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Corporation Watch

Feds investigating "culture of pervasive insider trading" on Wall Street


A Nov. 20 Wall Street Journal article reported that the FBI and SEC are investigating widespread insider trading on Wall Street, involving a variety of schemes in which non-public information about forthcoming mergers and other corporate activity was disseminated to hedgefund managers and other professional investors in advance, allowing them to essentially place no-lose bets on things they knew were going to happen.


A few things stand out about the investigation:

  1. Goldman Sachs is involved in certain aspects of it. (Now there's a tremendous surprise.)
  2. The healthcare industry figures prominently. (See parentheses above.)
  3. This quote from the U.S. Attorney in Manhattan: "Illegal insider trading is rampant [on Wall Street], and may even be on the rise."
  4. It's been going on for at least three years, which means that the conduct under scrutiny was happening well before the current financial crisis. That in turn implies that, even while the greatest rip-off in world financial history was going on in plain sight, some of Wall Street's finest corporate citizens weren't satisfied making millions of dollars through the fixed-casino game of over-leveraged securities, and instead chose to essentially "tunnel into the vault while the bank was closed" to steal even more money.


What the frack?! Pittsburgh bans gas drilling, corporate impunity


Yes! magazine reports that Pittsburgh, Penn., has passed an ordinance that bans the practice known as "hydraulic fracturing" — or, colloquially, "fracking" — in which water, sand, and toxic chemicals are forced into underground shale fissures under great pressure in order to recover deposits of natural gas that are held within the rock.


The practice results in the pollution of the underground water table, as well as nearby rivers and streams in the areas where the drilling takes place, while releasing cancerous benzene and uranium that had been sequestered in the shale. Fracking has become wide-spread in areas of the northeastern U.S., ranging from New York and Pennsylvania to Ohio and West Virginia, as well as broad swathes of central Canada.


German bank used "neuro-marketing" to profile, up-sell its customers


Northern German Radio (NDR) reported in April that Germany's largest savings bank, Hamburg-based HaSpa, had been using psychological profiling software since 2007 to divide their clients into different classifications, in order to help its salespeople sell them more "products", such as insurance or stocks.


HaSpa said its use of the software, called Sensus, was actually in the "best interests" of its customers, because it allowed the bank to tailor its sales pitches to their individual needs. But in response to the uproar that resulted when its profile-driven sales tactics were revealed to the public, HaSpa said it had discontinued the practice.


Googs admits it snooped more data than first claimed


Google finally admitted in a blog post on Friday afternoon — always the preferred time for governments and companies to release bad or embarrassing news — that it's roving "Street View" vehicles (which are gradually photographing the world for the company's Maps service) also grabbed e-mails, website addresses, and even passwords from wireless network in homes and businesses they passed in the process.


The disclosure comes a few days after the Canadian government's privacy office accused Google of violating the rights of thousands of its citizens, according to an Oct. 22 article on Reuters news service. Similar offices in France, Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Spain, and other countries — as well as a coalition of more than 30 state attorneys general in the U.S. — opened investigations into the matter when it was first revealed several months ago.


For Big Biz bucks, U.S. Chamber is political attack dog


An Oct. 21 New York Times article entitled "Top Corporations Aid U.S. Chamber of Commerce Campaign" reveals that a small number of large corporations are bankrolling one of the largest non-party election campaigns in U.S. history, being conducted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The article describes a relatively small coterie of major U.S. corporations who supported the Chamber with donations averaging more than $1.5 million in 2008 — undoubtedly much higher this year, due to the elections — and how it in turn carried water for their specific issues, rather than (as it claims) representing the interests of what it says are 300,000 members and 3 million businesses.


Big Pharma likes rent-a-docs who know how to be bad


An Oct. 18 article entitled Docs on Pharma Payroll Have Blemished Records, Limited Credentials on the investigative journalism site ProPublica describes how the leading pharmaceutical companies seem to have a penchant for paying huge sums of money to doctors with questionable professional histories to peddle their drugs.


"Drug companies say they hire the most-respected doctors in their fields for the critical task of teaching about the benefits and risks of their drugs," the article says. "But an investigation by ProPublica uncovered hundreds of doctors on [drug] company payrolls who had been accused of professional misconduct, were disciplined by state boards, or lacked credentials as researchers or specialists." Some had even lost their medical licenses.


Bribery, Inc.


Daily Finance has an article on the 10 biggest corporate campaign contributors from 1989-2010, which collectively gave over $260 million to thwart regulation and get lucrative government contracts and tax breaks, while at the same time decrying government intervention in the economy and touting the free market.


The list is a Who's Who of the usual suspects, ranging from defense contractors and Wall Street banks to cable and tobacco companies. The only surprises were that United Parcel Service (UPS) was in the top five, and that AT&T was by far the biggest contributor. Looks like Ma Bell never really went away ...



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