Tag Archives: Corporations

SYNDICATED COLUMN: What a Real Passenger Bill of Rights Should Look Like

The violent ejection of a United Airlines passenger from a flight bound from Chicago to Louisville appears to have marked a long-awaited turning point. Dr. David Dao, 69, suffered a broken nose, lost two teeth and faces reconstructive sinus surgery. At last, America’s long-suffering flying public is crying as one, have you commercial airlines no shame?

Americans have been mad as hell. Now, it seems, they’re not going to take it anymore.

How will the politics of protecting travelers from rapacious — and sometimes brutal — air carriers play out? With the Republicans in control of all three branches of government, will this moment pass without significant legislative action as did the mass school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut? Or will Trump’s Congress be forced to act?

Thanks to nickel-and-diming us with $30 baggage and seat fees, the airlines are raking in billions. So they can easily afford changes that benefit consumers but cost their bottom lines.

Even the IRS is more popular than the airlines. So politicians aren’t taking any risks by taking them on.

Now is the time to act. Consumer advocates should set a high bar for their demands — and insist that Democrats get behind them. Dems should be able partner with Republicans on this one; “airlines suck” is bipartisan.

What would a genuinely kickass passenger bill of rights look like?

explainersmall

Americans sometimes point to Europe as an example. But the EU code is toothless.

Case study: A service truck ran into my Norwegian Airlines plane before its scheduled morning takeoff from Martinique. The plane was grounded indefinitely. Understandable. Less understandable was how Norwegian treated us: late that that night, they flew us to the neighboring French island of Guadeloupe, put us up in a filthy, dangerous motel and flew us to New York the next day — more than 24 hours later.

EU rules say I should have received 400 euros compensation for the delay. Citing the time-honored corporate doctrine of “we don’t feel like paying just because,” the jerks at Norwegian denied my claim. Norway’s national aviation authorities gave me the brush-off, referring me to France. I contacted the French — lucky for me I’m fluent, but what if you’re not? — who’ve never bothered to reply.

Airlines poll just behind price-gouging low-service cable companies as America’s most hated business sector. This is a disaster. Since radical problems require radical solutions, let’s think big.

Class Warfare: Trudging through first class to steerage isn’t just an insult to human dignity. In a country that overthrew aristocracy, special titles and privileges (business class, Sky Club members, Platinum Gold Whatever) are anti-American. The airline class system incents efficiency experts to target the flying top 1% with beds at the expense of such amenities as room for the knees of the 99%. The Department of Transportation should ban class distinctions. Let all seats be created equal.

One Price Fits All: Obama-era DOT rules require airlines to clearly post fees for “extra” services like luggage. Two pieces, plus a purse or briefcase or small backpack, ought to be part of the flat fee everyone pays. The current system, in which the stripped-down Spirit appears as cheapest in listings but hits you up for $50 a bag and so winds up being the most expensive, is ridiculous.

NOverbooking: McDonald’s can’t sell the same Big Mac to two customers. How does it make sense to allow airlines to sell 140 tickets on a plane with 120 seats? That’s overbooking. If a paid passenger misses her fight, sell it to a standby if there is one. Otherwise let the seat fly empty and let us stretch a little.

Ban Surge Pricing: Sophisticated algorithms designed to maximize airline profits have frequent flyers sharing dubious tips (Tuesday is the cheapest day to buy your ticket) and clearing their web browser cookies to stymie airlines whose prices mysteriously creep up after each search (buy now or else). Whether on Uber or United, surge pricing is creepy and annoying and requires too much work for flyers. Set a price and stick with it, dammit! SFO to JFK on Delta should cost the same regardless of the time of day or day of week.

No Preferential Seating: With the exception of families traveling with small children, the disabled and trying to keep groups together, seats should be assigned randomly without consideration for frequent flier status or anything else. Particularly disgusting has been the recent practice of airlines that only allow advanced assignments for premium extra-cost seats, fooling some victims into buying something they don’t need and stressing out everyone else.

Ergonomic Reform: Leg room, pitch and seat width in coach have been shrunken to the point that the average person is cramped and uncomfortable. For safety reasons alone — evacuating a stricken aircraft through narrow aisles and rows is slow and thus dangerous — the FAA should set significantly more generous minimum standards for seat spacing. A middle-seat passenger ought to be able to get out to go the restroom without forcing his neighbor on the aisle to stand up.

Last and perhaps least, my personal bugaboo: what’s up with those last rows in some planes, where the seats can’t recline? That’s just mean.

(Ted Rall is author of “Trump: A Graphic Biography,” an examination of the life of the Republican presidential nominee in comics form. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: Corporations Are Abusing anti-SLAPP Laws to Screw Over Workers

“It’s a sadly familiar sight in courthouses around the country: A deep-pocketed corporation, developer or government official files a lawsuit whose real purpose is to silence a critic, punish a whistleblower or win a commercial dispute.”

Sounds awful, right?

