Thursday, June 17, 2010


U.S. Supreme Court Rejects Workplace Privacy Rights

Supreme Court Decision: Ontario v. Quon

U.S. Supreme Court Rejects Workplace Privacy Rights Claim For Police Officers, Public Employees In Text Messages, Emails

WASHINGTON, DC — In a unanimous ruling in City of Ontario, Calif. v. Quon, the United States Supreme Court has upheld the search of a police officer's personal messages on a government-owned pager, saying it did not violate his constitutional rights. Pointing out that the workplace has increasingly become an extension of the home, where people spend a significant percentage of their lives, undertaking personal as well as work-related tasks, attorneys for The Rutherford Institute had urged the Court to recognize that when public employees are given assurances that their communications will remain private under certain circumstances, they retain an expectation of privacy under the U.S. Constitution's Fourth Amendment.

The court's ruling is available at

"All Americans—whether at home or in the workplace—have a right to be free of unreasonable searches and seizures, even as it pertains to communications on their pagers, cell phones or other personal devices," stated John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute. "Unfortunately, the Court's decision undermines this important Fourth Amendment principle by allowing government employers to evade these constitutional protections."

The case before the Court arose from an audit of pager text messages undertaken by the City of Ontario's Police Department in 2002. The audit, initiated after some police officers exceeded their monthly total text character limits, revealed the content of certain personal and sensitive messages. The audit was carried out without the officers' consent, despite the fact that a superior officer had assured one of the officers, Jeff Quon, that so long as he paid any charges for exceeding the monthly character limits, no audit or search of the electronic communications would take place.

Insisting that the audit constituted a search in violation of the Fourth Amendment's ban on unreasonable searches and seizures, Sergeant Quon filed a civil rights claim against the City. After a jury ruled in favor of the City, Quon appealed to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which reversed the lower court's judgment. The appellate court ruled that Quon had a reasonable expectation of privacy in the content of the text messages by virtue of the assurance that they would remain private if any overage charges were paid by the officer. It also found that the search conducted by the City was "excessively intrusive in light of the noninvestigatory object of the search...[and] based on our conclusion that Quon's reasonable expectation of privacy in those messages was not outweighed by the government's interest."

In reversing the Ninth's Circuit ruling, the Supreme Court noted that it had purposely avoided a broader ruling about employees' expectations of privacy when using equipment provided by their employers because of rapid and unpredictable changes in technology.

BP boss Tony Hayward faces Congress - live blog

BP's chief executive is being grilled by a congressional committee this afternoon. Follow the action with Andrew Clark as Tony Hayward defends his company's handling of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill
Protesters stand behind BP's chief executive, Tony Hayward, as he arrives on Capitol Hill to testify before the House Oversight and Investigations sub-committee on the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Photograph: Haraz Ghanbari/AP

