
As Richard Eskow wrote the other day, Want to Solve All your Problems, Rupert Murdoch? Become A Banker.,

But there’s an easy way for Mr. Murdoch to protect himself from these inquiries and save his company at the same time: Turn the News Corporation into a Wall Street bank. There won’t be any prosecutions, and the government will even sweeten the deal with billions of dollars in easy money. And if Murdoch follows the trail blazed by bankers like Jamie Dimon at JPMorgan Chase, soon they’ll be begging him to acquire more companies.
… By contrast, despite its long list of proven crimes nobody at [JPMorgan Chase CEO] Dimon’s bank has been arrested. Apparently arrests, like the financial consequences of one’s actions, are for borrowers only. And Dimon only appears before our elected representative for cozy private get-togethers, not public enquiries.

Seriously, there was just enough democracy left in the institutions of the UK to enable a media giant like News Corp to be held accountable. Just how accountable is yet to be seen, but with the press in full investigative mode, parliamentary investigations, resignations and arrests at the tops of big, powerful corporations that are way-to-cozy with politicians we are seeing a reaction to this story that is simply not imaginable in our own country today.
Some Tests
Here is one test that will tell us if accountability is still possible here. What follow-up will we see from the Justice Department in response to the revelation that members of the Financial Crisis panel illegally leaked inside information, including plans to investigate foreign banks, to lobbyists? See Financial Crisis Panel Commissioners Leaked Confidential Information To Lobbyists, Report Alleges,

Republican commissioners on the panel created by Congress to probe the roots of the financial crisis leaked documents to partisan allies and shared confidential information with influence peddlers, according to a Wednesday report by Democrats on a Congressional oversight committee.

Another area for investigation is the revolving door through which lobbyists or top people of the criminal corporation became government officials and government officials become executives or lobbyists. Are they using their influence in government to protect the interests of the companines that paid or will pay them? That sure looks like bribery, whatever other words one might use.
Another area of investigations is companies that fund or otherwise infleunce public opinion and politics and campaigns or reward politicians or fund their campaigns. That is bribery, because companies have to act in the financial interest of shareholders and rewarding a politician in the interest of shareholders is bribery by definition.
Please, add some more tests in the comments. What stories have you seen revealing illegal activity and collusion between elected representatives, government officials and big corporations with no one held accountable? Obviously there is Wall Street, mortgage fraud and securities manipulations. There are all the crimes from the Bush era that went uninvestigated. (Who ended up with all that money that went missing in Iraq?) But there are so many instances of crimes reported but not investigated and certainly not prosecuted. There are so many clear cases of big corporations using media to manipulate public opinion. And there are so many cases of our election laws violated with impunity.
Are we going to be able to take back democracy and accountability here? Or not? Will our own Department of Justice start to hold law-violators accountable? Or not.
This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am a Fellow with CAF.
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Why The Deficit Dominates DC Thinking

This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am a Fellow with CAF.

Washington politicians are convinced that the public is demanding cuts in spending, even over creating jobs and restoring the economy. This pressure comes because much of the public believes that “Obama tripled the deficit.” This has been the right’s drumbeat for over a year and the public has not heard any response. You can barely turn on the radio or TV, or go on the Internet, or read the letters-to-the-editor in your local paper without hearing one or another form of this message repeated.

Fact: Bush’s 2009 budget-year deficit was $1.4 trillion. 2009 was President Bush’s last budget and included the Wall Street bailouts, unemployment benefits and other costs of the incoming recession, plus Iraq and Afghanistan. This massive deficit was just one more conservative failure.

But the right’s propaganda campaign telling the public that this was Obama’s deficit, not Bush’s has gone unanswered. The Obama administration and their allies are not reaching the public with the truth or any message that counters the lies the right is putting out.

Charts that make it appear that the huge deficit was Obama’s doing are an example of how the public is being conned:

obama-deficit-slide

The well-funded Heritage Foundation is one leader of the effort to convince the public of this. Bush Deficit vs. Obama Deficit in Pictures demonstrates an effort to mislead the public into blaming Obama for Bush’s massive deficits.

FOX News had this headline: Obama Triples Budget Deficit to $1.4 Trillion (they have since changed the headline but here is it as it appeared:)

fox nation clip

On the radio the drumbeat continues with people like Rush Limbaugh, saying, President Obama Lies About His Massive Deficits and Tax Increases,

People are fed up with this spending. They’re scared to death of it. They know full well what it portends. It portends massive tax increases for years on us, our kids and grandkids. It weakens the country. This is just an abomination. Nine years ago we were attacked. Barack Obama cannot tell the truth. Constitutionally, he’s not capable of telling the truth. He has increased the deficit, not by twice, not by three times, but by four times… Last year’s deficit surged to $1.42 trillion, more than three times the record of the previous year. An imbalance of $454.8 billion in 2008. So Bush’s last year budget deficit was $454.8 billion. Obama’s budget deficit last year was $1.42 trillion. That’s nearly $1 trillion more that he added to it in fiscal 2009.

