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  • Virgin Media blocks pirate site Newzbin 2

    posted by Keito
    2012-08-15 14:15:28
    'Virgin Media has become the latest UK ISP to block access to Newzbin 2, a members-only site which provides links to pirated films and music.

    The ISP acted after receiving a court order from the Motion Picture Association.

    Sky and BT blocked access to the site last year.

    Rights holders see such court orders as the best way to crack down on piracy although critics point out that the blocks can be circumvented.

    "As a responsible ISP, Virgin Media complies with court orders addressed to the company, but strongly believes that changing consumer behaviour to tackle copyright infringement also needs compelling legal alternatives to give consumers access to great content at the right price," the firm said in a statement.

    Virgin Media and other ISPs have also blocked access to The Pirate Bay following court orders from the music industry trade body the BPI.

    Data shared with the BBC by one ISP which wished to remain anonymous showed that peer-to-peer traffic dipped when the Pirate Bay block initially happened but returned to normal levels within a week.

    Measures to combat piracy outlined in the Digital Economy Act have been slow to come into effect.

    The main plan is to send letters to alleged copyright infringers but these will not begin going out until 2014.'

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-19267089
  • The Runaway Banking System

    posted by Keito
    2012-08-14 16:38:04
    'There's Only One Solution That Might Fix Our Corrupt Financial System

    The simple truth is our giant banking system is metastasizing throughout our economy. It’s sucking away our wealth. And it’s out of control.

    Americans want their pound of flesh, and rightfully so. We’ve seen our bankers commit every kind of financial crime imaginable. They trade on insider information. They manipulate markets. They rig bets. They fix prices. They sell securities that are designed to fail so that they can bet against them. They launder money for rogue nations. They create too-big-to-fail banks that gamble with impunity knowing that we will bail them out again and again. And they collectively crashed the economy causing 8 million workers to lose their jobs.

    Wouldn’t it be lovely to see these financial felons doing the perp walk?

    Sure, that might satisfy our desire for justice or even revenge, but it wouldn’t solve our banking problem. Neither would a return of Glass-Steagall, which would separate investment banking (the gambling part) from commercial banking (where our deposits are federally insured). And neither would a properly enforced Dodd-Frank legislation that was supposedly designed to prevent the next financial crash.

    None of this will work because even if vigorously enforced, our too-big-to-fail banking system will still be there, ripping us off each and every day. Worse still, even if you locked up all the CEOs and replaced them with saints selected by Ralph Nader, these giant banks would still be a clear and present danger to our economic system and to each of our jobs, if we’re lucky enough to have one.

    The simple truth is our giant banking system is metastasizing throughout our economy. It’s sucking away our wealth, and it’s out of control. No bank CEO can effectively manage the empires they now preside over. No regulator can keep up with the financial games that are played right under their noses. It’s just not possible. Too-big-to-fail also means too-big-to-control.

    The real dangers run even deeper. Banking is supposed serve a relatively simple, yet critical function – turning our savings into investments. It’s such a simple function that most introductory economic textbooks hardly mention it at all. But this function becomes immensely complicated and dangerous when banks become casinos. Financial apologists tell us those casinos make our system run more efficiently and provide ways to disperse and reduce risk…except not on this planet.

    Back in the real world, banking casinos are like any other casino. They are designed to make money from money any way they can and as fast as they can. If they can rig a bet, they do it. (That in a nutshell is what the LIBOR scandal is all about.) If they can hoodwink a client by selling damaged goods, consider it done. If they can find ways to hide bets off the books, “don’t think twice, it’s alright.” Bending and breaking the rules is what they do. And if caught, they blame it on the guy below or the other bank across the street or the regulator who wasn’t doing his job, or maybe even the poor schlep homeowner who didn’t read the fine print.

    Every time a bank is caught in one of these scandals (and every big bank has been caught), they point to their immaculate ethical policies that put the consumer first. They also brag about their sophisticated and rigorous risk management systems that are designed to prevent and contain the damage. Whatever happened, they claim, was a minor breach, an accident, a rogue trader, a bumbling manager or a misunderstanding. And those at the top are always insulated by plausible deniability.