9.26pm: Henry Waxman's moving in for the kill. He finds it shocking that when the potential consequences of a mistake on a rig are so enormous, Hayward seems so "removed" from the operations on the Deepwater Horizon platform. Where were the best minds in BP paying attention: "You were oblivious and so were other BP officials. I think this was a fundamental mistake in management."
Hayward says the focus of top executives was safety. What his team can do is ensure the right people are in places, the right processes are in place, that proper equipment and safeguards are in place: "I believe the right people were making decisions."
9.24pm: Everybody's had a turn to ask questions now. A few members have quick "follow-ups". So we're nearing the end. Hayward looks doleful, like a dog that's been repeatedly kicked. Deservingly or otherwise.
9.22pm: Hayward says the "integrity rating" of the failed Halliburton blowout preventer in the oil well was "of the order of ten to the minus five, ten to the minus six". He says: "That is to say, it was designed to fail between one in a hundred thousand and one in a million times."
Castor expresses surprise that this is considered an "acceptable risk".
9.18pm: Karhy Castor, a Democrat from Florida, wants to start out by expressing the "anger and frustration" of all the mom and pop businesses of her state at this "sucker punch", which she reckons is a consequence of BP placing "profit over safety". No jumping to conclusions there, then.
9.15pm: The New York Times points out that a satirical website has sprung up,, to celebrate Republican congressman Joe Barton's apology to BP for the White House's "shakedown" - and for his subsequent apology for his apology. The site notes that Barton would also like to apologise to Osama bin Laden, Kanye West and to the England football team for depriving them victory last week.
9.11pm: A cheap shot? Congressman Jay Inslee says BP's investment on "safer offshore drilling technology" is about $10m annually - about 0.0033% of BP's revenue: "That doesn't sound like an adequate prioritisation. How does it compare to your compensation?"
Hayward isn't taking this lying down: "In what respect?"
He adds that his comp was $6m.
8.57pm: Hayward is asked if he thinks Obama's six-month moratorium on offshore drilling is reasonable
He replies: "I believe it is prudent for the industry to take stock of what has happened here before it moves forward."
Congressman Charles Gonzalez wants to know when it would be appropriate to lift the moratorium. Hayward vaguely says it should be lifted when everybody understands the causes of the spill.
8.49pm: Scalise is frustrated: "If it's not you that's blocking it, you need to go tell somebody that it's being blocked. Because it's being blocked." He says Louisiana does not have the luxury of time on sand barriers or on things like salvage of seafood.
Hayward: "I understand your concern and your anger."
8.47pm: A Louisiana Republican, Steve Scalise, has a prop - he holds up a picture of an oiled pelican. He wants to know why it's taking so long to enact Bobby Jindal's plan for sand barriers protecting the Louisiana coast.
Hayward blames the federal government, saying "ultimate approval" lies with the administration.
8.44pm: Eliot Engel, a New York Democrat, wants to know how the US can be certain that what happened at the Macondo well won't happen at BP's hundreds of other wells in the Gulf of Mexico.
"The other wells have all been completed and are secure," says Hayward.
Engel asks if that's the same type of assurance that Hayward gave when he promised a "laser-like" focus on safety. Much heat, no light. Engel hits out: "I, like everyone else here and everyone else in America, am thoroughly disgusted. I think you're stalling, I think you're insulting our intelligence and I really resent it."
8.39pm: Stearns wants to know if Hayward was briefed about Halliburton warning of gas surges in the Macondo well. Hayward says he wasn't informed of this.
"I had no prior knowledge of this well prior to the incident whatsoever," says the BP boss.
Stearns wonders if Hayward would have been fired if he was the captain of a ship that crashed into New Orleans, killing 11 people and spilling lots of oil. Has anybody at BP been fired as a result of this incident? Hayward: "Not so far."
8.36pm: A comedian. Cliff Stearns, a Republican from Florida, says Hayward doesn't seem to be able to answer many questions - so he has an easy one: "Is today Thursday?"
Hayward (unamused): "It is Thursday."
Getting serious, Stearns asks if the oil spilt on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico is a consequence of BP's reckless behaviour.
"It is a consequence of a big accident."
Stearns: "Yes or no - reckless behaviour or not?"
Hayward: "There is no evidence of reckless behaviour."
Stearns: "You're saying BP has had no reckless behaviour?"
Hayward: "I have seen no evidence of reckless behaviour."
8.33pm: Welch asks about resignation. He wants to know if Hayward still enjoys the confidence necessary to act as chief exec, given the loss of $100bn in shareholder value, the suspension of BP's dividend and the damage caused to the Gulf.
Hayward replies: "I'm focused on the response. I'm focused on trying to eliminate the leak, trying to contain the oil on the surface, defending the beaches, clean up the spill and restore the lives of people on the Gulf Coast. That's what I intend to do."
8.30pm: BP's boss goes a little further in defending decisions on the Deepwater Horizon. Asked about the small number of centralisers keeping the drilling pipe in place, Hayward says "more doesn't always mean better". And asked by congressman Peter Welch about the use of saltwater, rather than heavier drilling fluid, to flush out the well, Hayward says: "The procedure that was used to displace mud was a procedure not uncommon in the industry. it was a procedure approved by the Mineral Management Service."
8.27pm: Good stuff from Peter Welch, a Democrat, who lists, one by one, all of BP's past accidents in the US. Is it true that BP's Texas City refinery blew up in 2005, killing 15 people? Is it true that BP's pipelines leaked in Alaska the following year? Is it true that BP was fined $370m by the US department of justice?
"That is correct," Hayward glumly replies to each one.
8.24pm: Hayward is accused of a "real detachment, a real disconnect" by Betty Sutton, a Democrat. She says: "When push came to shove on the Deepwater Horizon, the company's concern appeared to be the bottom line."
She wants to know who was responsible for decisions on the rig: "Mr Hayward, as the leader of the company, don't you have to take responsibility?"
Hayward: "I am absolutely responsible for the safety and reliable operations of BP. That is what I have said all along."
8.20pm: Texas Republican Joe Barton asks: "Based on what you now know, do you agree that this accident was preventable?"
Hayward: "I believe that all accidents are preventable, absolutely."
Then, bizarrely, Barton apologises for his earlier apology to BP. Barton, something of a conservative maverick, said at the beginning of the hearing that the oil company was the victim of a White House "shakedown" and had been obliged by the Obama administration to set up a $20bn "slush fund" for compensation. Barton now says he believes BP was responsible and should be brought to account for the accident - and that he apologises if anything he said earlier had been "misconstrued".
