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Friday, December 13, 2013

The Pledge of Corporate Allegiance?



The Pledge of Corporate Allegiance?

Leaks reveal that corporate front group ALEC may ask for loyalty oaths from legislators.

BY Leo Gerard, United Steelworkers President

ALEC met again last week. Maybe it adopted the loyalty oath then. Again, the public doesn’t know because ALEC excluded reporters and citizens from its work sessions.

Witch hunter Joseph McCarthy would be proud of ALEC. So proud! Like McCarthy, the shadowy corporate lobby group wants oaths of allegiance.

McCarthy demanded loyalty pledges to the United States. ALEC, by contrast, wants its lawmaker members to vow first allegiance to ALEC.

This summer, ALEC (the sham that calls itself the American Legislative Exchange Council) proposed asking the legislators it appoints as state directors to raise their right wings and swear: “I will act with care and loyalty and put the interests of the organization first.”

ALEC first. Before the lawmaker’s constituents. Before the interests of the lawmaker’s state. Before the constitution of the United States. ALEC’s proposal would require lawmakers to forsake their oaths of office and swear fidelity instead to the organization that wines, dines, indulges and indoctrinates them with buckets full of corporate cash. The idea of an ALEC loyalty oath clarifies the allegiance of the 1,810 state legislators that ALEC claims as members. They see their primary duty as serving corporations, specifically the corporations that give millions to ALEC.

ALEC claims it didn’t adopt the loyalty oath. But citizens have no way of knowing if that’s true because ALEC’s meetings are clandestine affairs, no reporters or citizens allowedDocuments leaked to The Guardian reveal that ALEC proposed the oath at its August meeting. It’s contained in a massive list of duties for state legislative coordinators, a list so long that it’s not clear when coordinators would have time to work for the citizens of their state, a list complete with an agreement signature sheet where the coordinator would swear to complete the work for ALEC.

  ALEC (All Legislation Enhancing Corporations) is a secretive corporate front group that solicits money from corporations and spends it flying lawmaker-members to conferences in swanky settings where they help corporate members write legislation to fatten the corporate bottom line. The lawmakers take ALEC legislation back to their states, where they often introduce it word-for-corporate-written-word, sometimes with the ALEC logo still affixed to the pages.

This process effectively eliminates those pesky voters from lawmaking. ALEC is the middleman bringing corporations and lawmakers together, facilitating a process in which corporations craft legislation for themselves, and then lawmakers—all fat and happy on the corporate dime—take that legislation home and get it passed. No citizen input needed, thank you.

Stand your ground” laws are an ALEC achievement. These shoot-first-ask-questions-later decrees create deadly situations like the one in which George Zimmerman walked free after shooting unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin.

Shoot-first laws are great for gun manufacturers, assuring no liability for hotheads who rashly use their products. Florida’s shoot-first law wasn’t so great for Trayvon Martin. And, as it turns out, shoot-first  wasn’t great for ALEC, which lost about 400 lawmaker members and at least 40 significant corporate sponsors as a result of publicity linking ALEC to the shoot-first  laws and other legislation detrimental to citizens, such as ALEC’s voter suppression legislation requiring citizens to perform backflips through flaming hoops before exercising their most basic right in a democracy.

ALEC documents just leaked to The Guardian newspaper reveal the shadow group’s latest campaign to enrich corporate members at the expense of citizens. ALEC wants homeowners who have bought and installed solar panels or wind turbines to pay utility companies to accept the excess electricity they generate.

When utilities get power from oil or coal-fired generators or nuclear plants, they pay for it. But ALEC’s energy industry members want homeowners who produce renewable energy to be treated differently. They want homeowners who produce green electricity to pay the utility to take it, and then the utility would sell it.

The utility gets paid by both the energy producer and user! It’s a win-win, where the utility wins twice. For green energy producers and consumers, it’s a lose-lose.

Such legislation is the reason ALEC needs that loyalty oath—to get lawmakers to swear to serve corporations and ignore constituents.
ALEC met again last week. Maybe it adopted the loyalty oath then. Again, the public doesn’t know because ALEC excluded reporters and citizens from its work sessions. It allowed reporters only to attend speeches by Republican publicity-seekers such as Ted Cruz, the Texas senator who insisted on shutting down the government for 16 days in a failed attempt to kill the Affordable Care Act and deny millions health insurance.

Cruz slandered Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), who conducted hearings earlier this year on ALEC’s role in propagating shoot-first laws. In a warped attempt to be funny, Cruz attributed to Sen. Durbin a frightening McCarthy line. Cruz told the ALEC members: “I was just at the Capitol and I was asked to pass along an inquiry from Sen. Durbin: ‘Are you now or have you ever been a member of ALEC?’ ”

Cruz is wrong. Americans should be asking that question because they can’t be sure their state lawmakers haven’t sworn first allegiance to ALEC and thus foresworn their duty to first serve the citizens of their states and uphold the constitution.

ALEC claims 1,810 state lawmakers hand over—or get their state taxpayers to pay for them—$100 ALEC membership dues. But that figure seems questionable. For example, ALEC claims every single legislator in Iowa—all 150 of them, Democrats included—and every single legislator in South Dakota—all 105 of them, Democrats included—are members. This is an organization that describes its mission as advancing free markets, limited government and federalism. Those are the priorities of the Tea Party, not Democrats.

While some organizations have tried to compile ALEC membership lists based on leaked ALEC documents, some individual lawmakers on those lists, particularly Democrats, have publicly denied any association with ALEC.

Voters have a right to know where the allegiance of their lawmakers’ lies. They should be asking if their elected representatives have sworn to serve ALEC first. And if so, those should be the first to go.
Leo Gerard is the president of the United Steelworkers International union, part of the AFL-CIO. Gerard, the second Canadian to lead the union, started working at Inco's nickel smelter in Sudbury, Ontario at age 18. For more information about Gerard, visit usw.org.

More information about Leo Gerard, United Steelworkers President

Corporate Extortion: States Are Giving Billions to Corporations That Don’t Create Jobs

  Corporate Accountability and WorkPlace  


Bidding war for Boeing showcases upside-down priorities. 

