Today’s Wall Street Journal has a stunning exposé on a publicly-traded company called Life Partners Holdings. Are you ready for this? Life Partners creeps around asking the unemployed, the elderly and the sick (especially people with HIV/AIDS) to sell them their life insurance policies for cash. Then they bundle these policies into securities and sell them to vultures -- oh, I am sorry, “investors.” Then the “investors” sit around and wait for people to die -- the sooner the better for the purchasers of these death bonds. The future of this industry “looks bright,” chirps National Underwriters.
Reminds you a little of those Death Eaters in Harry Potter, doesn’t it?
Part one of a two-part article. The second article will be published next week.
Wikileaks recently published documents suggesting that PR spin helped determine the final outcome of the June 2009 Honduran coup. At the same time that a July 2009 diplomatic cable from the U.S. Ambassador in Honduras to top government officials confirmed that the Honduran president’s removal was illegal, professional lobbyists and political communicators were beginning a PR blitz, eventually managing to manipulate America into believing the coup was a constitutional act.
The White House and many Congressional Democrats recently caved to Republicans in a deal extending all of the Bush tax cuts for two years in exchange for a 13-month extension of unemployment benefits. The deal reverses stated opposition by many Democrats to an extension of tax cuts for the top income bracket, with 25 percent of the savings from the deal going to benefit the richest one percent of Americans. While Democrats who supported the bill claimed to do so begrudgingly, the plan has many avid supporters who justify its lopsided benefits by insisting that tax cuts for the rich and for businesses create jobs and benefit the economy. This is a big myth.
Are you one of the lucky ones? Have a good job, live in a nice neighborhood, enjoy your cozy home? Think foreclosure only impacts the reckless or the unemployed?
When I testified before Congress last year, I told lawmakers that if they passed a health care reform bill with an individual mandate but no public option, they might as well call their bill the "Health Insurance Profit Protection and Enhancement Act." Well, of course, that is exactly what Congress did, but they didn't change the name of the new law as I suggested.
Philip Morris (PM) broke from its longstanding policy of never settling a personal injury case recently after it quietly paid $5 million to settle a wrongful death suit brought against its subsidiary, U.S. Smokeless Tobacco (USST), maker of Copenhagen and Skoal brands of spit tobacco. PM's parent company, Altria Group, acquired USST in 2009.
In light of the new memos out about Fox News helping to orchestrate the Republicans' deceptive PR campaign on the health care bill that that Wendell Potter wrote about this week, the Center for Media and Democracy is reprinting and updating an excerpt from one of my personal encounters with Fox News' efforts to stage-manage political theatre. The piece below also includes material from documented sources compiled in SourceWatch.
Last week, the Federal Reserve was finally forced by law to release some (not all) of the details of its back-door bailout of the global financial system. The Fed data focuses on the emergency lending programs initiated in 2007/2008, but it also includes data for the Fed’s more recent purchases of mortgage-backed securities (MBS).
Op-ed by Steve Horn--On Dec. 9, 2010, Haaretz, one of Israel's top newspapers and news sources, reported that the United States would allocate some $205 million for something called an "Iron Dome anti-rocket system." As a reward, then, for the non-stop building of settlements, Israel was showered with weapons by the U.S., thanks mostly to the Pro-Israel lobby, which has remained a huge obstacle in solving the Israel-Palestine conflict from time immemorial.
Anyone who still clings to the notion that Fox News is actually a news organization rather than a propaganda machine for special interests -- and that it actually is led by journalists who adhere to the code of ethics of the Society of Professional Journalists -- must read the leaked memos Media Matters disclosed this morning.
Guest blog by Jack O'Dwyer
A banquet of the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) grossed $1.47 million at the Waldorf-Astoria Nov. 23 with the profits going to oppressed reporters and their families throughout the world.
It is a noble effort supported by many blue chip corporate and media companies. Sir Howard Stringer, CEO of Sony, chaired the banquet. It was held on the first anniversary of the massacre of 57 people, including 32 journalists, in the Philippines. A video commemorated the tragedy.
CPJ has tracked the deaths of 840 journalists since 1992, most of them murdered in cold blood.
Thanks to tremendous public pressure and the recently-passed Wall Street reform bill, the U.S. Federal Reserve was forced to reveal the details of its emergency bailout of the financial sector for the first time yesterday. From a quick review of the data now available on the Federal Reserve website, we can see that the Fed took an expansive internationalist view of its role, prompting U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) to ask: “Has the Federal Reserve Become the Central Bank of the world?”
When AIG was bailed out out in Sept. 2008 and immediately passed on huge sums to overseas counterparties, including Société Générale (France) and Deutsche Bank (Germany), there was a public uproar. The Fed data out today confirms what many suspected. This back-door bailout of foreign banks was just the tip of the iceberg. The Fed data covers 13 programs amounting to some $3.3 trillion in loans. We could only look at a few, but in every program examined, foreign banks were huge beneficiaries of a taxpayer-funded lifeline.
On the one hand, I was a bit surpised by Edelman's rather absurd claim that I had "no right to say" that big PR firms have a reputation for deceiving people, and that I should not have called into question the (profit) motive of PR practitioners who are really just "interested in the truth and in educating stakeholders about the issues of our time." After 30 years in the PR industry, I most certainly do have a right to call out the deceptive campaigns PR firms have orchestrated to obscure the truth and deceive the American public in the debate over health care reform and beyond. I detail these campaigns at length in my book, Deadly Spin, which is based on my own participation in just these practices.
On November 22, Richard Edelman, President and CEO of Edelman, "the leading independent global PR firm," posted a blog criticizing Wendell Potter for his tell-all book, Deadly Spin, about deceptive corporate public relations techniques that are hurting this country so badly and costing Americans their health, and in some cases even their lives.