8.12pm: Christensen notes that Hayward has described BP as "a responsible party" for the accident, not "the responsible party". Does he think there are others?
Hayward: "The government has named four responsible parties - BP, Transocean, Mitsui and Anadarko."
Mitsui and Anadarko were minority shareholders in the well, where BP had a 65% stake. Transocean owned and managed the rig that was leased for the operation.
8.09pm: A piece of masterly understatement. Donna Christensen, a delegate from the US Virgin Islands, asks Hayward if he surprised somebody didn't take a decision to shut down the Deepwater Horizon drilling platform earlier.
"I think in the light of what we now know, it is perhaps surprising that someone didn't say that they were concerned," replies the BP boss.
8.05pm: Hayward is asked if BP shouldn't have had "failsafe mechanisms" in case of a massive oil leak. He says Halliburton's faulty blowout preventer, which was supposed to cut off oil in the event of the accident, was intended to fill this role.
"We believed that the blow-out preventer was the ultimate failsafe mechanism. That clearly wasn't the case in this instance."
Hayward says blowout preventer failed three times - when it was activated from the drilling rig, when the drilling rig separated from the blowout preventer and when undersea robots tried to activate it a day later. That's another clear signal by BP that it feels contractors share the blame for the accident.
7.59pm: Did BP force Deepwater Horizon rig workers to sign legal disclaimers before allowing them to go home after the explosion on the platform?
Hayward says his company wasn't responsible, appears to blame Transocean: "I think it's inappropriate and it was nothing to do with BP"
7.57pm: Jan Shakowsky, a Democrat, notes that Hayward says he was "personally devastated" by the Deepwater Horizon disaster: "Probably not as devastated as the widows that testified for our committee." Ouch.
She quotes one of the widows, Natalie Roshto, who says two BP execs came to her husband's memorial service and "never extended a hand, a hug, never extended a word of sorrow". Were only interested in where they were sitting.
"I'm devastated by the accident, absolutely devastated," says Hayward. "I feel great sorry for the people who werte impacted by it. But the people who were killed by the accident were not employees of BP, they were employees of Transocean and other contractors."
Hayward says Transocean and the other companies involved made it clear to BP that they wanted to deal with the families themselves.
7.51pm: Hayward says he'd be "very surprised" if his chief operating officer, Doug Suttles, or head of exploration and production, Andy Inglis, were involved in decisions about the design of the leaking Macondo oil well.
The BP boss is playing a dangerous game by declaiming all responsibility for what went on at the rig. He's not exactly inspiring confidence in his senior leadership team.
Mike Doyle, a Pennsylvania Democrat, reminds Hayward that he's not running a department store, he's running an oil company with "life or death" decisions. Doyle wonders if running an oil company might be a good career option - it pays better than being a Congressman and doesn't seem to involve much work: "Those of you at the top don't seem to have a clue what was going on at this rig."
7.46pm: Diana DeGette, a Democrat, draws a bit of blood by highlighting an email in which a BP engineer responded to concerns about the design of the Macondo well by glibly remarking: "Who cares, it's done, end of story, it will probably be fine."
Hayward says: "I think that email is a cause for concern. I'd like to understand the context it was sent. As I've said before, if there's any action that people put cost ahead of safety, we will take action."
The BP boss denies being told by lawyers to evade answering Congressional questions.
7.41pm: Did anybody inform Hayward about a now notorious internal BP memo back in April describing the Deepwater Horizon drilling operation as a "nightmare well"?
"They did not," says Hayward, who says the first he knew of it being a "nightmare well" was when investigators from the Congressional committee drew the memo to his attention.
7.37pm: Does Hayward think BP was "shaken down" by the White House to set up its $20bn compensation fund, an Iowa Democrat, Bruce Braley, wants to know.
Hayward doesn't exactly say no, but neither does he say yes. He says of the meeting at the White House: "We came together to figure out a way of working together to figure out a way to resolve a very, very serious situation."
So, Braley asks, is the $20bn pot of money a "slush fund" as Republican Joe Barton has controversially described it?
Hayward says the fund is "a signal of our commitment to do right", to make sure that fishermen, charter boat captains, property owners are made whole. He adds: "I certainly didn't think it was a slush fund, congressman."
7.31pm: Strongest semi-rebuttal from Hayward so far: "There's nothing I've seen in the evidence so far that suggests that anyone put costs ahead of safety. If there are, then we'll take action."
Phil Gingrey, a Republican from Georgia, wonders whether, if Hayward was physically present on the rig, he would have made the same decisions concerning the design and the casing of the well.
Hayward: "I'm not a drilling engineer so I'm not actually qualified to make those judgements. better people than I were involved in those decisions in terms of the judgements that were taken."
Gingrey: "With all due respect, Mr Hayward, I think you're copping out. You were the captain of the ship."
Frustrated, the congressman adds that the buck stops on Hayward's desk: "It seems like your testimony has been way too evasive."
7.28pm: A Democrat, Ed Markey, is tackling Hayward on the contentious issue of underwater plumes of oil. To date, BP has been sceptical about the presence of "plumes", insisting that the spilt oil is largely on the ocean surface. Markey cites BP's own water sampling and asks: "Are you now, once and for all, prepared to conceded that there are subsurface plumes?"
"There's oil in very low concentrations, 0.5 parts per million, distributed throughout the column," says Hayward. "Some of it is related to this spill, other parts are related to other oil in the water."
Markey asks if he's therefore saying that he doesn't recognise the term "plume".
Hayward: "I'm not an oceanographic scientist. What we know is..."
Markey interrupts: "I'm going to take that as a continuing 'no' from you and your testimony continues to be at odds with all known scientists."
7.19pm: under questioning from Republican congresswoman Marsha Blackburn, Hayward says BP has sought help from all over the place - both our "immediate peers and competitors in the Gulf of Mexico and globally from around the world and across America". Several hundred organisations are involved - the Brazilian energy firm Petrobras, academic institutions, many of the "greatest minds in this country".
7.16pm: We're off again! And Hayward has just been sternly ticked off by chairman Bart Stupak for his evasive answers. Stupak says Hayward was briefed on the topics he'd be facing and ought to be able to offer much more informative responses.
6.07pm: Key points from the first chunk of questioning:

• Tony Hayward says there are seven areas under investigation in a probe into the cause of the Deepwater Horizon disaster: cementing, the casing of the well, pressure measurements, well-control procedures and three issues surrounding a failed blowout preventer.

• As for decisions taken in the run-up to the accident, Hayward refuses to draw judgement until investigations are complete. He repeatedly declines to answer questions about alleged cost-cutting decisions with the refrain: "I can't answer that question because I wasn't there."

• Congressmen are getting irritated and frustrated with Hayward, who was accused by Henry Waxman of "kicking the can down the road" and acting as if he has nothing to do with the company.

• The BP boss says the only knowledge he had of the Macondo well was in mid-April, when he was informed by the head of the company's exploration division that BP had made an oil discovery. He had no other "prior involvement" until the disaster.
5.58pm: Another break. The committee is adjourned for an hour for a further six congressional votes. Bart Stupak tells us they're the last votes of the day and that when they're done, we'll be able to complete the grilling of Hayward without further interruption. Bang, bang, gavel, gavel.
5.55pm: What about a decision not to fully circulate mud in the well – was that to save money and time?
"I can't answer that question because I wasn't there."
How much money and time was saved by not circulating the mud?
"I'm afraid I can't recall."
Hayward offers the same response to every question: he wasn't party to individual decisions. He doesn't know how much money each alleged corner-cutting saved.
5.53pm: Michigan congressman John Dingell is interested in the decision to use single casing for the well, not a "tie-back" method. Was this decision to save money: yes or no?
Hayward says he wasn't involved in the decision and "can't possibly know" the precise reasoning behind it.
What about the decision to use only six centralisers to keep the bore in the middle of the well, not the 21 recommended by Halliburton?
Hayward: "I was not involved in that decision so it's impossible for me to answer that question."
5.49pm: This is shaping up to be extremely testy. Hayward is rigorously sticking to his line that he isn't going to make judgments on what happened on the Deepwater Horizon platform until investigations are complete.
John Sullivan, a Republican from Oklahoma, suggests that the accident wouldn't have happened if Exxon or Chevron were operating the rig. Don't they have more rigorous procedures?
"I don't think we can make that judgment," says Hayward flatly.
5.44pm: Waxman says it appears to him that BP knowingly risked well failure to save a few million dollars. Doesn't Hayward feel any sense of responsibility for these decisions?
Hayward: "I feel a great sense of responsibility for the accident."
Waxman: "How about for the decisions that made the accident more likely?"
The BP chief executive replies that we still need to determine what were the critical decisions. Says he can't "pass judgment" on these decisions at this stage. He says: "I'm not prepared to draw conclusions about this accident until such time as the investigation is concluded."
Waxman is annoyed. He says this is an "investigative committee". Accuses Hayward of "stonewalling" and of refusing to co-operate: "I'm just amazed at this testimony. Mr Hayward, you're not taking responsibility. You're kicking the can down the road and acting as if you have nothing to do with this company."
5.41pm: Hayward is asked about allegedly risky decisions concerning the cementing design of the well, and whether BP ignored warnings. He replies: "I wasn't involved in any of the decision-making. It's clear that there was some discussion among the engineering team and an engineering decision was taken."
Waxman says it's "clear that you don't want to answer our questions" and asks whether Hayward hasn't been involved in engineering throughout his career. Citing an internal document, he accuses BP of using a more dangerous well design called a "long string" to save $7m.
The BP boss isn't having it. Says the document also says the "long string" design would best serve the long-term integrity of the well and that the "long string" design isn't unusual in the Gulf of Mexico. So far, Hayward is being surprisingly feisty.
5.36pm: Now it's Henry Waxman's turn. He's not taking any nonsense. Wants to know "yes or no" whether Hayward has kept his commitment at the time of his appointment to focus "like a laser" on safety.
Hayward says he's made a lot of progress and starts saying he's "distraught" by the Gulf spill. Waxman snaps: "I don't want to know whether you're distraught. I want to know whether you've kept your commitment."
5.33pm: Hayward: "With respect, sir, we drill hundreds of wells around the world."
Congressman Burgess: "I know, that's what's scaring me."
5.32pm: Under questioning by Texan congressman Michael Burgess, Hayward defends the design of the Macondo well, saying there are "many wells" in the Gulf of Mexico with "the same casing design and the same cementing procedures". First sign that he isn't going to take this lying down.
He's not willing to be pressed further on the cementing: "I'm not prepared to speculate on what may or may not have made a difference until such time as the multiple investigations are concluded."
Asked how much he knew of what was happening on the Deepwater Horizon rig, he continues: "The only knowledge I had of the Macondo well was in mid-April when I was notified that we had made a discovery. That was my only prior involvement in the well."
5.29pm: The BP boss tells the committee that his oversight of safety in the company is through a "group operating risk committee", which meets on a bimonthly basis and which reviews safety throughout the global organisation. He says this arrangement is mirrored lower down the business.
5.27pm: Hayward is asked if he expects to be BP chief executive for much longer.
He replies that he's focused on carrying out his responsibilities – BP's "highest priority" is to stop the leak and clean up the oil on the surface of the Gulf of Mexico.
5.26pm: Stupak asks whether should there be a ban on companies operating in the US if they have "miserable" safety and environmental records. He cites BP's Texas City refinery disaster and the Gulf spill.
Hayward doesn't answer directly, just says he's devastated by the accident and that he's focused on "safe, reliable operations". Says he's made progress in changing BP's culture but that there's more work to do.
5.24pm: Stupak: every one of those seven areas dealt with saving money and saving time. Shouldn't leadership at BP be held accountable?
In reply, Hayward keeps repeating vaguely that since he became chief executive, he has focused on "safe, reliable operations" and that investigations are ongoing.
5.22pm: Stupak wants to know if BP managed the risk on the well properly, whether BP cut corners and why rival oil companies said they would have done things differently.
Hayward: We've launched an investigation which has identified seven areas – cement, casing, integrity pressure measurements, well-control procedures and three areas around the failed blowout preventer. That investigation is ongoing.
5.18pm: Stupak bangs his gavel and we're back moving.
5.12pm: Hayward's back in the room and congressmen are beginning to trickle back to their seats, so we'll be up and running again soon.
So a round-up of the main points so far:
• BP's chief executive, Tony Hayward, told Congress he was "personally devastated" by the Deepwater Horizon disaster.