    But all of this dissembling is a cover for the obvious: too-big-to-fail banks are the predators and we are the prey.

    And we’re talking about very big and powerful predators – predators who are so large that they can set prices at will. (See the August 9 New York Times article, " With Low Rates Banks Increase Mortgage Profits " about how the large banks are overcharging all of us on mortgages.)

    We shouldn’t be surprised.The biggest banks are simply getting bigger and bigger. In 1994 the assets of the top six U.S. banks were the equivalent of 17 percent of our economy. By 2009, after the crash and bailouts , the top six assets jumped to a whopping 63 percent of the economy. By March 2010, the top six banks (Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase, CitiGroup, Well Fargo, Goldman Sachs, and Morgan Stanley) held $9.2 trillion in assets. (How much is that? It's as much as the net worth of 119 million average Americans combined.)

    Given their size, there is no way we can allow these banks to fail – ever. Given their size, there is no way the political establishment can resist their lobbying and campaign donations. Given their size, there is no way our judicial system can control the racketeering.

    Shouldn’t we just break them up into smaller pieces?

    At first blush this seems like a grand idea. Let’s smash them to smithereens so that no bank can ever again grow so large. I’m for giving it a try. But we may end up with hundreds if not thousands of banks that will still find ways to gamble our money away. Many of these banks can fail at the same time – as happened during the Great Depression, and during the savings and loan fiasco in the 1980s. Also, it would be very difficult to control the ways in which these banks might link up with each other or connect with large non-banking corporations. We’d need a boatload of regulations and regulators to police so many private banking entities. And I’ll wager we’d still face the same underlying problem: wherever there are vast sums to be made from financial casinos large or small, we’re at risk.

    Turn the banks into public utilities?

    When I was writing The Looting of America in 2009, I still had hope for basic reforms: prosecutions, new laws, Glass-Steagall, you name it. But even then, I worried that these reforms were doomed:

    Perhaps the biggest problem with our government's timid approach to the financial crisis is that it just won’t work. We are gambling that somehow, through a hodgepodge of bailouts, regulations and controls, we can eliminate financial instability. But history provides little reassurance. Never before has so much human energy been devoted to investigating, analyzing and managing our economy. And yet, the most advanced and sophisticated economic system ever created, crashed all over our textbooks, our research papers, and our free-market theories. And if we don't change the way we do things, it will crash again.

    Let's hope we won't throw away much our children’s inheritance because we did not have the courage to do the obvious: take over the failing banks, drastically trim their astronomical salaries, control their hazardous financial engineering, and run the damn things for the good of us all.

    Since then we’ve learned the hard way that in a modern complex global economy, large-scale private banking doesn’t work. Rather than bust them up into smaller privately owned pieces, I think it’s time to take them over and run them as public utilities, paying decent civil service salaries and no more. Rather than one big national bank, we should consider chartering many state banks (the number depending on the size of the state). North Dakota still has one and it runs just fine. Then our public-employee bankers could concentrate on moving savings into good investments rather than moving the chips around their rigged roulette wheels.

    But won’t we be subject to bungling bureaucrats?

    Do you think public employees possibly could do worse than the mortgage brokers who lied and stole their way into the financial crisis? Would you really miss the shysters who sold dangerous adjustable mortgages to senior citizens who already had secure fixed mortgages? Will you pine for the days when bankers sold toxic assets to school districts and various municipalities all over the world? Are you worried that you’ll grow nostalgic for bankers who made billions on the upside and then stuck the taxpayers with the losses when things headed south?

    And please don’t use Fannie and Freddie as counter-examples. Until they were nationalized after utter failure, those mortgage giants were run as private entities – complete with stockholders and highly paid executives – all backed with implicit government guarantees. They were the worst kind of public-private partnerships. We can do better.

