Exxon’s Funding Of Climate Denial Turned Americans Against Their Own Government For Profit

Exxon and other fossil fuel companies may have committed a crime of enormous proportions, and more and more elected officials and others are demanding an investigation.

The charge is that Exxon scientists and management knew since the late 1970s that the company’s product was helping cause our planet to warm “catastrophically,” but management responded by covering this up and disseminating disinformation – joining with other companies to commit an enormous fraud on the public for profit.

For some time, environmentalists have been warning that oil and coal companies were behind a broad campaign to deceive the public and block the government from regulating or taxing carbon pollution. Sites like ExxonSecrets, the Union of Concerned Scientists, SourceWatch and their Coal Issues portal, CoalSwarm and many others have been exposing, warning, documenting and working to get the word out.

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The Dem Debate Was Good For The Country. Let’s Have More Of Them

In contrast to the Republican clown shows they call debates, last Tuesday’s Democratic presidential debate was serious and focused on policy. It let the public know that there are still adults at work trying to help deal with the country’s real problems. It helped the country move forward.

Tuesday’s debate gave the public a positive, optimistic presentation of the Democratic Party and its progressive message and how this gives hope for a positive direction for the country. For those worried about the debates helping one candidate or another one, polls tell us the debate lowered the “unfavorable ratings” of both Clinton and Sanders.

But the Democratic Party leadership still seems to want to try to limit the Democratic candidates from public exposure. Last Tuesday’s debate was on a pay TV channel (my cable/internet/phone monopoly rent-seeking bill is closing in on $200+ a month) – not a very aware move for a party that supposedly wants to represent and get votes from low-income Americans – and still 15 million Americans tuned in. Even with that audience, this viewer-suppression strategy worked; that’s almost 10 million fewer than the first Republican debate.

While Republicans chose a Republican-right TV channel with Republican-friendly moderators, the Democratic debate was on a Republican-lite channel with semi-hostile moderators. (“Will you say anything to get elected?” “You honeymooned in the Soviet Union.” “The current top prosecutor in Baltimore, also a Democrat, blames your zero tolerance policies for sowing the seeds of unrest.”)

The next debate will take place November 14 – a weekend evening that many suspect was chosen so younger members of the potential audience will be out on dates, out at the clubs, at movies, and so on. (At least it will be on a broadcast network so people can tune in without paying.) The one after that, December 19, is also on a weekend evening, but on top of that it is also on the last Christmas shopping weekend. The one after that is on a Sunday night.

Not everyone pays attention to these things so far before an election. But those who do can see this for what it is. One candidate has a big lead early on, the other has low name recognition. It looks like people at the top are helping the leading candidate “sit on” that lead and “run out the clock.” Some also think that the same people do not want the other candidate’s “message” to be heard widely because it threatens entrenched interests.

What’s in it for those helping rig this primary process? Washington politics now runs on exchanges of promises – jobs, favors, and the like. We don’t know if or what the chair of the Democratic National Committee was promised to protect Clinton’s lead and keep the public from hearing Sanders’ message. If this is what happened, it might show Clinton to be just the kind of savvy D.C. power-politics player who really can get things done. Maybe the country needs someone like that right now. Maybe, maybe not. Or maybe it is an unfortunate sign that a Clinton administration will be another pay-to-play corruption operation, people inside doing favors for the powerful. Maybe the public is sick of this kind of corruption.

The first debate was great for the country, the party – and Clinton. So how about we stop the nonsense and schedule plenty of debates, in prime time on weekdays, and let the country know that there is something available besides Trump and obstruction.


This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am a Fellow with CAF. Sign up here for the CAF daily summary and/or for the Progress Breakfast.

VW Case Shows Need For More And Bigger Government

Again and again we hear about corporations doing bad things so they can make more money: polluting, selling contaminated food or otherwise harming people’s health, selling products that injure people or just don’t do what they advertise, tricking and scamming people out of their money, selling banned goods or providing financial services for terrorists or drug cartels, and so many other things that are not good for people or society.