• Proceedings were disrupted by a protester smeared with an oil-like substance who yelled that Hayward should "go to hell" and should be "tarred with a brush".

• A Democratic congressman, Peter Welch, called on Hayward to resign.

• Energy committee chairman Henry Waxman said that in 30,000 documents and emails, there was no sign that BP's top brass paid "the slightest attention" to clear safety problems at the Macondo well.

• But a maverick Republican, Joe Barton, broke ranks to declare BP was the victim of a "shakedown" by the White House. He claimed the company had been forced to set up a $20bn "slush fund" to clean up the Gulf and compensate victims.
4.34pm: Hayward says it's simply too early to say what caused the "incident". There are multiple investigations going on. BP will emerge "stronger, smarter and safer".
Still no questions! Bart Stupak is adjourning the hearing until 12 noon (5pm UK time) so members can go and vote. So after two hours, nothing of substance has been extracted from BP's boss.
4.31pm: My colleague Suzanne Goldenberg, who is in the room, tweets that the protester had a black oil-like substance on her hands and appeared to be hurt as she was wrestled to the ground by cops. She was screaming: "You need to be charged with a crime. You need to go to jail."
4.29pm: The protester has been thrown out, amid quite a furore. Scores of photographers descended on her and she didn't go quietly. The chairman, Bart Stupak, bangs his gavel, says he knows that emotions are running high but that the hearing will be conducted with "proper decorum".
Tony Hayward begins to read his pre-prepared statement, which can be found here. He emphasises that he was "personally devastated" by the death of 11 men on the Deepwater Horizon rig.
4.26pm: A furious interruption. A woman dressed in green has stood up and is yelling that Hayward needs to be "tarred with a brush" and should "go to hell". She is shouting very loudly and is being bundled to the ground by Congressional police. It takes about half a dozen officers to subdue her and drag her out of the room.
4.25pm: Opening statements are finally over. Now Hayward is being sworn in. He stands, raises his right hand and swears to tell the truth.
The BP boss is asked if he wants to be represented by a lawyer. He says: "I do not."
4.22pm: Betty Sutton, a Democrat from Ohio, informs us that she feels "physically sick" when she sees pictures of oil gushing into the Gulf.
Before any quizzing of Hayward, she's already decided that the disaster is a result of BP's recklessness and "come what may, cross that bridge when it comes to it" attitude, which is "outrageous and unacceptable".
4.19pm: First demand of the day for Hayward to resign. Peter Welch, a Democrat from Vermont, says the Gulf accident is "not an aberration" for BP, it's business as usual: "It's deja vu again and again and again."
Welch wants to know whether a CEO of a company that's incurred $370m in environmental fines and who's presided over the destruction of $100bn of shareholder value and the suspension of a dividend can still command confidence.
He asks: "Is it time, frankly, for that CEO, to consider submitting his resignation?"
Not wishing to nitpick but the $370m in fines imposed by the US department of justice in October 2007 were for the Texas City disaster and Alaska oil spill, which happened under Hayward's predecessor, John Browne.
4.14pm: Hayward looks tired and bored. He's slumped forward with his arms on the table in front of him and he keeps blinking extraordinarily slowly.
4.13pm: A voice from the Caribbean. Donna Christensen, delegate from the US Virgin Islands, says BP aren't the only ones at fault – the company couldn't have cut corners on safety "without the complicity of government agencies and regulators". But she can't ignore the fact that if different decisions had been made by BP, the 11 men who died on the Deepwater Horizon rig might still be alive.
I like her Caribbean accent.
4.03pm: An hour on the clock and Hayward still hasn't been allowed to utter a word. We're still on windy opening statements – members of Congress essentially addressing their constituents on television. Not much seeking-after-truth going on yet.
4.01pm: Parker Griffith, an avuncular-looking Republican from Alabama, offers a quirky bit of philosophy to try to put the oil spill in perspective.
"You're never as good as they say you are or as bad as they say you are, so this hearing will go back and forth," he tells Hayward.
Then Griffith goes off on a rather eccentric tangent, declaring: "The greatest environmental disaster in America is cigarettes. 60,000 Americans this year will die from cigarette-related diseases so if we're talking about the environment, let's not leave that out."
He adds: "This is not going to be the worst thing that ever happens to America."
3.55pm: It's quibbling, really, at this point but several bloggers have pointed out that some of the committee members persist in referring to BP as "British Petroleum" – a name that was dropped after BP merged with the American firm Amoco in 1998. John Sullivan, an Oklahoma Republican, seemed to delight in rolling "British Petroleum" over his tongue. No doubt he picked up the habit from the White House's spokesman, Robert Gibbs.
3.50pm: The committee is playing a video of testimony from the widows of two of the 11 men who died on the Deepwater Horizon platform calling for BP's top brass to be held accountable for their actions.
One of them talks of how her family was destroyed: "My family can never, and will never, be adequately compensated for our loss."
3.45pm: For the record, Hayward was paid £4.01m in salary, bonus and share awards last year, up from £2.85m in 2008.
3.44pm: First mention of Tony Hayward's pay package. John Dingell, a Michigan Democrat, thinks it's too high.
"Last year, Mr Hayward enjoyed a splendid 41% pay raise even as BP's profits dropped 45%. I just happen to be a poor Polish lawyer from Detroit but it seems to me this is a curious response to a drop in profits. It makes me wonder what the compensation package of our witness will be this year."
3.40pm: A bit of grandstanding from congressman John Sullivan, a Republican from the oil state of Oklahoma. He reckons the government is using the disaster to put oil companies "out of business" as part of a dangerous leftie agenda motivated by global warming.
"The administration is exploiting this disaster to advance its disastrous cap and trade energy policy," says Sullivan, who says carbon trading will "cripple the economy" and make unemployment lines longer. Hayward remains diplomatically expressionless.
3.37pm: Many of the committee members' chairs are still empty. Seems not everybody turns up to listen to opening statements from each lawmaker. Hayward is sitting at a table alone, facing the lawmakers. He looks a tad lonely.
3.33pm: Ed Markey, chairman of the panel's climate change subcommittee, takes issue with Joe Barton for describing BP's $20bn clean-up fund as a "slush fund".
"It was the government of the United States working to protect the most vulnerable citizens that we have in our country right now - the residents of the Gulf. It is BP's spill but it is America's ocean and it is American citizens who are being harmed."
Markey says victims of the Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska had to wait "years" for compensation, while certain claims from the 1984 Bhopal disaster in India were only settled this week. Markey says people can't wait for things to drag through the courts.
3.26pm: Stupak is picking off some of BP's less admirable public statements – including Hayward's often quoted remark that he wanted the spill halted so he could have his life back.
"We are not small people but we wish to get our lives back," says the Michigan Democrat. "For the Americans who live and work on the Gulf coast, it may be years before they get their lives back."
He adds: "Mr Hayward, I'm sure you'll get your life back and with a golden parachute back to England. But we in America are left with the terrible consequences of BP's reckless disregard for safety."
3.22pm: A Guardian article is being displayed by the committee's chairman, Bart Stupak! The Democrat is interested in a town hall hearing held by Hayward in Houston shortly after he became chief executive in 2007 at which he ordered a streamlining of management to speed up decisions. The Guardian piece, which is here, was subheaded "oil company has become too cautious" and Stupak is worried about BP's corporate culture.
3.15pm: Suddenly a change of tone. BP has a sympathiser in Joe Barton, a Republican from Texas. He says there's a system "built on British traditions" in the US that when people or corporations do bad things, they're held responsible.
However, Barton says he's "ashamed" of what happened in the White House yesterday: "I think it's a tragedy of the first proportion that a private corporation can be subjected to what I would call a shakedown, in this case a $20bn shakedown."
Barton describes BP's government mandated clean-up fund as a "slush fund" created at the behest of the US attorney general. There's no question BP made mistakes, says Barton, but there's a "due process" system that ought to be followed.
Stressing that he's speaking personally, rather than for the Republican party, Barton offers a rather remarkable apology to BP: "I apologise. I do not want to live in a country where every time a corporation does something wrong, it's subject to a political process that amounts to a shakedown."
3.10pm: Waxman continues: "BP's corporate complacency is astonishing."
One of BP's contractors, Halliburton, warned of gas flow problems, an engineer on the project dubbed it a "nightmare well". Waxman says there's a "complete contradiction between BP's words and deeds". He says "BP cut corner after corner to save a million dollars here, a few hours or days there, and now the whole Gulf of Mexico is paying the price."
Tousle-haired Hayward is looking grim. The smile has disappeared.
3.08pm: Henry Waxman, the moustachioed, bespectacled Californian renowned for taking no prisoners, is giving the first opening statement. He starts by commending BP for setting up its $20bn clean-up fund.
He says that when Hayward became CEO of BP, he promised to focus "like a laser" on safety. But complains that in 30,000 documents, there's no sign that Hayward looked closely at risks on the Deepwater Horizon well: "There's not a single email or document that shows you paid the slightest attention to the dangers at this well."
3.03pm: Stupak is banging his gavel and asking photographers to clear off so looks like we're ready for the off.
3.03pm: Hayward's in the room now, making his way to his seat with the ever-present slight smile that seems to infuriate BP's critics. He's being mobbed by photographers. A few protestors are in the room, holding up pink signs with slogans such as "BP kills".
The session is scheduled to run for five hours so we're potentially in for a bit of a marathon. The hearing is being chaired by Bart Stupak, a Democrat from Michigan, who heads the energy panel's subcommittee on oversight and investigations.
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2.57pm: There's no shortage of advice out there for BP. In the Wall Street Journal,Daniel Henninger muses that the company is looking a little "beaten up" by the Obama administration. He says he can't recall a previous president with "this depth of visceral, antibusiness animosity".
A New York Times editorial says BP is "beginning to ante up" and that its $20bn fund is a step in the right direction.
And in Reuters' Breaking Views column, Neil Collins suggests there's only one man up to the job of chairing BP and winning over angry Americans - the former prime minister Tony Blair.
2.51pm: The action kicks off shortly. Henry Waxman and his colleagues will gavel us in at 10am (3pm UK time). Anybody keen to watch the hearing can do so here on CSPAN's website.
2pm: It's showdown time for BP's chief executive, Tony Hayward, who faces a public grilling today from 35 members of the House energy and commerce committee. It's set to be an extremely tough session for the BP boss, who has variously been dubbed "toxic Tony" and "wayward Hayward" for his occasionally tone-deaf public statements in response to the company's catastrophic oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
Lawmakers are understandably disgusted by the environmental damage wreaked since BP's Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded and sank on April 20. With Congressional elections just five months away, politicians aren't likely to extend much sympathy to BP, despite the company's commitment on Wednesday to set up a $20bn fund for the clean-up and compensation costs.
Hayward's written evidence, which you can read here, seems to strike a suitable contrite note. Hayward says he was "personally devastated" by the oil rig's explosion, which claimed 11 lives. He adds: "I fully grasp the terrible reality of the situation."

New Claims for Unemployment Benefits Rise Sharply

Published on 06-17-2010
Source: AP

The number of people filing new claims for jobless benefits jumped last week after three straight declines, another sign that the pace of layoffs has not slowed.

Initial claims for jobless benefits rose by 12,000 to a seasonally adjusted 472,000, the Labor Department said Thursday. It was the highest level in a month and overshadowed a report that consumer prices remain essentially flat.

