Gerry Canavan

the smartest kid on earth

Posts Tagged ‘corpocracy

Happy Monday

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* Secret origins of gonzo journalism: “The Kentucky Derby Is Decadent and Depraved,” by Hunter S. Thompson.

What’s so frustrating about really upper class kids who go on to become elite pundits and write stupid stuff about this topic is that, had they any self-awareness whatsoever, they should know all about intergenerational class entrenchment. In most cases, their parents have done everything they can to make sure social mobility remains a myth.

* When a campus building is named for a famous white supremacist. Oh, hi, Duke!

The Melancholy, Crumbling Remains Of Great Socialist Murals.

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* The failures of Title IX. How a Title IX Complaint Is Processed.

Which states have the highest levels of student debt?

How Athletic Departments (And The Media) Fudge The Cost Of Scholarships.

* Partisan politics, segregation, and Milwaukee.

* I worry a bit that giving the 1% the option to become literal vampires might not work out great.

* Samuel R. Delany reviews Star Wars.

A collision of greed, neglect, and mismanagement is endangering young people in America’s college capital while enriching some absentee investors — landlords who maximize profits by packing students into properties — and universities that admit many more students than they can house.

* Devo and Kent State.

* Mad Men and social change.

Where the show has faltered — and where it comes up against its contradictions — is when it attempts to look at those who are no longer living in the Before. So effective in detailing the quiet terrors of the old order, it has been largely unable or unwilling to present anyone who stands for this challenge in a serious way.

* Today in the rule of law: The Harris prohibition has resulted in law enforcement agencies using the stingrays without obtaining a court warrant, because the agencies have interpreted the contract to mean they cannot even tell a judge about their intent to use the devices.

* Milwaukee officer shoots man after struggle at Red Arrow Park. Drunk NYPD Officer Allegedly Shot a Stranger 6 Times.

* Meanwhile people are just straight-up setting up murder traps now in Stand Your Ground states.

The Incidental State: Coercion in the Age of Big Data.

But it turns out that if you consider the facts reported; he wasn’t a genius.  His violations of anti-trust law were obvious crimes.  Instead, his key characteristic was the one we always emphasize is critical about the most fraudulent CEOs – audacity.  Jobs had gotten away with committing so many crimes that he came to believe he was immune from prosecution.

* On crafting a nonwhite Spider-Man. Spider-Man execs kill our dreams of seeing Miles Morales on the big screen. They must really hate money.

To Remember a Lecture Better, Take Notes by Hand.

Want to Go to Mars? It’s Not That Expensive.

* Vulture: Is television art yet?

Path to student loan debt relief for adjuncts just got a little easier–but still a long way to go.

* Ross Douthat hates your loose libertine morals so much he’ll even become a communist to oppose them.

Gun That Can Only Be Fired By Owner Exists but No One Will Sell It Because of New Jersey.

How Much Source Material Does HBO’s Game of Thrones Have Left to Work With? The worst news is: it seems like it’s all Jon Snow stuff…

For ‘Game of Thrones,’ Rising Unease Over Rape’s Recurring Role.

* The secret history of White Coke.

Louis C.K. versus the Common Core.

The Ocean Floor Is Littered with Humanity’s Garbage.

“Let It Go” was inspired by Prince, who also contributed its most memorable line.

* Should we be teaching him civics at such a young age?

* The oldest man on earth lives on the Upper West Side. Take that, Okinawa!

* Fanwanking a reason why there doesn’t seem to be many women in the Star Wars universe.

* Presenting the Wes Anderson cruise.

* And Slate celebrates the world’s best statues.

Grand Byakue, Takazaki, Japan, 137 ft, built in 1936

Tuesday Night!

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* Reviews of Disability in Science Fiction at Tor and wordgathering focus on my chapter in particular, each taking up a different half of it; read them together and you get a pretty good sense of what I was on about.

* Confirm your suspicions about who the worst people at Gawker are: What Should Be Done About Detroit? A Gawker Internal Debate.