Wouldn’t it be great if there were some entity that was more powerful than these corporations, whose purpose is to protect us, reign these corporations in, make and enforce rules, prosecute offenders and put a stop to this stuff?

This Week: VW

This week we are hearing about Volkswagen (VW). For years the company claimed they were selling “clean diesel” engines, but they were tricking their customers, the public and governments around the world. Their cars are really a public health threat, putting out up to 40 times the legal limit of pollutants that cause asthma and other disease.

VW built a “defeat mechanism” into as many as 11 million cars. This mechanism let the cars pass government tests, even though they were polluting like crazy when driven in the real world. The mechanism made the engine run clean during government tests, then when it detected that the tests were finished it set the engine to start polluting again.

For years these cars have been harming people and until now VW was getting away with (and making big profits from) this. They were finally caught, and we will see whether executives are prosecuted, or if this will be one more case of weak (or corrupted) government issuing a fine that lets a company make its shareholders pay the cost instead of holding the executives that did it accountable.

The Fix For The VW Cars

This is huge. Up to 11 million cars have these “defeat” mechanisms in them. These cars have to be fixed because their emissions can cause people to develop asthma and other respiratory diseases. But fixing this is a big problem.

According to Wired, in “VW Owners Aren’t Going to Like the Fixes for Their Diesels,” there are two choices for fixing these cars – and either choice means the car owners end up losing a lot of what they thought they had paid for.

The first is to update the software so the cars always run in the “test mode” that defeated the emissions tests. But the changes the software made to the engines to get them to operate within the legal emissions limits while being tested will cause the car to either have poor acceleration or poor gas mileage.

The second is to actually fix the problem that causes the engines to pollute. According to Wired, VW would have to add a “urea” tank and the means to inject this into the catalytic converter:

The standard way of making a diesel run cleanly is to use selective catalytic reduction, a chemical process that breaks NOx [mono-nitrogen oxides] down into nitrogen and water. Part of that process includes adding urea to the mix. The super effective system can eliminate 70 to 90 percent of NOx emissions, and is used by other diesel manufacturers like Mercedes and BMW. The downside is that it adds complication to the system, and cost — $5,000 to $8,000 per car. And you need to periodically add the urea-based solution to your car to keep it working.

… So it seems the logical way to get those cars to perform like their diesel cousins is to add a urea. VW’s unlikely to embrace that option, because adding hardware to half a million cars would be far more expensive than a computer update. It wouldn’t be any fun for the TDI owner, either. Not only do you have to spend an afternoon with your local dealer, you have to make room for the tank. That could mean sacrificing cargo space or giving up the spare tire.

The cost to VW will be huge, and the customers lose either way. Never mind all the people suffering asthma and lung disease resulting from the pollution these cars were emitting.

VW Not An Isolated Case

The New York Times reports, in “Volkswagen Test Rigging Follows a Long Auto Industry Pattern,” that,

For decades, car companies found ways to rig mileage and emissions testing data. In Europe, some automakers have taped up test cars’ doors and grilles to bolster their aerodynamics. Others have used “superlubricants” to reduce friction in the car’s engine to a degree that would be impossible in real-world driving conditions.

Automakers have even been known to make test vehicles lighter by removing the back seats.
… [In 1973 the EPA] fined Volkswagen $120,000 after finding that the company had installed devices intended specifically to shut down a vehicle’s pollution control systems. In 1974, Chrysler had to recall more than 800,000 cars because similar devices were found in the radiators of its cars.

[. . .] Beyond emissions, the industry has long been contemptuous of regulation. Henry Ford II called airbags “a lot of baloney,” and executives have bristled at rules requiring higher mileage per gallon.

VW might not even be the only company that is scamming government testing labs with “defeat mechanisms’ right now. From the report,

“We call it the tip of the iceberg,” said Jos Dings, the director of Transport and Environment. “We don’t think this will be limited to Volkswagen. If you look at the testing numbers for the other manufacturers, they are just as bad.”

The Times report lists several examples of the auto industry engaging in profit-making by endangering their customers. There was the “unexploded Pinto” problem of gas tanks blowing up. There were 271 deaths from the Ford-Firestone tire scandal. There were the Takata airbags that either don’t work or injure people. There was Chrysler selling as new cars that had been driven for 60,000 miles with the odometers disconnected. Click through, there’s plenty… But no one has been put in jail.

