Tag Archives: New York Times

Consumer Watchdog Asks FTC To Release Staff Report In Google Investigation


Says Action Necessary To Restore Faith in Agency As Effective Antitrust Enforcer

Consumer Watchdog today called on the Federal Trade Commission to release the 100-page staff report on the 19-month Google investigation as the only way to “restore a modicum of public trust in the Commission’s ability to serve as an effective antitrust enforcer.”

“I call on you to release the FTC staff report to help make clear what was behind the Commission’s otherwise unfathomable action,” wrote John M. Simpson, Consumer Watchdog’s Privacy Project director in a letter to Commission Chairman Jon Leibowitz and Commissioners Julie Brill, Edith Ramirez, Maureen Ohlhausen and Joshua Wright.

“Media reports suggest that the Commission’s tap on the Internet giant’s wrist was the result of a ‘calculated and expensive charm offensive,’ ” Simpson wrote.

Read Consumer Watchdog’s letter here.

“Put another way, by all appearances, the Internet giant played an insiders’ game and bought its way out of trouble,” Simpson wrote. “Perhaps, the Commission managed to ignore the charm offensive and decide the case on the merits.  Sadly, we cannot know the true situation because we don’t have the details of the 19-month staff investigation.”

Consumer Watchdog’s letter quotes articles in Politico and The New York Times about the Internet giant’s $25 million lobbying campaign and its efforts to cozy up to the Obama Administration and other Washington insiders. “It was a multiyear campaign focused on this very moment, knowing as the company grew these issues were going to come up,” Alan Davidson, Google’s former top lobbyist, told Politico.

Read the Politico article here.

Read The New York Times article here.

The best course of action, Consumer Watchdog said, would have been to file an antitrust suit and bring the case to trial. All the evidence would have been part of the public record.  In a November letter to the FTC Consumer Watchdog warned that a negotiated settlement would inevitably invite cynicism about the results.

Consumer Watchdog’s letter to the Commission today continued:

“Opting to avoid a trial and filing a formal consent agreement would at least have required a complaint, spelling out the violation. Instead you have settled for promises from a company that has a demonstrated record of repeatedly breaking its word.  And it’s not even clear what they did wrong.

“Your only chance of re-establishing the FTC’s credibility on its handling of the Google investigation is to release the 100-page staff report about the inquiry. Releasing the report would put the Commission’s decision in context.

“Moreover, the public has the right to know what the staff recommended and to understand the reasoning of the professionals who conducted the lengthy investigation and the quality of their work.  It could be possible that the staff botched the investigation and you were left with no other choice.  If the report contains Google trade secrets, they could be redacted.”

California’s Billionaire Ballot: The Good, Bad, And Ugly


Populist governor Hiram Johnson gave Californians the ballot initiative one hundred and one years ago to combat the stranglehold of wealthy scions over the statehouse. Today’s New York Times reports on how California’s ballot measures are dominated by a handful of billionaires, including some trying to buy more power for themselves and their companies. Call it The Billionaire Ballot.

In modern history there has been no slate of ballot measures with so much concentrated wealth behind it. But can we judge a ballot measure by the billionaire behind it? It depends what the billionaire wants.

Here’s a populist guide to the Good, Bad and Ugly of California’s Billionaire Ballot:

The U G L Y: Two insurance billionaires are the big funding behind Proposition 32 and 33. Both initiatives have been rejected before. The tens of millions being poured in by two insurance billionaires are pure power grabs to get more money and power for the backers of Proposition 32 and 33.

Proposition 33 is backed by Mercury Insurance Chairman George Joseph, who has spent $16 million, 99.5% of the funds behind the initiative, to charge drivers more for not having auto insurance previously, even if the reason is they didn’t drive. Billionaires buying the ballot to help their own profits doesn’t get much uglier than Prop 33.

