Category: Ethics

President Obama’s Defense of Planned Parenthood Draws Little Notice

Republican attacks on Planned Parenthood have drawn a lot of media attention in recent months, but a video message from President Obama in support of Planned Parenthood recently posted on the Internet drew little notice. In the video, Mr. Obama talks about how politicians are trying to deny millions of American women the health care they rely on. He says that when people hear “some professional politicians casually say they’ll get rid of” Planned Parenthood, what they are really talking about is eliminating the funding “for preventive care that millions of women rely on and leaving them to fend for themselves.” Mr. Obama talks about how he stood up to Republicans who wanted to shut down the government over funding for Planned Parenthood, and that it is wrong for legislators to play politics with women’s health. While he doesn’t mention it in the video, Obama has a personal stake in this issue. He was raised by a single mother who died at age 53 from ovarian cancer.

CVS Drug Stores Tout Healthy Image While Profiting from Disease & Death

Dr. Gerace's CVS protest ad

For 103 days now, Terence Gerace, Ph.D. has stood outside CVS pharmacies in Washington, D.C. protesting their sales of a product that is known to be deadly when used exactly as directed: cigarettes. In press releases and ads, CVS claims it works to improve health and lower health care costs for Americans, but all the while it continues to sell the leading causes of preventable death and disease in the U.S. No matter what they say in their ads, the truth is that CVS, and other national drug chains, like Rite Aid and Walgreens (pdf), do not care about health one bit. They care about profits, and every day they profit from both causing and curing disease. Pharmacies are among the most trusted sources of health information in the U.S., but for decades, national drug chains have actively colluded behind the scenes with tobacco companies not only to market cigarettes, but also to oppose legislation (pdf) to regulate tobacco. Dr. Gerace, a former Research Associate Professor in the Department of Epidemiology and Public Health at the University of Miami School of Medicine, knows all of this, so it’s no wonder he saw red after spotting a full-page CVS ad in the Washington Post that screamed, “To better manage chronic diseases, we needed a new kind of pharmacy…” Incensed, Dr. Gerace made a new sign out of the ad by adding the big words “NEW CVS Cigarette-Free!” above the headline. Now he uses this sign in his ongoing, one-man protest against CVS selling cigarettes. In 2010, the American Pharmacists Association issued a statement urging U.S. pharmacies to stop selling tobacco.  Boston and San Francisco have passed laws forcing pharmacies to stop selling cigarettes, and Target, the nation’s third-largest retailer chain, stopped selling cigarettes in 1996.  It is counter-intuitive, inimical to their mission and just plain two-faced for a business to portray itself as caring about people’s health while also selling cigarettes, but until a law forces them stop, CVS, as well as Rite Aid and Walgreens, plan to keep advertising that they care about health while continuing to sell the leading cause of death and disease in the U.S.

Vodka Ad Jokes About Sexual Assault, Gets Yanked

Offensive Facebook ad for Belvedere Vodka

The makers of Belvedere Vodka yanked a controversial ad that appeared to joke about rape. The ad showed a horrified woman trying desperately to escape from a leering man who was grabbing her from behind. The tagline read, “Unlike some people, Belvedere always goes down smoothly.” The company tweeted the controversial ad and posted it on their Facebook page, only to get strong and immediate backlash. Belvedere moved quickly to remove the post and apologized several times. Belvedere’s ad agency, Arnell Group, has done ads with strong sexual overtones for the brand before, but the agency denies that it created this particularly controversial ad.