Here is Sean Hannity claiming Obama “quadrupled the deficit”,

This is why the deficit dominates the agenda in DC. This dishonest propaganda campaign is the source of the political pressure to cut spending. Fine. What else would you expect from the right? It’s what they do. But why has this campaign gone unanswered? Why haven’t the forces allied with the President reached out with the facts? Why have they let themselves be put into this box?

A bigger question, why does the Obama administration still not seem to get it that this is what they do? The right has a coordinated, funded propaganda machine that just lies, and smears, belittles and humiliates people, makes the public afraid, stirs up division – even encourages sedition, all to get their way.

The right is well-funded because there is a monetary payoff to the big corporations and wealthy individuals who fund campaigns like this one. Their anti-government campaign is buying tax cuts, subsidies, deregulation or just non-enforcement of regulations, waivers or just lack of enforcement of anti-trust rules, military contracts, and a long list of other financial benefits.

Meanwhile people interested in democracy and good government are largely unfunded. They are largely shut out of TV and radio. For example, you rarely see a representative of labor on TV, radio or in the news. Bloggers reach a lot of people, but nothing like the talk radio/TV empire of the right. So how can we do this better?
We will be talking about this Tuesday afternoon at the Americas Future Now conference session, Can Bloggers Bring Populism To The Potomac? with Digby, Sara Robinson, Zach Carter, Terrance Heath, RJ Eskow and myself.

Is Fox News A Soft-Porn Network?

I’ve long noticed that Fox’s MySpace is a soft-porn enterprise. Now Brave New Films is taking on Fox News for the same.
Watch the video:

Go here for a petition :FOX Attacks Decency with Bill O’Reilly Leading the Way

Demand “a la carte” cable television.
Under current law, you cannot opt-out of FOX. You are forced to put money in FOX’s pockets every time you pay your cable bill.
The best way to keep FOX out of your home is to force cable companies to offer “a la carte” cable, where you only pay for the channels you want. A la carte will lower your cable bill, prevent inappropriate programming from entering your home, and will keep your money out of FOX’s pockets.

Why Don’t Democrats Have “Courage?”

Why does it seem that so many Democrats are “spineless” and rarely have the courage to “do the right thing?” Why does it seem they always “cave” to the right?
When I hear people talking about “the Democrats” and “the Republicans” I think what they really are seeing is the political effect of a supporting movement-oriented infrastructure that the right has and we do not. The right has a well-funded infrastructure and ecosystem that sets up a supportive public environment, rewarding their politicians for staying in line with the right’s agenda, and punishing the ones who do not. Progressives just don’t have that.
Face it, it is very easy for Republicans to be wingnuts. It doesn’t take brains or courage or commitment – they just ride a wave that their movement apparatus sets up. Their candidates ride that wave into office and their policies ride that wave into law.

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Become A Fox Attacker


Become a Fox Attacker. Help identify FOX News advertisers (national and local) for the database. Then let advertisers know what is being said on FOX News. This is not a boycott, it is letting advertisers know what is being done with their advertising dollars.

Fight back! Become a Fox Attacker.
Fox is not a legitimate news channel. They consistently misrepresent facts, manufacture terror, and slander progressives.
We’re fighting back by identifying and calling all of FOX’s advertisers. All of them. Particularly local advertisers who probably have no idea the kind of hatred their money is supporting.
We’re fighting back by identifying and calling all of FOX’s advertisers. All of them. Particularly local advertisers who probably have no idea the kind of hatred their money is supporting.
This is not a boycott. We are simply calling advertisers and informing them about FOX. And making Bill O’Reilly’s life a living hell.

Thanks to Brave New Films.
More at Crooks and Liars, and Rick Perlstein at Common Sense Blog,

I’ve just become a proud “FOX Attacker”. Now you can too. It’s not a boycott. It’s simply calling advertisers and informing them what FOX says. FOX can’t survive that. Have a blog? Then help spread the word.

FOX News’ Bill O’Reilly Website Threatens Life of Hillary Clinton

Fox News and Bill O’Reilly have been threatening corporations like JetBlue that sponsor the YearlyKos convention, telling their viewers that DailyKos is a “hate site.” JetBlue caved and wrote a public letter, echoing that DailyKos is a “hate site.”
So AmericaBlog took a look at O’Reilly’s site. Go see Bill O’Reilly’s Web site threatens Hillary’s life – AMERICAblog.