So what VW was caught doing is “not an isolated incident” and, in fact, VW had already been caught doing the same thing in the 1970s.

Not Just Auto Industry

VW is hardly the only company in the auto industry engaged in these practices, and the auto industry is hardly the only industry engaging in this kind of activity.

● Of course, tobacco still kills over 480,000 Americans each year and no one even talks about doing anything about it. Everyone understands this is because of the great wealth and power of the tobacco companies as well as their influence over a certain political party. More than 480,000 terrible, painful deaths each year!

● The “Obamacare” health reform was written the way it was because it was understood from the start that the insurance and pharmaceutical companies had enough power to block anything they didn’t like. So we didn’t get Medicare for All or even a “public option.” These industries had already blocked the administration of President Bill Clinton from reforming the health care system, leading to more decades of deaths, untreated illness and bankruptcies.

● In 2000, The Nation reported, in “The Secret History of Lead,” that the lead industry knew and kept secret for decades that they were poisoning people with lead in gasoline, paint and other products, and instead of doing something about it they protected their profits by covering this up and attacking government efforts to do something.

The leaded gas adventurers have profitably polluted the world on a grand scale and, in the process, have provided a model for the asbestos, tobacco, pesticide and nuclear power industries, and other twentieth-century corporate bad actors, for evading clear evidence that their products are harmful by hiding behind the mantle of scientific uncertainty.

Mother Jones’ Kevin Drum reported on just one of the societal consequences of this decades-long crime, in “America’s Real Criminal Element: Lead.” His investigative report concluded that lead may be “the hidden villain behind violent crime, lower IQs, and even the ADHD epidemic.” That whole put-millions-in-prison thing that has ruined so many lives? Oops, it might have been the lead industry’s doing. Are any lead industry executives in jail for that?

● The fossil-fuel industry is notorious for polluting and for causing climate change. The industry has captured an entire political party and has them fight the development of alternative energy sources, taxes on carbon, fuel-saving public transportation initiatives, other energy-saving efforts, etc. The industry funds a climate denial cult that threatens the entire planet.

These are just a few of so many examples.

Big Government Prosecutions Can Make A Difference

Corporations save money by cutting corners. Dumping carbon into the air. Putting lead in gasoline. You name it. They price the potential fines into the product as a cost of doing business. And company shareholders pay those fines. The executives who commit the actual wrongdoing are rarely if ever held accountable themselves.

Many companies can safely assume that the government isn’t even going to catch them or do anything if they do. Government cowed by intense anti-government propaganda. We hear that “government can’t do anything as well as business can,” that “big government threatens us,” and “government takes money out of the economy.” We hear about “burdensome government regulations” that “kill jobs” on a 24/7/365 basis. Government and democracy do not have an advertising budget to counter this relentless propaganda.

Government is underfunded because the propaganda elects corporate-backed anti-government politicians who convince people to allow tax cuts (on the corporations and their owners) paid for by cutting back on government. And especially cutting back on government regulation and enforcement. The result is government enforcement is backing down all the time.

Industry executives revolve through the door into government and then back into plush corporate offices where they collect rewards for protecting their industries. Our “captured” government notoriously refuses to bring corporate criminals to justice. Not one banker, for example, was prosecuted for obvious crimes leading to the 2008 financial crash.

However last week we saw one rare instance of a prosecution of individuals for corporate crime. The people running Peanut Corporation of America, a Georgia peanut company, were prosecuted after a salmonella outbreak that sickened and hospitalized hundreds of people and killed 9 of them. Company executives knew for years their product was made in unsafe ways that were causing contamination — but instead of spending what was needed to fix the problem they covered this up. So the owner was sentenced to 28 years in prison and other executives were sentenced to 20 years.

Thanks to an actual prosecution resulting in prison terms for company executives it is likely that the public will suffer fewer food-safety problems, at least for a while.

