Category Archives: Corpocracy

Headline of the day: When hell freezes over


From the Guardian, a problem the departing esnl knows well:

Big tech asked to pay their ‘fair share’ in taxes to help San Francisco’s homeless

The tech boom has generated thousands of high-paying jobs and vast amounts of wealth. It’s also contributed to a spike in housing costs, a steady rise in evictions, a seismic shift in the identity of neighborhoods and an ever-widening gap between the city’s richest citizens and its poorest.

Moving to curtail rights abuses by companies


When it comes to power, think transnational corporations.

Back in March Foreign Policy published an excellent report on the power of the 21st Century corporation, including these observations:

Already, the cash that Apple has on hand exceeds the GDPs of two-thirds of the world’s countries. Firms are also setting the pace vis-à-vis government regulators in a perennial game of cat-and-mouse. After the 2008 financial crisis, the U.S. Congress passed the Dodd-Frank Act to discourage banks from growing excessively big and catastrophe-prone. Yet while the law crushed some smaller financial institutions, the largest banks — with operations spread across many countries — actually became even larger, amassing more capital and lending less. Today, the 10 biggest banks still control almost 50 percent of assets under management worldwide. Meanwhile, some European Union officials, including Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager, are pushing for a common tax-base policy among member states to prevent corporations from taking advantage of preferential rates. But if that happened (and it’s a very big if), firms would just look beyond the continent for metanational opportunities.

The world is entering an era in which the most powerful law is not that of sovereignty but that of supply and demand. As scholar Gary Gereffi of Duke University has argued, denationalization now involves companies assembling the capacities of various locations into their global value chains. This has birthed success for companies, such as commodities trader Glencore and logistics firm Archer Daniels Midland, that don’t focus primarily on manufacturing goods, but are experts at getting the physical ingredients of what metanationals make wherever they’re needed.

Could businesses go a step further, shifting from stateless to virtual? Some people think so. In 2013, Balaji Srinivasan, now a partner at the venture-capital company Andreessen Horowitz, gave a much debated talk in which he claimed Silicon Valley is becoming more powerful than Wall Street and the U.S. government. He described “Silicon Valley’s ultimate exit,” or the creation of “an opt-in society, ultimately outside the U.S., run by technology.” The idea is that because social communities increasingly exist online, businesses and their operations might move entirely into the cloud.

The U.N. ponders a move

Two years ago, the United Nations Human Rights Council voted to begin the process of regulating the way transnational corporations impact human rights.

Here’s how the vote went:

  • In favor: Algeria, Benin, Burkina Faso, China, Congo, Cote d’Ivoire, Cuba, Ethiopia, India, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Morocco, Namibia, Pakistan, Philippines, Russia, South Africa, Venezuela, and Vietnam
  • Opposed: Austria, Czech Republic, Estonia, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Montenegro, South Korea, Romania, Macedonia, the United Kingdom, and the United States of America
  • Abstained: Argentina, Botswana, Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, Gabon, Kuwait, Maldives, Mexico, Peru, Saudi Arabia, Sierra Leone, and the United Arab Emirates

The idea has won the support of more than 80 countries, though Obama’s America remains firmly opposed.

The work continues.

From the latest report from the Working Group on the Issue of Human Rights and Transnational Corporations of the United Nations Human Rights Council:

The most egregious business-related human rights abuses take place in conflict-affected areas and other situations of widespread violence. Human rights abuses may spark or intensify conflict, and conflict may in turn lead to further human rights abuses. The gravity of the human rights abuses demands a response, yet in conflict zones the international human rights regime cannot possibly be expected to function as intended. Such situations require that States take action as a matter of urgency, but there remains a lack of clarity among States with regard to what innovative, proactive and, above all, practical policies and tools have the greatest potential for preventing or mitigating business-related abuses in situations of conflict. In the present report, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises outlines a range of policy options that home, host and neighbouring States have, or could develop, to prevent and deter corporate-related human rights abuses in conflict contexts.

>snip<

States should warn business enterprises of the heightened risk of being involved with gross abuses of human rights in conflict-affected areas and clearly communicate their expectations with regard to business respect for human rights, even in such challenging environments. With few exceptions, States have yet to convey their expectations of business behaviour in situations of conflicts. Normally, States would convey such expectations through policies, laws and regulations. For example, in the area of anti-corruption, States in recent years have agreed upon and communicated their expectations regarding standards of business conduct with respect to bribery through international conventions and domestic policies and regulations. However, unlike anti-corruption, the existing legal and policy framework relevant to conflict-affected regions does not have a component that is specifically designed to deal with the problems of business involvement.

