Dirt Diggers Digest No. 61
May 26, 2005

Editor: Philip Mattera

1. Spying for the masses
2. Turning a company website inside out
3. "Houston, We Still Have a Problem"
4. UK group to hold conference on "corporate manslaughter"
5. Center for Public Integrity broadens research on lobbying
6. SEC starts releasing comment letters
7. Yahoo Finance adds corporate governance ratings
8. Corporate fraud linked to greed and narcissism, not poor governance
9. CRS looks at rise of "quasi-government"

1. Spying for the masses

Getting a bird's-eye view of office buildings, residences and other
real estate is becoming much easier, thanks to a collection of
websites that bring a vast number of satellite and aerial-photography
images to anyone with an internet account. This week Microsoft
previewed a new free service called Virtual Earth that combines images
from on high with street-map and other local data. In addition to views of
rooftops, the service provides front and back views from a 45-degree
angle. Virtual Earth will be launched this summer .

At about the same time, Google, which had already added aerial
views to its map feature, announced a new subscription service called
Google Earth that will include simulated three-dimensional images.

Amid the hype from the web giants about forthcoming services, don't
overlook an excellent existing site called Terrafly < http://terrafly.fiu.edu >
that was created by Florida International University and is funded by IBM
and the federal government (the images are provided by the U.S. Geological
Survey). Once you've chosen a location to view, you can click on a link on
the photograph to display data about the area from the Census Bureau and
other sources.

2. Turning a company website inside out

An article by Arthur Weiss in Free Pint, a UK-based online newsletter
for business researchers, provides a number of useful suggestions for
extracting the maximum amount of information from a company website
< www.freepint.com/issues/120505.htm >. Some of the tips involve
detecting internal documents that are linked to public web pages.
Weiss writes:

"Look look to see if there are any PowerPoint presentations or Microsoft
Word documents on the website. Sometimes these have embedded
Excel files which contain a lot more information than intended. (My favourite
example was a security company website. The company was probably fine
when it came to protecting buildings and people, but not data. Their
corporate presentation - in PowerPoint - included a graph that when clicked
on gave an Excel spreadsheet with a second worksheet containing details
of several customers and their purchases from the company!)"

3. "Houston, We Still Have a Problem"

In preparation for Halliburton's annual meeting in Texas earlier this month,
CorpWatch < www.corpwatch.org > released an alternative annual report on
the controversial military contractor. The report, titled HOUSTON, WE STILL
HAVE A PROBLEM, skillfully mimics the usual glossy corporate annual report
style to present information on the company's no-bid contracts in Iraq, allegations
of bribery and corruption on the part of Halliburton managers, the environmental
impact of its oil-services work, the company's political influence and other
dubious aspects of its operations. It concludes with a set of recommendations
for the company and for federal policymakers. The report can be downloaded at

4. UK group to hold conference on "corporate manslaughter"

The Centre for Corporate Accountability < www.corporateaccountability.org >,
a UK-based non-profit dealing with worker safety and management liability,
will hold a conference in London on June 13 to discuss draft legislation on
reforming laws governing corporate culpability in workplace deaths. Scheduled
to speak at the event is Fiona Mactaggart MP, Minister for Law Reform in the Home
Office. Corporate manslaughter is one of the main concerns of the Centre, which was
founded in 1999. Its website includes data on work-related deaths in Britain and
related prosecutions. 

5. Center for Public Integrity broadens research on lobbying

The Center for Public Integrity, which recently launched a comprehensive
database on federal lobbying (see Dirt Diggers No. 60), continues to break
new ground in analyzing the business of political influence. The Center's
latest work looks at the extent to which foreign companies are playing the game:
www.publicintegrity.org/lobby/report.aspx?aid=689 . The report found
that those lobbying the federal government now count some 650 foreign
firms among their clients. UK-based oil giant BP, for example, was found to
have spent $33 million from 1998 to mid-2004 on lobbying in Washington on
issues such as opening up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling.

6. SEC starts releasing comment letters

This month the Securities and Exchange Commission began publicly
releasing comment letters and response letters relating to disclosure
filings made after August 1, 2004  (see the announcement at
www.sec.gov/news/press/2005-72.htm ). The Commission will
start adding the documents to the EDGAR online system, but in no
case will letters be released earlier than 45 days after the review of
the disclosure filing is complete.

7. Yahoo Finance adds corporate governance ratings

Yahoo Finance < http://finance.yahoo.com >, one of the more useful investor
information sites, has become more useful with the addition of corporate
governance ratings supplied by Institutional Shareholder Services. The
ratings, which are found under Profile after entering a company's stock
symbol, are presented by ISS through a Corporate Governance Quotient
system that compares each firm to others in its sector and to broad
groups such as the S&P 500. Previously available only to ISS clients, the
ratings cover eight issues: "1) board of directors, 2) audit, 3) charter and
bylaw provisions, 4) anti-takeover provisions, 5) executive and director
compensation, 6) progressive practices, 7) ownership, 8) director education."

8. Corporate fraud linked to greed and narcissism, not poor governance

A Dutch professor affiliated with the Boston Consulting Group has published
a study of recent corporate scandals that concludes that the problems were
caused by the greed and narcissism of top executives rather than poor governance
practices. The study by Kees Cools of the Univ. of Groningen -- a summary of which
is at www.bcg.com/publications/publication_view.jsp?pubID=1300&language=English --
emphasizes the way in which excessive stock options awarded to CEOs fueled
unrealistic promises to investors, which then pressured executives to resort to fraud.

9. CRS Looks at rise of "quasi-government"

Secrecy News, an online newsletter of the Federation of American Scientists,
recently obtained and posted a report by the Congressional Research Service
on what it calls the "quasi government," by which it means "federally related
entities that possess legal characteristics of both the governmental and private
sectors. The report -- available at www.fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/RL30533.pdf --
cites both well-known examples such as Fannie Mae and less well known ones
such as In-Q-Tel, a venture capital fund sponsored by the CIA. The report notes
the controversies surrounding the greater use of quasi-governmental agencies,
including concerns about diminishing public accountability.

A cumulative list of resources featured in the
Dirt Diggers Digest can be found on the web at:

Philip Mattera
Research Director & Director of the Corporate Research Project
Good Jobs First