Degrading Newspapers’ Business Sections

It’s alarming that there are far fewer media outlets for consumer protection news and features than there were thirty years ago. Recall the huge Phil Donahue Show, the regional radio show and TV news shows, the television networks and syndicated radio shows that would report and interview consumer advocates about the injustice, rip-offs, and harms done to the consumer by unscrupulous corporations.  These shows are largely gone now. Shows marked by fluff, narcissism, trivia, and sensationalist, frenetic news bits are their replacements.

What is disturbing is that the major newspapers – the Washington Post, the New York Times, and the Wall Street Journal—are cutting back reporting on the revelations and doings of active consumers, and consumer organizations. Sure, they do occasional features that may gain them big journalism prizes. But the regular coverage of very important consumer struggles with Congress, the White House, the courts, and the state legislatures has vastly shrunken. Moreover, the media, especially TV, is dittoheading itself with the daily “big story”, as with the Trumpian escapades.

Serious readers are left with the New York Times daily Business pages (the Washington Post dropped its separate, daily business section a few years ago). Of late, the editors of the Times business section have been diluting its contents with what two former reporters called a more “business friendly” priority. My attempts to discuss this problem with their news editors have not been answered.

Last Sunday I picked up the weighty Sunday New York Times and went to the business page (business is often defined as stories about sellers, when it should include buyers and consumers).  The cover page featured a huge photograph and article titled: “Tiger Is Back, Will Sponsors Follow?”

This article—straining for justification—proceeded to sprawl over another half page or more inside. Meanwhile, Tiger Woods hasn’t even won a single championship on his asserted comeback. This is not the first time that the business page has attempted to entertain readers with inflated articles that evoke the reader’s quizzical response—“what’s this all about?”

Our country is in a midst of a corporate crime wave against consumers, workers, investors, and small taxpayers. Fraudsters are also annually stealing tens of billions of dollars from Medicare, Medicaid, and other government programs. Massive billing fraud and abuse is rampant in the private marketplace as well.

The Pentagon’s gigantic annual budget (currently at more than $700 billion) has been unauditable for decades and, according to the Government Accountability Office (GAO) of Congress, is in regular violation of a 1992 law requiring all government departments to provide audits to the GAO.

The ongoing destruction of the freedom of contract, through fine print stripping of consumer rights and remedies to use the courts keeps eroding the value of consumer dollars. Consumers don’t deserve this costly irritation.

Courts are restricting consumer access by legislative reductions of court budgets and obstacles presented by what is euphemistically called “tort reform” by the insurance and tort-feasors lobbies.

A trillion dollars of unproductive stock buybacks is coming in the next 18 months so as to increase the stock option value of the corporate bosses’ compensation packages. A trillion dollars that can be used for raising low-pay of workers, such as at Walmart, or shoring up company pension fund reserves or investing in R&D or productive enterprise, not to mention dividends to shareholders (individual, pension and mutual funds).

It is not as if the business pages are lacking top level urgent conditions to report as news and features which can also provide topics for their editorial pages.

Instead, the business pages are filled with constant technology hype, as with the inflated promotions and data-starved claims by the companies working on the eminently hackable self-driving cars.

There is plenty of personal advice to taxpayers, but very little on the crisis brought about by the Republican Congress starving the IRS’s budget where staff is trying to collect a part of the $400 billion in uncollected yearly taxes.

Other trends are disturbing. Their first-class weekly aviation columnist, Joe Sharkey, was dismissed three years ago. Times readers fly a lot and have bushels of complaints about an increasingly tone deaf airline industry— the sensible Southwest Airlines is a luminous exception. Yet the Times editors felt they could not justify Sharkey’s $1000 weekly remuneration for doing a sterling job.

Gone also is The Haggler who dissected real consumer grievances in a most engrossing manner. He has not been replaced. Reader voices do not even have a letter to the editor space in the Times business section in which to react or vent.

It has been several years since the Times stopped using print pages for the stock market tables. This should have opened up space for more serious and compelling articles by the paper’s talented staff and contributors. Instead, they no longer have a place for their former star investigative reporter, Gretchen Morgenson, whose searing, well documented Sunday column sent deterrent shivers through culpable corporatist wheeler-dealers.

If anyone is listening to those readers who know what a “business friendly” atmosphere means for the public’s right to know more, please let us know. Two-way conversations on the telephone between editors/reporters and readers are almost extinct.

I, for one, wanted to tell the New York Times business editors that there is only one New York Times and that stupefying standards by this flagship newspaper is seriously consequential for the country.

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Stopping War Pusher John Bolton, Trump’s Choice for National “Insecurity” Advisor

John Bolton’s career of pushing for bombing countries like Iran and North Korea, and his having played an active role in the Bush/Cheney regime’s criminal war of aggression that destroyed Iraq, makes him a clear and present danger to our country and world peace. He is about to become Donald Trump’s personal national security advisor with a staff of 400 right next to the White House. He must be stopped!

For Bolton, the Constitution, federal law, the Geneva Conventions, and other international laws are pieces of paper to be thrown away with unctuous contempt.  This outlaw – the shame of Yale Law School—should have been cast away as a pariah if not prosecuted and imprisoned. A bully to his subordinates in the government and known as “kiss-ass” to his superiors, Bolton is aggressive, relentless, and consistently wrong, when not prevaricatory.

Under Secretary of State Colin Powell, during the imperial Bush/Cheney presidency, Bolton told the media that Fidel Castro was developing chemical and biological weapons. False. Secretary Powell, who believes Bolton is impetuous and dangerous, overrode his in-house liar and corrected the record. While in Cuba with a group, I heard Fidel Castro say he feared Bolton’s words were a precursor to a U.S. attack until Bolton’s remarks were dismissed by his superiors.