Prop 32 features the heir to the Berkshire Hathway fortune, including GEICO and another insurance company, buying the ballot to gut the power of labor unions in the political process. This of course helps the super-rich and insurance companies have more power. GEICO heir Charlie Munger Jr. poured $22 million into Prop 32, and it isn’t to benefit The People, but His People. Hiram Johnson rating: U.G.L.Y!

The BAD: Molly Munger, the other heir to the Berkshire Hathaway fortune, the liberal one, is funding an altruistic ballot measure, Prop 38, which is backed by the PTA and funds education. The problem is it has little public support and is likely not only to fail, but could bring down Prop 30, Governor Brown’s budget mending ballot measure, which Munger briefly attacked directly. Rule for billionaires in ballot measures: start with 70% approval rating, not 40%. IF you don’t have the public with you at the beginning, you are not likely to win voters over. And if there’s a competing ballot measure, it’s likely to be a pox on everyone’s house.

The GOOD: At least two billionaires have the right idea. Environmentalist and hedgefund manager Tom Steyer is funding Prop 39, an enlightened idea to close the state’s loophole on taking out of state corporations, and generate $1 billion for the beleaguered state treasury. Steyer used his money to stop oil companies from gutting the state’s greenhouse gas emissions law last election, for which he earned my consumer group’s Phillip Burton Public Service Award.

Nicholas Berrgruen’s financing pushed Prop 31 on the ballot at the last minute. It’s a two year budget cycle initiative reform that has positives and negatives, but Berrgruen sponsored the idea because he believed it would benefit Californians, not line his own pockets. In the end, that’s all we can really ask of billionaires that want to play in ballot measure politics: 1) Do it for the state, not to benefit yourself or your class 2) Don’t screw anyone else who has a better idea and is more in sync with public opinion.

It takes big money to play in California’s ballot measure process today, so billionaires are plenty welcome. But if they are in it for themselves, they aren’t likely to fool the voters, who have a remarkable knack for rejecting any ballot initiative with a stink behind it. In the end, the initiative process is still the people’s. Voters decide, and their judgment over the billionaires is the final verdict.


Originally Posted on The Huffington Post by Jamie Court, author of The Progressive’s Guide to Raising Hell and President of Consumer Watchdog, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to providing an effective voice for taxpayers and consumers in an era when special interests dominate public discourse, government and politics. Visit us on Facebook and Twitter.

Who Needs a Failing Local Media When You Can Have a Failing National Media?

The New York Times is struggling. They had a war with the Boston Globe’s reporters and are hemorrhaging cash.  They have no really innovative new revenue model to boost their finances either.  However, they think they might be on to something: San Francisco!

Yes, both the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal are planning “San Francisco editions.”

Both The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times are planning to introduce San Francisco Bay Area editions, hoping to win new readers and advertisers there by offering more local news, in what could be the first glimpse at a new strategy by national newspapers to capitalize on the contraction of regional papers.

*** *** ***

The Journal expects to start its San Francisco edition in November or December, adding a page or two of general-interest news from California, probably once a week, produced by the large staff it already has in the Bay Area. This is different from previous efforts by The Journal to publish regional editions, which had focused on local business news. The paper, based in New York, is also looking into creating a New York edition, with emphasis on adding coverage of the arts, but that plan is not as fully developed. (NY Times 9/4/09)

San Francisco, and the Bay Area in general, have a relatively transient population. In SF in particular, you have a much higher percentage of people from outside the area with less loyalty to the local paper. I suppose this was somewhat inevitable.

So, who is looking forward to the re-creation of the New York newspaper rivalries on the West Coast? At this point all local coverage can’t be dismissed as it is so sorely lacking now. However, I’m not sure that having the national papers parachute in is really the best solution. A page or two a week isn’t really enough to address the myriad of crises (and the occasional good news) that we are dealing with out here.  And if these editions push the Chronicle and the other papers here further towards the grave, it is likely the net result of this coverage will be less local reportage.