Our government supposedly exists to protect We the People from wealthy and powerful interests, including other countries. Our revolution against the wealthy British aristocracy and the King’s corporations testify to this. A government that is “of the people, by the people and for the people” should be big enough, strong enough and funded enough to reign in companies and billionaires, and protect We the People from the kind of corporate misbehavior we saw from Volkswagen — long, long, long before it involves 11 million cars all spewing out serious threats to public health.


This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am a Fellow with CAF. Sign up here for the CAF daily summary and/or for the Progress Breakfast.

Climate Denial Is Corruption, and the GOP Is Captured By It

While the world warms, the climate deniers are out in force, trying not only to sabotage American efforts to fight climate change but also to undermine international talks.

We are witnessing a spectacle of corruption, and the stakes literally could not be higher. It is an astonishing spectacle. The Republican party is working to sabotage efforts to fight climate change and is doing this because the fossil-fuel industry – and billionaires whose fortunes came from that industry – funds so much of their messaging and campaign infrastructure, and their candidates. This is not ideology; it is flat-out corruption.

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Is SEC Refusing To Follow Law And Issue CEO Pay-Ratio Rules?

One part of the 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform law requires the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to set up rules requiring companies to disclose the median annual total compensation of all employees, the total annual compensation of the chief executive officer, and the ratio of the median employee pay to the CEO’s pay. It’s 2015 and the agency still has not done so.

In December, 16 Senators sent a letter to SEC Chair Mary Jo White asking for the SEC to vote on the final pay-ratio rule before the end of the first quarter of 2015.

From the letter:

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Intentional Suffering — The Next Phase Of Capitalism?

I’ve said that the next phase for airlines is to put a big spike in the center of each seat. Then they can make passengers pay them $10 for each inch they lower the spike. In Why Airlines Want to Make You Suffer Tim Wu explains at the New Yorker that this is actually the airlines’ current business model,

Here’s the thing: in order for fees to work, there needs be something worth paying to avoid. That necessitates, at some level, a strategy that can be described as “calculated misery.” Basic service, without fees, must be sufficiently degraded in order to make people want to pay to escape it. And that’s where the suffering begins.

This isn’t a joke. There are any number of ways that monopolizeed businesses can make us suffer to squeeze money out of us.

How about armament companies starting wars or keeping them going? (Click the link.)

Here’s one, what about getting kids (and here) hooked on terribly addicting drugs that also happen to cause horrible lung diseases, just so they can profit from selling the drug delivery system? No, that’s just too terrible to imagine.

Right now pharmaceutical companies publicize obscure diseases, or just invent them, to get us to ask doctors for prescriptions. But what happens when one of them spreads a terrible disease for which they sell the only cure?

What about the possibility of some day giant ag companies potentially spreading crop diseases for which they are the only company with a cure or a resistant seed?

How many ways can corporations cause us to suffer, so they can profit from the fix or the cure?

Spikes in seats? Why not! Hey it just makes business sense, doesn’t it? The capitalists will be the first to tell you — capitalism cures suffering!

The Thing In The Budget Bill That No One Supports But Won’t Be Taken Out

The budget bill called the “Cromnibus” (for Continuing Resolution and OMNIBUS budget bill) contains a provision that undoes an important part of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street regulation bill. It would allow banks to gamble on derivatives using money from taxpayer-protected accounts. Citibank literally wrote the provision and paid someone to put it in the bill.

No one in the House or Senate will say who was paid to put it in the bill. No one will admit to putting it in the bill. No one will say that support this provision. But it will not be taken out of the bill.

OK this is not a rhetorical question, it is a question to broadcast. This was written word-for-word by Citibank, to benefit Citibank, putting the taxpayers at great risk. How can something like this be in a bill if no one put it in the bill and no one indicates support for it? How can we not get it taken out if no one will say they put it in and no one will say they support it?

Someone was obviously paid to put it in the bill. People are obviously being paid to keep it in the bill.

How FAR from the principles of democracy, transparency, accountability and everything the country, the Constitution and the Congress are supposed to stand for can we go here?

Please click here now to call your senators and tell them to stand up against this dangerous attempt to rig the rules for Wall Street – and against us.