    Won’t we lose our banking talent by so drastically lowering the salaries?

    Yes we would, and thank goodness. There are thousands of very bright people who are drawn into banking because of the enormous financial rewards. Collectively, they are harming our economy. We would be much better off if that enormous talent pool flowed into medicine, science and education.

    Just think about what the current system is doing: We lure our best and brightest into finance because they can literally make millions of dollars per HOUR. And in order to do so, they create enormous hazards for our economy. If someone from another planet looked our way, they would surely ask: “Why do you deploy some of the best talent on Earth to destroy yourselves?”

    But isn’t this outright socialism?

    This is about as socialist as your local police and fire departments. Over the course of history, we have learned that some services best serve the commonwealth when run as public trusts.

    Overall, the free-market works reasonably well in the non-financial economy. (Yes it needs very tough regulations to protect the environment, public health and the workforce. And having a larger labor movement would serve as a badly need check and balance to concentrated corporate power.) But our private banking sector defies the most fundamental laws of capitalism: Both banking profits and losses should go to the entrepreneurs and their investors, not the public. Furthermore, if you really care about preserving capitalism in the real economy, we can’t allow finance capital to run hog wild, creating instability and crashes in its wake. Sooner or later, we’ll be forced to nationalize the banking sector. In fact, we already did. We bailed them out. We guaranteed hundreds of billions of toxic assets. We provided trillions in virtually free loans. Under the rules of capitalism, we should own them already given that level of support. (You can be sure, Warren Buffet would own them all, if he provided that kind of financing.) We just didn’t have the guts to take them on.

    Look around and you’ll see the wreckage of big private banking wherever you look. The unemployed, the empty houses, the struggling families who are underwater, the collapsing state and local budgets -- all of that was caused by our banking system run amok.

    How the hell could this possibly happen in America with a banking lobby that owns Congress? Doesn’t that make this scheme a bit fantastic and unrealistic?

    It sure does. But doesn’t that admonition apply also to any and all banking reforms? Right now, with the banksters in control, even the most minor reforms are challenged every inch of the way. So what’s realistic right now? Just about nothing.

    But that wasn’t the case at the height of the 2008 crash when every bank was on its knees begging for help. That was the time to act. But we didn’t. Why? One reason is because progressives didn’t have a vision of what banking should look like. We defaulted to the idea that private banking was a given, and therefore our “reforms” failed to offer an alternative. The progressive goal seemed to be to put teeth into Dodd-Frank. How realistic was that?

    I think it’s very realistic to begin thinking real hard about what we’ll demand the next time the system crashes…and it will. Are we going to accept, yet again, that the big banks get bailed out and then remain in private hands? Or will we have a rational plan for turning them into public utilities?

    Of course just having a plan doesn’t make it so. But if we don’t know what we really want, we’ll get nothing, or even worse we’ll get more attacks on public services, public employees and environmental regulations.

    There’s also hard, cold politics to consider: By demanding the end of large-scale private banking we might help to shift the debate. If the idea spreads and gains credence, then reforms like Glass-Steagall or busting up the big banks will start looking mild in comparison to the abolition of private banking as a whole.

    You know it’s true. We need to end too-big-to-fail, instead of proposing reforms that are too little, too late.'

    http://www.alternet.org/economy/theres-only-one-solution-might-fix-our-corrupt-financial-system
  • Back to Business...

    posted by Keito
    2012-08-14 14:32:26
  • Apple co-founder Wozniak sees trouble in the cloud

    posted by Keito
    2012-08-14 13:18:26
    'Steve Wozniak, who co-founded Apple with the late Steve Jobs, predicted "horrible problems" in the coming years as cloud-based computing takes hold.

    Wozniak, 61, was the star turn at the penultimate performance in Washington of "The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs," monologist Mike Daisey's controversial two-hour expose of Apple's labor conditions in China.

    In a post-performance dialogue with Daisey and audience members, Wozniak held forth on topics as varied as public education (he once did a stint as a school teacher) and reality TV (having appeared on "Dancing with the Stars").

