Blogs

Europe's Memory Hole Gets Ever Wider and Deeper

| Thu Jul. 3, 2014 2:06 PM EDT

Yesterday I passed along the news that a BBC article about Stan O'Neal, the former head of Merrill Lynch, had been removed from Google searches in Europe. Today the Guardian reports on several of its recent pieces that have been scrubbed from Google searches:

Three of the articles, dating from 2010, relate to a now-retired Scottish Premier League referee, Dougie McDonald, who was found to have lied about his reasons for granting a penalty in a Celtic v Dundee United match, the backlash to which prompted his resignation.

....The other disappeared articles — the Guardian isn't given any reason for the deletions — are a 2011 piece on French office workers making post-it art, a 2002 piece about a solicitor facing a fraud trial standing for a seat on the Law Society's ruling body and an index of an entire week of pieces by Guardian media commentator Roy Greenslade.

The Guardian has no form of appeal against parts of its journalism being made all but impossible for most of Europe's 368 million to find.

It's a little hard to see how articles that are a mere three or four years old can be deemed "irrelevant," but in Europe, I guess that if you declare something about yourself to be irrelevant, then it is. Congratulations, EU Court of Justice!

UPDATE 1: Interestingly, it turns out that yesterday's removal of the BBC story wasn't initiated by Stan O'Neal. Apparently it was initiated by someone who left a comment on the original story. I'm actually not sure if this is better or worse.

UPDATE 2: Over at the Monkey Cage, Henry Farrell argues that it's not really the ECJ that's censoring content, it's Google. But even with the caveats he includes, I think Farrell is being far too kind to the ECJ, which issued an unforgivably fuzzy decision that basically puts Google in the impossible position of being forced to act as a privacy regulator with neither the tools nor the guidance it needs to do the job properly. However, he agrees with a suggestion I made yesterday that Google might be reading the ECJ's directive over-broadly in a deliberate attempt to get everyone in a tizzy over it:

Google may have incentives to accede to [the takedown] request without complaint — and to publicize that it is so doing — because it knows that this is likely to send journalists into a frenzy. Even if the ECJ can press Google into service as an unpaid regulator, it can’t force Google to regulate in the exact ways that it would like Google to. And Google, like the Good Soldier Svejk in Jan Hasek’s novel, can perhaps interpret the court’s mandate in ways that formally stick to the rules, but in practice actually undermine it. There are, of course, other possible explanations for Google’s actions — it may be that there are excellent private reasons why Google is acceding to this request. But for sure, the controversy surrounding the request helps Google to push back (as it wants to push back) against strong interpretations of European privacy standards.

Maybe so.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

GOP Gubernatorial Candidate: 47 Percent of Americans Are "Dependent on the Largesse of Government"

| Thu Jul. 3, 2014 11:48 AM EDT

Colorado Republicans thought they'd dodged a bullet last month when primary voters chose former GOP Rep. Bob Beauprez as their gubernatorial nominee over Tom Tancredo, a former congressman and notorious anti-immigration activist. Not so much. On Wednesday, Democrats circulated a little-noticed 2010 video in which Beauprez rails against the 47 percent of the American population who he claims are dependent on government. Sound familiar?

From the Denver Post:

"I see something that frankly doesn't surprise me, having been on Ways and Means Committee: 47 percent of all Americans pay no federal income tax," Beauprez said in the video. "I'm guessing that most of you in this room are not in that 47 percent—God bless you—but what that tells me is that we've got almost half the population perfectly happy that somebody else is paying the bill, and most of that half is you all."

"I submit to you that there is a political strategy to get slightly over half and have a permanent ruling majority by keeping over half of the population dependent on the largesse of government that somebody else is paying for," Beauprez said.

Beauprez's comments, which came in an address to a local rotary club, bear an uncanny resemblance to the infamous remarks, first reported by Mother Jones, that Mitt Romney made to donors during his presidential campaign. (Romney's final tally: 47 percent of the vote.) A survey released by Rasmussen on Wednesday showed Beauprez running even with incumbent Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper.

Obama Calls for a New Crackdown on Wall Street

| Thu Jul. 3, 2014 11:18 AM EDT

On Wednesday evening, President Barack Obama called for a new Wall Street crackdown, noting that more than five years after the financial crisis, banks still focus too much on gaining profits through often risky trading, instead of investing in Main Street America.

"More and more of the revenue generated on Wall Street is based on…trading bets, as opposed to investing in companies that actually make something and hire people," the president said in an interview with Marketplace host Kai Ryssdal. He called for "additional steps" to rein in the industry.

Obama's comments Wednesday represent one of the most pointed critiques he has made of the banking industry since he took office at the height of the financial crisis, and suggest that he may use his final two years in office to pursue further Wall Street reforms.

