Category: Corruption

Hostess Fleeced its Workers, Showered Execs with Extra Cash

TwinnkieDeath

The Hostess Corporation, not labor unions, killed Twinkies through corporate greed.

Hostess Brands publicly blamed its workers’ union for forcing it out of business, but now Hostess CEO Gregory Rayburn has admitted to the Wall Street Journal that the company had been quietly ripping off its own workers. Hostess took money out of workers’ paychecks that was supposed to go towards their pensions and put it towards company operations instead, Rayburn admitted. Rayburn said the company was not under his management when those diversions occurred. During its dispute with the union, Hostess pressured employees to take another pay cut ostensibly due to financial difficulties, but in November, 2012 — while the company was undergoing bankruptcy filing — Hostess  asked a judge to allow it pay out $1.8 million in bonuses to 19 of its top executives. The judge approved the bonuses, but did not, however, include any bonus pay for Rayburn, who was already being paid $125,000 a month, nor did the company seek any bonuses for its factory or other non-executive-level workers. The story that the union was responsible for tanking the Twinkie maker, then, is a myth designed to cast labor unions in a bad light.

Main source: Huffington Post, December 10, 2012

The City of Grand Junction, Colorado’s Shameful End-Run Around the Constitution

Grand Junction’s Ten Commandments tablet, donated in 1959 by the Fraternal Order of Eagles, which only admits people who believe in God.

Anyone who thinks that electing narrow-minded people to city councils in small American towns doesn’t get expensive, think again. The parochial minds of just five elected city council members in the town of Grand Junction, Colorado cost city taxpayers $64,000 and led to the creation of a big, permanent public reminder on City Hall grounds of how they spent that huge sum to evade the law and collectively thumb their nose at the U.S. Constitution.

It all started in 1959, when the City of Grand Junction accepted a gift from the Fraternal Order of Eagles (FOE), a do-good civic group that restricts its membership only to people who believe in God. The gift was a stone tablet engraved with the Ten Commandments, a religious symbol commanding people to worship God, which City officials installed on City Hall grounds. There it sat, little-noticed, for the next fifty years, its presence often obscured by mature landscaping. All that changed in 2000, when the City put the finishing touches on construction of a new City Hall building and relocated the Ten Commandments to a much more visible location on the grounds.

The tablet’s more prominent location made it more noticeable, and some local citizens also finally happened to notice the Constitutional violation it represented. As a result, in April, 2001 five local citizens and the American Civil Liberties Union sued the City over the monument, asking them to remove it because it made members of minority religious groups, nonbelievers and community political outsiders feel unwelcome. The plaintiffs also contended it represented a government establishment of religion.

Court Orders Tobacco Companies to Run Ads Saying They Lied

A U.S. District Court has ordered American tobacco companies to start running ads in which they must openly admit they lied to the American public about the health hazards of smoking and secondhand smoke. Judge Gladys Kessler, who presides over the case of United States v. Philip Morris, U.S.A., Inc., et al, specified the wording to be used in the corrective ads:

“A Federal Court has ruled that the Defendant tobacco companies deliberately deceived the American public about the addictiveness of smoking and nicotine, and has ordered those companies to make this statement. Here is the truth:”

The subsequent must contain truths about the dangers of tobacco use. Some examples:

* “Defendant tobacco companies intentionally designed cigarettes to make them more addictive.”

* “When you smoke, nicotine actually changes the brain – that’s why quitting is so hard.”

* “Smoking kills, on average, 1200 Americans. Every day.”

* “More people die every year from smoking than from murder, AIDS, suicide, drugs, car crashes, and alcohol, combined.”