This lack of regulatory clarity limits the ability of States to engage or advise business enterprises regarding acceptable conduct in or connected to conflict-affected regions. Therefore, states should review whether their policies, legislation, regulations and enforcement measures effectively address the heightened risk of businesses operating in conflict situations being involved in gross human rights abuses, including through provisions for human rights due diligence by business. They should ensure that their regulatory frameworks are adequate, the applicability to business entities is clarified and, for the most extreme situation, make sure that the relevant agencies are properly resourced to address the problem of business involvement in international or transnational crimes, such as corruption, war crimes or crimes against humanity.

Abby Martin interviews one of the measure’s architects

In this, the latest episode of Abby Martin’s series for teleSUR English, the San Francisco Bay Area native interviews a diplomat who played a seminal role in shaping the UN panel’s mandate.

From teleSUR English:

The Empire Files: Bringing Corporations to Justice with Ecuador’s UN Rep

Program notes:

For the first time ever, progress is being made at the United Nations for a binding legal instrument that would hold corporations accountable for human rights violations. Transnational corporations — many with larger economies than the countries they operate in — have enjoyed immunity from charges for destroying the environment and taking human lives. But Ecuador is leading a fight in the UN to create an international treaty and standards that can change this equation. At teleSUR’s studios in Quito, Abby Martin interviews Ecuador’s Permanent Representative to the UN and Chair of the negotiations for the binding instrument, María Fernanda Espinosa, about the need for this step.

Poor school buildings turn out poor students


As the lobbyists in Washington and state houses across the country continue their drive to privatize education, poor families who can’t afford the costs of private schools are forced to send their children to aging and increasingly run-down public schools.

Meanwhile, Republican politicians and corporate Democrats are further cutting the budgets of school districts, blocking construction of new schools and reducing funds to maintain existing buildings.

And if you thing the privateers are inflicting terrible damage on the students of these cost-starved schools, you’d be right.

From Cornell University:

Social scientists have known for several years that kids enrolled in run-down schools miss more classes and have lower test scores than students at well-maintained schools. But they haven’t been able to pin down why.

A Cornell University environmental psychologist has an answer.

Lorraine Maxwell, an associate professor of design and environmental analysis in the College of Human Ecology, studied more than 230 New York City public middle schools and found a chain reaction at work: leaking toilets, smelly cafeterias, broken furniture, and run-down classrooms made students feel negatively which lead to high absenteeism and in turn, contributed to low test scores and poor academic achievement.

“School buildings that are in good condition and attractive may signal to students that someone cares and there’s a positive social climate, which in turn may encourage better attendance,” Maxwell said. “Students cannot learn if they do not come to school.”

Maxwell found that poor building conditions, and the resulting negative perception of the school’s social climate, accounted for 70 percent of the poor academic performance. She controlled for students’ socioeconomic status and ethnic background, and found that while these student attributes are related to test scores, they do not tell the whole story. School building condition is also a major contributing factor, Maxwell said.

“Those other factors are contributing to poor academic performance, but building condition is significantly contributing also. It’s worth it for society to make sure that school buildings are up to par,” she said.

Her study [$39.95 to read, thanks to the academic publishing bandits at Elsevier] “School Building Condition, Social Climate, Student Attendance and Academic Achievement: A Mediation Model,” appears in the Journal of Environmental Psychology.

In an earlier, related study, Maxwell asked a handful of middle-school students what difference they thought a school building makes.

“I will never forget one boy,” Maxwell said. “He said, ‘Well, maybe if the school looked better, kids would want to come to school.’ And that sparked me to think, ‘OK, they notice.’”

There’s more, after the jump. Continue reading

Do robotic insurance agents get commissions?


Or are banksters [for insurance is, after all, banking on your own mortality] putting the premium on profit in an aging Japan?

From the Yomiuri Shimbun:

A major life insurance company will deploy humanoid robots nationwide this autumn, using them to wait on customers at its offices and sending them out on sales calls.