There is a remarkable liberal/conservative dislike and fright about Bolton having Trump’s ear daily. Especially since Trump is susceptible to adopting the positions of the last person who reaches him. The added danger is that Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis has privately told people that he, like many who have experienced Bolton in government, cannot work with him. So does that mean that Trump will have to choose between the restraining hand of General Mattis and the recklessness of the draft-avoiding torture advocate John Bolton?

Will Republicans, who refused to confirm Bolton as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations in 2005, assume some responsibility for opposing this sociopath? They could easily pass a joint resolution of Congress demanding withdrawal of the appointment by Trump.

There are many vigorous critics of Bolton’s career and subsequent belligerent stances ; Just last month Bolton wrote an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal demanding the bombing of North Korea. His juvenile, lethal positions avoid considering the consequences, responses, backlash and danger to our country’s own safety. He likes to bet on the world—a Dr. Strangelove on steroids.

A lengthy New York Times editorial (March 23, 2018) declares, “Yes, John Bolton Really is that Dangerous.”  It begins: “there are few people more likely than Mr. Bolton to lead the country into war.” Especially since Trump – mired in domestic scandals, investigations, and personal lawsuits—may wish to wag the dog and start wider, distracting, armed hostilities abroad.

The American Conservative magazine is stirring that segment of the political spectrum with Gareth Porter’s article, “The Untold Story of John Bolton’s Campaign for War with Iran.”  Trump didn’t like General McMaster’s (Trump’s outgoing National Security Advisor) counsel that the U.S. remain in the Iran nuclear accord and not isolate itself from other major country signatories who say Iran is complying with its terms.

Then there is Bolton’s bigotry against Arabs and Muslims and his alliance with Pamela Geller—the notorious Islamophobe. The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) has elaborated on Bolton’s outrageous falsehoods against Arabs and Muslims (the “other anti-semitism” in the words of James Zogby in 1994 at a conference in Israel).

How does such a deep hatred in the White House connect to Trump’s repeated declaration that he allegedly seeks a peace agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians?

Republican constitutional law analyst, Bruce Fein, presents a strong case that the powerful position of national security advisor to the President must be confirmed by the Senate. In which case, Bolton would be gone.

Fein argues:

The Appointments Clause of the Constitution militates against the National Security Advisor aberration.  It makes Senate confirmation of “officers of the United States” the rule.  But Congress may by statute create exceptions for “inferior officers.”  But it has not done so for the Advisor—even assuming the office qualifies as “inferior.”

The other obstacles to Bolton’s assuming his position is that it will take the FBI many weeks to decide whether he can receive a top security clearance. At age 69, Bolton has a long trail of entanglements and intrigues in and out of government, not to mention his tantrums—some involving female public servants.

Fein recounts Bolton’s “unmasking the names of Americans whose conversation has been intercepted by the National Security Agency under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).” He still defends the catastrophic invasion and occupation of Iraq (for more information see Madea Benjamin’s “10 Reasons to Fear John Bolton“).

How does such a madman like Bolton keep coming back? Two reasons stand out. First, the more aggressive parts of the military-industrial complex, bolstered by the neocons, see him as a useful tool—for bigger military budgets and empire. Second, he is a staunch collaborator with the Israel lobby’s support of Israel’s militaristic, increasingly autocratic regime that regularly works against a two-state solution (The majority of American Jews support a two-state solution).

If President Trump gives Bolton a waiver while he works without a security clearance, as he has done, under wide condemnation, for his family and a few others already, the political firestorm may be enough, with other factors, to cause Trump to have Bolton bolt the White House with only his Trump-irritating walrus mustache intact.

In the immediate meantime, members of congress and aroused citizens must use their influence to block or evict John Bolton from our White House.

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Ten Million Americans Could Bring H.R. 676 into Reality Land—Relief for Anxiety, Dread and Fear

Polls show that over 125 million adults in our country already favor full Medicare for all, with free choice of doctor and hospital without stifling networks. I say ‘already’ because, as of yet, there is no major national campaign underway showing that an ‘everybody in, nobody out’ system of health insurance costs less, with better outcomes, is simpler, without maddeningly inscrutable or fraudulent  bills, co-pays, deductibles and additional trap doors set by a bunch of greedy corporations. The campaigns that exist today are receiving too little on-the-ground assistance for such a widely-supported issue.

A super-majority of only 535 members of Congress—Senators and Representatives—can make that decision. The bill—H.R. 676, the ‘Expanded & Improved Medicare for All Act’—is now supported by 121 House Democrats—two thirds of all the Democrats in the House of Representatives. So that’s a good start.

H.R. 676 has been referred to several, regular, Committees of the House whose Chairs are all Republican corporatists. So there have been no public hearings. The bill, not surprisingly, is not moving at all.

Millions of Americans have had the bitter experience of denials of health care, staggering bills, pay-or-die drug prices and even loved ones dying because they couldn’t afford health insurance (about 35,000 a year based on Harvard Medical School experts).  So, in the next month, imagine what would happen, if just ten million of the 125 million who support full Medicare for all wrote, telephoned or emailed their two Senators and Representative demanding action and a written response by their lawmakers (who don’t pay postage).

Just ten million Americans making the least difficult effort—perhaps ending with a demand for a town meeting back home to educate the negative solons—would strike the Congressional Dome like a thunderbolt. Are there a dozen leaders among you up for launching such an electrifying internet mobilization?

Not to be confused with other lesser health insurance bills, mostly in the Senate, H.R. 676 is the real thing. It covers ‘all individuals in the U.S. with free health care that includes all medically necessary care, such as primary care and prevention, dietary and nutritional therapies, dental services, and vision care.’ No more premiums, co-pays or gaping deductibles.