First-time jobless claims have hovered near 450,000 since the beginning of the year after falling steadily in the second half of 2009. That has raised concerns that hiring is lackluster and could slow the recovery.

The four-week average for unemployment claims, which smooths volatility, dipped slightly to 463,500. That's down by 3,750 from the start of January.

A lack of robust job growth has kept the recovery from gaining strength. Kevin Logan, an economist with HSBC Securities, said many economists have been expecting claims to fall below 450,000 for several weeks now.

"The wait is getting longer and longer," said Logan. "As each week goes by, doubts about the underlying strength of the economic expansion grow."

Economists say they will feel more optimistic that the economy is creating jobs once initial jobless claims fall below 425,000 per week.

A separate Labor report said consumer prices fell for the second straight month. The 0.2 decline in the Consumer Price Index was pulled down falling energy prices — most notably a 5.2 percent drop in gasoline prices. Declining energy bills were the main factor pulling down prices.

But core consumer prices, which strip out volatile energy and food, edged up 0.1 percent in May, after being flat in April. Core prices are up only 0.9 percent over the past year — below the Fed's inflation target.

Additionally, the Commerce Department said Thursday that the broadest measure of U.S. trade rose during the first quarter to the highest point in more than a year. Much of the widening deficit was due to higher prices on imported oil during the first three months of the year. Those prices have since come down.

And a private research group said its gauge of future economic activity rose 0.4 percent in May, signaling slow growth in the U.S. economy through the fall. Turmoil in stock markets and a troubled housing market weighed on the Conference Board's leading economic index, while measures related to interest rates and an increasing amount of money in the economy tugged it higher. The index is designed to forecast activity in the next three to six months.

Still, layoffs remain one of the biggest concerns for the recovery. Just this week, casino owner Wynn Resorts laid off more than 260 workers in its two Las Vegas casino hotels in a move expected to save nearly $8 million.

The number of people continuing to claim benefits rose by 88,000 to 4.57 million. That doesn't include about 5.2 million people who receive extended benefits paid for by the federal government.

Congress has added 73 weeks of extra benefits on top of the 26 weeks typically provided by states. All told, about 9.7 million people received unemployment insurance in the week ending May 29, the most recent data available.

The extended benefit program expired this month. The House has approved an extension of the benefits through November. The Senate has yet to act.

On Wednesday, Senate Republicans and a dozen Democratic defectors rejected a catchall measure combining jobless aid for the long-term unemployed, aid to cash-strapped state governments and the renewal of dozens of popular tax breaks. Despite the loss, Democratic leaders predicted that a scaled-back version of the measure could pass, possibly later this week.

Adding to worries about the job market, the Labor Department said earlier this month that the economy generated only 41,000 private-sector jobs in May. That was down from 218,000 in April.

Temporary hiring by the Census Bureau added another 411,000 jobs. The unemployment rate fell to 9.7 percent from 9.9 percent.

BP Aware Of Cracks In Oil Well Two Months Before Explosion

Published on 06-17-2010
Source: Bloomberg

BP Plc was struggling to seal cracks in its Macondo well as far back as February, more than two months before an explosion killed 11 and spewed oil into the Gulf of Mexico.

It took 10 days to plug the first cracks, according to reports BP filed with the Minerals Management Service that were later delivered to congressional investigators. Cracks in the surrounding rock continued to complicate the drilling operation during the ensuing weeks. Left unsealed, they can allow explosive natural gas to rush up the shaft.

“Once they realized they had oil down there, all the decisions they made were designed to get that oil at the lowest cost,” said Peter Galvin of the Center for Biological Diversity, which has been working with congressional investigators probing the disaster. “It’s been a doomed voyage from the beginning.”

BP didn’t respond to calls and e-mails seeking comment. The company’s shares rose 22 pence to 359 pence today in London after the company struck a deal with the Obama administration yesterday to establish a $20 billion fund to pay cleanup costs and compensation. BP has lost 45 percent of its market value since the catastrophe.

On Feb. 13, BP told the minerals service it was trying to seal cracks in the well about 40 miles (64 kilometers) off the Louisiana coast, drilling documents obtained by Bloomberg show. Investigators are still trying to determine whether the fissures played a role in the disaster.

‘Cement Squeeze’

The company attempted a “cement squeeze,” which involves pumping cement to seal the fissures, according to a well activity report. Over the following week the company made repeated attempts to plug cracks that were draining expensive drilling fluid, known as “mud,” into the surrounding rocks.
BP used three different substances to plug the holes before succeeding, the documents show.
“Most of the time you do a squeeze and then let it dry and you’re done,” said John Wang, an assistant professor of petroleum and natural gas engineering at Penn State in University Park, Pennsylvania. “It dries within a few hours.”

Repeated squeeze attempts are unusual and may indicate rig workers are using the wrong kind of cement, Wang said.

Grappling Engineers

BP Chief Executive Officer Tony Hayward and other top executives were ignorant of the difficulties the company’s engineers were grappling with in the well before the explosion, U.S. Representative Henry Waxman, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said today during a hearing in Washington.

“We could find no evidence that you paid any attention to the tremendous risk BP was taking,” Waxman said as Hayward waited to testify. “There is not a single e-mail or document that you paid the slightest attention to the dangers at this well.”

BP Chief Operating Officer Doug Suttles and exploration chief Andy Inglis “were apparently oblivious to what was happening,” said Waxman, a California Democrat. “BP’s corporate complacency is astonishing.”

In early March, BP told the minerals agency the company was having trouble maintaining control of surging natural gas, according to e-mails released May 30 by the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which is investigating the spill.

Gas Surges

While gas surges are common in oil drilling, companies have abandoned wells if they determine the risk is too high. When a Gulf well known as Blackbeard threatened to blow out in 2006, Exxon Mobil Corp. shut the project down.

“We don’t proceed if we cannot do so safely,” Exxon Chief Executive Officer Rex Tillerson told a House Energy and Commerce committee panel on June 15.

On March 10, BP executive Scherie Douglas e-mailed Frank Patton, the mineral service’s drilling engineer for the New Orleans district, telling him: “We’re in the midst of a well control situation.”
The incident was a “showstopper,” said Robert Bea, an engineering professor at the University of California, Berkeley, who has consulted with the Interior Department on offshore drilling safety. “They damn near blew up the rig.”

The High Budgetary Cost of Incarceration

June 2010, John Schmitt, Kris Warner, and Sarika Gupta

The United States currently incarcerates a higher share of its population than any other country in the world. We calculate that a reduction in incarceration rates just to the level we had in 1993 (which was already high by historical standards) would lower correctional expenditures by $16.9 billion per year, with the large majority of these savings accruing to financially squeezed state and local governments. As a group, state governments could save $7.6 billion, while local governments could save $7.2 billion.