Main Source: Ad Age, March 23, 2012

A Grassroots Effort to Track the Side Effects of Prescription Drugs

A new word has entered the lexicon: “Pharmageddon.” Wiktionary defines it as “a dystopian scenario wherein medicine and the pharmaceuticals industry have a net detrimental effect on human health and medical progress does more harm than good.” We are fast approaching pharmageddon, as drugs are increasingly fast-tracked to approval and only later found to do little or no good, or, even worse, to cause harm. In 2010, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) pulled the breast cancer drug Avastin off the market, after having fast-tracked its approval. Over $6 billion worth of Avastin was sold before two follow up studies showed that the survival rate of patients who took Avastin was no better than patients who took other drugs. Not only did huge numbers of women take this essentially worthless drug to treat their breast cancer, but the listed side effects of Avastin included conditions severe enough to merit  a descriptor of potentially fatal several times in the drug’s informational brochure. Another factor in prescription drug danger is the fact that drug companies are increasingly engaging in criminal behavior aimed at boosting sales at any cost. In 2009, the drug maker Pfizer paid a record $2.3 billion fine and pled guilty to a felony for illegally promoting its painkiller Bextra. Pfizer paid kickbacks to doctors and dished out perks, like massages and all-expense-paid trips to fancy resorts, to get doctors to prescribe Bextra for off-label, or unapproved, uses. Like Avastin, Bextra was ultimately pulled off the market due to safety concerns. This wasn’t the first or even the second time Pfizer had been caught marketing drugs illegally, either. It was the fourth time just  since 2002 that FDA had fined Pfizer or one of its subsidiaries fined for marketing its drugs in an illegal manner.

Taking prescription drugs is increasingly fraught with danger. Adverse side effects have risen over the years to where they are now a leading cause of death, disability, and illness.  It is estimated that only 1 to 10 percent of adverse drug events ever get reported to the FDA. Many people suffer side effects from prescription drugs that are considered “medically mild” but that are nonetheless disabling, like detrimental effects on memory, concentration, and judgment. Often people report adverse side effects to their doctors, only to be told there is little or no evidence linking their problem to the drug. This lack of information is not a mistake — it traceable to the fact that most of the data on prescription drugs is the property of  the pharmaceutical companies, since the companies run most of the clinical trials for the drug. Up to 60% of these trials are never publicly reported. For obvious reasons, companies have a vested interest in not fully disclosing the side effects of their products.

Recognizing the extent and severity of the problem of prescription drug side effects, Dr. David Healy, author of a just-published book titled “Pharmageddon,” along with group of people who, like Healy, have risked their careers to speak out about adverse drug events, are developing a free website where people can share information on the side effects they experience while taking prescription drugs.  RxRisk.org, in effect, aims to crowd-source real-time data about drug side effects, to create a fuller picture of exactly how these drugs  are really affecting people. The site accepts no advertising and is not linked in any way to big Pharma. Use of it is free and anonymous. The site also helps users research drugs they are taking. People who report information on the side effects they experience can get a free report they can take to their doctors, to encourage fuller and more informed discussion of their treatment. Doctors can also add information to their patients’ reports. RxRisk.org’s advisory board is comprised of people with relatives injured by adverse drug events, health care activists and independent scientists. The site is currently in beta development, but RxRisk.org is a much-needed grassroots effort to track the side effects of prescription drugs and build a record of them, so that it eventually it will become unreasonable to say the problem can’t be happening in at least some people. Visit the new, consumer-friendly drug-tracking website here.

DirecTV’s Disappearing-Channels Scam

Thinking of subscribing to DirecTV? Think again. DirecTV pulls a fast one on subscribers to push them into more expensive packages after they sign up. Here’s how it works: Like all cable and satellite TV providers, DirecTV offers different levels of programming that include specific channels. New subscribers select the package with the channels they want — or so they think. A few months after you subscribe to their service, DirecTV pulls some of the channels originally included in your package. All of a sudden when you try to watch those channels, you get a “Channel Not Purchased” message on your screen. When you call DirecTV to tell them about the suddenly-missing channels, they say they’ve taken them out of your package and you’ll need to upgrade to a pricier package to get them back. DirecTV makes little effort to notify subscribers in advance of this change. They don’t announce the changes, for example, in any of the regular emails they send customers announcing special deals and “free” weekends of premium channels. They don’t add any more channels to your package to make up for the ones they’ve removed, and they don’t compensate customers financially for the loss by adjusting your bill for the channels you no longer get. On their website, they explain the loss by saying they took the channels away to help “manage rising programming costs.” Their website also says, “At DIRECTV, we strive to bring you the best entertainment experience available.” All you have to do is subscribe, or peruse the comments at CustomerServiceScoreboard.com/DIRECTV to find out that DirecTV pulls this scam with relative frequency. DirecTV also charges you $10.00/month extra to get a high-definition receiver, where most other pay TV services provide HD to all customers as part of the deal.

