The blotter: Week ending 3 July 2011

Business

Cheyenne, Wyoming has become the new standard for corporations seeking to hide assets or other nefarious deeds. To be more specific, 2710 Thomes Avenue in Cheyenne is the new haven for corporate misdeeds. Kelly Carr and Brian Grow, writing for Reuters, investigates Wyoming Corporate Services, which apparently specializes in setting up shell and shelf corporations. Carr and Grow cite Wyoming Corporate Services’ website: “”A corporation is a legal person created by state statute that can be used as a fall guy, a servant, a good friend, or a decoy. A person you control… yet cannot be held accountable for its actions. Imagine the possibilities!” Registration of business entities is not regulated in the US, nor is the incorporation industry.

Minnesota Second Judicial District Court Judge Gregg E. Johnson has ruled that cutting cost of living adjustments for state workers is not unconstitutional. The retirees had argued that the benefits were contractual and protected by state and federal constitutions, both of which forbid impairment of contracts.

Censorship

The US Supreme Court has struck down an Arizona law (.pdf; 406KB) that provided matching funds to political candidates who accept public financing. The same five justices in the majority in the wrong-headed Citizens United case last year are again the usual suspects in this decision. The majority said that the law violated the First Amendment rights of candidates raising private money or using their own, once again equating money with speech. “Laws like Arizona’s matching funds provision that inhibit robust and wide-open political debate without sufficient justification cannot stand,” wrote Chief Justice John G. Roberts for the majority. Too bad he got it exactly wrong. Public financing of political campaigns, by definition, generates more speech, not less. But then, Roberts knows that. “What the law does — all the law does — is fund more speech,” wrote Justice Elena Kagan on behalf of herself and Justices Stephen G. Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Sonia Sotomayor.

ESRD

Three dialysis patients in Poland have received vat-grown blood vessels made from their own skin cells. The implanted vessels have worked for eight months and researchers hope that these bioengineered replacement arteries will be viable for other uses as well, including heart bypass. Steven Reinberg, writing for US News & World Report, reports that the “vessels were made from sheets of cultured skin cells, rolled around a temporary support structure in the lab. Upon implantation the vessels typically measured about a foot long and a fifth of an inch in diameter.” Todd N. McAllister, co-founder and chief executive officer of Cytograft Tissue Engineering, Inc. told Reinberg, “Perhaps most interestingly, we have seen no clinical manifestations of an immune response.”

According to a University of Minnesota study, 10 percent fewer Minnesotans get health insurance through employers now than 10 years ago. Nationally, the drop was about 8 percent. While 71 percent of people across the state get employer-offered coverage, paying 85 percent more for healthcare than they did a decade ago. Jackie Crosby, writing for the Star Tribune, reports “The percentage of Minnesotans using public healthcare has doubled during this time frame, from 8 percent to 15 percent, while the ranks of the state’s uninsured grew from 7 percent to 9 percent.”

Internet

Envision Seattle has published a model net neutrality ordinance for municipalities.

Politics

US Representative Eric Cantor (R-Virginia) is the lead debt ceiling negotiator for the Republicans. The Wall Street Journal reported last year that Eric Cantor had up to US$15,000 invested in ProShares Trust Ultrashort 20+ Year Treasury exchange-traded fund (ETF). The investment is a bet against US government bonds and will increase in value dramatically if the US government defaults on its debt. Last week, Eric Cantor shut down debt ceiling negotiations, moving the US government ever closer to said default. Jonathan Easley, writing for Salon, reports that according to Cantor’s most recent financial disclosure statement (.pdf; 430KB), the investment remains in place. As Dave Winer tweeted, “When Pete Rose did what Eric Cantor is doing, they threw him out of Major League Baseball. Bad example for the kids.”

Ezra Klein, writing for the Washington Post, acknowledges that you can tell that negotiations have really failed when the White House goes public. After spending an inordinate time trying, somewhat desperately, to cut a deal with the Republican leadership, he went public earlier this week. Now we’re going to have a fight over tax cuts for the rich, as much as Obama tried to negotiate his way out of it. As Klein writes, “Now this fight moves to the consequences. … What the two parties are really doing is trying to position themselves politically to survive the consequences of their failure.”

Publishing

The role of a publisher is, has been, and always will be to connect a creator’s work with an audience. Cory Doctorow, writing for the Guardian, is still trying to wrap his head around this. As are we all. As a consumer, it used to be easy: The very fact that a work had been published was sufficient reason to consider it. After all, no publisher would go to the trouble and expense of publishing crap. Or so we thought. We were wrong, but only now are figuring it out. “But just as the internal functions of publishing were separated out at the tail of the last century, this century has seen a separation of selection, duplication, preparation, and distribution,” writes Doctorow. “Every work on the internet can be ‘distributed’ by being located via a search engine without ever being selected or duplicated or prepared.”

Starting with the hypothesis that there are two ways to create value in online media — creation of content and creation of audience — Jeff Jarvis posits that links form the economy of online publishing, as there’s value on both sides of the click. He’s launching a research project at CUNY’s Tow-Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism to “bring facts and modeling to the discussion.”

Similarly, Scott Rosenberg has published “Three pillars of trust: Links, revisions, and error buttons, in which he advises web publishers to link generously, show your work, and help people report your mistakes.

Sustainability

Elisabeth Rosenthal’s piece for the New York Times on European cities abandoning their auto-centric ways in favor of pedestrians has a terribly written headline: “Across Europe, Irking Drivers is Urban Policy.” As Jay Walljasper, writing for Shareable, notes, the Times headline telegraphs that autos have a God-given right to “drive wherever we want, as often as we want, as fast as we can.” Thankfully, that’s not what Rosenthal’s article is about at all. Quite the opposite, finding that reduced automobile use has had positive effects in these European cities. Meanwhile, here in Saint Paul, the city has eliminated a crosswalk and a bus stop on my block.

Yes! magazine has published a letter from Madhu Suri Prakash to one of my long-time heroes, Wendell Berry. Suri Prakash noticed her college students’ attitudes were changing as they read the work of Berry and she thought this might be Berry’s Time. Berry, predictably, replied that he was not a leader and writes “inviting, not converts or followers, but honest judgment.”

User experience

Corrina Liao and Bec Purser have published the first in a series of seven extensive articles on the essentials of customer centric business in UX magazine. The first article, “Being predictable: The first essential of a customer centric business,” is self-explanatory but exceptionally revealing. While I would have been more comfortable had Lio and Purser correctly identified the opening doorknob problem as a faulty affordance issue, after reading the entire article I’m convinced labeling it as a predictability problem is just as accurate.

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