These cost savings could be realized through a reduction by one-half in the incarceration rate of exclusively non-violent offenders, who now make up over 60 percent of the prison and jail population.

A review of the extensive research on incarceration and crime suggests that these savings could be achieved without any appreciable deterioration in public safety.

Issue Brief - PDF Flash

Press Release






Imperialist US?

By Robin Hanson ·  ·
Recent US war history in a nutshell: Responding to an ‘01 terror attack on NYC by activists from Saudi Arabia, funded by Pakistan, and trained in Afghanistan, the US in ‘03 attacked Iraq, supposedly because they had “weapons of mass destruction,” never found. US denied it wanted control of the strategic resource-rich Persian Gulf, saying it remains there to “nation-build.”  In ‘07 US geologists reported Afghanistan has $1 trillion in mineral wealth, and then in ‘09 the US more than doubled its Afghanistan troops, supposedly to fight terrorists and “nation-build.”  It now denies it wanted the minerals:
Col. Dave Lapan, a Pentagon spokesman, told reporters Monday that the $1 trillion figure didn’t surface until recently because a military task force working on the issue had been focused on Iraq. … It wasn’t until late last year that the task force got around to looking at a 2007 study by the U.S. Geological Survey. That’s when the group estimated the minerals’ value, Lapan said. The New York Times first reported the $1 trillion figure on Sunday night.
Many are suspicious of US motives in both Iraq and Afghanistan. An ‘04 worldsurvey:
Majorities in all four Muslim nations surveyed doubt the sincerity of the war on terrorism. Instead, most say it is an effort to control Mideast oil and to dominate the world. … There is broad agreement in nearly all of the countries surveyed – the U.S. being a notable exception – that the war in Iraq hurt, rather than helped, the war on terrorism. … Solid majorities in France and Germany believe the U.S. is conducting the war on terrorism in order to control Mideast oil and dominate the world. … Large majorities in almost every country surveyed think that American and British leaders lied when they claimed, prior to the Iraq war, that Saddam Hussein’s regime had weapons of mass destruction.
Today in Afghanistan:
The Pentagon’s announcement that Afghanistan possesses $1 trillion worth of unexploited minerals will have the unintended consequence of confirming one of the most deeply entrenched conspiracy theories among Afghans.  Many Afghans I have spoken with believe firmly that America wants to permanently occupy the country in order to take Afghan land and resources. Even educated Afghans friends who generally support a temporary US presence have told me the same. I had to laugh when one suggested that Americans would want to move to Afghanistan to snatch up Afghan land for homes. … For many Afghans, it makes no sense that the US cannot wrap up the Taliban – so an imperialist land grab becomes a plausible explanation.
Historians agree that once upon a time colonial powers, including the US, did invade nations to try to gain their natural resources. (Not clear they benefited overall though.)  The world is now asked to believe that the US has lost this inclination and ability – gosh, the US folks who chose to attack Afghanistan didn’t even know it was a gold mine, honest.  Nor did Iraq’s oil influence invading it.  So why didn’t the US invade lots of other nations similarly plagued by terrorists, or nations like Iran, North Korea, or Pakistan that threaten nuclear instability?  It’s just random, the world is asked to believe.
I can see why the world is skeptical here. Now I can also understand the position that the US is no longer organized or capable enough to purposely target and gain advantage from invading resource-rich nations.  What I can’t understand is how folks who believe this can simultaneously believe the US is organized and capable enough to “build nations,” a task where we’ve seen little success lately, and a task made even harder by widespread suspicion of US motives. Really, that’s your story?!

Filming the Police

June 16, 2010 by Bruce Schneier

In at least three U.S. states, it is illegal to film an active duty policeman:
The legal justification for arresting the "shooter" rests on existing wiretapping or eavesdropping laws, with statutes against obstructing law enforcement sometimes cited. Illinois, Massachusetts, and Maryland are among the 12 states in which all parties must consent for a recording to be legal unless, as with TV news crews, it is obvious to all that recording is underway. Since the police do not consent, the camera-wielder can be arrested. Most all-party-consent states also include an exception for recording in public places where "no expectation of privacy exists" (Illinois does not) but in practice this exception is not being recognized.

Massachusetts attorney June Jensen represented Simon Glik who was arrested for such a recording. She explained, "[T]he statute has been misconstrued by Boston police. You could go to the Boston Common and snap pictures and record if you want." Legal scholar and professor Jonathan Turley agrees, "The police are basing this claim on a ridiculous reading of the two-party consent surveillance law -- requiring all parties to consent to being taped. I have written in the area of surveillance law and can say that this is utter nonsense."

The courts, however, disagree. A few weeks ago, an Illinois judge rejected a motion to dismiss an eavesdropping charge against Christopher Drew, who recorded his own arrest for selling one-dollar artwork on the streets of Chicago. Although the misdemeanor charges of not having a peddler's license and peddling in a prohibited area were dropped, Drew is being prosecuted for illegal recording, a Class I felony punishable by 4 to 15 years in prison.
This is a horrible idea, and will make us all less secure. I wrote in 2008:
You cannot evaluate the value of privacy and disclosure unless you account for the relative power levels of the discloser and the disclosee.

If I disclose information to you, your power with respect to me increases. One way to address this power imbalance is for you to similarly disclose information to me. We both have less privacy, but the balance of power is maintained. But this mechanism fails utterly if you and I have different power levels to begin with.

An example will make this clearer. You're stopped by a police officer, who demands to see identification. Divulging your identity will give the officer enormous power over you: He or she can search police databases using the information on your ID; he or she can create a police record attached to your name; he or she can put you on this or that secret terrorist watch list. Asking to see the officer's ID in return gives you no comparable power over him or her. The power imbalance is too great, and mutual disclosure does not make it OK.

You can think of your existing power as the exponent in an equation that determines the value, to you, of more information. The more power you have, the more additional power you derive from the new data.
Another example: When your doctor says "take off your clothes," it makes no sense for you to say, "You first, doc." The two of you are not engaging in an interaction of equals.
This is the principle that should guide decision-makers when they consider installing surveillance cameras or launching data-mining programs. It's not enough to open the efforts to public scrutiny. All aspects of government work best when the relative power between the governors and the governed remains as small as possible -- when liberty is high and control is low. Forced openness in government reduces the relative power differential between the two, and is generally good. Forced openness in laypeople increases the relative power, and is generally bad.