Photo Credit: Image by Shutterstock
As the nation turns its attention to the latest federal budget deal where curtailed spending and cuts are the defining principal, a dozen blue and red state governors are in a bidding war recklessly offering to spend billions for tax breaks and other public-paid subsidies to lure the corporate giant Boeing to build its next-generation aircraft factory.

Beyond the schizophrenic spectre of congressional negotiators saying no to spending as governors are offering mountains of cash is a maddening reality: these taxpayer subsidies do not create the promised jobs or investments, a series of striking academic studies have found. All they do is boost bottom lines by cutting corporate costs.

“Economic development officials value business tax incentives as tools needed to compete with other states,” a November report commissioned by New York State’s Tax Reform and Fairness Commission began, stating their presumptive selling point. “There is, however, no conclusive evidence from research studies conducted since the mid-1950s to show that business tax incentives have an impact on net economic gains to the states above and beyond the level that would have been attained absent the incentives.”

The 143-page study, produced by Marilyn M. Rubin of John Jay College and Donald J. Boyd, the former director of the Rockefeller Institute of Government State and Local Government Finance research group, was not alone in this conclusion.

“We estimate the impact of manufacturer business taxes on value added during the 1990s for 15 manufacturing sectors in 20 U.S. states,” began a National Science Foundation report published this past June. “When we isolate the value of industrial incentives from the basic tax system in our theoretically preferred marginal tax measure, we find… only 1.2 percent industrial growth, the latter elasticity not statistically different from zero.”

Zero. Think about that. Right now the federal government is curtailing spending on a vast array of needed initiatives—from social safety nets to next-generation weather satellites. And in state and local government, which is the frontline for services and will face the consequences of federal budget cuts, yet another corporate giant is seeking and being offered billions—even as experts say those subsidies are worthless for creating jobs.

“When combined with many previous reports, the Rubin and Boyd [New York State] study shows that state and local giveaways to corporations simply redistribute wealth upward without increasing jobs,” wrote David Cay Johnston, a former Pulitzer Prize winning New York Times taxation reporter for TaxAnalysts.com. “Their continued existence is a testament to the benefits of being politically connected.”

The national cost of “being politically connected” was estimated at $80 billion annually, the New York Times found last year after investigating the “incentives [that] are given by states, cities and counties to companies that often pit local officials against one another to get the most lucrative packages.” Kenneth Thomas, a University of Missouri-St. Louis political scientist, estimated that cost was $70 billion annually, Johnston noted.

Boeing’s bidding war is the latest high-profile example of this corporate extortion racket.

It threatened to leave Washington and build a new factory for its next-generation 777X jet—which has $95 billion in orders—after a key union, the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, refused to accept a freeze in members’ pensions.

That prompted Boeing executives—who moved their headquarters to Chicago a decade ago after another interstate bidding war—to say that it was looking for greener pastures. Washington’s legislature convened a special session and adopted a package of subsidies worth $8.7 billion through 2040. Missouri put together a package worth $1.7 billion.
The St. Louis Post Dispatch got a copy of Boeing’s wish list, which was supposed to be confidential. It included free land, free facilities, free worker training, access to roads, railways and special runways, and all possible tax breaks. “Entire applicable tax structure including corporate income tax, franchise tax, property tax, sales/use tax, business license/gross receipts tax and excise taxes to be significantly reduced,” it said.

The nation’s political elite doesn’t want to hear that coddling corporations is a ripoff—and the public’s money could and should be more wisely spent elsewhere. In Congress, supporting for legitimate public needs has become an unforgiveable sin in the eyes of rightwing Republicans in both chambers. Meanwhile, pro-corporate Democrats also support unneeded corporate largesse, as seen by the pathetic offers to companies like Boeing coordinated by governors such as Washington’s Jay Inslee, a Democrat.  
The corporate subsidies study commisioned by New York’s Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo was apparently not what the governor wanted to hear, Johnston reported. It was not merely shelved, but Cuomo’s response to the corporate subsidy report was to appoint a new tax reform commission, “and made no mention of eliminating the tax credits so thoroughly dissected by Rubin and Boyd,” he wrote. “The implication being that not having gotten what he wanted, Cuomo is trying again for a report made as instructed—although only time will tell.”

Meanwhile, across the country, there is little evidence that government is slowing the movement of taxpayer resources toward the top. The newest federal budget deal doesn’t raise taxes on the wealthiest people or institutions. Instead, it cuts services for the middle-class, poor and eats away at federal workforce pay and benefits, according to an early analysis by the Washington-based Center for Budget and Policy Priorities.

At the state level, GOP governors—some of whom have blocked Obamacare and denied access to proactive care for their poor by refusing federal funds to expand Medicaid, such Alabama and North Carolina—were “putting together bids [for Boeing]… bragging about their respective environments of can-do optimism,” The New York Times reported.   
This schism—Congress curtailing spending while states bend over backwards to offer the latest corporate giant everything it wants—shows the power and reach of government. If only that “can-do” attitude was put to work to cultivate economic security for millions of struggling American households, instead of for a wealthy corporation that’s evaded taxes and reported billions in profits for years.  

Steven Rosenfeld covers democracy issues for AlterNet and is the author of "Count My Vote: A Citizen's Guide to Voting" (AlterNet Books, 2008).

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Corporate America’s New Scam: Industry P.R. Firm Poses as Think Tank!

How the media fell hook, line and sinker for the propagandist, respectable-sounding "Employment Policies Institute"

When scholars at University of California, Berkeley, recently released a study finding that low wages in the fast food industry cost taxpayers $7 billion every year in social supports to subsidize salaries of low-income workers, they ran into a respectable-sounding opponent. The professors had argued that the minimum wage should be increased to relieve the burden on taxpayers who underwrite supersize restaurant industry profits.

Richard Berman (Credit: CBS News)

But as the bona fide academic study rolled out, multiple media outlets ran comments criticizing the report’s numbers and methodology from the scholarly sounding “Employment Policies Institute.”  The Austin Business Journal characterized EPI as a think tank “which studies employment growth,” while the Miami Herald ran a quote from Michael Saltsman, whom the paper named as EPI’s “research director.”

For his part, Saltsman ran aggressive Op-Eds against any minimum wage increase in papers such as the the Missoulian, where he was described as EPI’s “research fellow.” In an Op-Ed he wrote for the Washington Post, his title was listed as EPI’s “research director” but with a notation that EPI “receives funding from restaurants, among other sources.” But even this partial disclosure provides a disservice to readers in the nation’s capital.

