Watch Out For Wikipedia

Try this: start or edit a Wikipedia article that includes information that might be unfavorable to conservative corporate interests, perhaps in the area of tort reform (incl medical malpractice, etc) or trade/protectionism, etc. Try adding citations to studies that show that tort reform is a corporate-funded effort to keep people from being able to sue companies that harm them… I tried it and it was removed in a few minutes.
Or try to edit the entry on Protectionism, perhaps adding something like the words “unfair competition” as in protecting America jobs from unfair competition from countries that exploit workers. Someone did this the other day and the edit lasted a few minutes before it was removed because it changed the “long accepted definition of protectionism.” In other words, the idea that our standard of living should be protected from competition using exploited workers is unfair goes against the corporate-interest meaning of the term.
Try editing entries covering other issues around trade, economics or corporate issues. See how long it takes before a pro-corporate viewpoint is returned to the article. Or add an article about a progressive organization. I added an article about the Commonweal Institute, and it was immediately removed, so I put another up and it was immediately flagged for removal. (I am working to save it…) An article about me – put up and edited by others – was also removed twice. The circumstances involved a professional “leading tort-reform advocate” — while I’m the person who wrote this report about how the tort reform movement is involved with the corporate/conservative movement. Go figure.
This is a problem at Wikipedia. It is quite possible that there are people who are paid to show up and push Wikipedia to reflect a conservative, pro-corporate viewpoint. And why wouldn’t this be the case as it is in so many other areas where corporate interests are affected? (I know of one corporate-funded conservative movement insider who spends much of the normal workday and evenings editing Wikipedia.) So it seems the Wikipedia organization may be unable to sufficiently police the site to keep this from happening, and to keep new people from having unpleasant experiences and being shouted down and driven away. There are so many areas of political life where conservatives shout down or intimidate everyone else until they give up and go away. Wikipedia is fast becoming one more.
This has real-world implications. Wikipedia shows up at the top of many if not most Google searches, and people tend to believe this means it is a reliable source. This positioning implies a public-interest responsibility for accuracy and objective presentation of material. On non-controversial topics Wikipedia is a very reliable and possibly the best source for information because over time the “wisdom of crowds” effect brings increased expertise to bear.
But like so many things today, in areas where corporate resources can be focused, the subject matter increasingly reflects the viewpoint that serves the interests of the few at the top. Wikipedia’s prominence is the likely reason this conservative information-purging occurs. It is also the reason Wikipedia has a responsibility to do something about it.
(Edited a bit for clarity, focus.)
PS also see this about article deletions.

Another Corporate Gimmick – Arbitration

This post originally appeared at Speak Out California.
Does your credit card or bank loan agreement have an “arbitration clause?” More and more consumer-oriented contracts and “agreements” have clauses specifying that disputes must go to arbitration rather than our civil justice system. The justification for this is that arbitration saves the time and expense of working within our legal system. But here’s the thing: the corporations choose the arbitrators and every arbitrator knows they will never, ever, ever, ever (ever) get another job if they rule against the corporations. Never.
And guess what: 98.8% of arbitrations end up in favor of the corporations. This is not a surprise.
The Progressive States Network’s newsletter has a story about this today, Arbitration: “Set up to squeeze small sums of money out of desperately poor people”,

The headline above is a quote from former West Virginia Supreme Court Justice Richard Neely, describing what his role was as an arbitrator at the National Arbitration Forum (NAF), a for-profit company hired to enforce mandatory arbitration clauses for credit card consumer loans. “NAF is nothing more than an arm of the collection industry hiding behind a veneer of impartiality,” says Richard Neely.
In a devastating expose by BusinessWeek, Neely and other former arbitrators describe an arbitration system stacked completely against consumers– a system where creditors win 99.8% of all disputes involving companies ranging from Bank of America to Sears to Citgroup. Arbitration clauses buried in the fine print of credit card offers means consumers lose the right to have disputes decided in an independent court and instead are forced into corporation-selected arbitration firms.

The BusinessWeek story mentioned in the Progressive States Network story is titled, Banks vs. Consumers (Guess Who Wins)
This story about credit card companies taking unfair advantage of consumers is one more attack on citizen rights to access our own legal system (one more of so many attacks). Think about what is happening here. First the big corporations fought against “regulations” which are the rules that We, the People set up requiring safe workplaces or environmental standards, or products that do not injure people, etc. Then when fewer regulations of course resulted in worker or consumer injuries or toxic spills or other harms the inured parties filed more lawsuits asking the companies to make good. So in response to these lawsuits the corporate-financed “tort reform” movement came along, working to limit the ability of citizens to be compensated for the results of corporate bad behavior. The result has been fewer regulations preventing harms and more restrictions on citizen access to courts where we can seek damages after we are harmed.
I didn’t even bring up the corporate-conservative movement to install their own business-friendly judges in the courts.
But even those erosions of our access to justice has not been enough for the greedy corporations. Now there is arbitration: clauses that show up in contracts and agreements that remove your ability to take a dispute to the courts at all! And the judges in these courts are dependent on the corporations for their livelihood!
Deregulation, tort reform and now arbitration that is rigged against the consumer. Drip, drip, drip. One after another the big corporations are eroding the rights of citizens.
Click through to Speak Out California.

Justice For … All?

This post originally appeared at Speak Out California
You hear a lot in the news about big corporate lawsuits. If you closely followed this week’s business news, for example, you may have read about a jury ruling that Microsoft has to pay Alcatel-Lucent $367.4 million for violating patents. Imagine the money that must have gone into lawyers, research and experts — even the copying bill must have been enormous. And these cases take months to hear.
There were also court rulings about the drug Prevacid, another covering dialysis machines, and many, many others.
All of them big-money corporate cases with millions, even billions of dollars at stake. These big companies have the money to take these cases to court.
But what if you or I need to go to court? Are we on an equal footing?
A recent issue of The Progressive States Network’s newsletter, Stateside Dispatch, says,

According to Access to Justice: Opening the Courtroom Door [PDF file] by the Brennan Center, federal funding for legal services in real dollars has declined dramatically over the last twenty-five years. In 2004, federally-funded programs turned away at least one person seeking help for each person served, leading to approximately one million cases per year being turned away due to lack of funding.

In fact, the Brennan Center report states that “most low-income individuals cannot obtain counsel to represent them in civil matters.” On top of that, government-funded legal aid services are now by-and-large prohibited from helping people when they are harmed by corporations.

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Tort Reform

I came across some interesting “tort reform” laws in various states. It seems several state governments understand their job as protecting wealthy corporations from citizens, not the other way around. As I read this list:
In several states it is illegal to sue fast food companies if their products harm your health, give you diabetes, etc.
In Colorado it is against the law to sue a ski resort.
In California it is illegal to sue a tobacco company.
Florida you can’t sue a store if a powered shopping cart injures you.
In Indiana medical malpractice awards are limited to $1.25 million even if the resulting required medical care costs more.
In Kansas punitive damages when a corporation injures you are limited to your annual income, regardless of what the corporation did or how much money they made from the actions that harmed you.
In Maryland, if a corporation kills a member of your family, they don’t have to pay more than $500,000. In Wisconsin it is $350,000 if an adult was killed.
In Mississippi the amount you can claim in damages if a corporation harms a member of your family is limited to your net worth when injured.
In South Carolina you can’t sue a skating rink operator.
In Utah doctors can refuse to treat a patient unless the patient agrees in advance not to sue them.