The president singled out big bonuses as a central problem plaguing the financial system. Banks can still "generate a huge amount of bonuses by making some big [trading] bets," he said. "If you make a really bad bet, a lot of times you've already banked all your bonuses. You might end up leaving the shop, but in the meantime everybody else is left holding the bag."

He did not offer specific policy cures, instead alluding to the need to "restructure" how banks work "internally."

The massive Dodd-Frank financial reform law that Congress passed in 2010 was supposed to keep banks from taking excess risks and prevent another economic collapse. Obama pointed out that much of that law has already gone into effect. Banks now have to keep more funds on hand to guard against an economic downturn or a bad trading bet, he said. The law created a new agency designed to prevent consumers from being duped by mortgage lenders, credit card companies, and student lenders. Last year, Wall Street regulators implemented a much-touted Dodd-Frank measure aimed at limiting the high-risk trading by commercial banks that helped lead to the 2008 economic crash.

But much is left to be done. Wall Street regulators have completed only about half of the banking rules mandated by Dodd-Frank. Scores of these regulations have been watered down by financial industry lobbyists. Congress has made many legislative attempts to weaken Dodd-Frank. Despite efforts to ensure that banks are no longer too-big-to-fail—or so large that their collapse would endanger the entire economic system—the largest banks are bigger than they were during the financial crisis.

Progressives fault the president for part of the lax response to the financial crisis. Under Obama's Justice Department, for example, no high-level bankers went to jail or faced criminal charges for actions that led to the financial crisis. And liberal critics slam Obama's economic team for focusing too heavily on bailing out banks after the crisis, and allowing the foreclosure crisis to fester.

It is unclear how Obama will push through additional Wall Street reforms. He has limited oversight of rule-making, and banking legislation is not likely to get through the current sharply divided Congress.

Liberal Comedy, Conservative Outrage. But Why?

| Thu Jul. 3, 2014 11:17 AM EDT

Conservative publisher Adam Bellow thinks conservatives need to produce more popular art: beach fiction, TV shows, comedy routines, etc. Paul Waldman thinks he's got an uphill battle:

As I've noted before, The Daily Show and The Colbert Report work as well as they do because they're not shows written and performed by professional liberals who happen to be comedians, attempting to use humor to score political points; rather, they're shows written and performed by professional comedians who happen to be liberals, using politics to produce comedy. It's a really important distinction.

The same distinction applies to other mediums. If you set out to write an explicitly conservative novel, it's likely to suck. If you set out to write a novel, and it has a conservative worldview because you happen to be a conservative, it will probably do a lot better. Unfortunately for conservatives, if you take this approach you're likely to end up writing little more than an establishment-friendly novel, not an overtly pointed takedown of liberalism.

That said, conservatives could produce perfectly good books and TV shows if they took Waldman's advice. But comedy is a special problem. Conservative comedy just doesn't seem to work very well, and I'd guess there are two big reasons why:

The material: Liberals are, generally speaking, opposed to the establishment. Poking fun at the establishment is easy to do, so liberals have lots of ready-made material. Conversely, poking fun at the little guys just seems mean. It's not impossible to get good comedy out of, say, the more ridiculous aspects of the Occupy Wall Street folks at Zuccotti Park, but it's a lot harder and the material is a lot thinner.

The audience: I've never quite understood this, but liberals just seem to like political comedy more than conservatives. Conservatives simply don't consider this stuff a laughing matter. Especially recently, they're convinced, deep in their marrow, that liberals are literally out to destroy America, and how do you find the yuks in that? By contrast, mocking conservatives is a popular liberal pastime. Is this because liberals accept conservatives as an inevitable part of the scenery, to be fought but not really hated? That doesn't seem quite right. Still, it's true that the establishment, by definition, is always with us, and always working in its usual way to preserve itself. You might think it's a malign force, but you don't think of it as something new that's suddenly emerged to wreck the country.

I dunno. I'm just guessing here. Age probably has something to do with this too. In any case, conservatives are great at outrage, while liberals who try to emulate them almost always fail. Liberals are great at comedy, and conservatives who try to emulate that fail as well. In the middle ground of books and movies, I imagine both sides could do well, but since most artists are liberals, there's just more to choose from along the liberal spectrum.

Chart of the Day: Net New Jobs in June

| Thu Jul. 3, 2014 10:15 AM EDT

The American economy added 288,000 new jobs in March, but about 90,000 of those jobs were needed just to keep up with population growth, so net job growth clocked in at 198,000. The headline unemployment rate dropped to 6.1 percent.