In fact, the Employment Policies Institute operates from the same office suite as Berman and Co., a public relations firm owned by Richard Berman. This is not an opinion; it’s a fact anyone can verify by viewing EPI and Berman and Co.’s websites. In such a depressed media environment — where there are four public relations flacks for every reporter, compared to a 1-to-1 ratio in the 1960s – it is not surprising that a P.R. company could successfully rebrand itself as a think tank and capitalize on an acronym held by an actual think tank, the Economic Policy Institute, with 20 staff and 36 respected research associates.

At the Center for Media and Democracy, we have spent 20 years tracking disinformation and spin, and Richard Berman has long been one of our favorite research subjects. Berman came out of the restaurant industry, spending several years as a top executive at Steak and Ale before launching Berman and Co. to help advocate for corporate America. His clients have included tobacco companies (for which he formed an entity he called the Center for Consumer Freedom) and the soda makers (for which he created the American Beverage Institute).  He was once profiled on a “60 Minutes” piece titled “Dr. Evil.” But one of his most successful products has been the Employment Policies Institute.

EPI regularly opines in the press on a host of topics. Recently it has been working to show that restaurant workers don’t need higher wages or paid sick days, but few Americans are informed by the press that this “think tank” is just one or two individuals working for spinmeister Berman, likely on a contract for the restaurant industry.

We recently analyzed three years of newspaper stories from across the country that quoted from EPI or Michael Saltsman.

In 83 percent of the stories we examined, reporters provided readers with no information about EPI’s relationship with Berman and Co. In most cases, journalists stated that EPI is a “Washington DC nonprofit” and called Saltsman a “research director.” In some instances, reporters took tentative steps in the right direction and called EPI “conservative” or “pro-business.” Only about 3 percent of the time did they correctly link EPI to Berman and Co.

Failing to note EPI’s role as an arm of Berman and Co. fools readers into thinking it is a legitimate and independent voice in national politics. In 37 percent of stories we found reporters tapped EPI to counter positions by government experts or politicians; in 39 percent EPI was used to counter policy experts at nonprofits; and 22 percent of the time, EPI was used as a counterpoint to academics at American universities.

Certainly corporations have a right to have their voice heard, but that voice should be their own, not that of a phony expert on retainer.

Lisa Graves is Executive Director of the Center for Media and Democracy, the publisher of PRWatch.org, SourceWatch.org, and BanksterUSA.org. She formerly served as Deputy Assistant Attorney General in the Office of Legal Policy at the U.S. Department of Justice, as Chief Counsel for Nominations for the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, and as Deputy Chief of the Article III Judges Division of the U.S. Courts.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Corporate America Wants the Trans-Pacific Partnership for Christmas This Year

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Corporate America Wants the Trans-Pacific Partnership for Christmas This Year


In Secret Negotiations, U.S. Officials and Corporate Representatives Trade Our Human and Constitutional Rights for Corporate Profit

When “Everything That’s Fit to Print” Doesn’t Include the Content of a Proposed Trade Agreement, Who Represents the Public Interest at the Bargaining Table?

The New York Times – likely the most influential newspaper on the planet – last week editorialized in favor of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a trade and investor rights agreement currently being negotiated in Washington D.C. by the United States Trade Representative (USTR) and eleven other nations which border the Pacific Ocean. Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam are all currently participating in the talks.

The Times’ editorial is of great interest – given the enormous influence the paper has upon public debate – and may represent yet another low point in the paper’s 21st century journalism, despite its benign title, “A Pacific Trade Deal.” 

As the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) recently pointed out, the text of the TPP remains a secret, known only to the trade representatives involved in the talks and the 600 corporate representatives who have been invited to comment on it. The EFF’s Maira Sutton wrote:
That raises two distressing possibilities: either in an act of extraordinary subservience, the Times has endorsed an agreement that neither the public nor its editors have the ability to read. Or, in an act of extraordinary cowardice, it has obtained a copy of the secret text and hasn’t fulfilled its duty to the public interest to publish it.
So which is it – subservience to elite, undemocratic decision-making, or a cowardly deference to the exclusive authority of those elites?

Endorsing a trade agreement which has yet to be seen by the public, public interest groups, or our representatives in the House or Senate raises alarming questions about the New York Times’  view of the role of journalism in a functioning democracy. If all parties to public policy discussions agree that the policies in question should remain a secret, and the institutions of journalism which are indispensable to an informed citizenry find that acceptable, how is the public to voice its opinion of those policies?

U.S. negotiators have made no secret of their rationale for keeping the nearly-complete text of the agreement from the public. According to former U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk, once the mayor of Dallas, Texas and a golfing partner of President Obama, releasing the text before finished could raise such public opposition to the agreement that participants might later refuse to sign it. Kirk suggested in an interview with Reuters that this was the case in 2001, when the administration of George W. Bush released a highly edited, draft text of the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas and subsequently failed to reach a final agreement.

Congress, it seems, is no more inclined to demand a review of the trade documents in question, much less insist upon more public input. This is despite the fact that the U.S. Constitution grants Congress exclusive authority to negotiate the terms of trade agreements between states and with foreign countries.

In June, Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass) sent Obama’s nominee to replace Kirk, Michael Froman, a letter requesting the TPP text, stating “I believe in transparency and democracy, and I think the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) should too.” The USTR’s argument against releasing the text was, Warren wrote, “exactly backward.”

“If transparency would lead to widespread public opposition to a trade agreement, then that trade agreement should not be the policy of the United States.”

On June 19, 2013, Sen. Warren announced that she would not vote for Froman to take the trade office position due to his refusal to release the TPP text, even in an edited or redacted form. The Senate approved Froman’s nomination that day by a vote of 93 to 4, with few other senators willing to join Warren’s stand for transparency and the public interest. California Senator Barbara Boxer voted “present.”