The newspaper industry doesn’t really need more consolidation or more vulturing of each other’s business. It needs a connection with the community that will restore trust in local media establishments.

Memo To The New York Times

Arnold Schwarzenegger will not support a Democrat.  He never has since he became Governor, and he never will.  He said he could support Dianne Feinstein for Senate in 2006, and didn’t.  He said he could support Jerry Brown for Attorney General in 2006, and didn’t.  He markets an image of post-partisanship that the national media swallows whole.  Republicans hate him, because they believe that crap, but Democrats are too smart to buy it, so they hate him too.

Please stop this.


CA-36: Jane Harman Will Have A Primary Challenge, Or She Will Leave Congress

Here’s the latest on the Jane Harman/AIPAC story that I haven’t previously discussed here.  We know that she discussed the case against two AIPAC lobbyists with a suspected Israeli double agent, possibly Haim Saban, and made at least an implicit arrangement to push for the dropping of the case against the lobbyists in exchange for help getting appointed the chair of the House Intelligence Committee.  It is unclear whether this actually represents a violation of the federal bribery statute (doing a favor in exchange for something of value), but according to the story by Jeff Stein at CQ Politics, the Justice Department felt they had Harman in a “completed crime.”  Nancy Pelosi was briefed that Harman had been picked up on a federal wiretap but was barred from disclosing it to her House colleague, and this could explain why Harman was not appointed to that Committee Chair.  The reason that the DoJ failed to charge Harman was because Alberto Gonzales intervened on her behalf, because, among other things, he knew she would be helpful in the forthcoming battle over, amazingly enough, the Administration’s warrantless wiretapping program.

A person who is familiar with Mr. Gonzales’s account of the events said that the former attorney general had acknowledged having raised with Mr. Goss the idea that Ms. Harman was playing a helpful role in dealing with The Times.

But Mr. Gonzales’s principal motive in delaying a briefing for Congressional leaders, the person said, was to keep Ms. Harman from learning of the investigation before she could be interviewed by agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. A spokesman for Ms. Harman said the congresswoman had never been interviewed by the bureau.

There’s also the charge that then-NSA Director Michael Hayden provided talking points for a Harman discussion with NY Times Washington editor Philip Taubman BEFORE THE 2004 election, to get the paper to squash the warrantless wiretapping story.  And today, Stein advances the story by noting that a whistleblower informed then-Speaker Dennis Hastert about the Bush Administration suppression of the wiretapped Harman call (it’s a violation of standard procedure to withhold information involving national security and a member of Congress from either Democratic and Republican leaders in the House).

Needless to say, this is a tangled web of intrigue, and with more disclosures it’s likely to get worse.  This has led to speculation that Harman would either not run for another term, or face a primary challenge.  I can confirm that Marcy Winograd is likely to run if Harman does seek re-election.  Winograd, who took 38% of the vote in 2006, was not planning a run until the AIPAC/wiretap revelations.  But she is uncomfortable with Harman not being held to account, and saw no other option on the horizon.  She has a federal account and will take the pulse of the district before a formal announcement.

“I think she’s clearly in trouble and I think she knows it and is doing whatever she can to turn the tables on the situation,” Winograd said. “And now she is the spokesperson for the ACLU or the Bill of Rights Foundation.  It would be comical, if the stakes weren’t so high.” […]

One of Winograd’s first steps is going to be “taking the pulse” of the district on issues like military spending and single-payer health care, among other issues.  It’s entirely possible that Harman might bow out and try to annoint a successor.  Or that another establishment Dem might try to take advantage of her weakened position.  Which is why I wanted to get the word out as quickly as possible that there’s a really credible progressive alternative.  Winograd has already run a primary once in the district.  Activists there know who she is, and a lot of them have already worked for her in 2006.  This would not be a net-based candidacy, but it will certainly help to have it be net-supported.

In addition, the name of blogger John Amato has surfaced as a possible challenger.