Edelman portrayed his firm as being on the side of truth. He took exception to Potter's portrayal of big PR firms as engaging in public deception.
I was completely amazed at Edelman's characterization of his firm as ethical, and his castigation of Wendell Potter. Perhaps Mr. Edelman is unaware of his own firm's appalling history, or perhaps he's just choosing to ignore it.
Reckless Wall Street derivatives trading helped collapse the economy, costing Americans 8 million lost jobs and $14 trillion in lost wealth. The Wall Street reform bill reins in the speculators and high rollers, bringing transparency to dark markets and forcing the big banks to put up real money behind their bets. But now the Wall Street lobbyists are working feverishly behind the scenes to punch loopholes into the law during the agency rule-making process. Send a letter to let top regulators know you are watching! Click here to take action.
While the Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform bill did too little to address the problem of “too big to fail” banks, one of the big wins for reformers was the bill’s strong derivatives chapter which drags risky “over the counter” derivatives trades out of the shadows and into the light of day.
Reformers won strong provisions for clearing, margin and transparency, which will force the big banks to put real money behind their bets. Reformers also succeeded in securing mandatory position limits for key commodities that will protect consumers from price spikes caused by excessive speculation.
But now that the Wall Street reform bill is in the agency rulemaking process, bank lobbyists are back in droves, descending on regulators in an attempt to force giant loopholes into the law – loopholes worth billions of dollars for the big banks.
A few days ago, the Sammie Lynn Puett Chapter of the Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA) invited me to speak at the University of Tennessee's PR Day. It was more of an honor to be asked than the students will ever know. I don't think many of them knew I was a charter member of that PRSSA chapter back in the '70s and that Sammie Lynn Puett, a revered figure on campus for many years, had been my teacher, student adviser and, later in life, my mentor. Sammie Lynn had been a journalist before going into teaching and taught several journalism courses, including the first one I ever took, Basic News Writing. She also served for a while as a PR professional, and was determined to establish a comprehensive PR curriculum at UT. It hadn't been fully fleshed out by the time I graduated in 1973, but I took every PR course offered at the time, including all of the graduate level courses. The first PR textbook I ever used was Effective Public Relations by Scott Cutlip and Allen Center. First published in 1952, it is still considered the PR "bible" by many PR teachers and practitioners. In my view, one of the reasons it is called the PR bible is that Cutlip & Center, from the very beginning, preached the importance of ethics and ethical behavior. As I told the students at PR Day, I did not learn in PR school -- not from Cutlip & Center, and certainly not from Sammie Lynn -- how to set up fake grassroots organizations and front groups to disseminate false or misleading information in order to manipulate public opinion and influence public policy. I would not learn how to do that -- and how prevalent such PR practices are -- until many years later, when I was deep into my career as a corporate communications executive.
In advance of my appearance with Michael Moore on Countdown with Keith Olbermann tonight on MSNBC (8 and 11 p.m. ET), I would like to offer an apology to both Moore and his arch enemy, the health insurance industry, which spent a lot of policyholder premiums in 2007 to attack his movie, Sicko. I need to apologize to Moore for the role I played in the insurance industry's public relations attack campaign again him and Sicko, which was about the increasingly unfair and dysfunctional U.S. health care system. (I was head of corporate communications at one of the country's biggest insurance companies when I left my job in May 2008.) And I need to apologize to health insurers for failing to note in my new book, Deadly Spin, that the front group they used to attack Moore and Sicko -- Health Care America -- was originally a front group for drug companies. APCO Worldwide, the PR firm that operated the front group for insurers during the summer of 2007, was outraged -- outraged, I tell you -- that I wrote in the book that the raison d'être for Health Care America was to disseminate the insurance industry's talking points as part of a multi-pronged, fear-mongering campaign against Moore and his movie. An APCO executive told a reporter who had reviewed the book that I was guilty of one of the deceptive PR tactics I condemned: the selective disclosure of information to manipulate public opinion.
What a difference a word can make -- nothing short of the difference between good and evil.
During my interview on Countdown with Keith Olbermann on MSNBC Wednesday night, I explained the sinister work of an industry-funded front group to discredit Michael Moore as a filmmaker and citizen and especially of his 2007 movie, Sicko. The PR firm hired by health insurers to do the evil deed set up and operated a front group, named “Health Care America,” to conduct a fear-mongering campaign designed to scare people away from the movie’s core message: that every developed country in the world except the United States has been able to achieve universal coverage for their citizens largely because they don’t allow big insurance companies to call the shots like they do here. I wrote about this in my book, Deadly Spin, in the chapter entitled “The Campaign Against Sicko.”
I inadvertently called the front group “Health Care America Now” in response to a question from Keith Olbermann. That misstatement has led to some confusion, so I want to set the record straight. Health Care for America Now is one of the good guys, in my view. It is a real grassroots organization comprising a broad range of groups throughout the country advocating for “quality, affordable health care.” Health Care America was what is commonly known as a fake grassroots or “Astroturf” organization. It was set up and operated by a big PR firm and funded by Big Insurance and Big Pharma.
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has been taking a beating lately over its new, full-body X-Ray imaging scanners that show people naked. People are concerned about both the humiliation of the procedure and the extra doses of X-rays they get from these scanners, but travelers who refuse to be scanned must submit to a TSA "enhanced pat-down," which now involves a newer, more aggressive policy: frisking with the front of the hand instead of the back of the hand, and feeling people's crotches and women's bras. These more invasive practices are leading the public from skepticism to rage and outright resistance to the new procedures, and for good reason, since TSA's track record of facilitating crime against travelers arguably far outstrips the amount of crime the agency has prevented.