Good Reason to Fear the TPP


According to information leaked from the secret negotiations over the past several years, as well as Public CitizenFood & Water Watch, and other public interest organizations, there are numerous areas in which the public should be concerned as the negotiations conclude. Many of the proposed rules in the agreement read like an extended Christmas wish list for corporate predators. Rules currently being negotiated would allow corporations to:
  • Buy land, natural resources, and factories without governmental review
  • Demand compensation from member countries for loss of “expected future profits” due to member countries’ health, labor, or environmental laws
  • Sue governments directly, before tribunals of private sector lawyers
A primary goal corporations have pushed the TPP to achieve has been the elevation of individual corporations and their investors to an equal standing with member nations; citizens of the member nations have no standing under the proposed TPP rules, and no legal recourse.
There are numerous other areas of concern:
  • Food safety - U.S. food safety laws governing pesticide residues, bacteria, and additives could be outlawed and weakened. Food labeling laws such as organic, animal-welfare, and GMO identification could be eliminated as an “illegal trade barrier.” Many TPP nations are huge farmed fish producers which use chemicals and antibiotics prohibited in the U.S. The TPP would increase the import of unsafe fish into the country.
  • Local foods - “Buy local,” “Buy American,” or other preferential purchasing programs, designed to strengthen local food systems and economies could be declared barriers to trade, with corporations and investors suing to force their elimination.
  • Fracking - The TPP would remove the Department of Energy’s authority to regulate natural gas exports to TPP member countries, eliminating DOE review of environmental and economic impacts of fracking on our communities. Given Japan’s insatiable demand for natural gas – representing a third of the world’s import market – pressure to increase fracking in the U.S. would certainly grow. This would also increase pollution and carbon emissions in the U.S., as the energy required to cool and liquefy natural gas into an exportable state renders it nearly as dirty as coal production.
  • Jobs - The TPP gives incentives to corporations to relocate jobs to lower wage TPP member nations, by guaranteeing both low risk and lower cost of doing so.
  • Banking - The TPP prohibits transaction taxes currently being discussed worldwide as a means to control financial speculation, which repeatedly threatens the international economy with financial crises. It also limits national “too big to fail” rules and reforms that separate consumer banking from riskier investment banking.
  • Internet - Despite their failure to pass last year’s wildly unpopular Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), which was derided as a gift to corporate desires to control and profit from the internet, many of SOPA’s provisions were folded into the TPP. The agreement would empower corporations to monitor our activities, arbitrarily cut off our internet access, remove content, and impose fines.

Fast-Track Authority

The White House and other participants to the TPP talks recently stated they’re on target to complete the trade negotiations by the end of the year.

Consequently, Obama has requested that Congress grant the administration fast track authority as the deal is finalized.

Fast track authority limits Congressional oversight – and therefore our only public analysis and input – of international trade deals. In recent years public interest advocates, activists, and others have successfully brought fast track to the public’s attention by pointing to its inherently anti-democratic nature – limiting public debate, Congressional review, and oversight removes the sole means by which the public can influence trade deals which impact us all.

Unfortunately the limited response of corporate negotiators and their associated friends and allies in the United States has been to rebrand fast track authority as “trade promotion authority” (TPA).

Senate Finance Committee leaders, Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) and Ranking Member Orrin Hatch (R-UT) recently stated they will be working with their counterparts in the House to grant Obama the TPA he’s requested very soon.

Public interest groups are attempting to mobilize public opinion to oppose fast track authority and focus attention upon the Trans-Pacific Partnership, but time is running short. A group of fourteen organizations recently sent members of Congress a letter urging them not to grant the Obama administration fast track authority, citing the secrecy surrounding the TPP’s negotiation and the subsequent lack of accountability to the public that fast track would encourage.
The letter read, in part:
The American public has a right to know the contents of the international agreements its government is crafting. Corporations cannot be the only interests represented in this agreement, since they do not advocate for policies that safeguard or even represent the interests of the public at large. Given the administration’s complete lack of transparency in negotiating the TPP, it is vitally important that democratically elected representatives are at least given the opportunity to conduct a review and push for fixes.


Economist Dean Baker commented recently on the New York Times’ endorsement of the TPP.
Bizarrely, the NYT editorialized in favor of the TPP, concluding its piece:
A good agreement would lower duties and trade barriers on most products and services, strengthen labor and environmental protections, limit the ability of governments to tilt the playing field in favor of state-owned firms and balance the interests of consumers and creators of intellectual property. Such a deal will not only help individual countries but set an example for global trade talks.
Yes, boys and girls, Goldman Sachs, Exxon-Mobil and Pfizer will put together a deal that does all these things. This is serious?
Citizens concerned about the health and well-being of our communities, our food supply, our environment, jobs, freedom of speech and association, and the corporate takeover of our human rights are encouraged to contact their elected representatives and discuss the TPP with their colleagues, friends, and relatives.

Ask your reps to deny the administration the inherently undemocratic fast track authority. Insist upon a thorough, public review of the TPP by Congress. Though our nation increasingly appears to be run by, and for, the benefit of corporate America, those corporate elites and their benefactors’ greatest fear is an informed citizenry which is actively involved in the civic and political life of the country. We the people have the power. We have only to exercise it.
Resources for further information and for exercising your rights:

Contact your elected representatives

The Trans-Pacific Partnership and intellectual property rights

Expose the TPP

The Electronic Frontier Foundation

Public Citizen

• This article originally appeared at The Raucous Rooster

Christopher Fisher is an independent Sonoma County journalist whose work has appeared at Truthout, Civil Eats, Grist, and the Petaluma Bounty blog. He is also the Vice President of the recently reborn Petaluma Grange, one of the rapidly growing California Granges, which support democratic communities, sustainable agriculture, and fair local food systems. Read other articles by Christopher.

Monday, October 7, 2013

FDA Policy: Big Pharma Firms Pay to Play

'Instead of protecting the public health, the FDA has been allowing the drug companies to pay for a seat at a small table where all the rules were written.'


- Jacob Chamberlain, staff writer 
(Photo: Reuters)

Major pharmaceutical companies are engaging in "pay to play" arrangements that allow them to shape public policy on painkiller testing rules and regulations, according to e-mails obtained by a public records request.
The Washington Post reports:

A scientific panel that shaped the federal government’s policy for testing the safety and effectiveness of painkillers was funded by major pharmaceutical companies that paid hundreds of thousands of dollars for the chance to affect the thinking of the Food and Drug Administration, according to hundreds of e-mails obtained by a public records request.