    But the engineering wizard behind the progenitor of today's personal computer, the Apple II, was most outspoken on the shift away from hard disks towards uploading data into remote servers, known as cloud computing.

    "I really worry about everything going to the cloud," he said. "I think it's going to be horrendous. I think there are going to be a lot of horrible problems in the next five years."

    He added: "With the cloud, you don't own anything. You already signed it away" through the legalistic terms of service with a cloud provider that computer users must agree to.

    "I want to feel that I own things," Wozniak said. "A lot of people feel, 'Oh, everything is really on my computer,' but I say the more we transfer everything onto the web, onto the cloud, the less we're going to have control over it."

    Prior to Saturday at the Woolly Mammoth theater in Washington, Daisey and Wozniak had met once before, in California after a performance of "The Agony and the Ecstasy" in its original version in February 2011.

    Wozniak was moved to tears, but a year later Daisey came under fire when it emerged that sections of his one-man show dealing with the Foxconn plant in China where iPhones and iPads are assembled had been fabricated.

    Public radio show "This American Life," which had broadcast portions of "The Agony and the Ecstasy," went so far as to issue a retraction. Daisey meanwhile reworked his script, albeit without toning down his powerful delivery.

    On the minimalist stage Saturday, seated on plain wooden chairs, Daisey and Wozniak came across as a geek version of Tweedledum and Tweedledee in their baggy black clothes and matching beer bellies.

    The bearded, fast-talking Wozniak sported running shoes and a massive wrist watch. In the theater lobby, for Saturday only, one of the very first Apple I computers ever built -- assembled in Jobs' garage -- was on display.

    "Everything I designed was purely out of my head, never out of a book," recalled Wozniak, who quit Apple in 1987 after 12 years, taught fifth-graders, hit the lecture circuit and gave away some of his fortune to good causes.

    Many in the audience echoed Daisey's concern about Foxconn's work force, but Wozniak said he expected labor conditions in China to evolve as the nation grows richer. He also commended Apple for its oversight of its factories.

    "We know we (citizens and consumers) have a voice. We can speak (about labor conditions), but we can't act like, oh, Foxconn is bad or Apple is bad," he said.

    Daisey begged to differ: "I hear what you're saying about that fact that everyone goes through an evolution, but it's not as if the evolution was natural in the sense that we are the ones who brought the jobs there."

    While Apple designs its products in the United States, all its manufacturing takes place in China -- a sore point in an election year in which unemployment and a long-term exodus of manufacturing jobs overseas have been campaign issues.'

    http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5h1p0LVc4iFZxbWlflFGgcHhbRNCQ?docId=CNG.3dc7a79d06ad7dc82f701613531da926.671
  • Privatization Degrades America: Privatized services are structured for profit rather than for the general good. We spend lifetimes developing community assets, then give them away to corporations...

    posted by Keito
    2012-08-14 12:37:10
    'Five Ways Privatization Degrades America
    by Paul Buchheit

    A grand delusion has been planted in the minds of Americans, that privately run systems are more efficient and less costly than those in the public sector. Most of the evidence points the other way. Private initiatives generally produce mediocre or substandard results while experiencing the usual travails of unregulated capitalism -- higher prices, limited services, and lower wages for all but a few 'entrepreneurs.'

    With perverse irony, the corruption and incompetence of private industry has actually furthered the cause of privatization, as the collapse of the financial markets has deprived state and local governments of necessary public funding, leading to an even greater call for private development.

    As aptly expressed by a finance company chairman in 2008, "Desperate government is our best customer."

    The following are a few consequences of this pro-privatization desperation:

    1. We spend lifetimes developing community assets, then give them away to a corporation for lifetimes to come.

    The infrastructure in our cities has been built up over many years with the sweat and planning of farsighted citizens. Yet the dropoff in tax revenues has prompted careless decisions to balance budgets with big giveaways of public assets that should belong to our children and grandchildren.