Here’s What ’60 Minutes’ Should Have Reported About Infrastructure

“60 Minutes” ran a report Sunday, “Falling apart: America’s neglected infrastructure,” describing the seriousness and damage to the economy caused by our country’s crumbling infrastructure.

Here are a few choice quotes, but really you should click through and watch the whole thing (and then come back here):

  • “Except for the stimulus nothing much has happened. It is ‘just another example of political paralysis in Washington.’ “
  • “1 of every 9 bridges (70,000) is structurally deficient.”
  • “It all comes down to funding.”
  • “These all are tragedies waiting to happen.”
  • “32% of major roads in America are in poor condition.”
  • “It’s falling apart because we haven’t made the investment.”
  • “Public spending on infrastructure has fallen to its lowest level since 1947.”

How bad is the problem? The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) issues a regular “report card” on “the condition and performance of the nation’s infrastructure.” The 2013 grade is D+ and the cost to get us back to normal is now at $3.6 trillion. (The longer we wait the more the cost increases.) Because of this, The World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report ranks the U.S. as 16th in the quality of its infrastructure.

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With Election Over, First Order Of Business Is $450B In Corporate Tax Breaks

The election is over. Congress is back in Washington. The first order of business after the election is to give big tax breaks to the corporations – $450 billion worth. Fortunately, President Obama is trying to do something about this.

Tax Extenders

Every year Congress renews a package of “temporary” corporate tax breaks. The renewal process is called “tax extenders” because they extend the term of these temporary breaks. So now the Congress is working on this year’s extenders package, except this time it wants to just make many of them (the ones that mostly give handouts to giant corporations and campaign donors) permanent. The Washington Post calls this process “a periodic bonanza for lobbyists.”

A few of the special tax breaks in the extenders package are really good and serve an important purpose. For example, part of the package is tax credits that provide incentives to invest in renewable energy. But most others are just giveaways and handouts to the already-wealthy, like depreciation tax breaks for people who own racehorses. (Yes, really.) Even worse, some of these are loopholes that actually encourage corporations to shift U.S. profits offshore into tax havens. (Yes, really.)

The good breaks are used to grease the wheels to slip these special favors through – as in “if you want to get those wind tax credits you’re going to have to pass a tax break for Mitt Romney’s racehorses.”

The media is reporting that Congress is near a deal on these extenders. The deal kills several “good” tax breaks that help working people and the middle class, like an expanded child tax credit for the working poor and expanded earned-income credit. The deal phases out the wind power tax credit after 2017.

Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) pointed out that companies that renounce their U.S. citizenship would even get special breaks from this deal:

“The package would provide a permanent boon to large corporations, even those that renounce their U.S. citizenship and invert,” he said. “And adding insult to injury, the proposed deal chooses to leave behind working families and would make things harder for millions of Americans. …The overall package is simply unacceptable and adds more than $400 billion to the debt. We need to grow the middle class, not punish those working hard to get by while always giving preferences and priority treatment to big corporations who can hire high-priced, well-funded lobbyists.”

Not Paid For

These tax breaks are not “paid for” – they just add to the deficit. Remember how Congress rejected providing benefits for the long-term unemployed because they were not “paid for?” Congress won’t fix the country’s infrastructure because doing so is not “paid for.” Even disaster relief had to be “paid for!”

But none of these corporate tax breaks and loopholes being considered are “paid for” – but for some reason this isn’t a problem – this time. Because racehorses. Anyway, we’re only talking about $450 billion.

President Says He Will Veto

The President says he will veto this deal if it reaches his desk. Roll Call has the story, in, “Obama Would Veto Corporate Tax Cut Bill“:

President Barack Obama would veto an emerging $450 billion tax cut deal coming together in the Senate because it doesn’t do enough for the middle class, according to the White House.

“The President would veto the proposed deal because it would provide permanent tax breaks to help well-connected corporations while neglecting working families,” said Jen Friedman, deputy White House press secretary.


This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am a Fellow with CAF. Sign up here for the CAF daily summary and/or for the Progress Breakfast.