The e-mails show that the companies paid as much as $25,000 to attend any given meeting of the panel, which had been set up by two academics to provide advice to the FDA on how to weigh the evidence from clinical trials. A leading FDA official later called the group “an essential collaborative effort.”

"They are getting a huge amount for very little money (impact on FDA thinking, exposure to FDA thinking, exposure to academic opinion leaders and their expertise, journal article authorship, etc.) and they know it," explains researcher behind the scheme.

The emails show exchanges between two medical professors at the head of a yearly clinical trials review panel known as IMMPACT. In the exchange, professors Robert Dworkin of the University of Rochester and Dennis Turk of the University of Washington discuss funding for the event and their inclusion of 14 pharmaceuticals companies who paid up to $25,000 each for admittance this year alone.

In these IMPAACT meetings, a panel of scientists, representatives from the FDA, the National Institute of Health (NIH) and the participating major pharmaceutical companies discuss the safety of individual painkillers and the procedures and results of clinical trials.

Together, the group produces and publishes scientific guidelines and “consensus” statements on the testing of the drugs, which Bob Rappaport, the chief of the FDA’s analgesic division and an attendee of many meetings of the group, has called “a wealth of opportunity for communication” that is “approving new analgesic drug products.”

In regards to the "fee" taken from pharmaceutical companies to partake, Prof. Dworkin explicitly explained the rationale in an email to partner Prof. Turk:

20k is small change, and they can justify it easily if they want to be at the table. Everybody has been very happy with [the meetings] and they are getting a huge amount for very little money (impact on FDA thinking, exposure to FDA thinking, exposure to academic opinion leaders and their expertise, journal article authorship, etc.) and they know it.

“These e-mails help explain the disastrous decisions the FDA’s analgesic division has made over the last 10 years,” Craig Mayton, the Columbus, Ohio attorney who made the public records request to the University of Washington, told The Washington Post. “Instead of protecting the public health, the FDA has been allowing the drug companies to pay for a seat at a small table where all the rules were written.”

The emails reveal a "pay-for-play arrangement" where companies buy access to policy-shaping, said Michael Carome, director of health research for the watchdog group Public Citizen.

"The whole picture is a troubling one and it warrants an independent investigation," said Carome.


Thursday, August 22, 2013

Corporations vs. Human Rights

 Global Issues

Social, Political, Economic and Environmental Issues That Affect Us All

Corporations and Human Rights

by Anup Shah

  • This Page Last Updated Thursday, September 19, 2002
Of all human rights failures today, those in economic and social areas affect by far the larger number and are the most widespread across the world’s nations and large numbers of people.
Human Development Report 2000, United Nations Development Programme p. 73
As the new millennium emerges, trends in global human rights are changing. Human rights issues are crossing sovereign boundaries and are no longer just issues of the state. As more and more non-governmental organizations are growing, and the Internet expands and facilitates a quicker spread of information, there are more and more people raising concerns about human rights related issues. Some of these come from the increasingly larger and influential commercial sector including large, multinational companies.

Profit over people

As the world globalizes, multinational corporations are also coming under more scrutiny, as questions about their accountability are also being raised.

In some cases, some corporations have lobbied their governments to aggressively support regimes that are favorable to them. For example, especially in the 1970s and 80s, some tacitly supported dictatorships as they could control their own people, be more easily influenced and corrupted, allow conditions like cheap labor and sweatshops, and so on. This is less practical today as a company’s image with such associations can more readily be tarnished today. Increasingly then, influence is being spread through lobbying for global economic and trade arrangements that are more beneficial to themselves.

This can be accomplished through various means including:
  • Tacitly supporting military interventions (often dressed in propaganda about saving the people from themselves, or undoing a wrong in the other country and so on)
  • Pushing for economic policies that are heavily weighted in their favor
  • Foreign investment treaties and other negotiations designed in part to give more abilities for corporations to expand into other poorer countries possibly at the expense of local businesses.
  • Following an ideology which is believed to be beneficial to everyone, but hides the realities and complexities that may worsen situations. These ideologies can be influential as some larger corporations may indeed benefit from these policies, but that does not automatically mean everyone else will, and power and such interests may see these agendas being pushed forth more so.
However, with this expansion and drive for further profits, there has often come a disregard for human rights. In some cases, corporations have been accused for hiring local militaries to subdue and even kill people who are protesting the effects and practices of these corporations, such as the various controversies over oil corporations and resource and mineral companies in parts of Africa have highlighted.

As globalization has increased in the past decade or two, so has the criticisms. Whether it is concerns at profits over people as the driving factor, or violations of human rights, or large scale tax avoidance by some companies, some large multinationals operating in developing countries in particular have certainly had many questions to answer.

The pressure to compete has often meant fighting against social clauses and policies that may lead to more costs for the company where other companies may not be subject to the same restrictions. The fear of losing out in competition then drives many companies to a lower common denominator rather than a higher one.

And so there is a downward pressure on worker’s wages and their working conditions because they are such major costs for many operations.

Many multinationals encourage the formation of export processing zones in developing countries which end up being areas where worker’s rights are reduced. This way they are able to play off countries against each other; if one tries to improve worker or living standards in some way, the company can threaten to move operations to another zone in another country. Some developing countries such as China also benefit from this arrangement as it makes them more competitive in international markets.
Lobbying at international institutions such as the World Trade Organization also helps them see more favorable conditions and the companies with more money can wield more influence, creating an imbalanced playing field, as opposed to a level one which they publicly argue for.

Despite the rhetoric of many corporations signing up to human rights related pacts and agreements, their lack of real commitment is still apparent, and, as mentioned by the previous link, “[w]hat is more, reveals the Washington D.C.-based IPS in a recently released report, ‘Top 200: The Rise of Corporate Global Power’, leading corporations have fiercely opposed attempts that require them to ‘achieve a higher level of transparency.’” [You can see the actual report from this link as well.]

Constructive Engagement

Some corporations and think tanks argue that their actions can actually be positive. Their “constructive engagement” allows the spread of democracy, new technologies, human rights and so on to those regions, which, over time, would allow more positive benefits to be realized.

