The 2010 Corporate Darwin Award Goes to …. BP

I’m pissed off.

Specifically at the oilpocalypse happening in the Gulf of Mexico, just like any red blooded American. So partly due to build awareness of the underlying structural issue and partly to amuse myself, I’m proposing we create the Corporate Darwin Awards and nominate BP due to outstanding and exemplary stupidity.

I should explain what I mean when I refer ot that structural underlying problem. We’ve all heard the Tragedy of the Commons before, probably in high school or something.  But the bigger existential threat to modern capitalism is the failure of our modern economy (and legal system) to account for revenues internalized to a company leading to costs externalized to society. It’s happening in the Gulf, at Goldman Sachs, and at health care insurers too.  Primates in business suits press for revenues and push costs off on countries or societies. Can’t recover from deep well oil drilling? Well, suck it America – we’ll keep on drilling.

Besides it’s almost too easy  to heckle and ridicule these guys. It’s almost too easy when BP’s CEO says he’d like his life to return to normal.  Because nothing touches the heartstrings of Gulf victims like his concern for.. himself.

Maybe he can ask the Shamwow guy to come in and clean up the oil?

The kicker is that BP’s actions in the Gulf may have just wrecked BP itself as a going concern. Let’s do a little bit of math here. First, from the UK Guardian: ” under US law, BP is liable for $1,100 in civil penalties for each spilt barrel of oil and gas, to be paid to the US federal and affected state governments. If BP is found to have acted with gross negligence – and there is no evidence so far that it has – this fine would rise to $4,300 for each barrel”  The article goes on to cite some scientist estimates that 115,000 barrels of oil per day are spewing into the Gulf.

So let’s see we’re on day 45 of the spill, and realistically we’ll spend the next 4 months drilling relief wells to ease the pressure of spilt oil. That would be 115,000 barrels times 165 days times $4,300 per barrel for a grand total of… $81.5 billion. Oh yeah and that doesn’t count the billions on cleanup, private party liability, and royalties on oil leases.  BP’s market cap right now? $118 billion.

Congrats to BP for winning the 2010 Corporate Darwin !

Twitter: The Voice of a Disenfranchised Populace

Defying the curfew

Defying the curfew

Earlier blog posts about “Twitterquakes” and other media travelling at speeds greater than media coverage were an entertaining curiosity. Today that curiosity became an agent of change in the disputed Iranian elections as large numbers coordinate, communicate and corroborate via microblogs.

Within 2 hours of the polls closing in the Iranian election, the “supreme leader” Ayatollah Khamenei rushed to bless President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for winning the election, calling on Iranians to line up behind the incumbent. That’s when the questions began to erupt on the microblogs and mobile phones. How could the challengers lose by such an overwhelming percentage in their home cities? How do you count almost 40 million handwritten paper ballots in two hours and declare a winner? Why shut off mobile phone networks if the election was truly transparent? The iron clerics have a bit of a problem: while they control military, the judiciary and all public broadcasts, the supreme leader would find it difficult to shut down all leaks in an age of proxy servers, satellites, and microblogs. They also have a bit of a problem in that they can’t turn off the country’s collective ability to sniff out obvious bullshit.


It was via Twitter that the written 7 point statement leaflet distributed among the protesters in Tehran today reached the west:

1. Dismissal of Khamenei for not being a fair leader
2. Dismissal of Ahmadinejad for his illegal acts
3. Temporary appointment of Ayatollah Montazeri as the Supreme Leader
4. Recognition of Mousavi as the President
5. Forming the Cabinet by Mousavi to prepare for revising the Constitution
6. unconditional and immediate release of all political prisoners
7. Dissolution of all organs of repression, public or secret

Indeed candidate MirHossein Mousavi has also joined the microblog fray, directing protesters to remain peaceful and determined. The candidate, taking part in the demonstrations himself, has become aware of Twitter’s power to spread messaging helping protesters assemble and avoid altercations with law enforcement. He (or the person managing his Twitter handle) posted a desperate plea to the Twitter team to postpone a scheduled maintenance cycle in order to keep information flowing freely in the face of mobile phone outages:

Don't Turn the Lights off

If you’re wondering, maintenance was rescheduled as requested. Such is the power of the Twitter News Network. Once an early warning system for seismic activity and random flashmobs of no importance, microblogs (and Twitter in particular) have become the message network to turn to when other means of communication are turned off.

Update 5.16.2009 4:26 PM PST: Boing boing’s Corey Doctorow published an engagement guide located here.