How does H.R. 676 pay for all these services? Five ways:

(1) from existing sources of government revenues for health care, (2) by increasing personal income taxes on the top 5% of income earners, (3) by instituting a progressive excise tax on payroll and self-employment income, (4) by instituting a tax on unearned income (such as on capital gains), and (5) by instituting a tax on stock and bond transactions. Amounts that would have been appropriated for federal public health care programs, including Medicare, Medicaid, and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (SHIP), are transferred and appropriated to carry out this bill.

Presently, all Canadians are covered at an average per capita cost half of what Americans—insured and uninsured—are having to spend for health care. The system proposed in H.R. 676 is similar to Canadian Medicare. It includes public funding and free choice of private delivery of health care. It also has provisions for better record keeping, prevention and quality control. There is even transition retraining for all those clerical and administrative jobs that would not be necessary after displacement of the present bloated, wasteful, redundant health care sub-economy.

What would happen to the giant health insurance companies such as Aetna and United Healthcare? They would be prohibited from selling insurance that duplicates the benefits provided under H.R. 676. They could only sell benefits that are not deemed ‘medically necessary,’ such as certain cosmetic surgery operations.

Rep. Keith Ellison (Dem.-Minn.), the deputy chairman of the Democratic National Committee (DNC), is officially the lead House Democrat on the bill, which indicates that the DNC may be getting a little more interested in endorsing such legislation.

Meanwhile, Rep. Ellison is talking it up everywhere he travels. He says:

One of the consistent applause lines we’re all hearing is: ‘We need Medicare for all.” There’s a lot of folks who feel that it’s time for us to organize around that. It’s a better policy, at a better price. People in labor, people all over the country, they’re going to be driving the public conversation, raising the dialogue about this….What some people think is a really important progressive position is just what the rest of the industrialized world does.

Medicare for all is what the Pentagon does. It is what President Harry Truman wanted from Congress back in the nineteen forties!! It is time.

So will the first ten million Americans step up and be counted by sending messages directly to their Senators and Representatives in the month of April? The amount of time required to send a letter, an email or a telephone call is so brief that activated citizens could be called the modern “Minutemen” for universal health insurance. Just think of all the tasks you do every day that take far more time, like trying to figure out bills, denials, exclusions, from this basic human right.

Go to SinglePayerAction.org to get the details, the motivation and the groups with which to connect. The Congressional telephone switchboard is 202-224-3121. Make sure to give your legislators your name and contacts; they’ll take the call or letter more seriously.

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Ahoy America, Give Trump a Taste of His Own Medicine Starting on Trump Imitation Day

Trump Imitation Day will take place online on April 1, this April Fools’ Day, 2018—a day driven by the vast and varied online networks of America with all of their imagination and organizational capability.

Here is the rationale behind this special style of giving Trump a reverse dose of Trumpism. Trump has proven repeatedly that he is a serial prevaricator, bully, cheater, boaster, malicious myth-maker, racist, abuser of women, slanderer, violator of laws and the Constitution and emerging war-monger.

Openly, through his appointees, he is destroying crucial, long-held health, safety and economic protections for consumers, workers and the environment in the service of Big Business. He is dictatorial and loves brutal dictators in numerous foreign countries.

No matter how many serious exposes, critiques, corrections of his hundreds of false statements (fake facts), entreaties to be truthful and connect with reality, along with the heartfelt pleas of aggrieved Americans, Trump doesn’t relent or admit and correct his fictions. He refuses to recognize blatant wrong-doing and continues his foul-mouthed attacks on anyone who arouses his thin-skinned ire. Even more, he doubles down on his deficiencies of character and personality—all relayed by a supine, ratings-driven mass media that mostly denies his targets their rebuttals.

Maybe we can get through to him by giving him a taste of his own medicine, turning his style of aggressive personal attacks against him.

Take, for example his juvenile use of pejorative nicknames. It started with “Low Energy” Jeb Bush, “Lyin” Ted Cruz and “Little Marco” Rubio during his primary campaign in 2015-2016. His repertoire expanded to “Crooked” Hillary in the main campaign, spread as President to “Liddle Bob Corker,” “Cryin’ Chuck” Schumer, “Flaky” Jeff Flake, “Pocahontas” Elizabeth Warren, “Low I.Q.” Rep. Maxine Waters, and “Lamb the Sham” for Pennsylvania House of Representatives winning candidate and Marine veteran Conor Lamb.

He even labelled NBC’s Meet the Press anchor as “Sleepy Eyes Chuck Todd” while calling the media the “enemy of the people.” Never in American history has a President of the United States stooped to his gutter level. Why is this so troubling? Because the mass media repeat these outbursts and make these slurs and insults stick in their ditto-heading, day after day “reporting.” It is as if he owns the mass media. This mindless echoing of Trump even includes the otherwise critical New York Times and the Washington Post.

That is why, for Trump Imitation Day, nick-names have to be announced for Trump—say, “Corrupt Donald,” “Cheating Donald,” or “Tall-Tale Trump—until the press recovers its senses and stops being Trump’s nick-name bullhorn.

Wherever Trump brags and boasts about himself in demonstrably false ways he should be countered with truthful monikers. When he talks of being a fabulous businessman, he gets back the moniker, “a failed gambling czar whose companies went bankrupt.” When he says he loves and respects women, he gets back, “female assaulter in chief.”

When he talks about how rich he is, ask him to prove it by finally releasing his tax returns, like all other modern Presidents have done. Is he refusing to disclose because he has evaded taxes?

When he boasts about how academically smart he was, ask him to prove his academic credentials. Fordham University has him listed as “failure to complete.”Also, how does the public really know he was born in the U.S. since he hasn’t released his birth certificate, as he demanded Barack Obama do. Tit for tat.

When he refers the deadly, air-poisoning mineral, as “beautiful clean coal,” demand that he go down into a coal mine, as I did while pushing for the Mine Safety Act of 1969. Tell him to visit coal miners dying in hospital rooms from “black lung” disease. (Hundreds of thousands of miners have lost their lives from this occupational disease since 1900.)