This sounds nice and comforting and there are certainly cases where this happens. With globalization in general, cross cultural communication is occurs far quicker than ever before. Being exposed to more ideas, such as democracy, can be very powerful. However, critics point out that
  • Often those countries which have been dictatorships are often regimes that have been placed in power, or supported, by western nations and the larger corporations have benefited from the dictatorships’ ability to control their own people.
  • In some countries, large corporations have even funded media suppression or military activities against workers, themselves.
  • Human rights conditions have hardly improved due to corporate activities and the technologies brought in are usually still owned by the company itself, so that the self-empowering benefits of technology transfer is less than what it could be.
  • However, some public pressure has forced certain large companies to address their human rights issues. Such companies include large oil corporations like BP Amoco and Statoil. It remains to be seen if their drive is from a public relations concern, or a genuine concern for the well being of the people that either work for them in other countries or are affected by their work practices.
  • The constructive engagement argument is then seen as a nice cover to continue exploitative practices.
In toys, garments and clothing, the brief history of voluntary Codes of Conduct is one of TNCs being dragged into them with little enthusiasm and not very much willingness to comply unless they have to—although of course, they stoutly maintain the opposite.
… As governments spend resources on EPZs [Export Processing Zones], they foresake the opportunity to “create more jobs for the same amount of money by investing in and supporting small enterprises serving the local market.” EPZs require government funds which could be used elsewhere for projects that directly help the poor. Their growth is coming at the expense of the poor. Whether they operate inside or outside such zones, TNCs involved in manufacturing have not helped most developing countries to improve the decline in their terms of trade, neither have they provided the poor with an escape from poverty.
… [With respect to tourism] [n]et foreign exchange earnings for developing countries are “often lower than the income figure might lead one to believe”, says a UN report. The difference is due to “leakages”—the percentage of the tourist’s money which does not stay in the country being visited, but which goes instead to the foreign-owned airline, tour operator and hotel. … These figures are significant. They show that a great deal more foreign exchange stays in a country when hotels are locally owned.
John Madeley, Big Business Poor Peoples; The Impact of Transnational Corporations on the World’s Poor, (Zed Books, 1999) pp. 112, 114, 135 - 136.
Gordon Hanson, in an article for UNCTAD (United Nations Conference on Trade and Development) and the G-24 titled Should Countries Promote Foreign Direct Investment?, February 2001, concludes that “countries should be sceptical about claims that promoting FDI [Foreign Direct Investment] will raise their welfare.”

We hear more and more about philanthropic organizations set up by mega-successful business elites, where millions of dollars are donated to seemingly worthy causes. However, the fact that such donations are needed also serves as an indication that development policies and globalization policies in their current form are not sustainable! The following quote summarizes this notion quite well:
It is all very well for Bill Gates to charitably donate $750m to pay for immunization programmes for certain diseases, as he recently announced he would do, and for James Wolfensohn to urge transnational companies setting up in poor countries to contribute financially directly to local education services. Societies which depend on such largess to meet their basic health and education needs are neither sustainable, democratic nor equitable—yet new dimensions of power are ceded to large companies.
Brendan Martin, New Leaf or Fig Leaf? The challenge of the New Washington Consensus, Bretton Woods Project, March 2000.

Economic Power also wields Political Power

While the drive for efficiency is always a good thing (as it should help prevent wasting resources), oftentimes, the goal of keeping these costs down also leads to reducing wages, working conditions and often the basic rights of people.
This occurs because these corporations and even some nations seek out places where poor labor regulations can be taken advantage of in an unfair way, or by not supporting—or even opposing—international or national bodies and policies that could help to ensure fairness.
Whilst it is in the public’s interest that resources be used sparingly and in a sustainable reusable manner, Corporations choose to create disposable products which require constant replacement/repurchase. The Corporations’ interest in maximizing sales and profits is in direct conflict with our own democratic right to choose how finite resources are allocated.
Daniel Bennett, Program on Corporations Law & Democracy, Corporate Watch, March 1999
And regarding the notion of efficiency, there is a difference between an industry or corporation driving towards efficiency for maximizing profits, versus driving towards efficiency that would benefit society. An example of this will be seen in the next section on this site about medical research and the pharmaceutical industry.

To highlight this point further, take for example the illegal drug or tobacco industries. They, like other industries need to operate efficiently and minimize unnecessary costs. However, their impact on society is negative to say the least.
In the same way, other industries, such as the automobile/transportation industries, health industries, even how various laws are structures etc can all have a net effect of improving efficiency for those industries but not always for society in general. For more detail about this aspect, refer to The World’s Wasted Wealth II, by J.W. Smith (Institute for Economic Democracy, 1994).

Some transnational corporations make more in sales than the GDPs (Gross Domestic Product) of many countries! Of the 100 hundred wealthiest bodies, 51 percent are owned by corporations. While this can be seen as a success story from some viewpoints, others suggest (see previous link) that these and other large corporations are largely unaccountable for the many social and environmental problems that they leave in their wake, and that their size means that their effects are considerable.

It is not that every single corporation is inherently bad or greedy or something like that, but oftentimes, the very large, multinational corporations who naturally have vested interests in international development and trade policies (like any group) are able to deploy enormous financial resources in an attempt to get favorable outcomes. The political power that is therefore held by such a small number of people impacts the planet significantly. As a result a few of these corporations make up some of the most influential sources of political and economic power.
Despite its prominence in political debate, corporate power and its systems of checks and balances are not well understood. Corporate power at its current level was not foreseen by early lawmakers and constitutional scholars, and its foundation in law is uneasy and inconsistent. But it is clear that the question of the legitimacy of corporate power in the United States has been transformed. Originally, the government had to review and specifically approve each corporate charter as being essential for a specific purpose that was in the public interest. Now one does not ask so much as notify the state that a corporation has been created. Anyone can incorporate for any activity that is not illegal. And the corporation, granted at least some of the constitutionally protected right of free speech originally contemplated for individual citizens, has now been accorded the right to question and challenge whether government is acting in the public interest.
In fact, government is now as much a creation of business as the other way around. Businesses grew so fast that there was no opportunity for other national institutions to develop adequate power to filter the impact of commerce on civil life. So Big Business begot Big Government. Because the goals of business are not always identical to the goals of society (which is partially a failure of the corporate governance system …), some institution was needed to harmonize the undoubted benefits of active commerce with the various needs of other constituencies. In the United States, this organization was the federal government, the only other major national institution.
Robert A.G. Monks and Nell Minow, Power and Accountability, (an on-line book, originally written 1991)
Through influencing governments, larger multinational companies especially, with their enormous resources wield significant political as well as economic power as also highlighted by the above quote as witnessed by the 2000 Presidential Election in the United States, where corporate donations to both Bush and Gore were in the millions of dollars.