Meiji Yasuda Life Insurance Co. has announced plans to deploy 100 Pepper robots, made by SoftBank Group Corp., at its 80 branches in October. Pepper will explain insurance products and services, and accompany sales people on their rounds.

This will give Meiji Yasuda the highest number of humanoid robots deployed in the financial industry.

Pepper will explain comparatively simple, reasonably priced insurance products in customer service areas at branch offices. The robots also will attend to visitors at insurance seminars held by the company, and accompany Meiji Yasuda salespeople on visits to other companies to promote insurance products.

How long before we start to see robotic peddlers on our own doorsteps?

And what does such a development imply?

What other sales jobs can be filled without having to do with those messy humans? No unions, no health insurance, no retirement benefits, and programmed to do exactly what you want them to do.

Kinda like the Trump Republican base.

Conventional Wisdom: Humor & Weimar America


As the GOP convention winds to a close, a video take on the event and the election.

We begin with a brutally frank assessment of the Republican convention from Lewis Black, during a guest sport on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.

And he’s got the best idea yet on what to do with the two November contenders:

Lewis Black On The Election: “It’s A Social Experiment”

Program notes:

The comedian and star of “Back in Black” on Broadway suggests that by choosing between two deeply unpopular presidential candidates, voters are participating in a grand social experiment.

The election as emerging fascism fueled by both parties

Next up, a Paul Jay interview with journalist and former Berkeleyan Robert Scheer on the emerging fascism of Weimar America, and the way both parties have worked to bring it about.

From The Real News Network:

Robert Scheer: Neofascist Trump or Corporate Hawk Clinton Are No Choice at All

From the transcript:

JAY: So let’s start with question one. Is this just a kind of eccentric right populist, and another variance of the Republican Party? Or is this something that’s gone further into what you can call a new authoritarianism, developing neofascism, or such?

SCHEER: Well, it’s precisely a neofascism, and I think we should explain, particularly to younger people, what we mean by this. Because it’s not just throwing around some frightening word. But we’ve had this phenomenon. We have it right now in Europe. We have it where you’re–basically what you’re, what you had under the rise of Mussolini and Hitler, in Italy and Germany.

And what you’re really talking about is scapegoating real problems, there are real problems, you don’t get fascist movements taking over, rising to power, without people being in pain. Hurting. The economy in shambles, their aspirations are limited, they’re worried about their future. And we have a situation now in the United States that is increasingly resembling a kind of post-Weimar Germany. It’s neofascism, it’s not fascism. But basically, people are perplexed: why is life not getting better? Why is income disparity more glaring? Why did my $38 an hour job in [inaud.] or mining disappear, and now I have to work for $7, $8, $9 an hour. What about the benefits I thought I had? What about my ability to send my kid to college?

So we have lowered expectations in America. We have a great sense of pain. And it’s not, you know, just one region and one group of people. And it’s in that atmosphere that you can basically have one of two narratives to respond. You had the Bernie Sanders narrative that said yeah, we got real problems, here. Income inequality is getting worse. The good jobs are not there. The benefits are not there. And we’re going to propose a progressive alternative. And that’s why Bernie Sanders, you know, almost knocked Hillary Clinton out of the box, because Hillary Clinton represented the establishment that had enabled this kind of pain out there.

On the Republican side, Trump did something amazing. He wiped out the whole Republican establishment. He did it up from Maine to Alabama. And he was able to do it across the country because people are hurting. They’re not fools, they’re not desperate to back a fool. What they are desperate about is having a good life for their kids, for themselves, and they’re worried. And so this demagogue of the right comes along with a neofascist message, and by that I mean precisely blaming the undocumented worker, you know, blaming people who don’t have your religion, or gay people, or minorities, or something of that sort. Blaming them for the problems that people with power have caused.

And that’s the key ingredient of neofascism, is to distract people from the real origin of the problems, and make them think it’s the undocumented Mexican worker, which is absurd. They’re not the people who have destroyed housing in America. They’re not the people who did the collateralized debt obligations and credit default swaps and all the junk that Goldman Sachs and others did that brought the economy down. And to blame some guy who’s crossed the border, or some woman who’s crossed the border and is trying to clean a house or help raise a kid there for your problems. . .is absurd.

And Michael Moore declares Trump will be the winner

And he gives a plausible rationale for his analysis in this special convention of HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher.

