Seaworthy

You know, there’s something really, really wrong with this country:

Since 1862, an obscure company called American Bureau of Shipping has been approving oceangoing vessels as seaworthy. The Houston-based firm reported $3.17 billion in revenue and just less than $600 million in profits from ship inspections from 2004 to 2010 and paid no U.S. income taxes on those earnings.


The Internal Revenue Service hasn’t had any complaints. That’s because the company has been registered as a nonprofit for 150 years, Bloomberg Markets magazine reports in its December issue.


ABS routinely inspects independently owned ships on behalf of the U.S. Coast Guard, and one of its customers is the U.S. Navy. The company employs 3,028 people in 70 countries. ABS paid Robert Somerville, then its chief executive officer, $21.7 million from 2004 to 2010.


ABS shows how an organization that isn’t a charity, a school, a religious institution, a hospital or any other kind of body that commonly has nonprofit status can earn millions of dollars and legally avoid paying U.S. taxes.

Pushing back on the Grand Swindle

Ah, the fiscal scam! It’s interesting that the same conservative and Blue Dog politicians who insisted we didn’t need additional stimulus to recover from this recession are now insisting that we will … go back into a recession if these fiscal deal cuts are made! Why, you would almost think they were Keynesians!

Sen. Bernie Sanders led a press conference yesterday drawing a line in the sand — and he’s got 18 other senators with him. Is it enough?

Senate Health Committee Chairman Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) said Thursday that Medicare and Medicaid should be off the table during talks on the fiscal cliff.


Harkin spoke alongside other liberal lawmakers at an event to highlight opposition to cutting social programs for deficit reduction.


He touted the results of the Nov. 6 election as evidence that Americans support raising taxes instead of cutting spending.


“When it comes to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, the American people told us to protect and strengthen these programs, not cut them,” Harkin said.


“The American people want a change in the structure of who pays and making sure that we keep the programs that protect the poor, the disabled and the elderly,” he told The Hill.


President Obama will meet Friday with lawmakers to open negotiations on how to avoid the “fiscal cliff,” a combination of tax increases and automatic spending cuts that will hurt the U.S. economy unless lawmakers act.


In earlier talks, Obama backed roughly $100 billion in cuts to Medicaid, including a streamlined system for federal payments that would result in state governments shouldering more of the funding burden.


At Thursday’s event, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said he wanted to “send a very loud and very clear message to the leadership … in the White House” not to cut Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid.


Sanders added, “There are fair ways to reduce the $1 trillion federal deficit and $16 trillion national debt, but balancing the budget on the backs of the elderly, the sick, the children and the poor is not among them.”


Republicans have said they won’t accept new tax revenues unless Democrats agree to reform entitlements.

Google being evil

Hey Google, don’t be evil! This is exactly the kind of thing we were afraid would happen without strict net neutrality rules — and lo and behold, here it is: The search engine is helping the gas lobby support fracking by stacking search results with pro-fracking ads that look like search results. And as this Truthout article says, it’s having a negative effect on how peer-reviewed fracking research is perceived by the public:

For more than 17 months, Robert Howarth, an ecology professor at Cornell, has had a Google problem. Howarth is the chief author of an important paper on the environmental impact of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, a controversial method of obtaining natural gas. The paper concludes that the practice is not a clean way to extract domestic energy, as many allege, and has an even greater carbon footprint than coal. The paper’s conclusions poke holes in some of the most common talking points used by supporters of fracking and made major headlines, including a large and prominently placed article in The New York Times in April 2011. Howarth, along with one of his co-authors, Anthony Ingraffea, and activist actor Mark Ruffalo, were ranked by Time as among the 100 “people who matter” in 2011.

The paper also got the attention of the gas lobby. Most notably, America’s Natural Gas Alliance (ANGA). Soon after the paper was released, Howarth and others noticed a disturbing phenomenon on Google. Every time Professor Howarth’s name was placed into a Google search engine, the first thing that appeared was an ad from ANGA, devoted strictly to hampering the credibility of Howarth’s research. The page was listed as an ad but at a quick glance, it simply looked like the top search result. As of the time of this writing, late October, the ad still displayed that way.

The ad, and the ability of industry to use Google ads for these purposes, raises important questions about the role that Google and other prominent search engines will have on important political and scientific discourse. Do Google and other companies have a responsibility to the public to consider the way their search engine can be used to advance the interests of certain industries? This method naturally empowers wealthy industries to dominate Google search results given their massive resources and vested financial interests in the way in which science is discussed in the public sphere. And the company does ultimately answer to shareholders and not to the public at large. Given this reality, what can we expect from Google and other corporate giants of the Internet world when it comes to providing valuable information that serves the public?

The content of the ad includes attacks that Howarth is “not credentialed to do the kind of chemical analysis required for this field of study,” his research is “not well documented” and his conclusions “extreme.” They also argue that the vast majority of scientists are skeptical of Howarth’s conclusions.

In an interview with Truthout, Howarth meticulously refuted the statements in the ad, saying they are “very misleading” and argues that, contrary to what is portrayed in the ad, “many more scientists agree with and support our research than disagree with it.” Howarth claims the ad has been alarmingly effective at shaping the debate on the issue and disrupting his career.
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