Cigarette Exec: How to Make People Think OJ Causes Cancer?

Editor’s note: In this blog, I will occasionally summarize lesser-known but highly important tobacco industry documents that should be part of the public record, and the public consciousness. Following is one such article. — A.L.

Cigarette exec mused about how to confuse the public about which products actually cause cancer

In a twisted 1997 memo, Seth Moskowitz of R.J. Reynolds’ (RJR) Public Relations department recounts a brainstorming session held to address problems facing the tobacco industry at the time, particularly a lack of credibility and an onslaught of lawsuits being filed against the industry by state Attorneys General seeking to recoup the costs of treating sick smokers.

The memo begins by discussing the need to “humanize” the tobacco industry by putting kind and helpful face on the company (RJR).  Moskowitz complains that the public perceives the industry to be “a group of two-faced, conscience-less killers who trade lives for dollars.  Nothing could be further from the truth,” he says, “but the public doesn’t know this.”

The discussion quickly turns to ideas for turning public opinion against the AG’s lawsuits.  One plan was to instigate a wave of frivolous, ridiculous lawsuits against a number of other industries.  For example, Moskowitz proposes using a study to “indicate that drinking citrus juice carries an increased risk of lung cancer.”  Moskowitz muses,

“What if we worked with the state AGs or legislators in some tobacco states (NC, VA), and with a business or citizens group in Florida to sue the citrus producers in Florida and California for reimbursement of state medical expenses paid to treat illnesses ’caused’ by the consumption of citrus products? Under current Florida law, this could be done entirely using a statistical model.  All we need to do is plug in a few statistics and suddenly we can calculate the dollar amount Florida has paid out in medical expenses to treat orange juice-related cancers.  Could also mount a highly emotional PR campaign against citrus growers for harming children (stunting their growth).  We could choose other states and industries and do the same thing (Minnesota and dairy products? California and wine consumption? Beef and any number of states.)  A series of Medicaid reimbursement-type suits simultaneously launched against a number of industries in a number of states would get major coverage and drive home how ridiculous the recent AG attacks on the tobacco industry are.”

Immediately following this self-serving idea to cause havoc in other industries, Moskowitz flips back to seeking ways to “humanize” the industry.  One idea was to use an ad campaign to highlight the good works RJR employees do in their private lives, like helping school children and carrying the torch for the Olympics.

Moskowitz currently still works for Reynolds American as Director of Communications for Reynolds’ subsidiary, the Santa Fe Natural Tobacco Company.

See the memo here.

 

 

Santorum: Puerto Ricans Need to Comply with Imaginary Federal “English Only” Law

Rick Santorum told the Puerto Rican newspaper El Nuevo Dia that Congress would require English to “be universal here on the Island…” before Puerto Rico could gain statehood, adding that universal English would be a “condition for coming into the country” as America’s 51st state. No federal law exists requiring English to be universal in a commonwealth or territory prior to being admitting to the union. After his comments angered Puerto Ricans, Santorum tried to walk back his statements by claiming he was misquoted. “What I said is English has to be learned as a language and this has to be a country where English is widely spoken and used …” A Santorum campaign representative also tried to soft pedal the candidate’s remarks, saying, “Rick is an advocate of making English our official language — just like 90% of Americans. He knows there’s no current federal law in place — but what he was talking about — is that once English is made the official language — obviously all states would need to comply.” Attempts to backpedal his statements proved useless. Santorum lost the Puerto Rican primary election to Mitt Romney in a landslide.

Main Source: Washington Post, March 15, 2012

Pink Slime Manufacturer Starts New Website, “PinkSlimeIsAMyth.com”; USDA Backs off Pushing Pink Slime in Schools

Pink Slime (photo by Beef Products, Inc.)