Former GOP Officials Admit Use of “Voter ID” to Suppress Democratic Turnout

The Palm Beach Post ran a blockbuster story November 25 in which several former high-up GOP officials admitted that “Voter ID” laws and a law cutting back early voting were GOP tactics aimed at suppressing the Democratic vote in Florida. Former Florida Republican Governor Charlie Crist and Jim Greer, former chair of the Florida Republican Party, both admitted that the GOP’s push to enact “Voter ID” laws out of a purported concern for voter fraud was really a ruse to block Democratic voters from the polls. Greer told the Palm Beach Post, “The Republican Party, the strategists, the consultants, they firmly believe that early voting is bad for Republican Party candidates…It’s done for one reason and one reason only.” Greer said Republican staffers and consultants told him ,”We’ve got to cut down on early voting because early voting is not good for us.” Wayne Bertsch, who coordinated campaigns for GOP candidates for local offices, also admitted the reasons GOP officials gave for advancing voter ID laws were bogus. Crist said while he was in office as Florida’s governor, Republican Party leaders contacted him to discuss curtailing early voting hours as a way to suppress turnout among Democratic voters. Crist has since left the GOP and is now an Independent.  Greer has been indicted for using a phony campaign fundraising operation to pocket $200,000. But the Post also found another GOP-affiliated consultant, who asked not to be named who confirmed that the true purpose behind enacting voter ID and a law to cut back on early voting in Florida were meant to suppress Democratic turnout in the general election.

Source: Palm Beach Post, November 25, 2012

 

Time for GOP to Dump Norquist, Handmaiden of Cigarette Companies

Grover Norquist and his group, Americans for Tax Reform, have long lobbied for tobacco industry interests — earning huge payouts from RJR and Philip Morris

Op-Ed

Grover Norquist, who for decades has been the patron saint of anti-tax sentiment for Republicans, is fast losing relevance as Republicans finally start to grasp that the only way America can get out of its fiscal mess is to raise taxes. Legislators are starting to see that their allegiance must be to the United States of America and its people, and not to Grover Norquist. But for GOP legislators,  leaving Norquist behind will be one of the best things they can do to help get some credibility back with the American public. By pledging their allegiance to Norquist for so many years, Republicans have put stock in one of the most reliable allies of one of the world’s most reviled industries: the tobacco industry. Previously-secret tobacco industry documents show Norquist and his group Americans for Tax Reform (ATR) have for decades been highly dependable allies to Big Tobacco. Norquist was always at the cigarette makers’ beck and call whenever they needed him. As ATR president, Norquist annually sought and received hundreds of thousands of dollars from Philip Morris and R.J. Reynolds to support the companies’ agenda of low cigarette and corporate taxes. In return for the big bucks, Norquist offered his organization up as a conduit for tobacco industry lobbying. Norquist figured prominently in Philip Morris’ quiet, internal 1995 “Get Government Off Our Back” project, in which the cigarette maker secretly created a phony “grassroots” group, to push to “shift government’s priorities” off regulating business. In 1999, Norquist helped cigarette makers fight President Clinton’s proposal to add a one dollar tax on cigarettes to fund health care. Norquist was cast as a “core ally” in Philip Morris’ efforts to enact “tort reform” to block people’s access to the courts.  Norquist helped defend cigarette makers against the Department of Justice’s 1999 Lawsuit in which the industry was found guilty of perpetrating five decades of fraud against the American people. Philip Morris’ law firm of Covington and Burling even secretly took the privilege of drafting letters to government agencies, like FDA, that Norquist could sign so they would appear to be from ATR and not a tobacco company.

Pentagon Hires Known Fraudster to Speak at Prayer Breakfast

Photo of Ray Giunta from Ambassador Speakers Bureau website, which says Guinta brings the “sustainable hope of Christ to people.”