Bring him back to reality by hurling concise, memorable facts and truth against his lies and insults. Be pithy, clever, and unrelenting.  When he repeals or fails to enforce lifesaving, health protecting regulations, don’t just accuse him of “de-regulation” in wonky terms. Tell him he is killing, injuring or sickening consumers and workers, and tell him he is poisoning the water, air and food where children and families are trying to live. Otherwise, Trump—riding on tweets and a sensation-crazed mass media – will dissolve the rationality of our society and intimidate many good people into silence.

Trump knows how to intimidate and play the bully. In 1990, he told Playboy magazine, “When somebody tries to sucker punch me, when they’re after my ass, I push back a hell of a lot harder than I was pushed in the first place….Those people don’t come back for seconds.”

OK America, give him some of his own medicine and watch him flail, bellow and smear until his ugly persona crumbles beyond the sixty percent of the American people who already reject this Electoral College selectee.

Don’t give up. Repetition is key to countering his revolting behavior, like lancing a giant boil. He will either come to his senses or he will check out and retire to Mar-a-Lago. There he can watch the rising ocean and contemplate his repeated description of climate change as a hoax.

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Heritage’s Corporate Lobby Inside Trump’s Government is Not the People’s Heritage

The Heritage Foundation, with an annual budget nearing $90 million a year (including over $1 million for the salary of its president), calls itself conservative, but more often than not it practices the kind of corporatism dear to the impulses of President Trump. The Washington-based “think tank/lobbying firm” has quite a score card with the failed gambling czar who lost the popular vote but won the vestigial Electoral College tally to become head of state. In fact, they’ve given him a checklist, and he seems to be obediently implementing the Heritage Foundation’s agenda.

Immediately after his Electoral College selection, Trump’s transition team was swarmed with Heritage personnel and their 334 “unique policy recommendations” comprising its massive “Mandate for Leadership.” Indeed, seventy former Heritage employees now work for the Trump Administration.

According to Heritage’s Thomas Binion, the Trumpsters have adopted or implemented “64 percent of the 334 policy prescriptions.” This success rate, Heritage says, exceeds even President Ronald Reagan’s first year in office when his administration adopted 49 percent of Heritage’s policy recommendations.

Heritage’s boldness and energy levels tower over its counterpart institutions on the alleged left-of-center political spectrum. It helps that big corporate money bolsters Heritage’s various projects, including one recently created initiative “Heritage Action,” which dives directly into electoral politics. In its 45 years of operation, Heritage has fed off demanding oil tycoon heirs such as Richard Mellon Scaife and Shelby Cullom Davis, the relentless Koch brothers and, recently, the Trump-backing Mercer financial interests.

Mr. Binion proudly lists some of his organization’s successes with Trump, and more “adopted” recommendations can be found in the full list. Here is a small selection for your perusal:

–Leaving the Paris Climate Accord and cutting funding for research on climate disruption

–Shrinking the public lands

–Greatly increasing military spending

–Making the needy work for government assistance

–Opening up the federal lands to off-shore drilling and coal leasing

–Withdrawing from UNESCO—a move strongly urged by the Israeli government

–Eliminating Environmental Justice Programs

–Ending Renewable Energy Mandates in DOD

–Eliminating Supplemental Security Income (SSI) for children

–Eliminating the Labor Department’s Women’s Bureau

–Eliminating Tribal Housing

–Reducing funding for the Department of Education Office for Civil Rights by 50%

–Cutting budgets for all kinds of help to the poor, the disabled and other deprived Americans such as impoverished patients seeking health care

Hand it to Heritage, it deals with both abstract conservative principles and concrete policies.

The problem is that the principles don’t match what Heritage is pressing for in the avaricious arena of Republican corporate politics.

Here are its principles: “free enterprise, limited government, individual freedom, traditional American values, and a strong national defense.”

Let’s compare Heritage’s walk to its talk. “Free enterprise?” Rhetoric aside, Heritage is inactive on old and new monopolies, and indeed anything to do with massive corporate welfare for the favored big companies and big money in politics which tilt the playing field and shaft taxpayers.

“Limited government?” What about—to invoke President Eisenhower’s warning words—the big government of the bloated “Military-Industrial Complex?” What about the massive outsourcing of public functions to corporations that consider overcharging taxpayers to be a business strategy? What about the system of “criminal injustice,” in which people can be arrested without being charged with a crime? What about prosecutorial abuses and illegal prison abuses? What about DOJ-promoted for-profit prisons that benefit from social systems that continually perpetuate cycles of incarceration and arrest? Do these qualify as “limited government?”

“Individual freedom?” What about the massive invasion of individual privacy by corporations or the destruction of the freedom of contracts—consumer servitude under unilateral fine print contracts not subject to competition? What about the FCC’s elimination of net neutrality, allowing internet and cable providers to infiltrate, control and monetize every aspect of the internet “commons?”

“Traditional American values?” What about equal protection of the laws in the form of strong enforcement actions against the corporate crime wave that has been documented regularly by the Wall Street Journal and Business Week? Heritage is silent on this obvious, deep American value.

What about compassion values for the poor and preservation of the air, water and soil? Heritage has hooked its reputation onto two of the cruelest of Trump’s henchmen: Scott Pruitt, dismantling the EPA, contrary to his oath of office, and the mad dog of mad dogs—Michael Mulvaney, who heads both the Office of Management and Budget and the Wall Street watchdog, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which he is running through the Wall Street corporate meat grinder.

“A strong national defense?” A wasteful defense is a weak defense and military power in the service of Empire only increases hatred, war and civilian adversaries against the invaders and backers of dictatorships abroad. Heritage is silent on such lessons of history and has sided too often with the neo-con war mongers. The libertarian Cato institute, at least, opposes criminal wars of aggression (as in Iraq) and imperialism.