Beef Products, Inc. (BPI), the manufacturer of pink slime, has started a new website, PinkSlimeIsAMyth.com, to battle the growing tide of anti-slime public sentiment. One of the pages of Beef Products’ new website attempts to discredit Kit Foshee, who formerly worked as Manager of BPI’s Quality Assurance Group. Foshee, who questioned the byproduct’s safety, has become an outspoken critic of pink slime — a position the company characterizes as “revenge.” Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is sticking to its story that “Lean Finely Textured Beef” (pink slime) is safe, but on March 15 the agency bowed to public pressure and issued a press release saying it will now “adjust procurement specifications” to give schools “additional options in procuring ground beef products.” Translation? USDA will now offer schools a choice whether or not to feed their students ground beef that contains pink slime. The change assumes that USDA will now distinguish beef containing the additive from beef that  does not. Ground beef is currently not labeled as to whether it contains the additive or not since USDA considers the additive “beef.” Pink slime is a cheap meat filler made of rejected meat scraps that are heated, mixed, and treated with ammoniated gas to kill pathogenic bacteria like E Coli and salmonella.

Secretive Republican Attack Group “Compass Colorado” Runs Anti-Obama Ads

Compass Colorado billboard

Billboards have just gone up across Grand Junction featuring Obama’s iconic campaign logo. At first glance — and that’s about all you get when driving by — all you see is the logo and it looks like the ads are pro-Obama. But if you look a split second longer, you see they are anti-Obama. The ads show someone in a pair of jeans, pulling out their empty pockets. Large wording over the photo says, “Still hoping for change?” The bottom of the board says has the website, “compasscolorado.org.”

Compass Colorado is a new conservative 501(c)4 political attack group formed in September, 2011 and headed by career Colorado Republican operative Tyler Quill “T.Q.” Houlton, who was Communications Director for Republican former Rep. Tom Tancredo. Rep. Tancredo gained fame for a speech he gave on February 4, 2010, to National Tea Party Movement Convention in which he said that Barack Obama won the presidency because of “people who could not even spell the word ’vote’ or say it in English.” He then proposed people undergo “a civics literacy test” as a prerequisite to voting.

Houlton also worked for Scott McInnis’ failed campaign for governor of Colorado. That campaign imploded after it was revealed that McInnis had plagiarized an extensive essay about water law that a nonprofit group had paid him to write. McInnis blamed the plagiarism on an elderly research assistant and refunded the $300,000 the organization had paid him.

Not much has been heard from McInnes since.

Tyler Q. Houlton

Like other conservative attack groups, Compass Colorado doesn’t reveal its donors, so we don’t know who is really behind the ads they are running. Compass Colorado’s first target was Democratic Colorado State Senator Evie Hudak of Westminster, Colorado, a former teacher and member of the Colorado Board of Education. Last election season, Compass Colorado took out $60,000 worth of TV ads to attack Sen. Hudak over her support for Proposition 103, a ballot measure that sought to increase the state income tax to help fund K-12 education. (K-12 education is now suffering financially to such an extent in Colorado that school districts across the state are moving to 4-day school weeks.) Compass Colorado also was behind robocalls attacking Proposition 103. Houlton narrated the robocalls, which went out to approximately 100,000 Colorado voters.

The domain name “CompassColorado.org” is registered to Domains by Proxy in Scottsdale, Arizona, — an entity that exists purely for the purpose of keeping domain registrations secret.  Why is Compass Colorado so secretive about their funders and domain name registration? We won’t find out, unless Tyler Houlton and his Republican funders start believing in transparency and informing voters about who is really doing the attacking.