The Pentagon has hired Las Vegas-based Ray Giunta, a known fraudster, to be the guest speaker at the “Pentagon Prayer Breakfast” on November 28th. Giunta, who advertises himself as the friendly “Pastor Ray,” a Christian motivational speaker, has also put himself out as “Doctor Ray,” a clinical psychologist and addictions counselor who practiced using a fake Ph.D. degree that he bought online for a few hundred dollars. A California state audit revealed that in a previous job as director of the California Cemetery Board in the mid-1990s, Giunta illegally diverted over $10,000 in cemetery trust funds meant for maintaining graveyards. He used the money to open a bank account, pay his dry cleaning bills and his creditors and to help support his nonprofit group, “We Care Ministries.” While not an ordained minister, more recently he has started putting himself out as a chaplain and pastoral counselor. Giunta and his wife purchased online degrees from a place called “Rochville University” which charged $769 for a “master’s and doctorate degree package.” He ordered a white lab coat with the word “Doc” embroidered on the lapel that he wore while “counseling” people on behalf of a church. The personal license plate on Giunta’s car said “CAREDOC” and he wore a stethoscope on a church-sponsored missionary trip to Africa. In June of 2008, the Las Vegas Sun published an extensive article describing Guinta’s string of frauds and the people he had deceived. Giunta says he and his wife believed their degrees were real and didn’t realize they were bogus.  The Military Religious Freedom Foundation is protesting Guinta’s appearance at the Pentagon event and a has asked the Pentagon to rescind the invitation to Giunta. The bigger question remains, however, and that is why a taxpayer-funded institution is holding an event that endorses religion.

Source: Military Religious Freedom Foundation, November 26, 2012

Chase’s PR Stunt, the “American Giving Awards” is Back Again

NBC’s upcoming feel-good holiday TV program, the “American Giving Awards” to be broadcast on December 8, is nothing more than a highly-orchestrated public relations stunt designed to rain good feelings upon JP Morgan Chase, one of the most reviled U.S. financial institutions and a major contributor to the collapse of the U.S. housing market. Chase was behind the creation of many of the problematic financial products like credit default swaps which almost brought down the global financial system in 2008. Chase has been fined hundreds of million dollars for lying to investors, perpetrating mortgage fraud and engaging in other illegal financial schemes. To further thumb it’s nose at consumers, Chase recently hired an executive to head up the company’s Foreclosure Victims Bureau who the Justice Department concluded helped enable mortgage fraud. To help repair its tarnished image, Chase created the “American Giving Awards,” using a PR company called  Intersport, which boasts that it is an “innovator and leader in the creation of sports and entertainment-based marketing platforms” designed to benefit “global brands.” Actor Gary Sinise and singer Colby Caillat are two of the stars recruited to help draw attention to this televised PR stunt in which JP Morgan Chase gives away millions of dollars to charity.

IRS Rolls Over, Plays Dead for Scofflaw Churches

A church in Leakey, Texas intentionally violated IRS rules by urging people to vote for Romney.

Russell Renwicks, an Internal Revenue Service (IRS) manager in the mid-Atlantic region, said at a legal seminar in Washington, D.C. October 18 that the IRS is intentionally opting not to audit more than thousand churches across the U.S. that have purposely violated federal laws restricting political activity. The Alliance Defense Fund, a Christian activist group that recently changed its name to the “Alliance Defending Freedom,” since 2008 has urged church pastors across the country to openly endorse political candidates from the pulpit and then send a record of their statements to the IRS. Pastors who do violate a federal tax-exempt rules that say  federally-registered charities “may not participate in any campaign activity for or against political candidates.” The ADF considers the rule an unconstitutional government intrusion and is urging the mass lawbreaking to try to goad the IRS into taking action against violators that could eventually end up in court. Dean Patterson, an IRS spokesman in Washington, D.C. said Renwicks “misspoke” when he charged the IRS was purposely failing to take action against the churches, but attorneys who specialize in tax law for religious groups say the IRS has indeed taken no action at all over the last three years to audit any of about 1,500 churches that have been reported to the agency for intentionally engaging in partisan political activity.

