How much does it cost to buy a federal agency? $13 million for the National Park Service

Weary of plastic litter, Grand Canyon National Park officials were in the final stages of imposing a ban on the sale of disposable water bottles in the Grand Canyon late last year when the nation’s parks chief abruptly blocked the plan after conversations with Coca-Cola, a major donor to the National Park Foundation.

Stephen P. Martin, the architect of the plan and the top parks official at the Grand Canyon, said his superiors told him two weeks before its Jan. 1 start date that Coca-Cola, which distributes water under the Dasani brand and has donated more than $13 million to the parks, had registered its concerns about the bottle ban through the foundation, and that the project was being tabled. His account was confirmed by park, foundation and company officials.

A spokesman for the National Park Service, David Barna, said it was Jon Jarvis, the top federal parks official, who made the “decision to put it on hold until we can get more information…”

Mr. Martin, a 35-year veteran of the park service who had risen to the No. 2 post in 2003, was disheartened by the outcome. “That was upsetting news because of what I felt were ethical issues surrounding the idea of being influenced unduly by business,” Mr. Martin said in an interview. “It was even more of a concern because we had worked with all the people who would be truly affected in their sales and bottom line, and they accepted it…”

A spokeswoman for Coca-Cola Refreshments USA, Susan Stribling, said the company would rather help address the plastic litter problem by increasing the availability of recycling programs. “Banning anything is never the right answer,” she said…

Discarded plastic bottles account for about 30 percent of the park’s total waste stream, according to the park service. Mr. Martin said the bottles are “the single biggest source of trash” found inside the canyon.

The more things change, the more they stay the same. One of the significant differences between services responsible for America’s parks and landholdings is the history of battles just like this one. Going back to the days of Reagan’s slavish attitude towards corporate demands, some agencies like the Bureau of Land Management have been led by dedicated rank-and-file employees to confront sellouts. The Park Service continues to be controlled by bureaucrats perfectly willing to be bought – directly or indirectly.

RTFA for more details – if you can stomach the same old political rationales.

Senate defeats Republican effort to crush Net Neutrality

New U.S. Internet traffic rules cleared a hurdle on Thursday, surviving an attempt by the Senate to block them from taking effect later in the month. President Barack Obama’s fellow Democrats in the Senate blocked a Republican-backed resolution to disapprove of the Federal Communications Commission’s rules on “net neutrality.” The vote was 52-46 against the resolution.

Adopted by a divided FCC last December, the rules forbid broadband providers from blocking legal content while leaving flexibility for providers to manage their networks.

The rules still face a court challenge. Lawsuits by Verizon Communications Inc and others have been consolidated before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

The Senate resolution was championed by Kay Bailey Hutchinson, the top Republican on the Senate Commerce Committee, and had 42 co-sponsors, all Republican. A similar measure passed the Republican-led House of Representatives in April…

The FCC’s rules allow consumers and entrepreneurs to utilize the Internet “without having to ask permission from their broadband provider,” Democratic Senator Jay Rockefeller, chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, said on Wednesday.

Backers of net neutrality say big providers could otherwise use their gatekeeper role to discriminate against competitors.

Republicans continue to frame their crap attempts to restrict public access to the Web. Requiring communications to be ruled by backwards corporations like Verizon and AT&T, offering the same old ideology, lies that try to credit freedom, jobs and the American Way of Life as dependent on corporate control.

They wish it were so. And there is only a small margin of conscience keeping them at bay.

Court rules that consultant who filmed sex with girlfriend was only studying his own technique

A “time and motion consultant” who filmed himself having sex with his girlfriend was cleared of voyeurism after a jury accepted he was attempting to study his own technique.

A jury decided Graham Gibbons did not get a sexual thrill from recording himself with a lover. Gibbons admitted making the 35-minute long illicit tape to assess the efficiency of his bedroom prowess and not for a sexual kicks.

Judge Nicholas Cooke QC told the jury: “He is charged with voyeurism, not with being an oddball. You must decide whether he is guilty…”

Gibbons set up his mobile phone at the bedside to film himself making love to his brunette girlfriend without her knowing.

Video expert Gibbons then uploaded the homemade sex tape onto his laptop to give his professional judgement on his bedroom athletics.