Also featured in Tony Schwartz, the man who really wrote Donald Trump’s The Art of the Deal and who has proclaimed that Trump’s victory in November would herald the end of civilization:

Bill Maher Live RNC Special Edition: July 20

Program notes:

Bill Maher and his guests – Michael Moore, Dan Savage, Joy Reid, and Tony Schwartz – discuss the 2016 Republican National Convention during this special edition of Real Time.

Quote if the day: There’s too much democracy


That’s not our opinion: In esnl‘s opinion there’s too little of it, because democratic governance governance depends first and foremost on free and informed decisions by a fully informed citizenry, and we live in an information age characterized, sadly, by the lack of a broad-based common forum.

Instead,m we exist in a world characterized by an increasingly fragmented mediascape, where each of us in enclosed by a filter bubble, where we receive information tailored by us and the corporateers running the media to prey upon our basest impulses and desires, while excluding other inputs that might challenge us to actually think about viewpoints other than our own.

Additionally, he rise of the anonymous comment system has brought about the rise of new levels of incivility, where the commenter is freed from any responsibility for her/his own remarks, allowing for new levels of sheer ugliness in public discourse.

One of those who has profited most handsomely from this new mediascape is Peter Thiel, Silicon Valley venture capitalist and co-founder of Pay-Pal and a major early investor in Facebook.

Thiel is also the co-founder of Palantir Technologies, a cyberspook firm with corporate and government clients and one of the principals in a Bank of America-backed plan to sink Wikileaks and journalist Glenn Greenwald.

From Palantir's proposal to use cybertechology to destroy Wikileaks.

From Palantir’s proposal to use cybertechology to destroy Wikileaks.

Thiel has garnered abundant headlines of late from his successful backing of Hulk Hogan’s invasion of privacy action against Gawker Media, owners of the website that also outed the German-American billionaire as gay.

And now he’s taking the platform at the GOP convention in Cleveland tonight to hail the virtues of his chosen exemplar, Donald Trump.

And with that, our QOTD from Ben Tarnoff of the Guardian:

What Trump offers Thiel isn’t just an excuse to be contrary and politically incorrect. Trump gives Thiel something far more valuable: a way to fulfill his long-held ambition of saving capitalism from democracy.

In a 2009 essay called The Education of a Libertarian, Thiel declared that capitalism and democracy had become incompatible. Since 1920, he argued, the creation of the welfare state and “the extension of the franchise to women” had made the American political system more responsive to more people – and therefore more hostile to capitalism. Capitalism is not “popular with the crowd”, Thiel observed, and this means that as democracy expands, the masses demand greater concessions from capitalists in the form of redistribution and regulation.

The solution was obvious: less democracy. But in 2009, Thiel despaired of achieving this goal within the realm of politics. How could you possibly build a successful political movement for less democracy?

Fast forward two years, when the country was still slowly digging its way out of the financial crisis. In 2011, Thiel told George Packer that the mood of emergency made him “weirdly hopeful”. The “failure of the establishment” had become too obvious to ignore, and this created an opportunity for something radically new, “something outside the establishment”, to take root.

Now, in 2016, Thiel has finally found a politician capable of seizing that opportunity: a disruptor-in-chief who will destroy a dying system and build a better one in its place. Trump isn’t just a flamethrower for torching a rotten establishment, however – he’s the fulfillment of Thiel’s desire to build a successful political movement for less democracy.

Antioxidants may do more harm than good


One of thousands of products peddled with the promise of antioxidant health benefits.

One of thousands of products peddled with the promise of antioxidant health benefits.

You hear about them all the time, and countless foods and supplements containing them are peddled with promises that they’ll fix you up, keep you healthy, and put a little extra spring in your step.

But do antioxidants really fulfill all that hype? Or can filling up on them actually be harmful to your health?

A new cautionary note has been sounded in a study from scientists in Britain and the Netherlands, and our post includes the announcements from their respective universities.

First, from Maastricht University:

Researchers Professor Pietro Ghezzi of the Brighton and Sussex Medical School and Professor Harald Schmidt of Maastricht University urge caution in the use of antioxidants. Many people take antioxidants to treat or prevent disease. Ghezzi and Schmidt’s research has shown that such supplements help only in clear cases of vitamin deficiency, and that some antioxidants may even have harmful effects. The study has been published in the British Journal of Pharmacology.