Main source: Minnesota Public Radio, November 3, 2012

 

Monsanto, Big Food Battle California GMO Disclosure Measure

Big food, candy and chemical companies are pouring tens of millions of dollars into fighting California’s Proposition 37,  which would require foods be labeled as to whether they contain genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Genetically-modified foods have their DNA artificially altered in a laboratory, for example Monsanto genetically engineered a type of sweet corn to make it also contain an insecticide. GMOs have been linked to allergies, organ toxicity and other ailments. The problem is, consumers are in the dark about whether the foods they buy contain GMOs because food producers have not been required to identify foods that contain them.  Monsanto has paid over $4.3 million to fight Proposition 37,  followed by DuPont, ($4 million), Pepsi ($2.1 million), Bayer ($2 million), Dow ($2 million), Coca Cola ($1.69 million), Nestle ($1.46 million) and ConAgra Foods ($1.1 million). Other companies working to defeat the disclosure law include familiar household companies that dominate the grocery stores, like Campbell’s Soup, General Mills, Bumble Bee (tuna), Hershey’s, Heinz, Kellogg, Kraft, Land O’Lakes (butter), McCormick (spices), Nestle (cocoa), Tree Top (apple juice), Smuckers (jam), and Welch’s (grape juice). The big food and chemical companies have hired former tobacco industry operatives to apply big Tobacco’s playbook to fight the initiative. Hiring out professional PR flacks to oppose the measure also distances the companies from the unpopular effort and helps shield their valuable brands from backlash. The “No” campaign is using the tobacco industry tactic of  hiding behind a front group made to appear as though it is made up of small businesses, family farmers and the like, to give the public the impression that the anti-37 effort is a “grassroots” campaign by real people. Far from it. The “Yes on 37” campaign points out that many of the wealthy companies secretly bankrolling the fight against Prop. 37 are the same ones that for years assured Americans that cigarettes were safe, and DDT and Agent Orange were harmless.

Romney Continues Attacking U.S. Automakers with Misleading Ads

Mitt Romney

General Motors publicly rebuked Mitt Romney over a misleading Ohio radio campaign ad that wrongly infers GM is planning to move U.S. auto manufacturing jobs to China. The ad’s narrator states, “Under President Obama, GM cut 15,000 American jobs, but they are planning to double the number of cars built in China, which means 15,000 more jobs for China. And now comes word that Chrysler plans to start making Jeeps in, you guessed it, China.” GM spokesman Greg Martin said “We’ve clearly entered some parallel universe during these last few days. No amount of campaign politics at its cynical worst will diminish our record of creating jobs in the U.S. and repatriating profits back to this country.” Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne, similarly tried to limit the damage Romney has done to his company’s reputation after Romney lied at a campaign event October 27 when he wrongly stated Jeep was moving all its manufacturing jobs to China. Marchionne sent an email out to employees reiterating that “Jeep production will not be moved from the United States to China. The numbers tell the story…Those include more than $1.7 billion to produce the successor of the Jeep Liberty and hire about 1,100 workers on a second shift by 2013.” Earlier this month, the Salt Lake City Tribune, the leading newspaper in the most Republican state in the U.S. and in the heart of Mormon country, endorsed Barack Obama for president, calling Romney “shameless” and suggesting the GOP presidential nominee will say whatever he thinks he must to win votes.

Main Sources: Business Insider, October 30, 2012 and the Detroit Free Press, October 30, 2012

Romney Doubles Down on Lie Told to Ohioans

Romney speaks to crowd in Defiance, Ohio (from YouTube)

