Category: Ethics

PBS Documentary Explores the Growing Need for Easy, Painless Death

As America’s population ages, tens of millions of people find they can’t afford health insurance, medical care is getting more expensive and is difficult for many people to get. Our culture focuses on prolonging life at virtually any cost. At the same time, as fewer people want to take the option of prolonging their life at any cost, the reality that death as a natural part of life is little acknowledged or discussed. This difficult situation is leaving more people seeking gentle, accessible and painless ways to die. A new PBS Frontline documentary, “The Suicide Plan,” dares to explore the difficult subject of the growing need for people to find easy and painless ways to die. Filmmakers Miri Navasky and Karen O’Connor explore the realities of people who are actively seeking ways to die without violence or suffering. While researching and filming the program, the filmmakers say they were astounded by the number of people yearning for information on how to control the timing and manner of their own death. The filmmakers were also “completely surprised,” they say, to discover the extent of the underground organizations growing up around meeting this growing, unmet need. Navaski says, “Here — in the underground world — doctors are reluctant to prescribe lethal doses of medication, so people who want help dying are relying of imperfect, cobbled-together methods.” The documentary explores organizations like the Final Exit Network and Compassion and Choices, whose missions are to help people find ways to achieve a peaceful death. The Suicide Plan aired on Tuesday, November 13. The documentary can be viewed here.

Source: PBS.org, November 13, 2012

New Youth Front Group Agitates for Cuts to Entitlement Programs

Salon.com reports a new “youth” front group has appeared consisting of young people who have ostensibly joined together to fight the federal debt. The group, called “The Can Kicks Back,” issued a press release November 12 announcing its creation and casting itself as a “nationwide grassroots campaign.” The Can Kicks Back gives no physical address on its website, but Salon.com reports the group shares the same address as the New America Foundation, which receives funding from the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, among other foundations and big corporations. Peter Peterson is a Wall Street hedge fund billionaire who, according to Huffington Post, has “has personally contributed at least $458 million to the Peter G. Peterson Foundation to cast Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and government spending as in a state of crisis, in desperate need of dramatic cuts.”  Other prominent funders of the New America Foundation include Google, Microsoft, Nike, Merck, and Aetna insurance. Interestingly, Kick the Can’s advisory board consists mostly of older politicians like Alan Simpson, 81, former Republican senator from Wyoming, Erskine Bowles, 67, former Clinton chief of staff, Mickey Edwards, 75, former Republican congressman from Oklahoma.  Salon.com reports that this isn’t Pete Peterson’s first attempt to form an astroturf “youth group” to agitate for cutting entitlement programs. In the 1990s Peterson funded two groups, one called “Third Millennium” and another called  “Lead…or Leave,” basically to do the same thing. In fact, Jonathan Cowan, who headed up Lead…or Leave, now is on The Can Kicks Back’s advisory board. 

Karl Rove Rendered Useless to Republicans

Karl Rove

Karl Rove, whom Vanity Fair called “one of the most powerful unelected officials in the United States,” is facing criticism and derision after his two well-funded super pacs, American Crossroads and the more secretive Crossroads Grassroots Policy Strategies (“Crossroads GPS”), proved surprisingly ineffective after Democrats largely emerged victorious in the 2012 general election. Rove, a Republican political strategist who famously once dreamed of creating a “permanent Republican majority” in U.S. government, helped create the two groups which together sucked in over $300 million in the last election cycle, mostly from billionaires hoping to influence the election’s outcome. Crossroads GPS, which refused to make public the names of it’s super-wealthy donors, blanketed the U.S. with attack ads against Democratic candidates in which the group made notably false and misleading claims against candidates. Despite spending vast amounts of money, however, Rove’s groups were ultimately unable to influence the outcomes of the November 6 elections.  Rove has spent the last week defending his super PACs and scrambling to devise a new strategy for boosting Republicans’ fortunes in elections nationwide. Rove served as former president George W. Bush’s deputy chief of staff. Since leaving the government, he has worked as a political strategist, consultant and a paid speaker. Rove’s normal speaker’s fee in 2010 was $60,000, but he has had his appearances canceled on several occasions due to protests.

Sour Grapes and Denial from Fox News

Mitt Romney was a deeply flawed, inadequate and unpopular candidate from the beginning, who went on to offend almost every demographic group in the country.

Op-ed

In a Nov. 7 article titled “Five ways the mainstream media tipped the scales in favor of Obama,” Rich Noyes of Fox News thrashes the major media as the sole cause Obama’s victory.  Noyes faults the networks for reporting on the gaffes Romney made during his trip to Europe. He points to Mother Jones’ reporting of the sensational “47%” video in which Romney denigrated millions of Americans who don’t pay income taxes, saying the “networks hyped it as a sensational sex scandal.” Noyes whines that the major news networks failed to report on Obama’s “You didn’t build that” comment, when in reality the networks engaged in appropriate journalism by refusing to take that remark out of context like the Republicans insisted on doing. Noyes complains that Romney was “pounded with partisan fact-checking,” when the media was forced many times to correct errors and mis-statements Romney frequently made, including his bizarre repetition of an easily-verfiable geographical error he repeated no fewer than five times during the campaign that “Syria is Iran’s route to the sea.” Noyes also faults the debate moderators, the lack of clarity over what happened in Benghazi and reporting on the state of the economy for Romney’s defeat. He faults everyone but the GOP itself.