    In Chicago, the Skyway tollroad was leased to a private company for 99 years, and, in a deal growing in infamy, the management of parking meters was sold to a Morgan Stanley group for 75 years. The proceeds have largely been spent.

    The parking meter selloff led to a massive rate increase, while hurting small businesses whose potential customers are unwilling to pay the parking fees. Meanwhile, it has been estimated that the business partnership will make a profit of 80 cents per dollar of revenue, a profit margin larger than that of any of the top 100 companies in the nation.

    Indiana has also succumbed to the shiny lure of money up front, selling control of a toll road for 75 years. Tolls have doubled over the first five years of the contract. Indianapolis sold off its parking meters for 50 years, for the bargain up-front price of $32 million.

    Atlanta's 20-year contract with United Water Resources Inc. was canceled because of tainted water and poor service.

    2. Insanity is repeating the same mistake over and over and expecting different results.

    Numerous examples of failed or ineffective privatization schemes show us that hasty, unregulated initiatives simply don't work.

    A Stanford University study "reveals in unmistakable terms that, in the aggregate, charter students are not faring as well as their traditional public school counterparts." A Department of Education study found that "On average, charter middle schools that hold lotteries are neither more nor less successful than traditional public schools in improving student achievement, behavior, and school progress."

    Our private health care system has failed us. We have by far the most expensive system in the developed world. The cost of common surgeries is anywhere from three to ten times higher in the U.S. than in Great Britain, Canada, France, or Germany.

    Studies show that private prisons perform poorly in numerous ways: prevention of intra-prison violence, jail conditions, rehabilitation efforts. The U.S. Department of Justice offered this appraisal: "There is no evidence showing that private prisons will have a dramatic impact on how prisons operate. The promises of 20-percent savings in operational costs have simply not materialized."

    A 2009 analysis of water and sewer utilities by Food and Water Watch found that private companies charge up to 80 percent more for water and 100 percent more for sewer services. Various privatization abuses or failures occurred in California, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, New Jersey, and Rhode Island.

    California's experiments with roadway privatization resulted in cost overruns, public outrage, and a bankruptcy; equally disastrous was the state's foray into electric power privatization.

    Across industries and occupations, according to the Project on Government Oversight, the federal government paid billions more on private contractors than the amounts needed to pay public employees for the same services.

    3. Facts about privatization are hidden from the public.

    Experience shows that under certain conditions, with sufficient monitoring and competition and regulation, privatization can be effective. But too often vital information is kept from the public. The Illinois Public Interest Research Group noted that Chicago's parking meter debacle might have been avoided if the city had followed common-sense principles rather than rushing a no-bid contract through the city council.

    Studies by both the Congressional Research Service and the Pepperdine Law Review came to the same conclusion: any attempt at privatization must ensure a means of public accountability. Too often this need is ignored.

    The Arizona prison system is a prime example. For over 20 years the Department of Corrections avoided cost and quality reviews for its private prisons, then got around the problem by proposing a bill to eliminate the requirement for cost and quality reviews.

    In Florida, abuses by the South Florida Preparatory Christian Academy went on for years without regulation or oversight, with hundreds of learning-disabled schoolchildren crammed into strip mall spaces where 20-something 'teachers' showed movies to pass the time.

    In Philadelphia, an announcement of a $38 million charter school plan in May turned into a $139 million plan by July.

    In Michigan, the low-income community of Muskegon Heights became the first American city to surrender its entire school district to a charter school company. Details of the contract with Mosaica were not available to the public for some time after the deal was made. But data from the Michigan Department of Education revealed that Mosaica performed better than only 13% of the schools in the state of Michigan.

    Also in Michigan, an investigation of administrative salaries elicited this response from charter contractor National Heritage Academies: "As a private company, NHA does not provide information on salaries for its employees."