(Howie) Klein said a group of bloggers met earlier this year to discuss challenging Harman in a primary, weeks before the recent revelations. He said many in the blogging community would like a fellow blogger, John Amato, to challenge Harman and that Amato is considering it.

Winograd said that she would step aside for the right candidate, and that she’s taking up the mantle at least for now.

“I don’t know who else will answer the call, if not me,” she said. “People with great name recognition and track records in public office are not going to take her on.”

I think Marcy feels the duty to run.  At the same time, she agreed that there needs to be one progressive alternative to Harman.  But my sense from people in the district is that Harman is unlikely to try another re-election campaign.  Even the above-mentioned NYT article refers to this.

While the two women do not display overt hostility, Ms. Harman seems to have never quite gotten over the slight. Colleagues say that since Ms. Pelosi, 69, thwarted her ambitions for a more prominent role on security issues, Ms. Harman, 63, has grown weary of Congress and has been eyeing a post in the Obama administration, perhaps as an ambassador.

This tracks with everything I’ve heard from locals.  She wanted the Intelligence Committee chair, and failing that she wanted an Administration job, and failing that she wants out.

There would be a whole host of elected officials who would jump in if Harman retired.  Ted Lieu, the Assemblyman in this district, could be enticed away from his Attorney General campaign.  City Councilwoman Janice Hahn would take a look.  And there would be others.  But if Harman stays in, none of these electeds would run, avoiding what would be an expensive primary.  Harman is the richest member of Congress and has no problem spending her own money to keep her seat.

Either way, there will be a contested race in CA-36 in June 2010.  And I do believe that a primary would feature only one major challenger.  The question is, who would that be?

CA-36: Wherein Jane Harman Tries To Throw The 2004 Election

This Jane Harman/AIPAC scandal continues to grow.  It jumped from the inside the Beltway rag CQ Politics to The New York Times.

One of the leading House Democrats on intelligence matters was overheard on telephone calls intercepted by the National Security Agency agreeing to seek lenient treatment from the Bush administration for two pro-Israel lobbyists who were under investigation for espionage, current and former government officials say.

The lawmaker, Representative Jane Harman of California, became the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee after the 2002 election and had ambitions to be its chairwoman when the party gained control of the House in 2006. One official who has seen transcripts of several wiretapped calls said she appeared to agree to intercede in exchange for help in persuading party leaders to give her the powerful post.

But that’s not what advances the story today.  Harman has denied contacting DoJ abut the AIPAC case, though she left out contacting the White House, and she did not deny that the phone call existed.  Remember that a key part of the story concerned the idea that Harman was saved from prosecution on this by Alberto Gonzales, who “needed Jane” to help front for the Administration’s warrantless wiretapping program.  In today’s article, the Times drops this bombshell:

Bill Keller, the executive editor of The Times, said in a statement Monday that Ms. Harman called Philip Taubman, then the Washington bureau chief of The Times, in October or November of 2004. Mr. Keller said she spoke to Mr. Taubman – apparently at the request of Gen. Michael V. Hayden, then the N.S.A. director – and urged that The Times not publish the article.

“She did not speak to me,” Mr. Keller said, “and I don’t remember her being a significant factor in my decision.”

Shortly before the article was published more than a year later, in December 2005, Mr. Taubman met with a group of Congressional leaders familiar with the eavesdropping program, including Ms. Harman. They all argued that The Times should not publish.

Ultimately, it’s on Bill Keller whether or not to publish, so I don’t want to give Harman too much credit here.  But as Greg Sargent notes, this is a startling turn of events.  A Democratic Congresswoman acted on behalf of a Republican President’s NSA director to spike a story about illegal activity in the executive branch before a close Presidential election.  The ramifications are enormous.

This discussion between Harman and Taubman apparently happened before the wiretapped phone call between Harman and the Israeli agent, according to the TPM Muckraker timeline.  So Gonzales knew that Harman could be counted on to support the warrantless wiretapping program, because she had years of experience doing so at that point.