* The corporate university and permanent crisis.

Radicalizing Fantasy and the Power of Disidentification.

UConn Is Under Federal Investigation For Allegedly Mishandling Rape Cases.

American Companies Made No Progress In Gender Diversity On Boards For 8 Straight Years.

Why U.S. Parks Are Full of Squirrels.

* The good-looking are different from you and me.

Remembering Nelson Mandela and His Fight for Climate Justice.

David Simon: ‘There are now two Americas. My country is a horror show.’

Boy with Asthma Dies After School Confiscates His Inhaler. “Zero tolerance policy against asthma inhalers.”

That’s not what the Left wants. We want to give people the chance to do something else with their lives, something besides merely tending to it, without having to take a 30-year detour on Wall Street to get there. The way to do that is not to immerse people even more in the ways and means of the market, but to give them time and space to get out of it. That’s what a good welfare state, real social democracy, does: rather than being consumed by life, it allows you to make your life. Freely. One less bell to answer, not one more.

‘Revenge porn’ site creator charged with extorting victims to have nude photos removed.

* And Obamacare is still a huge, huge bummer, forever and ever amen.

The Monday Morning Links Market Is Ripe for Disruption

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* This man owed $134 in property taxes. The District sold the lien to an investor who foreclosed on his $197,000 house and sold it.

Stanford Is Now Basically a Venture-Capital Fund With Some Dorms.

* Remaking the University: Rather than accept further gutting and the corporate solutions that are a domestic version of structural adjustment, we should work to meet our actual needs.

Intellectual property and the struggle over value.

The six ways we talk about a teenage girl’s age. “The ‘unreliable narrator‘ of Nabokov’s Lolita infuses our media and apparently permeates parts of our judicial landscape”:

When you consider the many ages of adolescent girls, it is clear that our cultural imagination encourages boys and men to think of young girls as fair game. By the time a girl is 12, she isn’t even seen as a whole human being, but regarded for her parts. She’s “forbidden fruit,” “a temptress,” “a man trap” and “asking for it.” All she has to do to be targeted sexually is go for a walk. If she wears skimpy clothes, is overly friendly with a teacher, dances with abandon, especially if she’s a girl or young woman of color, she might be blamed for her own assault. This is a male fantasy.

* Teaching naked, parts 1 and 2.

I had my students fill out mid-semester evaluations last fall.  No big deal, just answer these four questions: 1) What am I doing to help you learn? 2) What could I be doing better to help you learn? 3) What are you doing to help yourself learn? and 4) What could you be doing better to help yourself learn?  I had them turn the evaluations in anonymously to allow more genuine feedback.

Later that afternoon, I started going through the responses. It was encouraging to see that, in general, responses to the first two questions indicated I was getting better, which was gratifying given the amount of time and energy I spent re-developing the class. For the most part, students were surprisingly honest when responding to questions 3 and 4, showing they understood their responsibility in their progress, or lack thereof. Somewhere towards the end of the ~160 evaluations, I came across one that answered question #2 with: “Teach naked.”

What’s Killing Poor White Women?

Most Americans, including high-school dropouts of other races, are gaining life expectancy, just at different speeds. Absent a war, genocide, pandemic, or massive governmental collapse, drops in life expectancy are rare. “If you look at the history of longevity in the United States, there have been no dramatic negative or positive shocks,” Olshansky says. “With the exception of the 1918 influenza pandemic, everything has been relatively steady, slow changes. This is a five-year drop in an 18-year time period. That’s dramatic.”

NSA Revelations Cast Doubt on the Entire Tech Industry.

* Book Crooks “exposes a (zero-day?) vulnerability in Google Books that allows us to download entire books/novels/textbooks.”