Fortunately, according to The Los Angeles Times editorial board, “That’s why California enacted a law in 1992 to give people a preemptive legal strike against frivolous lawsuits that seek to muzzle them on public issues.” According to the Digital Media Law Project, 28 states, D.C., and one U.S. territory have enacted these so-called “anti-SLAPP statutes.” (SLAPP stands for “strategic lawsuit against public participation.” A classic example was when the cattle industry sued Oprah for dissing beef.)

At first glance, anti-SLAPP seems like a good solution to a serious problem.

In theory.

In the real world, however, well-meaning legislators have created a monster. In the hands of clever corporate lawyers, anti-SLAPP laws have become a loophole to libel laws and a catchall defense for disgusting behavior. What started as a good idea has become a menace to free speech, the ability to protect one’s reputation, and the right to redress in a court of law.

As I’ve discovered personally over the last year, California’s anti-SLAPP statute is at least as likely to be used by “a deep-pocketed corporation” against a “critic” as the way the legislature originally intended, which is to say the other way around.

In July 2015 The Los Angeles Times — yes, the same paper that published the above editorial — fired me as its staff editorial cartoonist. It has since come out that they did so as a favor to Charlie Beck, the $297,000-a-year chief of the Los Angeles Police Department. Beck’s feelings were hurt because of the cartoons that I drew about him.

The cops weren’t satisfied with merely having me fired. They wanted me destroyed. So the Times also published a pair of articles that falsely portrayed me as a liar and a fabulist — death to a journalist’s reputation.

So I sued the Times for wrongful termination, blacklisting, retaliation and defamation, as well as other claims.

Initially I had trouble finding a lawyer willing to represent me on the defamation claim. California’s anti-SLAPP statute, attorneys told me, have gutted the practice of defamation law in the Golden State. Fortunately for me, as several of the state’s leading experts on defamation law told me, Times management’s behavior was so outrageous, reprehensible and ongoing that I stood a better chance of getting over the anti-SLAPP hurdle than most plaintiffs.

As most of the attorneys I consulted had predicted, one of the first things that the Times did was file an anti-SLAPP motion against me. So much for anti-SLAPP being used against “a deep-pocketed corporation…whose real purpose is to silence a critic.” The Times is owned by Tronc (formerly Tribune Publishing), a $499 million mega-corporation. The Times paid me $300 a week.

Until that pretrial anti-SLAPP motion is decided, I can’t engage in “discovery,” the process of gathering information through subpoenas and depositions essential to forming a case. As Vikram David Amar writes, “oftentimes a plaintiff who may have a valid claim will not be able to prevail because s/he will not have had enough of an opportunity to gather the evidence (through legal discovery devices like depositions and document requests) needed to prove the case.”

Because of anti-SLAPP, I must convince a judge that I am likely to prevail at an eventual trial — before the first juror has been chosen or any evidence has been discovered.

If the judge decides that I will probably lose my case, I will have to pay all of the Times’ legal fees. According to papers that the defendants filed, they expect that to amount to hundreds of thousands of dollars. The case would be dismissed. I would go bankrupt.

Even if I convince the judge that I’ll win, my tormentors at the Times then get a second shot at destroying my financial well-being: they can go to the Court of Appeals. By that time, of course, their legal bills will be even higher. And it’s not much of a stretch to imagine that those fees will be highly padded. Many judges take defendants at their word when it comes to the validity of legal invoices.

We’re not done.

I live in New York. As an out-of-state plaintiff, California Code 1030 provides a defendant the right to move that I be required to post a bond in order to guarantee the payment of the Times’ attorney fees should they prevail on their anti-SLAPP motion. “The Times will defend itself vigorously against Mr. Rall’s claims,” a Times spokesperson said when I sued. They sure are. They filed a motion asking the judge to require me to post a whopping $300,000 bond.

The judge knocked it down to $75,000. Unlike criminal bonds that can be purchased for 10%, however, this civil bond must be 100% collateralized. In other words, I have to come up with $75,000 in “pay to play” money by Thursday, August 18, or my case will automatically be dismissed.

And you thought this was a free country.

Happily, there are signs that anti-SLAPP madness is finally coming to an end. Setting an important precedent, Justice Vance Raye of the Third District Court of Appeal in Sacramento denied an anti-SLAPP motion filed by UC Davis against a former employee who claims she was fired for whistleblowing.

“The cure [anti-SLAPP] has become the disease,” wrote Raye. UC’s argument was “ at odds with the purpose of the anti-SLAPP law, which was designed to ferret out meritless lawsuits intended to quell the free exercise of First Amendment rights, not to burden victims of discrimination and retaliation with an earlier and heavier burden of proof than other civil litigants and dissuade the exercise of their right to petition for fear of an onerous attorney fee award.”

Raye’s ruling is a good start. But what’s needed is for the 28 state legislatures in anti-SLAPP states to reform the law.

If you like to read more about the case and/or contribute to my fundraiser – I am not going down without a fight – please click here or go directly to http://gofundme.com/tedrall

(Ted Rall is the author of the graphic biography “Trump: A Graphic Biography.”)