Goldman Exec Resigns, Blows Whistle on Company’s Loss of Morals

Goldman CEO Lloyd C. Blankfein

If you read just one thing today, it should be the remarkable open resignation letter of Goldman Sachs’ executive Greg Smith, who was head of  the firm’s U.S. equity derivatives business for Europe, the Middle East and Africa. After a highly successful 12 year career with Goldman, Smith — a Rhodes scholar — explains that felt he could no longer tolerate working Goldman because of the severe downward trajectory of its corporate culture, and the company’s loss of moral fiber. “I can honestly say that the environment [at Goldman] now is as toxic and destructive as I have ever seen it,” he wrote, explaining that best interests of clients is now not even on Goldman’s radar screen. The only thing that matters now behind closed doors at Goldman, Smith says, is how to make money off of clients. The clients’ goals, desires and best interests are of absolutely no interest anymore. “It makes me ill how callously people talk about ripping their clients off,” Smith writes, confessing that over the previous 12 months he’s personally witnessed five different managers refer to their own clients as “muppets,” even doing so over corporate email.  He lays the blame for the company’s completely loss of integrity on the current CEO, Lloyd C. Blankfein, and Goldman’s president, Gary D. Cohn. Smith formally resigned the day his open letter was published in the New York Times.

Source: New York Times Op-Ed, March 14, 2012

Know Your Slime

Photo of beef pink slime, provided by its manufacturer, Beef Products, Inc.

Mechanically-separated chicken

A photo that has been published recently alongside articles on “pink slime” — the highly-processed, barely-beef byproduct ABC News revealed last week is commonly added to hamburger — is not actually “pink slime,” but another scary byproduct called “mechanically separated chicken,” reportedly used to make chicken nuggets. A March 5 article on Common Dreams titled “What’s on the School Cafeteria Menu? ‘Pink Slime,’ ” for example, mistakenly showed a photo of mechanically-separated chicken pink slime while discussing beef-based pink slime. Mind you, it’s an easy mistake to make. Mechanically-separated chicken more closely resembles a pink slime than even beef pink slime. In the oft-circulated photo of mechanically-separated chicken, a ribbon of bright pink, gelatinous mixture oozes out of a huge spigot looking like a giant, curling stream of strawberry flavor self-serve yogurt.

Yuck.

But it isn’t beef-based pink stuff, it’s chicken-based pink stuff.

People need to get their slime photos straight, so readers are clear on which super-gross food byproduct big agribusiness is attempting to feed us.

Carbonite Ends It’s Sponsorship of Rush Limbaugh Show

Dave Friend,the CEO of the online backup service Carbonite, announced today that he was pulling his advertising from the Rush Limbaugh show in response to Limbaugh’s over-the-top insults against a third year law student who Friend says is about the same age as his own two daughters. Friend made the announcement via email to people who had contacted his company to complain about Carbonite’s sponsorship of Limbaugh’s show.

Advertisers Flush Rush Limbaugh

Rush Limbaugh (L), and law student Sandra Fluke

Advertisers are fleeing Rush Limbaugh’s show in droves after his over-the-top tirade of insults against third-year law student Sandra Fluke, who testified before Congressional Democrats last week in favor of making sure contraception remains available for women. After calling Fluke a “slut” and a “prostitute,” Limbaugh doubled down in his tirade last Thursday when he said, “So Miss Fluke, and the rest of you Feminazis, here’s the deal. If we are going to pay for your contraceptives, and thus pay for you to have sex, we want something for it. We want you post the videos online so we can all watch.” By Saturday morning, LegalZoom, Citrix Success, Quicken Loans, Sleep Train, Sleep Number Beds had all announced they were pulling their ads from Limbaugh’s radio show. Carbonite and ProFlowers are considering doing the same. Remaining advertisers LifeLock, LendingTree, TaxResolution and Sears, have not made any statements. A new website called “Boycott Rush” boasts it has gotten almost 50,000 supporters in under 24 hours, and a petition on UltraViolet to pressure ProFlowers to drop its advertising on Limbaugh’s show garnered 25,000 signers in a couple of hours.  A Twitter hashtag, #BoycottRush, is helping organize the effort to split off advertisers from Limbaugh’s show.  A similar grassroots campaign was successful in pushing Glenn Beck’s show off television after he made racially bigoted comments about Barack Obama.