* Anthology of “21st Century Science Fiction” Coming November 5.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden and David Hartwell have edited Twenty-First Century Science Fiction , a 250,000-word anthology of short fiction by writers who came to prominence since the turn of the century. The authors include “Vandana Singh, Charles Stross, Paolo Bacigalupi, Neal Asher, Rachel Swirsky, John Scalzi, M. Rickert, Tony Ballantyne, David Levine, Genevieve Valentine, Ian Creasey, Marissa Lingen, Paul Cornell, Elizabeth Bear, David Moles, Mary Robinette Kowal, Madeleine Ashby, Tobias Buckell, Ken Liu, Oliver Morton, Karl Schroeder, Brenda Cooper, Liz Williams, Ted Kosmatka, Catherynne M. Valente, Daryl Gregory, Alaya Dawn Johnson, James Cambias, Yoon Ha Lee, Hannu Rajaniemi, Kage Baker, Peter Watts, Jo Walton, and Cory Doctorow.

* Scientists are losing confidence that climate change will increase the frequency of hurricanes. I’m sure the reporting on this will be balanced and responsible, dedicated to getting to the bottom of what’s really going on.

* Does the dog die? Check before you view.

* One of the First Known Chemical Attacks Took Place 1,700 Years Ago in Syria. Obama will appear on TV six times this week to hype the war, just like he did all those times to push the public option, economic stimulus, infrastructure spending, climate change legislation, closing Guantánamo…

Bloomberg lets the mask slip. Yikes.

Why Big Pharma should be scared of the gaming industry.

Much of the height in Earth’s tallest towers is useless space.

Overworked America: 12 Charts That Will Make Your Blood Boil.

What Are Students Tweeting About Us?

* Prove me wrong, boy. Prove me wrong.

* And Angus Johnston concludes his series on the most important student activism stories to watch in 2013-2014: Part 3, 4.

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A Few More Tuesday Links While I Procrastinate

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* Penn Puts Hiring Ban on Smokers.

* A team of scientists led by chemist Richard Kaner had just finished devising an efficient method for producing high-quality sheets of the Nobel-prize winning supermaterial known as graphene — with a consumer-grade DVD drive. That was groundbreaking in and of itself, but the real surprise came when Maher El-Kady, a researcher in Kaner’s lab, wired a small square of their high quality carbon sheets up to a lightbulb.

* Talkin’ TNG at Grantland and An und für sich.

* Fraternities on the side of good. Cats and dogs living together. Mass hysteria.

* More massive profits for banks. I guess the crisis really is over!

* Tennant says he’s starting to ‘give up hope’ for Who 50th return. You bastards. This was a gimme.

* And a massive, massive LEGO Hogwarts.

Saturday Morning Links

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* Foreman Says These Jobs Are Going Boys, and They Ain’t Coming Back: Bob Dylan Lays Off 2,000 Workers From Songwriting Factory.

“This is a rapidly evolving industry, and frankly, there’s no way we can compete by relying on equipment and a manufacturing process that haven’t changed much since the 1970s,” said Valentine, noting that Watchtower’s board of directors had already broken ground on piano and Hammond organ facilities in Taiwan. “Despite our best efforts to continue assembling songs the old-fashioned way, we can’t overlook the increased efficiencies offered by fully automated symbolism generators and the use of mass-produced chorus components.”

* Toxic lies about culture are afoot in Silicon Valley. But I suspect other industries will recognize themselves in this discourse too.

We make sure to hire people who are a cultural fit
What your culture might actually be saying is… We have implemented a loosely coordinated social policy to ensure homogeneity in our workforce. We are able to reject qualified, diverse candidates on the grounds that they “aren’t a culture fit” while not having to examine what that means – and it might mean that we’re all white, mostly male, mostly college-educated, mostly young/unmarried, mostly binge drinkers, mostly from a similar work background. We tend to hire within our employees’ friend and social groups. Because everyone we work with is a great culture fit, which is code for “able to fit in without friction,” we are all friends and have an unhealthy blur between social and work life. Because everyone is a “great culture fit,” we don’t have to acknowledge employee alienation and friction between individuals or groups. The desire to continue being a “culture fit” means it is harder for employees to raise meaningful critique and criticism of the culture itself.