There are people inside Heritage troubled about this conflict between true conservatives and corporatists masquerading as conservatives. They know that the rhetoric about being against crony capitalism or statism (the corporate state) is not part of Heritage’s muscle on Capitol Hill or at Trump’s White House. But they know where their bread is buttered.

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Experts for the People—Shut Out by the Mass Media

Ever wonder how the television, radio and newspaper people select whom they are going to interview or get quotes from when they are reporting the news or producing a feature? I do. What I’ve learned is that they go to guests that are connected with the established powers—such as think tanks in Washington, D.C. that work on “the military industrial complex” policy (to borrow President Eisenhower’s words) and somehow lean toward more war mongering (e.g. NPR and the U.S.-Iran relationship) or backing more weapon systems (such as a new nuclear bomb arsenal and more F-35s and air craft carriers).

You won’t be hearing from MIT Professor Emeritus Ted Postol on the chronic failures of the anti-ballistic missile program (spending $13 billion this coming year).

Whether it is NPR, PBS, the network news programs, the Sunday news interview shows and too often the New York Times, Washington Post, Associated Press and the Wall Street Journal their interviewees are the defenders of the status quo or those with corporatists’ viewpoints.

These news outlets seem oblivious to the blatant economic conflicts of interest inherent in groups such as the Heritage Foundation, the American Enterprise Institute and professors who moonlight with corporations. These interviewees have economic and ideological axes to grind that are not disclosed to the general viewers, listeners and readers, when they are merely described as “experts.”

There are real experts and specialists, with no axe to grind, who are so ignored by the media that they have almost become nonpersons, despite their past proven records of achievements for the public interest, and for the people’s well-being.

Here are some examples of experienced people whose veracity and honesty you can take to the press and media outlets:

  1. David Freeman, probably the most knowledgeable, experienced authority on energy in the United States. A lawyer and engineer, he was an advisor to Presidents, Governors, ran four major utilities, including the giant Tennessee Valley Authority. He was also the author of key studies on energy policies starting in the nineteen seventies and presently is negotiating the shutdown of California’s last atomic energy plant with its owner, Pacific Gas and Electric Corporation.
  2. Nicholas Johnson, former FCC Commissioner, author of many books and timely commentaries on communications subjects (e.g. “How to Talk Back to Your TV Set”) and has been teaching at the University of Iowa Law School.
  3. Karen Ferguson, head of Pension Rights Center since the mid-seventies, has been involved in Congressional policies, judicial decisions, organizing retirees to assert their rights and generally watchdogging the increasing pension crisis in our country.
  4. Jamie Love, the expert on drug patent abuses, drug industry pricing power, international efforts to counteract these “pay or die” policies. He has been a major figure in bringing down the price of AIDS drugs for developing countries.
  5. Rena Steinzor, law professor, author of books such as Why Not Jail?, organizer of the Center for Progressive Reform and corporate crime specialist.
  6. Janine Jackson, long-time media critic documenting weekly noteworthy bias, censorship and commercial distortion of the news.
  7. Danielle Brian, director of the Project on Government Oversight has had much to say accurately about the massive military budget, redundant weapon systems and their waste, fraud and abuse over three decades.
  8. Jesselyn Radack, former Justice Department lawyer, represents whistleblowers on national security wrongdoing and is an acknowledged legal expert on free speech in these sensitive areas.
  9. Greg LeRoy, directs Good Jobs First and knows a great deal about corporate welfare, giveaways to sports stadiums, Amazon and the whole ‘business development’ subsidies at the local and state level in the U.S. He is the author, among other publications, of The Great American Jobs Scam: Corporate Tax Dodging and the Myth of Job Creation.
  10. Mark Green, one of the nation’s experts on campaign finance rackets and reform, author of over twenty books, including Losing Our Democracy, and experienced as a candidate in New York State elections.
  11. Ralf Hotchkiss, former MacArthur Genius awardee, inventor and founder of Whirlwind Wheelchair and a successful advocate for people with disabilities having mobility without having to pay monopoly prices for shoddy wheelchairs in the U.S. and developing countries.
  12. Lois Gibbs, coming out of the Love Canal tragedies in Niagara Falls, NY, she organized arguably the leading grass roots movements against poisoning of neighborhoods around the country. She is an accomplished author, a speaker and is the director of the Center for Health, Environment and Justice, which works with hundreds of local citizen fighters for health and safety.

Some of the above were featured in the mass media years ago; others have been relegated to the shadows of our public news and features for almost their entire careers. The slanted selections by media gatekeepers are getting worse. Increasingly, TV and radio anchors interview their own reporters, not experts like Robert McIntyre, lawyer and founder of the highly regarded Citizens for Tax Justice. Too often the Sunday network TV political shows tap into the same stable of Washington pundits and commentators.

Readers and viewers can make their own lists of media-excluded, knowledgeable persons, be they at the local, state or national levels. On our public airwaves, after the FCC repealed the “Fairness Doctrine” in 1987, bloviators such as Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Mark Levin, completely dominate our airtime with their corporatist and hate-filled soliloquies. These “champions” of the free market have no problem using the public airwaves free of charge. As owners of the public airwaves and buyers of print journalism, let’s demand higher standards for experts in journalism. Let’s demand that the media seek out people who know their facts and work in the people’s interest and give them airtime.

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Absorbing the Irresistible Consumer Reports Magazine

On my weekly radio show, I recently interviewed Liam McCormack, the head of testing for Consumer Reports (CR)—a resource and monthly magazine with seven million print and online  subscribers. It has always been a wonder to me why seventy million people don’t take advantage of this honest, non-profit testing organization that gives you the lowdown on just about every kind of consumer product—and some services—that you buy regularly.