This gets uglier and uglier.  Small wonder that Harman was passed over for a position in the Obama Administration.

UPDATE: It is entirely possible that the CIA and Bush-era officials directed this set of leaks in a show of force.  That of course has nothing to do with Harman’s conversation with Taubman to try and get the NYT to spike the wiretapping story, which was confirmed by Bill Keller on the record.

UPDATE II: …Harman has released a letter calling on the Attorney General to release all transcripts and investigative material related to her collected by the Justice Department in 2005 and 2006.  This is a bit of misdirection, since by all accounts these were legal wiretaps of foreign agents.  But given the revelations about continued illegal wiretapping at the NSA, I understand Harman’s strategy.

The New York Times Gets It Right

Cross posted at myDD

A week after the the Washington Post completely botched their assessment of a second stimulus package, the New York Times turns around and nails it.

Their editorial entitled "No End in Site" lays out perfectly what the next few steps should be to help the economy whether this current storm. They begin by stating the obvious:

Lawmakers need to start crafting the next stimulus bill — without repeating the mistakes of the last one. Composed mainly of tax rebates, as the White House wanted, the first stimulus was too broad to deliver a powerful punch.

Amen. It is clear that the first round of stimulus checks didn't work. The editorial then confirms what many experts have been saying is a real potentially relief-filled measure that Congress needs to take with the second stimulus package:

The next package has to focus on actions that are known to yield big economic benefits: bolstered food stamps, which rapidly boost consumption; and aid to states and cities so they can continue to provide essential services.

Lawmakers should also invest in infrastructure projects, like repairing bridges and roads. If not, projects that are already under way may have to be canceled, creating more unemployment.

Thank you. The fact that state and city governments are not asking for money to continue radical spending on pet projects, but instead to protect essential services like education and health care seems to be lost on the minds of those who are not in favor of including state aid in a second stimulus package. Every week there are stories upon stories of states being forced to slash budgets, pay, and jobs. They are a linch pin of the economy and no one seems to notice. And investing in infrastructure will ensure that we don't add thousands of workers who make their living off of said infrastructure projects. The construction industry has been hit hard enough as is.

The editorial also touches on a response to the home foreclosure crisis:

Congress also needs to ensure that a $4 billion grant to states and cities to buy up vacant properties is quickly and efficiently distributed. The Department of Housing and Urban Development is developing the formula for allocating the money, and early indications suggest it is on top of the process. But the White House is contemptuous of the grant, calling it a gift to speculators when it is actually a lifeline for ailing communities.

If you aren't a Bush republican who just hates any sort of aid not aimed at the highest income bracket, then the main criticism of this effort is that is simply not enough to have an impact on the housing market. Whether or not this is true remains to be seen, but it is still $4 billion to help turn foreclosed properties that the states with said properties currently do not have. In that regard it is a stabilizing factor, even if it is not the stabilizing factor that ultimately turns the foreclosure crisis around. As the editorial says, it is a lifeline for ailing communities who simply do not have the money do to anything with these foreclosed homes.

The time for action is now, but because Congress is in recess the time for action will actually be September. The article suggests the difficulty with creating a second stimulus package in an election year, but brings up the most important point of them all:

Millions of Americans are already suffering. And we fear millions more will be hurt before this crisis ends. They cannot wait until after the election for help.

A very valid point. It's hard to care about battleground polls, attack ads, and town halls when you're losing your job and your home.

Time To Play: You’re The New York Times Editor!

So, let’s see.  You’re the New York Times.  You’re a national paper, but you have a significant readership in California, so you want to cover the Left Coast every now and again.  You’re not on the ground in California, but you have a few reporters hither and yon, and press releases a go-go from the Governor’s office.  There’s a space in the paper for a California story, something that can show to the world the innovation and forward-thinking at work in the nation’s largest state.  So you look over what they’ve done for the last few days.