GOP Presidential candidate Mitt Romney openly lied — again — at a campaign event in Defiance, Ohio Thursday, October 25, when he told a crowd of about 12,000 that Jeep is considering shifting all of its North American production to China. “I saw a story today that one of the great manufacturers in this state, Jeep, now owned by the Italians, is thinking of moving all production to China,” Romney said. The statement is verifiably false. Chrysler’s vice president of communications, Gualberto Ranieri, publicly corrected Romney in a blog post on the company’s website. “Let’s set the record straight,” Ranieri wrote, “Jeep has no intention of shifting production of its Jeep models out of North America to China.” Representatives from Romney’s campaign said candidate had misread the first two paragraphs of a Bloomberg news report that discussed the manufacture of Jeeps for the Chinese market. The article started out by saying Fiat, the company that now owns Chrysler, “plans to return Jeep output to China and may eventually make all of its models in the country.” It said that Chrysler and Fiat are evaluating additional production sites in China, not that they are shifting their output from North America to China.  Despite being publicly called out on the purported error by Chrysler, neither Romney nor his campaign workers have corrected the erroneous statement.  Quite the contrary — the Romney campaign has built on it. Romney has created a new campaign ad around his misleading statement. The ad says, “Obama took GM and Chrysler into bankruptcy and sold Chrysler to Italians who are going to build Jeeps in China. Mitt Romney will fight for every American job.” The Salt Lake City (Utah) Tribune, a conservative newspaper in the home of Mormonism, endorsed President Obama in an October 19th editorial titled “Too Many Mitts”, that called Romney the Republican Party’s “shape-shifting nominee.”

Exposed: Sweet Lies from the Sugar Industry

Misleading May, 1971 ad in LIFE magazine ad encouraging sugar intake

The November/December issue of Mother Jones magazine has an explosive new analysis of more than 1,500 pages of internal documents from the archives of now-defunct sugar companies that reveals that for 40 years, the sugar industry engaged in a massive PR campaign to sow doubt about studies linking sugar consumption to disease.  After a growing body of independent research started implicating sugar as a significant cause of heart disease, tooth decay, diabetes and other diseases, the sugar industry responded by developing a PR scheme that included secretly funding scientists to perform studies exonerating sugar as a source of disease. The sugar industry also secretly created a front group, the Food and Nutrition Advisory Council, that they stocked with physicians and dentists who were willing to defend sugar’s purported place in a healthy diet.  Sugar companies also worked to shift the conversation about diabetes away from sugar and boost the notion that dietary fats, especially saturated fats, were a bigger culprit in causing heart disease than sugar. 

Texas Church Marquee Urges “Vote for the Mormon, Not the Muslim!”

Church sign in Leakey, Texas violates IRS rule by urging people to vote for Romney.

Americans United for Separation of Church and State (AU) has asked the Internal Revenue Service (pdf) to investigate a Texas church after the pastor posted a message on the church’s marquee urging people to “VOTE FOR THE MORMON, NOT THE MUSLIM!  The “Mormon” reference is to Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who belongs to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also known as the Mormon Church. ABC News reported that the sign is an obvious reference to President Barack Obama, whom many conservatives believe is a “secret Muslim” even though President Obama says he is a Christian and attends church with his family. According to ABC News, Ray Miller, the pastor of the Church of the Valley in Leakey, Texas, said he put the sign up because “he feels strongly about the election.” The church sign violates U.S. law, however, which prohibits tax-exempt organizations, including all churches, from endorsing political candidates.

Source: Americans United for Separation of Church and State press release, October 23, 2012

Behind Romney’s Remarkable Comfort with Lying

Op-Ed

For most people, it’s a given that politicians lie, but even with such universally low expectations for candidates, Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney stands out. The brazenness and persistence of Romney’s lying has drawn notice from all quarters. This isn’t just the perception of wild-eyed liberals, either.  In October, 2011, Matt Welch of Reason.com, a right-leaning publication that supports free markets, wrote about Romney’s prodigious lying in an article titled “Mitt Romney’s Lying Problem”. An October 8, 2012 Forbes.com article noted Romney’s large number of lies and reversals in positions on policies. Even far right-wing Republican former House Speaker Newt Gingrich openly called Mitt Romney a liar on CBS News’ “The Early Show.”

Mitt Romney’s prodigious lying exceeds anything ever seen before in American politics, by all accounts. Given this, one overall question  remains: How can Romney be so comfortable with such lying? Most average Americans would recoil at the idea of spewing as many lies as Romney has, let alone doing it in the white-hot spotlight of the national and global media. So what has given rise to a person like Romney, who so verifiably, consistently and freely lies the way he does? And how does this square with his Mormon religion, which, at least in print, preaches that complete honesty is necessary for salvation?