* Michelle Obama and the evolution of Mom dancing.

* A brief history of marketing, from Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal.

* Star Wars we can believe in: LucasArts rumored to be developing a Knights of the Old Republic film.

* And a Montana Bill Would Give Corporations The Right To Vote. Not an Onion link! Not an imaginary story!

Democracy ‘Has a Hidden Failure Mode, We’ve Landed in It, and We Probably Won’t Be Able to Vote Ourselves Out of It’

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The great Charlie Stross, elaborating on his sense that we are living in the aftermath of an alien invasion:

Overall, the nature of the problem seems to be that our representative democratic institutions have been captured by meta-institutions that implement the iron law of oligarchy by systematically reducing the risk of change. They have done so by converging on a common set of policies that do not serve the public interest, but minimize the risk of the parties losing the corporate funding they require in order to achieve re-election. And in so doing, they have broken the “peaceful succession when enough people get pissed off” mechanism that prevents revolutions…

So the future isn’t a boot stamping on a human face, forever. It’s a person in a beige business outfit advocating beige policies that nobody wants (but nobody can quite articulate a coherent alternative to) with a false mandate obtained by performing rituals of representative democracy that offer as much actual choice as a Stalinist one-party state. And resistance is futile, because if you succeed in overthrowing the beige dictatorship, you will become that which you opposed.

Via MeFi.

Assuming They Pay Anything at All

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Written by gerrycanavan

February 6, 2013 at 8:45 pm

Tuesday!

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* Great research opportunity for any PhD student studying science fiction, fantasy, horror, and/or utopia: the R.D. Mullen Fellowship. I loved the time I spent in that archive.

* CFP: The cultural impact of Dr. Who, at DePaul University. Saturday, May 4.

* Sarah Jaffe on emotional labor and gendered employment.

On Getting a Ph.D. This is stirring, but all the same my unhappy advice hasn’t really changed since the last time a rebuttal to the just-don’t-go doomsayers was making the rounds.

* Now CUNY is pushing for a five-year Ph.D. I still feel the same way about this, too!

* “Skilled, Cheap, and Desperate”: Non-tenure-track Faculty and the Delusion of Meritocracy.

* …But the most unfortunate part is that not one of the expert-amateurs seems to have given much thought to what MOOCs imply: that teachers are unnecessary. MOOCs don’t use teachers; they have curriculum designers and they have video presenters. Actors are the best for that latter role, seriously.

The latest on Pat McCrory’s war with UNC.

“If you want to take gender studies that’s fine. Go to a private school, and take it,” McCrory said. “But I don’t want to subsidize that if that’s not going to get someone a job.”

Again, I’d personally be very surprised if those gender studies classes weren’t paying for themselves and more.

College majors, median earnings, and unemployment.

Yale Suing Former Students Shows Crisis in Loans to Poor.

* Where Girls Do Better Than Boys in Science.

girls-lead-in-science-exam-but-not-in-the-united-states

* The wisdom of the market, in all its glorious efficiency: Confessions of a corporate spy.

* On corporate apology.

* We’re a tour group from the future.

* California’s coming war over fracking.

* Over the last three months wind farms produced more electricity than any other power source in Spain for the first time ever, an industry group has said. To steal a line from Twitter: oh, if only we had wind!

Six media giants control 90% of popular culture.

* Veterans, Ron D. Moore, and Battlestar Galactica: 1, 2. A representative, evocative question:

ES: There’s a particular quote that I’ve seen as signatures in military forums or quoted, and for some reason military members identify it. That’s Tigh’s New Caprica silioquoy: “Which side are we on? We’re on the side of the demons, chief. We’re evil men in the gardens of paradise, sent by the forces of death to spread devastation and destruction wherever we go. I’m surprised you didn’t know that.” Why do you think that quote resonates with veterans of Afghanistan and Iraq in particular?

Parts 3 and 4 coming soon.