If Hillary wins, I will be respectful of our leader. If you could read my thoughts, I would be on the SS [Secret Service] watch list.

and

As a woman, i would open the door for her…..now, if there was nothing on the other side but empty space and a 50 foot drop into a moat filled leeches and (gulp) rats…well, I can’t be held responsible.

They have the screen shots, too.

Reporting Live Earth News Or Shaping Opinion?

Organizers say Live Earth’s internet audience may have been as many as two billion people*. But how is it reported today? Earth underwhelmed by environment pop extravaganza ,

They rocked the world, but as the clean-up at nine climate change gigs around the globe begins, many wonder if the galaxy of pop stars did much to change it.
U.S. and British media were generally underwhelmed on Sunday by Live Earth, the mega-concert organized by former U.S. vice president and green campaigner Al Gore, which, though built on the model of Live Aid and Live 8, created a less positive buzz.

Murdoch’s Times of London had this ready, Live Earth fails to pack large-scale punch, and Murdoch’s Fox News was ready with this one, reminiscent of the energy-use smear on Al Gore that came out the day after he won the Oscar for An Inconvenient Truth (see part 2 also), ‘Green’ Means Money, Not Environmentalism to Madonna,

Madonna had better clean up her business before she starts cleaning up the world.
… Madonna, who seems to be on top of all her many business endeavors, has actually invested about $2.7 million dollars in companies that are creating the destruction that Live Earth is trying to raise awareness about. She has invested in several companies named as the biggest corporate polluters in the world.
.. The companies include Alcoa, Ingersoll Rand, Weyerhaeuser, and several others associated with oil exploration, digging, and refining including British Petroleum, Schlumberger (a chief competitor of Halliburton), Devon Energy, Peabody Energy, Emerson Electric, Kimberly Clark and Weatherford International.
… one has to wonder why Madonna has put even a penny into the company if she has any feeling for environmental causes. But that’s an inconvenient question for the material girl as she prepares to close the Live Earth show live from London.

Nice try, but people do understand the problem and are going to continue to pressure the government for action.
*P.S. MSN reports 9 million streaming, AOL reports 5 million. AND,

Control Room, producer of Live Earth and Live 8, said it found that the on-demand streams in the days after the Live 8 had the most impact, especially after clips were passed around by e-mail.
Live 8 was streamed by users more than 100 million times in the six weeks following the shows.
Live Earth is predicted to be three times bigger with organizers expecting more than 80 percent of the viewership will be on-demand in the days after the event.

So two billion seems high, but one heck of a lot of people did and will tune in for sure.

The Reach Of Progressive Blogs

What do people “know?” If you are reading this you are probably a hyper-informed citizen. But what about the rest of us? What information reaches the public?
Progressive blogs reach progressives. Right-wing blogs are part of a noise machine that is designed to reach and influence the general public.
Right-wing blogs are tied into the conservative movement’s larger “noise machine” information apparatus. This is why we see successful results when the right launches an information campaign. They echo or are echoed through every channel through which the public receives information — by Limbaugh, Fox News, Drudge, and funded outreach into other channels, and their politicians are part of the coordinated process. So their message gets out there and the public “knows” what they want them to know. A very good example is what happened to Dan Rather. The public “knows” that Dan Rather “tried to smear President Bush” with “forged documents.” In fact the origin of the documents is still unknown, and forged or not, the underlying story was factual.
It would benefit us to keep in mind that progressive blogs have a limited reach and that we need to keep looking to extend that reach. There is no progressive noise machine. There is no coordination. There is no funded outreach to the general public. Democratic politicians likely as not fear blogs and tend not to join in a coordinated messaging efforts. Yes, progressive blogs are read by media figures, informed opinion leaders and public officials, and that is very important. But we have very little effect on what the general public “knows.” Only after shrill repetition for several days or weeks across the entire blogosphere does an important story even begin to reach into the traditional corporate media.
Current example – the prosecutor scandal. On the Heading Left Blog Talk Radio Show last week Nate mentioned that there was wide coverage of the scandal over firing US Attorneys who wouldn’t play ball and drop investigations of Republican corruption or wouldn’t falsely accuse Democrats of crimes. But in my own local paper there was only a short article on page 6, and it repeated verbatim White House talking points that the firings were “handled badly,” that the President “has the right to hire and fire prosecutors,” and that “Clinton fired all 93 prosecutors while Bush fired only 8.”

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