This is Going to Hurt: What Your Doctor Doesn’t Say Can Cost You

Insurance companies are hot targets in the national discussion of skyrocketing medical costs and health care reform. But there is another, little-noticed factor could also be sucking untold health care dollars out of our pockets. It’s one we are also loathe to address: the part that doctors play in pushing up the costs of  medical care. This is an area that is begs for closer scrutiny, and in which patients need more help.

An Examination Day Surprise

My interest in this topic was piqued by a personal experience that brought home the problem of runaway medical costs in a truly shocking way.

Republicans Block Bill to Help Unemployed Veterans

U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan

Republicans have long had the reputation of being the party most supportive of the military and of veterans in particular, but no more. On September 19 Senate Republicans, in their continued effort to oppose any idea introduced by President Obama, used a technicality to kill a bill that would have helped American veterans’ dire unemployment situation. The Veterans Job Corps Act, introduced by Senator Patty Murray (D-Washington), would have trained and placed veterans in jobs on federal public lands like national parks, wildlife refuges, veterans’ cemeteries and forests. The bill would have cost  about $1 billion over five years — the equivalent of less than four days of the war in Afghanistan.  The Act would have been funded through the collection of delinquent taxes from Medicare suppliers and providers, and from individuals who have over $50,000 in unpaid taxes.  Senator Bill Nelson (D-Florida), a co-sponsor of the bill with Sen. Murray, said Republicans’ opposition to the bill stemmed from the party’s refusal to support the Veterans Job Corps Act because the idea for it came from President Obama, who proposed the Act during his State of the Union address in January, 2012. Republicans killed the bill in a 58-40 procedural vote to waive a budget rule which would have allowed the bill to go to a vote of the full Senate. Sixty votes were required. Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, which supported the bill and appealed to Senators to pass the measure, expressed outrage that “This Congress let partisan bickering stand in the way of putting thousands of America’s heroes back to work.” Among those voting “no” was Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona), himself a veteran, albeit one who has a job. A full list of senators’ votes on the bill can be found here.

Main source:  Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, September 19, 2012

How Corporations Influence the Media

How do corporations influence entire media markets? A 1995 Philip Morris (PM) document shows one way in which corporations work to influence the larger media to manipulate larger public opinion. The previously-secret document shows that PM hired a Denver-based public relations agency to implement an ambitious and comprehensive plan aimed at influencing Colorado media outlets and thus shift public opinion more in the company’s favor.

The document, titled “PM Media Action Network – Media Plan for Colorado,” was written by public relations firm Russell, Karsch & Hagen, based in Denver. It states:

“[We] will begin to reshape public opinion through the media…” and “…[W]e are confident we can continue to shift the media’s view, and, ultimately the view of the general public…toward issues affecting the industry.”

In keeping with PM’s internal adversarial view of public health efforts to reduce smoking, Russel, Karsch planned to develop a “War Book” of “key issues and message points we believe will be effective in Colorado.”

Gun Laws Determined by Those Who Participate in Democracy

Guest post by Ken Gordon, former Majority Leader of the Colorado Senate

Former Colorado Senate Majority Leader Ken Gordon

It would take you less than an hour to drive from Columbine High School to the Century 16 movie theater in Aurora. Both venues are in the suburbs of Denver and subject to the laws created by the Colorado Legislature.

Few politicians have mentioned laws when talking about the shooting in Aurora. The following story will help explain this reluctance.

I was the Minority Leader in the Colorado House when the Columbine shooting occurred.

Most of the guns used at Columbine were bought at the Tanner Gun Show in Adams County. Robyn Anderson, a friend of the Columbine shooters, Harris and Klebold, went with them to the show, and helped them buy the guns. She testified in a House hearing that they purposefully bought guns at tables that were not federally licensed dealers, because they did not want to give their names and addresses for a background check.

Following Columbine, I sponsored the legislation to require background checks for any purchase at a gun show. We referred to it as “closing the gun show loophole.”