Epilogue: the following are a list of active tweeters I’ve been able to find in Teharan. If you’d like to be added to the list, please reply in comments below to add yourself to the list. Best wishes and be safe.

Amin Abbaspour
Abdul-Azim Mohammed
Parham Doustdar
Mohammad Ramezanpour
Sajjad A. Mohammed
Yashar Khazdouzian
Iran Election 2009
MirHossein Mousavi
jim sciutto
Raymond Jahan
Bahador Nooraei B.
William Yong
Bahram K
Alireza Sedaghat
ali khalaj
Jubin Ahdi
Naeim Karimi

Beijing Says No More Social Media

China commemorates the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen massacre with another crackdown.. this time on Twitter, Flickr, Bing (Microsoft’s new Google competitor), and a number of other cites no doubt deemed to carry “unharmonious” speech. Apparently some email sites, such as Hotmail have also been shut off. It seems Microsoft can’t catch a break here outside of MSN messenger, which still seems to be working as of the time this blog post was posted. By evening, residents of some cities in the southern province of Guangdong reported that television stations from neighboring Hong Kong had also been blocked.

The block was first picked up by Alice on the Danwei blog and has been carried by others. Users in Beijing reported accessing the service without difficulty earlier on Tuesday, and even successfully searching potentially sensitive words such as “Tiananmen.” My own experience suggests it may have been blocked a few hours ago, since family of mine living in China we not able to access pictures on Flickr. The large scale crackdown represents the first widespread censorship of social media outlets in China, unlike previous blocks of websites before major events like Tiananmen anniversary dates.

Warning: Flickr Image Above May Lead to Political Unrest

Warning: Flickr Image Above May Lead to Political Unrest

The takeaway here was best described by Dave Flumenbaum at the Huffingtonpost, who writes the move is..”a tacit acknowledgment of two things: Twitter’s new power in mainland China, and how valuable Twitter would be as platform to publish original news out of mainland China on the Tiananmen anniversary.” It remains to be seem whether access will be restored after the Tiananmen anniversary, but it’s a fair bet the net nannies might be playing this by ear. My own hunch is that if the locals don’t raise a stink about it, the block is likely to be permanent.

Thoughts on America’s Transition of Power

I’ve been alive long enough to watch 5 transitions from former President to newly elected President, and I can’t help feeling pride and gratitude for the world’s largest democratic transition of power. Much has been made of Americans held breathless by President Obama’s message of hope. Now as we collectively exhale and the hard work begins: the transition from hope to meaningful change.

But change is already here. That meaningful change is evident in the manner in the visuals streaming out of both the old and new media. Watching former swear-in ceremonies – Reagan Bushes, Clinton – all were events shared with a few people at most. Like many recent events, watching President Obama was something I shared with people across our nation and the globe via and CNN/Facebook. “With whom did you watch the President become President?” elicits an entirely different answer than it would have four years ago. Some shared their emotions, others pointed out slips by Chief Justice Roberts during the swear-in. Some noticed that the former President Bush did not flank President Obama, breaking with tradition (some say a final snub to the country). Others pointed to the changes in the White House’s channels of communication.

Regardless of the particulars, one thing is unmistakable: today we Americans felt connected in conversation and in purpose. We felt connected both through our technological wizardry and our sense that the next few years will be pivotal as a nation. I was also proud to see the world to join our conversation and celebration. It was just plain cool to watch several “congrats America” tweets splash across my screen from friends in faraway places like China and France. With one historic election, America has become cool across the world again.

There are many hopes I carry into a new Presidency – an economy based on real growth and not paper assets; a serious push into renewable energy; a sense that America is beloved around the world again. One of my hopes which I haven’t written about on this blog is that Emergent Pluralism‘s time has come. I’m not hoping that the voices empowered by the web become a new form of bully pulpit, but rather gives a voice to a new civic-minded American generation.  As President Obama has put it, “we are the change we seek”.

Make it so, America.

CLEARly Uneccessary

If you haven’t heard about Clear, it is a fast-pass program designed for frequent flyers to get them through airport security in an expedited manner. In exchange for your $99 US, you get online signed up, background checked, retina scanned, fingerprinted, and issued a spiffy id card including a geek-fabulous microchip.