Merchandisers try to Capitalize on White Anger Over Election

Racist bumper stickers now being discounted as loser merchandise is on the rise.

Racist bumper stickers on close-out as loser swag is on the rise

In the aftermath of the presidential election, some vendors at outlets like CafePress and Zazzle are starting to shift their marketing strategies to keep capitalizing on bitterness and hatred.  They are starting to discount their racist, anti-Obama bumper stickers and swag denigrating “other” types of people.  The price of a sticker featuring a photo of President Obama that says “Somewhere in Kenya, a village is missing its idiot,” for example, has been cut from $5.00 to $3.75. But merchandise exploiting the battered emotions of the millions of angry, racist and hyper-religious people who lost the election is starting to appear, and it’s not cheap.  A pack of 100 refrigerator magnets that yelp “Obama Won, America Lost!  Nation in Distress — Only God can Save Us” is going for a whopping $200, and a 50-pack of stickers with a graphic that depicts the phrase “No White Guilt” is selling for an insane $140.00.

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

The Air Force Academy’s “Religious Respect” PR Stunt

Crystal Cathedral on the grounds of the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs

The United States Air Force Academy (AFA) is fighting its reputation as an aggressive promoter of fundamentalist Christianity by holding a conference on religious respect this week, but organizers conspicuously excluded representatives of secular belief systems like atheists, agnostics and humanists.  Mikey Weinstein, founder of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), who is Jewish and a 1977 graduate of the academy, believes the  conference is a public relations stunt to try and improve the AFA’s image. An AFA press release promoting the Conference said “attendees will comprise a widely diverse mix of religious affiliations …” and “Attendees will review and discuss the new Religious Respect Training Program for cadets that includes training in both the Establishment and Free Exercise of Religions clauses of the First Amendment of the US Constitution.” But in an October 29, 2012 press release, Weinstein pointed out that “secularists are the most disrespected and proselytized-to group, yet they are not even represented at this so-called ‘Religious Respect’ conference.”  Weinstein says the AFA hosting a religious respect conference is “akin to the KKK hosting an ‘African American Appreciation Conference.'”

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.”

What’s Up With Romney’s Persistent, Huge Geographical Goof?

In the third presidential debate last Monday night, Republican candidate Mitt Romney displayed his lack of foreign policy acumen in many ways, not the least of which was when he said that  Syria is “Iran’s route to the sea.” Syria isn’t even a neighbor of Iran and Iran has a coast of its own that gives it direct access to international waters, so Iran doesn’t need to rely on Syria to get to the sea at all. It was a factually false statement, but what is even more surprising is that Romney has made this same patently false statement repeatedly during the campaign and been called out on it as many times. He said it last  February at a GOP debate in Arizona. He said it in a TV interview on December 21, 2011 on MSNBC. He’s said it at least three other times, too, and the error has been brought to his attention.  Despite having made, and been corrected, on this same mistake at least five times before during his campaign, Romney stuck to this geographical misstatement in the important, final debate with President Obama on foreign affairs. Did Mr. Romney neglect to check a map of the middle east prior to his debate on foreign affairs with President Obama? Did he think he could make the same mistake again and people just wouldn’t notice? Doesn’t he care whether his statements are factually correct in a nationally-televised debate?

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?

Under Mitt Romney, Bain Made Millions on Tobacco

Mitt Romney

Mitt Romney’s former company, Bain Capital, may refuse to make public the clients it has served, but now previously-secret tobacco industry documents reveal Bain & Company worked closely with cigarette makers British American Tobacco, Philip Morris and Gallaher, to help them expand their markets and become more profitable at the expense of global public health.  Bain helped British American Tobacco (BAT) crack open the cigarette market in Russia and transform it into a lucrative business at a time when American tobacco companies were under pressure at home and smoking rates in the U.S. were decreasing. By 1993, during the time when Bain worked with cigarette makers, the dangers of smoking were well established. The 1964 Surgeon General’s report had announced that cigarettes caused cancer.  In 1988 the U.S. government warned that nicotine was addictive in a similar manner as heroin and cocaine. In 1989 the Surgeon General announced that most people begin smoking as children and one in every six Americans was dying from smoking. In 1993 the EPA rated secondhand tobacco smoke a Group A Human Carcinogen — the same rating the agency gives to asbestos, radon gas and vinyl chloride. Romney took over Bain in 1990 and stayed until 1995, when this crucial public health information about smoking was public. When Romney took over Bain, the company was in financial distress and seeking new clients. One of the first new clients Bain signed during that time was Philip Morris (PM). Little more than a month after Romney took over, Bain signed a six month contract with Philip Morris estimated to be worth $1 million.

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.”