Year after year, month after month, Consumer Reports proves its worth to consumers through money saved, aggravation avoided and safety advanced. Founded in 1936, this venerable  organization takes no advertising and is as incorruptible as  any organization can possibly be.

Here are just a few examples of naming names and suggesting better purchases:

–“AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint or Verizon cost an average of $960 a year. We’ll tell you about the carrier that provides better voice quality and costs $360 a year. You can save $600 a year.”

–Comparing price, selection and service of more than 20 chain retailers, consumer satisfaction scored Costco higher than Walmart.

–You’ve heard the Geico insurance ads—“15 minutes” saving you “15 percent.” CR advises you compare insurance companies every two or three years, adding, “After 20 years with Geico, one of our readers switched to highly-rated Amica insurance companies and saved $793 on her coverage.”

–The most expensive brands, whether cars or mattresses, are not often the best buy, whether it is a specific Mercedes-Benz model or an Apple computer, or a Serta mattress. CR’s own testing results often show other brands—including lesser known ones, are a better deal for a variety of reasons—including price and performance.

To show how much you can save and how you pay for rewarding name-brand advertisers, Consumer Reports tested the “Serta Comfort Smart Support HB300Q,” which costs $2,275, and “had unimpressive back support.” By contrast, the “Denver Mattress Doctor’s Choice” received a CR top-rating with “very good back support” and is priced at $500!

CR’s food testing and advice can save your family hundreds of dollars a year while protecting your health and saving you additional health care expenses.

One of the magazine’s innovations was their Annual Auto Issue. Let’s say you’re thinking about buying a car or selling a car. You’ll receive “detailed ratings, reliability, recommendations, photos and base price ranges for 240+ recently tested cars and trucks.”

CR doesn’t shy away from controversy. It writes that doctors recommending CT scans include many physicians who “underestimate the risk of CT scans,” whose substantial radiation can “increase your risk of cancer.” “Always ask your doctor why the scan is being ordered and if your problem could be managed without it,” urges CR. As with other cautions, CR backs such statements up with hard evidence in its magazine.

With various offerings, the subscription is $30 a year and you should receive the famous CR’s Buying Guide and another book titled, Should I Eat This? which you will find very nutritious.

As someone who has received thousands of complaints from consumers over the years, pardon me if I continue to wonder why so many consumers continue to act against their own perceived self-interests.

If you’re already a CR subscriber and you want to get the attention of friends whom you think can benefit from its comparative ratings and other advice, try a little reverse psychology: to wit, I submit the following:

10 Ways to Shaft Yourself as a Consumer

Buy before you think

Buy before you read

Buy before you ask questions

Buy before you can afford to buy

Buy before you see through the seller’s smile and smooth tongue

Buy before you comparison shop

Buy when you are tired or hungry

Buy when you are rushed

Buy to dote on your child or because your child demands the product

Buy just to keep up with your friends or neighbors

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Shernoff, Bidart, and Echeverria– Wide-Ranging Lawyers for the People

I first heard about William M. Shernoff in the mid-nineteen seventies when he was pioneering a field of law known as insurance bad faith litigation. That ‘bad faith’ occurs is when insurance companies deny legitimate claims or try to use deceptive fine print clauses to escape policy coverage. He was starting to collect both compensation for his clients and large punitive damages when the evidence showed insurance companies were imposing these abuses on many thousands of their customers.

One day I called Attorney Shernoff and said that if he would match my $25,000 donation, we could start the National Insurance Consumer Organization (NICO) headed by the former Federal Insurance Commissioner, J. Robert Hunter, the pro-consumer actuary who served under both Presidents Ford and Carter.

NICO’s Bob Hunter thereafter became the single greatest advocate for consumers against the insurance giants that they have ever encountered. He knew their fraudulent complexities, translated those complexities into plain English, and brought his expertise and pleasing personality to legislatures, courtrooms, and agencies in all fifty states. During the mid-eighties he visited all the states in a little over one year, rebutting the savage industry attack on wrongfully injured persons’ right to have their day in court.  The insurance lobbyists have never seen such a whirlwind for justice who defeated them time and time again.

Bill Shernoff was instrumental in putting Bob Hunter, a force of nature, in motion. But this low-key attorney from Claremont, California was just getting underway. He blazed the trail for rejected insurance consumers and became a feared private regulator of insurers denying claims by winning cases before judges and juries.  He won multimillion dollar verdicts for a roofer whose disability payments were cut off, for a Samoan government involving hurricane damage, and for a paraplegic Marine whose insurance company rejected his physician on the medical necessity of his 109-day hospital stay. He secured a bad faith settlement on behalf of Northridge, California earthquake victims and even a $50 million settlement in 1981 for Southern California Physicians over a malpractice insurance policy that overcharged on premiums.

Not wanting to be a lone ranger, Shernoff went around the country conducting seminars training attorneys to bring insurance bad faith lawsuits. It became a movement of sort, filling in for the notoriously weak state regulation of insurance.

But, Shernoff was interested in more than representing specific aggrieved clients. He was an educational leader who furthered consumer education by writing, lecturing, and appearing in mass media. Besides co-authoring a legal textbook on his specialty, he wrote books like, How to Make Insurance Companies Pay Your Claim: And What to Do If They Don’t , Payment Refused, and Fight Back and Win: How to Get HMOs and Health Insurance to Pay Up.

One day he called me up and said he wanted to start a Consumer Law Clinic at his alma mater—the University of Wisconsin Law School. The Clinic is in its twenty-seventh year and has trained scores of students in consumer advocacy law. Its students represent real clients fighting unfair debt collection, repossession, home improvement fraud, credit fraud, and other unscrupulous business practices. There are also William Shernoff Health and Consumer Law Fellowships to work for health care reform.