Conservative Blogger Andrew Breitbart Dead at 43

Andrew Breitbart

Andrew Breitbart, the right wing blogger who operated the website BigGovernment.com and who became famous for posting sensationalistic “sting” videos on his website, has died. The L.A. Times says his death was due to natural causes. Breitbart was responsible for posting a selectively edited video of former Agricultural Administration employee Shirley Sherrod, which was doctored to make her appear racist. The video was quickly exposed by mainstream media as race-baiting. Breitbart was known for posting sensationalized stories that were frequently based on distortions, falsehoods and pure speculation. He was also involved in instigating a fake nationwide ACORN “child prostitution” investigation, led an anti-gay smear campaign against Department of Education employee Kevin Jennings, broadcast yet another selectively-edited video made in conjunction with James O’Keefe (the slice-n-dice right-wing videographer who tried to frame ACORN) claiming that Census supervisors encouraged federal employees to falsify their time sheets. In 2009, Breitbart claimed on his website, BigGovernment.com, that “Transvestites, Mao and Obama Ornaments Decorate White House Christmas Tree.” On September 29, 2009, Breitbart posted a video that he claimed showed community organizers praying to then President-elect Obama. The video had captions that said, “Deliver us Obama,” and “Hear our cry, Obama.”

May he rest in peace.

 

Prominent Capitalist Says Capitalism “Threatens our Existence”

Jeremy Grantham

Jeremy Grantham is a co-founder and chief investment strategist for GMO, a global investment firm that manages $97 billion in client assets and has more than 500 employees worldwide. CBS news called Grantham a “legendary investor,” and his résumé and business background make Grantham about as dedicated a capitalist as you can find anywhere in the U.S. these days. So when someone like Grantham writes that capitalism “threatens our existence,” people should sit up and take notice. Grantham’s February, 2012 quarterly newsletter] (pdf) is a scathing indictment of American capitalism and where it is leading the country: over a cliff. Grantham writes that “You don’t have to be a PhD mathematician to work out that if the average Chinese and Indian were to catch up with … the average American, then our planet’s goose is cooked, along with most other things. Indeed, scientists calculate that if they caught up, we would need at least three planets to be fully sustainable. But few listen to scientists these days.” Grantham points out that “our collective ability to feed ourselves, through erosion and fertilizer depletion has “received little or no attention,” and that “capitalism and corporations have absolutely no mechanism for dealing with these problems, and seen through a corporate discount rate lens, our grandchildren really do have no value.” He also writes, “Capitalism, by ignoring the finite nature of resources and by neglecting the long-term well-being of the planet and its potentially crucial biodiversity, threatens our existence.”

Source: GMO Quarterly Newsletter, (pdf) February, 2012

The Noose Tightens Around Rupert Murdoch’s Media Empire

James Murdoch (son of Rupert Murdoch)

An ongoing criminal investigation into media mogul Rupert Murdoch’s News of the World phone hacking scandal in Britain has unearthed new and damaging information: that Murdoch’s paper, The Sun, illegally paid sums ranging into the hundreds of thousands of dollars to corrupt officials inside the British government, police and military in exchange for news tips and titillating gossip. Mr. Murdoch and his son, James, have tried to blame rampant phone hacking, bribes and other wrongdoing at Murdoch’s papers on a single rogue reporter, but the inquiry into the phone hacking scandal shows such activities were widespread in the organization and knowledge about them reached the highest levels of the papers’ management. The investigation found that former News International executive Rebekah Brooks was notified by police in 2006 that detectives possessed evidence that the cell phones of dozens of politicians, sports figures and celebrities had been illegally hacked by someone working for News of the World.  In emails circulated among newspaper employees, staff talked about the risks of losing their pensions or their jobs if they weren’t careful to keep their payments to sources secret. The emails showed that journalists at Murdoch’s papers were fully aware what they were doing was wrong. Recently several senior editors and reporters at The Sun were arrested under allegations that they illegally paid sources, and on February 29, 2012, James Murdoch quit his position as executive chairman of News International, the company that owns the The Sun and the Sunday Times. James Murdoch will still run News Corporation’s television interests outside the U.S.

Main source: The New York Times, February 27, 2012