Gibbons told police: “After studying the tape I gave her 20 minutes of sexual satisfaction, five minutes of intercourse and another nine minutes of sexual satisfaction…”

But his girlfriend later found the video on his laptop, called in police and ended their relationship…

The 35-minute long X-rated video was shown to the jury – although the judge asked members of the public to leave the court…

But the jury of seven men and five women took only 10 minutes to clear Gibbons of being a pervert.

One person who saw the video said later: “It was far from sexy and there was actually very little action in it. I think the jury could see there was very little sexual gratification in it for anyone.”

Har! Funniest news article of the week.

Make Michael Woodford a citizen — put him in charge of the SEC

Daylife/Reuters Pictures used by permission

If you happen to be a connoisseur of accounting scandals, then the past month or so has been about as good as it gets, capped by the unfolding disaster at Olympus Corp. On the flip side, if you work as an auditor for a big accounting firm, it just got that much harder to make the case that society should value your services.

The scam at Olympus was simple, even if the means were sometimes exotic. The Japanese maker of cameras and endoscopes hid losses by treating them as assets. It says it had been doing so since the 1990s. This might have stayed under wraps had Olympus’s chief executive, a Briton named Michael C. Woodford, not pressed the matter internally in response to a Japanese magazine story this summer about some of the company’s more unorthodox dealings. Olympus’s board responded by firing Woodford, who was just six months into the job.

Now it turns out his warnings about the company’s finances were right. Where were the auditors? While we still don’t know the full extent of what they knew and when, just looking at who the outside auditors were is fascinating in itself.

Olympus’s auditor in the 1990s was the Japanese affiliate of Arthur Andersen, then one of the so-called Big Five accounting firms. After Andersen collapsed in 2002, KPMG acquired its Japanese practice, which operated under the name Asahi & Co., and took over Olympus’s audit. KPMG remained the auditor through 2009. Olympus switched to Ernst & Young later that year.

Viewed that way, it seems the ghosts of Andersen may still be with us. It was indicted in 2002 over its conduct as auditor for Enron, the failed energy trader, in what was the equivalent of a death sentence. Afterward, big-time accounting frauds turned up at many of the firm’s former clients — names that included WorldCom, Dynegy, Qwest, Freddie Mac and Refco. Olympus seems on its way to joining that list. It just took about a decade longer for the problems there to surface…

So many large companies have blown up after getting the all-clear from a Big Four accounting firm that many people regard auditor opinion letters as a joke. The client pays the auditor, after all. (Gee, no conflict there!)…

The biggest fear for the Big Four cartel should be that someday investors will become so fed up that they demand the status quo be chucked entirely, figuring they’ve got nothing left to lose. We’re not there yet, but give it time. If the auditing profession can’t figure out a way to re-instill value in its most basic product, even terrible solutions may start to look like drastic improvements.

My headline up top? Make Michael Woodford a citizen — put him in charge of the SEC — is how Jonathan Weil started off his guest spot on Pimm Fox’s Taking Stock show on Bloomberg TV, yesterday.

I’ve been following Woodford’s plea for honesty since he went public with his first statements questioning the books at Olympus. I hope he eventually gets a bundle from that particular batch of crooks. And I’d love to see someone like him whipping the SEC into living up to its charter.

Senate panel passes repeal of Defense of Marriage Act

Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee voted Thursday to repeal the federal law that defines marriage as between one man and one woman.

The vote that sends the proposal to the full Senate floor was considered symbolic because the measure has no chance of getting passed by the Republican-led House.

All eight Republicans on the Judiciary Committee voted “no” Thursday, while all the 10 majority Democrats supported the measure that would provide equal federal benefits to legally married same-sex couples.

Democrats and gay rights advocates hailed the vote as historic in the continuing effort to legalize same-sex marriage and end separate treatment for legally married same-sex couples.

Committee Chairman Pat Leahy, D-Vermont, called it “an historic step forward in righting an injustice that goes right to the core of what we stand for in this country — freedom and equality.”

RTFA for the details. They’re about what you would expect. The Party of NO persists in their opposition to civil rights.

Not especially different from 1964. Still cowards. Still backwards. Still opposed to equal opportunity and equal rights.