This small law firm of Shernoff, Bidart, and Echeverria welcome their responsibilities as “officers of the court” as well as their broader duties to build institutions of justice that provide powerless people ever more access to justice. They are major contributors to Consumer Watchdog, a leading California advocacy association, and to Public Justice, a large public-interest, non-profit law firm. They are also major contributors to the American Museum of Tort Law, which as a volunteer, I established as an educational institution dedicated to informing the public about the law of wrongful injuries.

Whenever there are insurance industry-indentured legislators—state or federal— pressing for cruel laws to stifle wronged Americans from their day in court or before regulatory agencies, chances are this firm is there either in person or with donations to fight them or over-rule them with statewide referendums. One victory was Prop. 103 in California that regulated the property/casualty insurance companies thirty years ago, which saved California consumers over $100 billion since that voter revolt.

Of course, there are still many obstacles to the exercise of consumer rights and remedies, such as the Federal ERISA pension law’s massive preemption of tort claims. But if there were more firms doing what Shernoff’s firm does, millions of people would be receiving judicial or regulatory justice for their costly injuries or illnesses.

My best guess is that not more than 25 plaintiff personal injury firms are sharing, training and helping to build consumer protection institutions either in their state or nationally. However, proportionate to their relative size, few of them have packed the continual wallop of Shernoff’s law firm.

How does Shernoff, Bidart, and Echeverria do it? For starters, they have the right sensitive and generous values that are necessary for the work. Moreover, they recognize that they have to be both attorneys for clients and lawyers for the broader institutional advances of justice so that more people can use the laws meant for them.

How do they get underway? They make calls and above all return calls—a practice over ninety percent of their peers have not deigned to do when citizen groups want to initiate ways and means for a more just rule of law, as if people matter first.

Around the country plaintiff lawyers vary in their resolve to push back the corporate predators who want to repeal the American Revolution and its subsequent Bill of Rights for the people, especially the Constitution’s Seventh Amendment securing the right of trial by jury. For instance, the repeated failure of the major Texas trial lawyers to ward off the tort “deformers” contrasts with efforts by their counterparts in New York to hold the fort in Albany.

Years ago Dr. Sidney Wolfe of Public Citizen’s Health Research Group published the popular, widely used book, “Worst Pills, Best Pills.” All these drugs were licensed by the Food and Drug Administration, but some had bad side effects and others were much safer. Maybe it is time to have a list of the “Worst Lawyers, Best Lawyers.” All of these lawyers would be licensed to practice, but widely differ in their commitment to defend, preserve, and expand the civil justice system, under relentless attack by the corporate lobbies, that they and their forebears built.

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What is Stalling Wrongful Injury Lawyers?

Up against four decades of megacorporate erosion of wrongfully injured Americans’ access to our courts, trial lawyers are wondering what use is left of the Seventh Amendment, our constitutional right to trial by jury?

Indentured lawmakers pass laws blocking or obstructing harmed individuals who are simply seeking fair compensation for their medical expenses, wage loss and suffering as a result of actions committed by their wrongdoers. Corporations, with their fine print consumer contracts, are eluding justice for some serious crimes by employing compulsory arbitration clauses, which preemptively force victims into closed, private arbitration (in lieu of trial by jury) and block the wrongfully injured from getting their day in open court.

It’s unavoidable. Chances are you sign such clauses regularly without ever knowing it. Everywhere, lawsuits, jury trials and verdicts are diminishing in the midst of population growth and ever more invasive technologies, drugs, chemicals, and many other products—all with the very real potential to suffer from dangerous defects, and all bearing built-in immunities for the guilty parties, should these defects come to light. Indeed, the vast majority of fatalities and serious injuries from preventable causes in the health care industry, factories, mines, drillers and hurtful products never even see an attorney.

Still the corporate lobbies, led by the insurance industry, keep pressing to block the courtroom door and avoid accepting responsibility for their injurious deeds.

They built this system of justice, but collectively, they have not been up to defending and preserving it from the mounting counterattacks.

The trial lawyers cannot match their adversaries in political contributions. However, there is one simple thing they could do. Should they deign to return the calls of consumer, environmental and labor groups wishing to forge alliances at the grass roots, such a union of minds could turn the tide for the trial lawyers who have long been on the defensive. Bear in mind, the law of wrongful injury (tort law) defends all the people regardless of political persuasion, race, gender or economic background. An unbeatable coalition could be assembled.

For over fifty years, I’ve been fighting, as a volunteer, for more appropriate utilization of our civil justice system to further its goals of compensation for the wrongfully injured, public disclosure of hazards, consequences for crimes against innocent victims and the environment, and deterrence against culpable actors. This effort is part and parcel of consumer, environmental and worker safety movements. In fact, the dangers that prompted safety legislation and regulations were often first disclosed by personal injury lawsuits.

Yet, with luminous exceptions, most major plaintiff law firms are not responding to the mobilization of these constituencies. They tend to their selected clients as attorneys but do not flex their muscles and resources as proactive lawyers by addressing the overall crisis that is the slow-motion destruction of civil justice.

Their adversaries have established so-called “lawsuit abuse” groups in numerous states and activated their dealers, agents and professional societies to keep the siege on our Seventh Amendment rights proliferating with wildly inaccurate assertions and hyperbolic anecdotes.

Inexplicably, these successful law firms will not protect the dwindling forest for the few trees they are nurturing. You call them for collaborative projects and their secretaries keep saying they are “in deposition” or are “on conference calls” that seem to occur perpetually.

I suspect that they are just not interested enough, no matter their enormous wealth from contingent fees in such areas as the great tobacco, asbestos, drug, oil spill or motor vehicle class actions. They have not built collateral civic institutions to begin to match their opponents even though these civic groups would be speaking for tens of millions of families.

In an open letter to plaintiff attorneys circulated in 2012, I described how the great law of torts is under assault and demands a multidimensional mobilization of the public. It was overwhelmingly ignored.