Will Corporations “Rule the World”?

For all the vivid examples of modern corporate power, such as the annual income of Motorola being equal to the annual income of Nigeria's 118 million people, it is folly to believe that big business on its own is shaping the new world order. This allows the argument against globalisation to be depoliticised, reducing it to single issues of “ethical trading” and “codes of conduct”, and inviting its co-option. Above all, it misses the point that state power in the west is accelerating.
A common perception is that due to the enormous influences and power of many major multinationals, corporations are therefore going to “rule the world”; that corporations will reduce the need for a government and will dismantle the state.

Yet, this is not completely true.
  • Corporations still require the state to provide them the environment conducive to their needs.
  • The state may reduce its functions and obligations and thus “roll back” its commitment to its people, but that doesn't mean that they won't be needed and become obsolete.
  • Such rollback will also enable decision-making (and therefore control) to be further concentrated.
  • This “rollback” happens both in the North and the South.
    • The South has been “structurally adjusted” to open up the economy and roll back the functions of the state, and even concentrates further the decision-making. That is, these IMF-, World Bank-prescribed policies have reduced democracy. (See this web site's section on SAPs for more.)
    • In the North, in countries ranging from New Zealand, to the United Kingdom, and most aggressively in the United States, the functions of the government have been constantly rolled back. Less is spent on health, education etc, while more on military, policing and so on. (See Walden Bello, Dark Victory, (Food First, 1994, 1999 Second Edition) for more on this.)
  • Yet governments will still be required to provide repressive functions to “keep the rabble in line” so to speak, as described by Noam Chomsky.
  • They will also be required to help create or open up markets, or even provide military support for such things (as described in the military expansion section on this site).
  • Also, an interception of society's wealth is sometimes provided to large businesses to just survive. Western nations provide a lot of protectionism to their industries, while forcing the poor countries to completely open up. If there was true free trade and fair competition, many wealthy western corporations might not be able to survive, as John Pilger suggests. (See also the corporate welfare and evasion of responsibilities section on this site.
So, while corporate influence increases and continually drives many aspects of our lives, from influencing and even buying elections, public policy and so on, they still require a government that functions to serve their needs as well. International institutions such as the IMF, World Bank, and World Trade Organization, are also needed. The irony is that by often using tax payer money, the tax payer unwittingly supporting a process that is leading to more exploitation of tax payers. For the poor countries, the multinational corporations of the west are seen as further extensions of those western nations.

As the post September 11, 2001 corporate scandals have shown in the U.S., even U.S. multinationals are not exempt from all issues. Corporate accountability has come to the fore especially for shareholders due to accounting and other scandals (though there are still concerns of corporate welfare going on by using the war on terror as an excuse -- sometimes legitimate, sometimes not). As one example, the L.A. Times reported that “In a setback for multinational corporations, a federal appeals panel ruled [18th September 2002] that they can be held liable in U.S. courts for aiding and abetting human rights violations committed by others abroad.” A number of multinationals have been accused for gross human rights violations around the world, as briefly discussed in various sections on this site, and as that L.A. Times provides an example of.

It is possible therefore, that with the drive for real democracy and accountability at all levels of society that the interests and influences of big multinationals and others that are currently regarded by many as having a negative impact may perhaps be checked appropriately, though history has shown that this is no easy task. The above example from the L.A. Times is just one small step.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Water Wars: Corporations Begin To Lay Claim To the World's H20

Water Wars: Corporations Begin To Lay Claim To the World's H20

Water Wars: Corporations Begin To Lay Claim To the World's H20

It's bad enough that Nestlé former CEO—now Chairman of the Board—Peter Brabeck-Letmathe supports GMO farming, saying that genetically modified (GM) foods are "perfectly safe" and don't cause any health problems, while also saying that organic farming is "not the best.

But now he's dipped his toes into the water supply, indicating that the world's water supply should—and will soon—come under the control of corporations such as Nestlé. He believes that water should be managed by businesses and governing personnel. In short, Brabeck-Letmathe wants water to be controlled, privatized and delegated, monitoring and controlling people's water use—including amounts and how and where it's used.
And let's be honest . . . since Brabeck unwaveringly supports GM farming, you can bet that GM foods would have first priority of water rights, while organic farming would be forced out.

You can view the video of Brabeck-Letmathe speaking his mind about GM farming and water supply in this interview:

Underlying Brabeck-Letmathe's premise is his company being one of the largest foodstuff corporations on the planets—over $65 billion in profit each year. He's also quick to point out that millions of people are dependent on him and his company.

But that's not enough for him. He also wants to control the global water supply.  He understands that one-third of the population could face water shortages within the next 15 to 20 years, and he'd like to be a part of a "water dictatorship."

Unfortunately, we don't have to wait 15 to 20 years to see people who lack adequate water. Currently, there are nearly one-third of our world's population—approximately 900 million people—who don't have access to clean water. In fact, less than 1 percent of the water on our planet is drinkable untreated.

You may think the idea of water control is far removed, but some states in the West have had laws in place for some time that outlaw people from collecting rainwater on their own properties without a "valid water right." For example, Colorado and Washington have rainwater and snowmelt collection restrictions limiting the free use of that water. In fact, Washington says that reclaiming rainwater is illegal because it's seen as a natural resource owned by the state and, therefore, falls under the jurisdiction of the State Department of Ecology.

You see, the water wars have been around for a while, but have gained even more attention in the past couple of decades, since water shortages and water waste have come to the fore.  It's truly something to contend with, too, and the United States is one of the greatest water users with each person, on average, using about 150 gallons of water daily. By contrast, Britain uses approximately 30 gallons per person daily, while people in countries such as Kenya subsist on less than 5 gallons per day.

It's no wonder there are water wars.