Not actual opposition to plutocracy, but an incredible simulation

America's political culture and national self-image romanticizes the underdog, the rebel, the Common Man, the Little Guy, the bold voice speaking against the powerful. Thus, in any endeavor to use the force of government in the pursuit of wealth, privilege, and power, it helps to have some sympathetic people who fit or at least resemble that description in the vicinity. It always makes me chuckle when some earnest statist claims that libertarians are the dupes or tools of greedy businessmen, and part of the reason for that is nicely illustrated by this story from my home state of Illinois.

MUNDELEIN, Ill.—Robert Brownson long believed that his proposed development here, with its 200,000-square-foot Wal-Mart Supercenter, was being held hostage by nearby homeowners.

He had seen them protesting at city hall, and they had filed a lawsuit to stop the project. What he didn't know was that the locals were getting a lot of help. A grocery chain with nine stores in the area had hired Saint Consulting Group to secretly run the antidevelopment campaign...

P. Michael Saint... is founder of Saint Consulting Group, which specializes in using political-campaign tactics to build support for or against developments. Many of its efforts to block projects are clandestine.

As Wal-Mart Stores Inc. has grown into the largest grocery seller in the U.S., similar battles have played out in hundreds of towns like Mundelein. Local activists and union groups have been the public face of much of the resistance. But in scores of cases, large supermarket chains including Supervalu Inc., Safeway Inc. and Ahold NV have retained Saint Consulting to block Wal-Mart...

Supermarkets that have funded campaigns to stop Wal-Mart are concerned about having to match the retailing giant's low prices lest they lose market share...
In Mundelein, a town of 35,000 about 20 miles northwest of Chicago, it was Supervalu, a national grocer based in Eden Prairie, Minn., that hired Saint to work behind the scenes, according to Saint documents. Supervalu's objective was to block Wal-Mart from competing with its nine Jewel-Osco supermarkets located within three to ten miles of the proposed shopping center...

Mr. Saint... founded his firm 26 years ago. It specializes in using political-campaign tactics—petition drives, phone banks, websites—to build support for or against controversial projects...

For the typical anti-Wal-Mart assignment, a Saint manager will drop into town using an assumed name to create or take control of local opposition, according to former Saint employees...

Safeway, a national chain based in Pleasanton, Calif., retained Saint to thwart Wal-Mart Supercenters in more than 30 towns in California, Oregon, Washington and Hawaii in recent years...
The article goes on to discuss the methods used by Saint's company to delay or block the construction of stores that would compete with the company's clients, frequently revolving around the creation, funding, and control of ostensibly grassroots organizations whose rank-and-file members are ignorant of where their leadership and funding is actually coming from. It also describes some specific examples, including a darkly humorous, Peter Sellers-esque account of Saint's company creating a front group of local citizens in Pennsylvania to block a proposed Wal-Mart on behalf of competitor Giant Food Stores, and then having to suddenly destroy it's own creation when Giant's parent company decided to build its own enormous store on a site directly opposite the lot where the Wal-Mart would have gone.

Arguing ad hominem is a logical fallacy, and the fact that a political cause is supported by and serves the financial interests of a national retail giant with over $40 billion in yearly revenue that wants to use government power to block competition doesn't prove that the cause is wrong. This stiory does, however, nicely illustrate the nature of the lie on which so much of modern politics is built.

One of our great cultural myths in America is that of heroic, public-spirited struggle waged by plucky grassroots bands of We the People against the depredations and greed of some Heartless Corporation. The reality is much less romantic: The heroic struggles between Concerned Citizens and Greedy Plutocrats lionized in our civic mythology and in mainstream accounts of history are in fact usually, at best, battles between Greedy Plutocrat A and Greedy Plutocrat B, in which one side or the other is just better at finding frontmen and dupes. Frequently it doesn't even rise to that level, where the Concerned Citizens are at least actually hurting the target of their ire, and instead serves the purpose of aiding the very companies or industry being righteously railed against at the expense of the general public. (Kevin Carson's work is a valuable resource on this sort of thing.)

My favorite recent example of this principle at work is the controversy over net neutrality, and the way that controversy is usually framed. Opposed to net neutrality, we are told, are the big, greedy telecommunications companies like Comcast, who will choke off the free flow of information unless the government saves us from them. They are opposed by a plucky band of grassroots freedom fighters... Well, a plucky band of grassroots freedom fighters and various multibillion dollar corporations that stand to benefit financially from net neutrality, like Google (revenue of $23.6 billion in 2009), ($24.5 billion in 2009), eBay ($8.7 billion) and Sony ($78 billion). Again, the fact that various business interests are on your side for their own self-interested reasons doesn't mean that you're wrong, but it does mean that the story is more complicated than what many people like to believe.

There are good criticisms to be made of internet service providers, which are frequently the beneficiaries of government-granted monopolies or other governmental barriers to competition. If ISPs really are in a position to harm consumers by controlling what their customers can access online and are likely to take advantage of that, as neutrality advocates claim, freeing the market for internet services would break these monopolies and deal with the problem.

But the fact that current ISPs are the creatures of state intervention is seldom discussed, and it's not hard to see why. Government-enforced uniformity of bandwidth pricing would benefit big players like Google and, who would be natural targets if ISPs started to engage in price discrimination and don't want to see telecommunications companies taking a slice of their pie. Deregulation of ISPs, on the other hand, would benefit (aside from consumers) small internet firms currently being blocked from trying to compete with the big monopolies in many markets, and companies that do not currently exist but would if regulations were not hostile to entrepreneurs entering the market- in other words, it would benefit people who don't have deep pockets or political muscle or executives who get invited to Presidential galas in return for big donations.

Combine that with many people's kneejerk "The government must fix it" response to any potential problems and the prejudices and self-interest pervasive among politicians, intellectuals, and the media, and it's not surprising that few if any of the people and organizations oh-so-concerned about the possible depredations of companies like Comcast show interest in actually going after the source of their power, and that only "solutions" that increase government power are proposed and agitated for.

Similarly, there are certainly good criticisms to be made of Wal-Mart, such as the company's use of eminent domain and the fact that it's market share has probably been inflated by the way many government regulations disproportionately hurt smaller firms, but the vast majority of the store's critics never use arguments like that. They can't, since their ideology is based around the belief that the interventionist state is a good thing and simply can't process the idea that it might be the problem and not the solution, or that it could be the ally of powerful business interests and not their enemy. Instead we get a relentless torrent of economic ignorance, elitism, xenophobia, and class snobbery.

The story of "progressive" and populist politics in the United States is, at its core, a story of fake rebellion, dressing up the strengthening and enrichment of privileged interests as a battle to protect the weak and vulnerable from the strong. The central delusion of modern statism- that the concentrated coercive power of the state can be trusted to protect the weak and restrain the strong- ensures that it will remain so.