* The latest from Randall Munroe’s “What If?”: Will the Internet ever surpass FedEx’s bandwidth? What would happen if you tried to fly a normal Earth airplane above different Solar System bodies? What if I took a swim in a typical spent nuclear fuel pool?

“Attached hereto is a copy of Mr. Trump’s birth certificate, demonstrating that he is the son of Fred Trump, not an orangutan,” Balber wrote in the letter.

* Personal saint Woody Guthrie’s previously unpublished novel House of Earth is available for purchase.

* Special pleading watch: nearly all of the 600 recess appointments since the Reagan presidency would have been nullified if the hyperformalist interpretation applied to Barack Obama were applied universally.

* We should only work 25 hours a week, argues professor. Sold!

* Some local pride! Milwaukee in top ten list for best urban forests.

* And congrats to our friend Allison Seay for a great review of her new collection To See the Queen. Some excerpts.

Single Charts That Explain Everything

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Written by gerrycanavan

February 3, 2013 at 11:13 am

Monday!

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* The e-Rater’s biggest problem, he says, is that it can’t identify truth. He tells students not to waste time worrying about whether their facts are accurate, since pretty much any fact will do as long as it is incorporated into a well-structured sentence. “E-Rater doesn’t care if you say the War of 1812 started in 1945,” he said. As Kevin Drum notes, this may less a bug than a feature in these benighted times.

* The White House Correspondents’ Dinner may be fascism with a human face, but at least there’s Stephen Colbert.

Of course, all of us should be honored to be listed on the TIME 100 alongside the two men who will be slugging it out in the fall: President Obama, and the man who would defeat him, David Koch.

Give it up everybody. David Koch.

Little known fact — David, nice to see you again, sir.

Little known fact, David’s brother Charles Koch is actually even more influential. Charles pledged $40 million to defeat President Obama, David only $20 million. That’s kind of cheap, Dave.

Sure, he’s all for buying the elections, but when the bill for democracy comes up, Dave’s always in the men’s room. I’m sorry, I must have left Wisconsin in my other coat.

I was particularly excited to meet David Koch earlier tonight because I have a Super PAC, Colbert Super PAC, and I am — thank you, thank you — and I am happy to announce Mr. Koch has pledged $5 million to my Super PAC. And the great thing is, thanks to federal election law, there’s no way for you to ever know whether that’s a joke.

By the way, if David Koch likes his waiter tonight, he will be your next congressman.

* Podcast of the day: “Bombing Savages in Law, in Fact, in Fiction” from Sven Lindqvist.

* n+1 talks debt.

Last quick point on student loans: If I am driving around while texting, and I negligently run over and kill a child, or if I am in a gambling institution and I have an 11 and the dealer has an ace, and I mistakenly double down and get a huge gambling debt—those kind of debts—hurting someone, killing someone, gambling debts, or all kinds of other debts—are treated less harshly under our bankruptcy code than the debts associated with trying to educate yourself. Student loans are the most repressive kind of debts under the legal structures that we have. These are democratic bills. People voted for them. Hillary Clinton voted for the 2005 bankruptcy bill. Biden voted for it; Biden pushed it. These are things we have chosen, and they are incredibly repressive for student debts.

More here.

* All about Paul Ryan.

* Academic advice: How to apply for things.

* zunguzungu explains the albatross on Johnny Depp’s brain.

* Life inside the Earth Liberation Front.

* Stephen King: Tax Me, for F@%&’s Sake!

“ ‘Moby-Dick’ is about the oil industry,” they said. “And the Ship of American State. The owners of the Pequod are rapacious and stingy religious hypocrites. The ship’s business is to butcher whales and turn them into an industrial energy product. The mates are the middle management. The harpooners, who are from races colonized by America one way or another, are supplying the expert tech labor. Elijah the prophet — from the American artist caste — foretells the Pequod’s doom, which comes about because the chief executive, Ahab, is a megalomaniac who wants to annihilate nature.