    Education writer Danny Weil summarizes the charter school secrecy: "The fact is that most discussions of charters and vouchers are not done through legally mandated public hearings under law, but in back rooms or over expensive dinners, where business elites and Wall Street interests are the shot-callers in a secret parliament of moneyed interests."

    Beyond prisons and schools, how many Americans know about the proposal for the privatization of Amtrak, which would, according to West Virginia Representative Nick Rahall, "cripple Main Street by auctioning off Amtrak's assets to Wall Street." Or the proposal to sell off the nation's air traffic control system? Or the sale of federal land in the west? Or the sale of the nation's gold reserves, an idea that an Obama administration official referred to as "one level of crazy away from selling Mount Rushmore"?


    4. Privatizers have suggested that teachers and union members are communists.

    Part of the grand delusion inflicted on American citizens is that public employees and union workers are greedy good-for-nothings, enjoying benefits that average private sector workers are denied. The implication, of course, is that low-wage jobs with meager benefits should be the standard for all wage-earners.

    The myth is propagated through right-wing organizations with roots in the John Birch Society, one of whose founding members was Fred Koch, also the founder of Koch Industries. To them, public schools are socialist or communist. Explained Heartland Institute President Joseph Bast with regard to private school vouchers in 1997, "we have come to the conclusion that they are the only way to dismantle the current socialist regime."

    But the facts show, first of all, that government and union workers are not overpaid. According to the Census Bureau, state and local government employees make up 14.5% of the U.S. workforce and receive 14.3% of the total compensation. Union members make up about 12% of the workforce, but their total pay amounts to just 9.5% of adjusted gross income as reported to the IRS.

    The facts also strongly suggest that wage stability is fostered by the lower turnover rate and higher incidence of union membership in government. The supportive environment that right-wingers call 'socialism' helps to sustain living wages for millions of families. The private sector, on the other hand, is characterized by severe wage inequality. Whereas the average private sector salary is similar to that of a state or local government worker, the MEDIAN U.S. worker salary is almost $14,000 less, at $26,363. While corporate executives and financial workers (about one-half of 1% of the workforce) make multi-million dollar salaries, millions of private company workers toil as food servers, clerks, medical workers, and domestic help at below-average pay.

    5. Privatization often creates an "incentive to fail."

    Privatized services are structured for profit rather than for the general good. A by-product of the profit motive is that some people will lose out along the way, and parts of the societal structure will fail in order to benefit investors.

    This is evident in the privatized prison system, which relies on a decreasing adherence to the law to ensure its own success. Corrections Corporation of America has offered to run the prison system in any state willing to guarantee that jails stay 90% full. "This is where it gets creepy," says Business Insider's Joe Weisenthal, "because as an investor you're pulling for scenarios where more people are put in jail."

    The incentive to fail was also apparent in road privatization deals in California and Virginia, where 'non-compete' clauses prevented local municipalities from repairing any roads that might compete with a privatized tollroad. In Virginia, the tollway manager even demanded reimbursement from the state for excessive carpooling, which would cut into its profits.

    The list goes on. The Chicago parking meter deal requires compensation if the city wishes to close a street for a parade. The Indiana tollroad deal demanded reimbursement when the state waived tolls for safety reasons during a flood.

    Plans to privatize the Post Office have created a massive incentive to fail through the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act, which requires the USPS to pre-pay the health care benefits of all employees for the next 75 years, even those who aren't born yet. This outlandish requirement is causing a well-run public service to default on its loans for the first time.

    Also set up to fail are students enrolled in for-profit colleges, which get up to 90 percent of their revenue from U.S. taxpayers. Less incentive remains for the schools after tuition is received, as evidenced by the fact that more than half of the students enrolled in these colleges in 2008-9 left without a degree or diploma.

    And then we have our littler students, set up to fail by private school advocates in Wisconsin who argue that a requirement for playgrounds in new elementary schools "significantly limit[s] parent's educational choice in Milwaukee."

    In too many cases, privatization means success for a few and failure for the community being served. Unless success can be defined as a corporate logo carved into the side of Mount Rushmore.'