On the one hand, the Governor, just months from failing in a quest to massively expand health care to millions of uninsured Californians, has decided to go in the complete opposite direction and force Medi-Cal enrollees to fill out all kinds of paperwork in the hopes of knocking thousands off the rolls to save money.

Administration officials expect the rule will result in 122,000 people being dropped from the rolls next year, saving the state $92 million – money that the governor’s staff has already counted against the state’s deficit.

The plan calls for about 4.5 million of the 6.5 million enrollees of the Medi-Cal program to file eligibility forms with the state four times a year. Under existing law, children, some disabled people and pregnant women must reapply once a year, while parents are required to report twice annually.

The chore of filling out a form and sending it to regulators might sound simple enough, but for Medi-Cal recipients such as Ernie Campbell of Novato, who has hemophilia, the danger of losing coverage because of an unanticipated problem, such as a form being lost or delayed in the mail, is a serious one.

“The renewal process is already a lot of paperwork and they warn you if you don’t get everything in on time you could lose your coverage,” said Campbell, 31. “I think this could probably affect me pretty negatively.”

Sounds like something you’d want to cover.  You know, the story has an arc and some drama, with a callous Governor claiming the mantle of universal health care in public and trying to cast off the sick and the poor in private.  

On the other hand, there’s this somewhat meaningless move to create a cabinet-level position for volunteerism, an effort to outsource normal government functions, and let them rise and fall on volunteer efforts.  Seems like not much of a program at all, and certainly of less importance to everyday Californians than this plan to purge the Medi-Cal rolls.  Anyway there are plenty of volunteer organizations that perform these functions all the time.

Of course, The Times went ahead with the volunteer story.

Under the change, the governor’s commission for volunteerism, California Volunteers, will maintain its staffing and budget. But its executive director will gain expanded duties as a cabinet secretary, playing a role in disaster-related planning and response efforts and coordinating volunteers at disaster sites.

The office will also manage donations that flow into the state for disaster relief, a responsibility now held by the state’s Office of Emergency Response. It is the first time a governor’s commission overseeing federal money to manage volunteers – panels required by law since 1993 – has been elevated to a cabinet role.

Really no change at all, aside from a change in the faceplate on somebody’s office door.

But that fit the narrative of the “Governator is teh awesome” much, much better.  So off it goes to the front porches of all the Grey Lady’s readers.

And some people blame the 2006 election loss on Phil Angelides.  Ho-kay.

Newspaper Editorials Throw Down Against Dirty Tricks Initiative

Stockton Record, “Awarding California’s electoral votes based on the outcome in each congressional district is unfair, harmful to democratic precepts and a blatant political power grab.”

OC Register, “A proposed change, which could be on next June’s ballot, in the way California’s votes are allocated in the presidential election might have a sheen of fairness, but it is nakedly partisan and profoundly subversive of our constitutional system.”

San Francisco Chronicle, “This is nothing but dirty politics.”

The New York Times, “It is actually a power grab on behalf of Republicans.”

Oakland Tribune “It’s an obvious political ploy.” (Julia)

Writing Online 101; Does the LA Times get ethics?

The San Francisco Chronicle has figure it out, why not the paper of record? Why can’t newspapers learn to link to what is cited in the online version? There is a bright-line and if you purposefully don’t cite it is unethical (unless you despise the site so much that you state your unwillingness to link to it).

This is unethical:

From Nov. 16 to Dec. 7, there are only a handful of e-mail messages, a fact that Talking Points Memo, a Web site that has been following the furor with microscopic attention, pointed out Wednesday morning.

An ethical publication would post:

From Nov. 16 to Dec. 7, there are only a handful of e-mail messages, a fact that Talking Points Memo, a Web site that has been following the furor with microscopic attention, pointed out Wednesday morning.

Will the LA Times follow the lead of Sfgate or of NYT?