“Nature is symbolized by a big white whale, which has interfered with Ahab’s personal freedom by biting off his leg and refusing to be slaughtered and boiled. The narrator, Ishmael, represents journalists; his job is to warn America that it’s controlled by psychotics who will destroy it, because they hate the natural world and don’t grasp the fact that without it they will die. That’s enough literature for now. Can we have popcorn?”

How Apple Sidesteps Billions in Taxes.

* The Avengers Has Earned $178.4 Million, And It Hasn’t Even Opened in the U.S. Yet.

* And here comes the Portal 2 DLC.

Sunday!

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* Suppose you were alive back in 1945 and were told about all the new technology that would be invented between then and now: the computers and internet, mobile phones and other consumer electronics, faster and cheaper air travel, super trains and even outer space exploration, higher gas mileage on the ground, plastics, medical breakthroughs and science in general. You would have imagined what nearly all futurists expected: that we would be living in a life of leisure society by this time. Rising productivity would raise wages and living standards, enabling people to work shorter hours under more relaxed and less pressured workplace conditions.

Why hasn’t this occurred in recent years? In light of the enormous productivity gains since the end of World War II – and especially since 1980 – why isn’t everyone rich and enjoying the leisure economy that was promised? If the 99% is not getting the fruits of higher productivity, who is? Where has it gone?

* Corey Robin and Adam Kotsko on violence and “national security.” Here’s Adam:

To me, this is the ultimate disproof of the secular liberal contention that religion is the biggest possible cause of violence. Literally nothing could be more rigorously secular than “reasons of state,” and yet this principle has led to millions upon millions of deaths in the 20th Century alone. Of course, one could always fall back on the same dodge that allows one to get around the deaths caused by International Communism, for instance — “yes, they may have been officially atheistic, but in the last analysis Stalinism and Maoism are really religious in structure” — in order to define away abberant forms of “national security.”

And I think this typical dodge shows why the notion of religion as chief cause of violence has such a powerful hold — what “religion” signifies in such statements isn’t a body of beliefs and rituals, etc., but irrationality itself. It’s this irrationality that makes “religious violence” violent, not the body count. Within this framework, then, when rational people — for example, legitimate statesmen calculating the national interest — use violence for rational ends, it is not, properly speaking, violence. It is simply necessity.

(That’s the same reason why my typical rejoinder to “religious violence” rhetoric — “ever heard of money?” — also doesn’t work: the profit motive is rationality itself and could never be violent.)

Birth to 12 years in 2 min. 45.

* Undocumented Immigrants Paid $11.2 Billion In Taxes While GE Paid Nothing.

* Whistleblower Reveals Widespread Bribery By Walmart In Mexico.

* Swing States Are Swinging Toward Obama. But how will voters react when it comes out that PROSTITUTION!!!!

Wisconsin’s Planned Parenthood suspends non-surgical abortions.

* Against lotteries: Taking money from people who have little and are powerless against even the slightest chance of escaping poverty is the kind of activity usually associated with the Mafia and street gangs. State governments are more than happy to play the part though, and they’ve gone far beyond anything organized crime ever did in terms of exploiting the desperation of the poor and selling them false hope with terrible odds. Lotteries that take their money for the explicit purpose of giving it to people who are financially better off is evidence of how completely our governments – particularly here in the South – have abandoned even the pretense of holding the moral high ground. They’ve identified the victims of an exploitative system and chosen to use that to their advantage. More here.

Here’s an interesting wrinkle I’ve encountered in a few places. Many scholars sign work-made-for-hire deals with the universities that employ them. That means that the copyright for the work they produce on the job is vested with their employers — the universities — and not the scholars themselves. Yet these scholars routinely enter into publishing contracts with the big journals in which they assign the copyright — which isn’t theirs to bargain with — to the journals. This means that in a large plurality of cases, the big journals are in violation of the universities’ copyright. Technically, the universities could sue the journals for titanic fortunes. Thanks to the “strict liability” standard in copyright, the fact that the journals believed that they had secured the copyright from the correct party is not an effective defense, though technically the journals could try to recoup from the scholars, who by and large don’t have a net worth approaching one percent of the liability the publishers face.