That spiffy card gets you what I’d call an airport valet, who verifies your identity, then discreetly whisks you away to the metal detectors with no waiting. As the Clear website “How it Works” section describes it, “.. members still proceed through metal detectors and x-ray machines” but adds “when you approach the lane, our attendants will help you with the bins and to get ready to go through the checkpoint. This alone helps our lane speed by as much as 30%!” Blogger Anil Dash signed up for the service and posts his experience here. It’s a good description first person account, although he’s missing the biggest problem with all of this. I’m not talking about the obvious privacy issues, nor the fact that nothing screams elitist asshole more than paying for airport line jumping.

Here’s the real question: How does this increase security? Answer: it doesn’t, and you’d be hardpressed to believe otherwise unless you’re shooting dopamine. Let’s step back to 9/11 a moment – would Mohammed Atta and his merry men have batted an eyelash about retina scans and such? Why would invasion of privacy matter to guy who is about to die? Furthermore, I’m not sold on the recurring security checks either – we’ve seen suposedly normal people turn radicalized before, and it’s unlikely Clear will help Homeland Security catch this any faster than the present. If the opposite turns out to be true then Homeland Security is a useless middleman, and need to be abolished.

You might be wondering why Homeland Security would buy into this awkward situation. If you’re not, I’m going to tell you anyway. Flying Clear get you the nightclub velvet rope experience, but more importantly allows you to subsidize a function that Homeland Security is supposed to cover (using your tax dollars I might add). It’s a nice chunk of change if Clear CEO Steve Brill’s claim that 30-50% of weekday flyers will be registered by 2009 comes to fruition. What’s even better for Homeland Sec. is bypassing the endless CSPAN privacy deliberations sure to come if they have the TSA handle it. It’s much easier to let the private sector run with it, which bypasses this silly democratic process stuff.

Update 06.23.2009: It appears CLEAR has gone bust. The website now displays the following message:

Clear Lanes Are No Longer Available.

At 11:00 p.m. PST on June 22, 2009, Clear will cease operations. Clear’s parent company, Verified Identity Pass, Inc. has been unable to negotiate an agreement with its senior creditor to continue operations.

CNN: The Most Busted Name in News

“We must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex.” – U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1961

As I watched the last democratic presidential candidate debate, I mentioned to someone on instant messenger that CNN likely rigged the debate to favor Hillary. It was a facetious comment, but I did think it was odd Clinton was handed all the softball questions and a crowd which supported her every move. As it turns out, I was right.

A conservative leaning blogger by the name of Dan Riehl started digging up a couple of strange coincidences, and soon the facts spilled over to other blogs here and here. Even the New York Times picked up on CNN’s stacking the analysis deck with Clinton insiders. Mark Ambinder of the Atlantic Monthly picked up on an odd question (“Do you prefer diamonds or pearls?”) supposedly undecided voter “Maria Luisa” asked Senator Clinton. Turns out the young lady outted CNN’s selecting scripting the question as the finale to the debate on her myspace page. Awesome.

It gets better – she’s not eligible to vote. On top of that, she’s interning for Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, so it’s not clear she’s just a regular gal as suggested. The picture to the right was from her bio on UNLV‘s website before it was removed which described a strikingly similar girl who is “an immigrant on a quest to become an American citizen.”

Dan Riehl also dig up information on another supposedly undecided voter, who apparently wasn’t so undecided back in 2003 when she served as a political director in the Arkansas Democratic Party. Yep, the same Arkansas the Clintons are from.

If the “undecided voters” aren’t bad enough for you, the discussion moderators even altered questions. I almost fell out of my seat when I saw CNN’s Suzanne Malveaux redirect a health care question into an abortion question.

As I see it, there are two takeaways from this, which I think we can all agree on (independent of your politics or political affiliations):

1. President Eisenhower’s advice above is timeless, and I’m glad people are outting the Clinton News Network playing favorites. Shame on both CNN for doing this and Hillary’s campaign for its tacit support of this sham.

2. On the Internet, everyone knows you’re a dog, contrary to the classic New Yorker cartoon. Yet another terrific example of Emergent Democracy.

Final score: Emergent Democracy 1, Cronyism 0.

Follow the Money

Wondering how much each Presidential candidate has hoarded in their treasure trove? Wondering where it comes from? Well, friend, wonder no more. Right Here you’ll find a The NTY’s fundraising map and breakdown. I can’t help jotting down three basic observations:

1. A Democrat out-fundraising a Republican is rare. Two of them doing so is unheard of. The “Bush effect” in full effect folks.

2. Just about each candidate has a noticable circle around Nebraska. Looks like Warren Buffet has been hedging his bets.

3. Romney’s take in Utah is surprising. I wonder how much the Mormon church has been involved. Hmm.. whats that you say about tax-exempt status Mr. Taxman?