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: Let VW Face the Same Penalties as Us — or Let Us Go Unpunished Too

            If you did it once, you’d be fired.

If you did it hundreds of times, you’d go to prison.

Why should a corporation worth billions of dollars be treated more leniently than we individuals?

“Volkswagen has admitted installing software in 11 million vehicles that was used to provide false results about emissions, though it was not clear if it was used in all countries where the cars were sold,” The New York Times reports. The United States, however, accounts for 20% to 25% of the automaker’s sales.

“Those U.S. [diesel] vehicles would have spewed between 10,392 and 41,571 ton of toxic gas into the air each year, if they had covered the average annual US mileage. If they had complied with EPA standards, they would have emitted just 1,039 tons of NOx each year in total,” according to The Guardian. That’s “roughly the same as the UK’s combined emissions for all power stations, vehicles, industry and agriculture.”

VW executives broke federal pollution control laws. They knew they were breaking those laws. And they did so on a massive scale.

Now I want you to imagine, if you can, what would happen to you, if you did the same thing — assuming you were in a position to do the same thing.

If the feds found out that you’d rigged your car with a device that fools state vehicle inspectors into thinking that your pollution-belching piece of crap was as green as a Leaf, they’d take your car off the road, maybe confiscate it. They might slap you with a stiff fine ($25,000 in Texas, $295,000 under federal law). Maybe even a jail term.

Volkswagon will wind up paying hundreds of millions of dollars, or more, to the U.S. government for this crime. But that’s far, far less than they — or their top executives — deserve. We live in a time in which corporations enjoy the same benefits as people, and in which some politicians even claim that they are people. Shouldn’t corporations face proportionately equivalent penalties when they commit crimes?

Let’s start with civil penalties.

The average American citizen has a net worth of $45,000. A $295,000 federal civil fine would wipe him out six times over. Since VW has assets of $14.4 billion, the equivalent civil fine should be $94.4 billion.

VW should cease to exist. Alternatively, it could be nationalized by the U.S. government, with its future profits used to pay down the deficit.

Anything less tells American citizens that they are worth less than a corporation. Not even an American corporation — a German one. A German corporation founded by Adolf Hitler!

Then there’s the issue of criminal penalties.

The maximum term for fraud under federal sentencing guidelines is 30 years in prison. Seems fair in this case. Let the company’s top executives face those terms, as well as the company itself — it should be placed in a virtual financial “prison” by being banned from operating for its own financial advantage for 30 years as well.

Of course, the chances of VW being put out of business, or its execs facing prison for their crimes, are zero.

Corporations are responsible for lawbreaking and murder on a scale that Jeffrey Dahmer couldn’t have imagined. So why is it just little old us, private individuals, who get the book thrown at us?

Look at, if you can stand the stink, British Petroleum.

Federal and state fines and settlements related to the catastrophic 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico will total $18.7 billion. Sounds like a lot of money, but thanks to quiet leniency by the Obama Administration EPA, that expense will mostly be tax-deductible.

Not to mention, it’s a drop in the bucket.

BP has $87.3 billion in assets. Which means its total cost for the Gulf spill is just 21%, barely over a fifth.

BP will be able to pay off its entire Gulf spill tab with just over a year of profits. No layoffs. No salary cuts. No replacing the gold faucets in the bathroom of CEO Bob Dudley, who “earns” $5 million a year.

If we’re going to treat corporations like people, let’s treat people like corporations. Either slash the penalties we face when we screw up — or ramp up those faced by big companies so they’re in line with ours.

(Ted Rall, syndicated writer and the cartoonist for ANewDomain.net, is the author of the new book “Snowden,” the biography of the NSA whistleblower. Want to support independent journalism? You can subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)

COPYRIGHT 2015 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM

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H-1BS

Under the law, H-1B visas are supposed to go to well-educated foreigners to fill tech jobs that American companies can’t fill here in the United States. But companies like Disney and Fossil Watch are firing Americans and replacing them with cheaper foreign workers. Why isn’t the government enforcing the law?

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We, the Corporations

The US Supreme Court has expanded the “corporate personhood” ruling in Citizens United, which expanded individual First Amendment rights to corporations that are established in order to evade personal liability, to allowing them to express their religious beliefs (actually the beliefs of their top executives) via, among other things, what health care benefits they’re willing to provide.

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Fact Terrorist

We gave up our privacy to corporations. But that was voluntary. And it wasn’t to the government – the organization that runs concentration camps.

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Third Term

The president’s defenders told liberals and progressives that Obama would burst out as a liberal during his second term. But he renewed 99.5% of Bush’s tax cuts for the rich. He nominated Chuck Hagel, a homophobic Republican, as Secretary of Defense. For Treasury Secretary he picked a veteran of Citibank who bet on the housing market to collapse. What’s going on? Maybe Obama will turn into FDR in his third term.

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