Senator Frank Church – who chaired the famous “Church Committee” into the unlawful FBI Cointel program, and who chaired the Senate Foreign Relations Committee – said in 1975:

“Th[e National Security Agency's]  capability at any time could be turned around on the American people, and no American would have any privacy left, such is the capability to monitor everything: telephone conversations, telegrams, it doesn’t matter. There would be no place to hide.  [If a dictator ever took over, the N.S.A.] could enable it to impose total tyranny, and there would be no way to fight back.“

Now, the NSA is building a $2 billion dollar facility in Utah which will use the world’s most powerful supercomputer to monitor virtually all phone calls, emails, internet usage, purchases and rentals, break all encryption, and then store everyone’s data permanently.

* And Mark Stone was an undercover anarchist.

Act 13

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Pennsylvania working overtime to beat Arizona in the “Pass the Worst Law of All Time” sweepstakes.

Pennsylvania, where the Declaration of Independence and U.S. Constitution were signed and where the U.S. coal, oil and nuclear industries began, has adopted what may be the most anti-democratic, anti-environmental law in the country, giving gas companies the right to drill anywhere, overturn local zoning laws, seize private property and muzzle physicians from disclosing specific health impacts from drilling fluids on patients.

UPDATE: Turns out they want to do the same thing in Wisconsin.

Tomorrow’s Dystopia Today

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Written by gerrycanavan

February 29, 2012 at 12:18 pm

Trickle Down

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A Brief History of Corporate Personhood

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I know I’ve linked something like this before, but, via LGM, here it is again:

Corporate personhood’s origin in English law was reasonable enough; it was only by considering companies “persons” that they could be taken to court and sued. You can’t sue an inanimate object.

During the 19th century, however, the robber barons, aided by a few corrupt jurists deep in their pockets, took the concept to a whole new level in the United States. According to legal textbooks, the idea that corporations enjoy the same constitutional rights as you or I was codified in the 1886 decision Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad. But historian Thom Hartmann dug into the original case documents and found that this crucially important legal doctrine actually originated with what may be the most significant act of corruption in history.

It occurred during a seemingly routine tax case: Santa Clara sued the Southern Pacific Railroad to pay property taxes on the land it held in the county, and the railroad claimed that because states had different rates, allowing them to tax its holdings would violate the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. The railroads had made the claim in previous cases, but the courts had never bought the argument.

In a 2005 interview, Hartmann described his surprise when he went to a Vermont courthouse to read an original copy of the verdict and found that the judges had made no mention of corporate personhood. “In fact,” he told the interviewer, “the decision says, at its end, that because they could find a California state law that covered the case ‘it is not necessary to consider any other questions’ such as the constitutionality of the railroad’s claim to personhood.”

Hartmann then explained how it was that corporations actually became “people”:

In the headnote to the case—a commentary written by the clerk, which is not legally binding, it’s just a commentary to help out law students and whatnot, summarizing the case—the Court’s clerk wrote: “The defendant Corporations are persons within the intent of the clause in section 1 of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, which forbids a State to deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

The discovery “that we’d been operating for over 100 years on an incorrect headnote” led Hartmann to look into the past of the clerk who’d written it, J. C. Bancroft Davis. He discovered that Davis had been a corrupt official who had himself previously served as the president of a railroad. Digging deeper, Hartmann then discovered that Davis had been working “in collusion with another corrupt Supreme Court Justice, Stephen Field.” The railroad companies, according to Hartmann, had promised Field that they’d sponsor his run for the White House if he assisted them in their effort to gain constitutional rights.

Hartmann noted that even after the ruling, the idea of corporate personhood remained relatively obscure until corporate lawyers dusted off the doctrine during the Reagan era and used it to help reshape the U.S. political economy.

Written by gerrycanavan

November 26, 2011 at 10:13 am

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