Perhaps Cheryl King Fisher, executive director of the Vermont-based New England Grassroots Environmental Fund, sums it up best:  "The tension between public ownership and privatization of our water resources is enormous. Water is the gold of the current century."

And it's "gold" that corporations such as Nestlé would like to take and keep, so beware.

Disclaimer: This article is not intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of GreenMedInfo or its staff.

Monday, August 5, 2013

3 Biggest Lies Corporate Lobbyists Will Use to Push Lower Corporate Taxes

Corporate lobbyists are readying their arguments for Congress' return from recess. All of them are specious.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock.com/Kiev.Victor

Instead of spending August on the beach, corporate lobbyists are readying arguments for when Congress returns in September about why corporate taxes should be lowered.

But they’re lies. You need to know why so you can spread the truth.

Lie #1: U.S. corporate tax rates are higher than the tax rates of other big economies. Wrong. After deductions and tax credits, the average corporate tax rate in the U.S. is  lower. According to the Congressional Research Service, the United States has an effective corporate tax rate of 27.1%, compared to an average of 27.7% in the other large economies of the world.

Lie #2: U.S. corporations need lower taxes in order to make investments in new jobs. Wrong again. Corporations are sitting on almost $2 trillion of cash they don’t know what to do with. The 1000 largest U.S. corporations alone are hoarding almost $ 1 trillion.

Rather than investing in expansion, they’re buying back their own stocks or raising dividends. They have no economic incentive to expand unless or until consumers want to buy more, but consumer spending is pinched because the middle class keeps shrinking and the median wage, adjusted for inflation, keeps dropping.

Lie #3: U.S. corporations need a tax break in order to be globally competitive. Baloney. The “competitiveness” of American corporations is becoming a meaningless term because most big U.S. corporations are no longer American companies at all. The biggest have been creating  way more jobs abroad than in the U.S.

A growing percent of their customers are outside the U.S. Their investors are global. They do their R&D all over the world. And they park their profits wherever taxes are lowest — another reason they pay so little in taxes. (Don’t be fooled that a “tax amnesty” that will bring all that money back to America and generate lots of new investments and jobs here — see item #2 above).

Corporations want corporate tax reduction to be the centerpiece of “tax reform” come the fall. The President has already signaled a willingness to sign on in return for more infrastructure investment. But the arguments for corporate tax reduction are specious.

Robert B. Reich has served in three national administrations, most recently as secretary of labor under President Bill Clinton. He also served on President Obama's transition advisory board. His latest book is Aftershock: The Next Economy and America's Future. His homepage is www.robertreich.org.

Monday, July 8, 2013

How Corporations Corrupt Science at the Public's Expense

 The Union of Concerned Scientists

 Scientific Integrity

How Corporations Corrupt Science at the Public's Expense

Report looks at methods of corporate abuse, suggests steps toward reform



Executive Summary

Federal decision makers need access to the best available science in order to craft policies that protect our health, safety, and environment.

Unfortunately, censorship of scientists and the manipulation, distortion, and suppression of scientific information have threatened federal science in recent years.

This problem has sparked much debate, but few have identified the key driver of political interference in federal science: the inappropriate influence of companies with a financial stake in the outcome.

A new UCS report, Heads They Win, Tails We Lose, shows how corporations influence the use of science in federal decision making to serve their own interests.

Methods of Abuse

The report describes five basic methods that corporations use to influence the scientific and policy-making processes:

How Do They Game the System?
Let Us Recount the Ways

Heads They Win, Tails We Lose is full of real-world examples of the ways corporations interfere with science. Here are just a few of the highlights:

Suppressing Research:
Hog Farm Emissions

After pork producers contacted his supervisors, a USDA microbiologist was prevented from publishing research showing that emissions from industrial hog farms contained antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

Corrupting Advisory Panels:
Childhood Lead Poisoning

A few weeks before a CDC advisory panel met to discuss revising federal lead standards, two scientists with ties to the lead industry were added to the panel. The committee voted against tightening the standards.

Ghostwriting Articles:
The Pharmaceutical Industry

A 2011 analysis found evidence of corporate authorship in research articles on a variety of drugs, including Avandia, Paxil, Tylenol, and Vioxx.
For more examples, visit our A-to-Z Guide to Political Interference in Science.
Corrupting the Science. Corporations suppress research, intimidate scientists, manipulate study designs, ghostwrite scientific articles, and selectively publish results that suit their interests.

Shaping Public Perception. Private interests downplay evidence, exaggerate uncertainty, vilify scientists, hide behind front groups, and feed the media slanted news stories.

Restricting Agency Effectiveness. Companies attack the science behind agency policy, hinder the regulatory process, corrupt advisory panels, exploit the "revolving door" between corporate and government employment, censor scientists, and withhold information from the public.

Influencing Congress. By spending billions of dollars on lobbying and campaign contributions, corporate interests gain undue access to members of Congress, encouraging them to challenge scientific consensus, delay action on critical problems, and shape the use of science in policy making.

Exploiting Judicial Pathways. Corporate interests have expanded their influence on the judicial system, used the courts to undermine science, and exploited judicial processes to bully and silence scientists.


Progress Made (and Still To Be Made)

In his 2009 inaugural address, President Obama promised to "restore science to its rightful place." His administration has made progress toward that goal on several important fronts—elevating the role of science in government, ordering agencies to develop scientific integrity policies, improving transparency, and strengthening conflict-of-interest policies.

Despite these positive steps, much remains to be done. The report identifies five key areas where further federal commitments to protect science from undue corporate influence are needed: protecting government scientists from retaliation and intimidation; making government more transparent and accountable; reforming the regulatory process; strengthening scientific advice to government; and strengthening monitoring and enforcement.

Beyond Government

Corporations, nonprofits, academic institutions, scientific societies, and the media also have critical roles to play in reducing abuses of science in federal decision making. These institutions should:
  • promote honest scientific investigation and open discussion of research results;
  • refrain from actual or perceived acts of scientific misconduct;
  • embrace transparency and avoid conflicts of interest.
Inappropriate corporate interference in science extends its tentacles into every aspect of federal science-based policy-making. Addressing this interference will require overcoming high hurdles, but they are not insurmountable. With strong leadership and a sustained commitment, both the federal government and the private sector can rise to the challenge.