As with last month, there are no serious gotchas in this month's report. The labor participation rate was stable once again, and the unemployment rate fell for the right reason: because more people were getting jobs, not because people were dropping out of the labor force. We've now have five consecutive months of good—but not great—jobs reports, and June's report is an encouraging sign that the Q1 dip in GDP really was an anomaly, not a sign of things to come.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for July 3, 2014

Thu Jul. 3, 2014 9:26 AM EDT

Soldiers of the 423rd Military Police Company march in a departure ceremony before training and placement at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. (US Army Reserve Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Mark Bell)

Advertise on MotherJones.com

There's a Pitched Battle Being Fought Over the Phrase "Added Sugars"

| Wed Jul. 2, 2014 7:09 PM EDT

What do the following organizations have in common?

  • American Bakers Association
  • American Beverage Association
  • American Frozen Foods Institute
  • Corn Refiners Association
  • National Confectioners Association
  • American Frozen Food Institute
  • Sugar Association
  • International Dairy Foods Association

Answer: they are all furiously opposed to an FDA proposal that would add a line to the standard nutrition facts label for "Added Sugars." Big surprise, eh? Roberto Ferdman explains here why it's probably a good idea anyway.

The Civil Rights Act Was Signed Into Law 50 Years Ago Today

| Wed Jul. 2, 2014 7:04 PM EDT

Here is President Obama's statement on the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964:


In 1964, President Johnson put pen to paper and signed the Civil Rights Act into law.  Fifty years later, few pieces of legislation have defined our national identity as distinctly, or as powerfully.  By outlawing discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin, the Civil Rights Act effectively ended segregation in schools, workplaces, and public facilities.  It opened the door for the Voting Rights Act, and the Fair Housing Act.  And it transformed the concepts of justice, equality, and democracy for generations to come.
 
The Civil Rights Act brought us closer to making real the declaration at the heart of our founding – that we are all created equal.  But that journey continues.  A half a century later, we’re still working to tear down barriers and put opportunity within reach for every American, no matter who they are, what they look like, or where they come from.  So as we celebrate this anniversary and the undeniable progress we’ve made over the past 50 years, we also remember those who have fought tirelessly to perfect our union, and recommit ourselves to making America more just, more equal and more free.

The EU's "Right to be Forgotten" Starts to Take Concrete Shape

| Wed Jul. 2, 2014 3:06 PM EDT

A few days ago, Google announced that it was beavering away on the 41,000 requests it had gotten from people demanding that it remove links to unflattering articles about themselves. So just what kind of people are making these requests? Brad DeLong directs me to the BBC's Robert Peston, who gives us a clue:

This morning the BBC received the following notification from Google:

Notice of removal from Google Search: we regret to inform you that we are no longer able to show the following pages from your website in response to certain searches on European versions of Google:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/legacy/thereporters/robertpeston/2007/10/merrills_mess.html

What it means is that a blog I wrote in 2007 will no longer be findable when searching on Google in Europe....Now in my blog, only one individual is named. He is Stan O'Neal, the former boss of the investment bank Merrill Lynch.

My column describes how O'Neal was forced out of Merrill after the investment bank suffered colossal losses on reckless investments it had made.

Is the data in it "inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant"?

Hmmm.

I wonder if there's a way to make this backfire? How hard would it be to create an automated process that figures out which articles Google is being forced to stuff down the memory hole? Probably not too hard, I imagine. And how hard would it then be to repost those articles in enough different places that they all zoomed back toward the top of Google's search algorithm? Again, probably not too hard for a group of people motivated to do some mischief.

Maybe someone is already working on this. It wouldn't surprise me. And I wonder if Google's surprisingly quick response to the EU decision isn't designed to spur exactly this kind of backlash. That wouldn't really surprise me either.

Does America Finally Have World Cup Fever?

| Wed Jul. 2, 2014 2:22 PM EDT

I've been reading a lot of articles about how this year's World Cup is a lot more popular in America than any previous World Cup. I've also read several backlash pieces debunking the idea that we're all about to go soccer mad. I'm not sure which to believe.

But there really does seem to be something different this year. I've personally watched all or most of the World Cup games so far, and I'm pretty sure that in past years I've hardly watched any. Why? Beats me. I'm not really any more interested in soccer than I've ever been.

Or am I? As kind of a joke, I started rooting for Manchester United back in 2008 because they were sponsored by AIG. After the US government basically took over AIG, I figured that meant Man U was America's team. But joke though it may have been, over the last few years I have indeed found myself checking the Premier League standings periodically and even watching the odd match when it appears on American TV. Perhaps that's primed me to look forward to the World Cup.

Or maybe it's just time zones. This is the first World Cup since 1994 that Americans could watch live at a reasonable hour. And we all know that being able to watch live is critical to sports viewership.1 So maybe that's all it is.

How about you? Have you been watching more World Cup than usual this year? Why? Is it because you care more about soccer than you used to? Or something else?

1Except for the Olympics, for some reason.