On September 29, 2016, we organized the first ever national celebration of this pillar of private justice at Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C. Some of the region’s leading trial lawyers promised to bring people out and help with the expenses. They struck out.

There was a time twenty-five to fifty years ago when trial lawyers recognized the necessity of community education. They offered seminars in property, consumer, personal injury, civil rights and contract law in a program called The People’s Law School. Others joined with the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health to share little known product and environmental hazards discovered in their litigation which they hoped would foster broader protections. They started, at my suggestion, a marvelous non-profit litigation group called Public Justice in 1982 that brings fundamental court cases unlikely to be brought by commercial attorneys.

Presently, personal injury lawyers, except for the few rich ones, are not making big money. They are discouraged. Their own state trial lawyer associations report dwindling membership, smaller budgets and less engagement. Whole areas of practice are nearly disappearing, as in California with its draconian statutory caps and other restrictions on litigating serious medical malpractice injuries, which limit compensation to $250,000—regardless of the severity of the injury—for a lifetime of pain and suffering. (See my letter to Governor Jerry Brown.)

But there is one smallish firm in California that shows their colleagues just what can be accomplished for the American people by combining logical vision with enabling resources for the common good.

I’ll describe what this firm has done for America in next week’s column, and ask the question, what are many larger personal injury firms waiting for?

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The Paradox of Equal Justice

Almost every day, entertainment, sports, media, political and even some business organizations are jettisoning their top officials and incumbents after reported accusations of sexual harassment and sexual assaults of their subordinates. They’re not waiting for prosecutors, courts or regulators to take action. “Get out now” is the first punishing order. Then the work product of these asserted offenders—whether music, comedy shows, etc.—are often scrubbed, and recipients of political contributions are under pressure to give these sums to charity. In addition a wider arc of resignations by the heads and Boards of Directors, accused of lax monitoring is emerging.

The speed of punishment is unprecedented. One day millions of people watched Bill O’Reilly, Charlie Rose, Matt Lauer and others. The next day they were vanished. Although this is only the tip of the iceberg—and there is more to come—the velocity of expulsions coming from these accusations—even when they are denied—is unprecedented. (A major exception, however, are the escapades of Donald Trump over the years.)

What do the expellers know that spurs them to make these instant decisions often to the detriment of their own economic interest, such as Fox, PBS, NBC or NPR evicting their four, lucrative star performers?

Could it be that the media was quick to report these abuses and that more was coming to produce even more damaging publicity to their brand? Could it be that they wanted to avoid their companies being stigmatized as a perilous or toxic workplace for future talent considering careers there? Were they trying to avoid potential lawsuits? Could it be that some of these executives wanted to get rid of the spotlight that might reach their own transgressions, even though they think they were of lesser seriousness?

To all of these the answer is probably, “partly.” But it is also important for the media outlets, political parties, and Hollywood studios to react in the most responsible manner: that is, when abuses come to light, they may not need to wait for due process; they should react in order to protect their employees, who could become victims, as well as their reputation and their sizeable audience/constituency. While many of these organizations waited far too long to remove abusers, as in the case of Michigan State University and the United States Olympic Committee, the act of removing serial predators from their powerful positions signals a degree of belated resolve and compassion, and is in line with their responsibility to protect their workplace.

So why is it that when corporations and financial institutions commit broad-scale crimes that endanger or take the lives of millions of people, they receive absolute impunity? Indeed, their executives are rewarded for their own chronic, dangerous lawlessness. When their numerous crimes or criminogenic actions come to light, why are these bosses not immediately removed from their positions, in the manner of the many powerful men who have fallen as the #MeToo movement gains momentum?

Who knows? Time will tell perhaps. What is known is that corporations get away with very serious crimes—deaths, lifetime injuries, massive assaults on the economic necessities of millions of innocent people, the sickening of children and loss of their lives, the poisoning of water, air, land, food, perilous workplaces—all while paying off the political system that would have exacted punishment—and without appropriate sanctions.

None of the bailed-out Wall Street bosses who crashed the economy in 2008-2009 were prosecuted. These repeat-offenders took 8 million jobs away from the American people with their crimes, deceptions, cover-ups and rampant speculation with the very pensions and mutual funds that had been entrusted to them by their clients. Some Wall Street predators retired with huge severance packages—worth many millions of dollars—while others stayed put and resumed their roles as people of influential status and approbation.

Look at George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, who together initiated a criminal war of aggression that sent tens of thousands of U.S. soldiers to death, illness and permanent disability while destroying the lives of over a million Iraqis and leaving the country and its impoverished survivors devastated. They left public office in January 2009, above the laws they broke, and the Constitution they violated, to the accolades of Republicans and some Democrats. Lucrative speeches, book advances and other goodies flooded into their “retirements.”

People like Bill Clinton helped rehabilitate Mr. Bush with collaborative projects and joint appearances. The Bush Presidential library is thriving without mention of his and Mr. Cheney’s war crimes.

Over and over again, as reported in the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, the Washington Post, and CBS’s Sixty Minutes, corporate crime, violence and fraud do not result in punishment. All too often the rewards and luxuries accorded to these powerful executives continue unabated.

Even when the Justice Department occasionally nails a big drug company for crimes costing thousands of lives and billions of dollars, “deferred prosecution agreements” let the bosses off and allow the companies themselves to get away with fines that appear large but are far less than the ill-gotten gains that finally caught the attention of the underfunded Department’s prosecutors.

In 2011 I filled a book titled Getting Steamed to Overcome Corporatism with dozens of documented corporate crimes that ultimately resulted in a little bad publicity, some fines and infrequent enforcement actions, but no real justice. But in all of the many egregious accounts detailed in Getting Steamed, did the business bosses lose their jobs, their retirement, even the esteem of their colleagues, as a result of their chronic predation? Very rarely.

With over 450,000 Americans dying every year from tobacco-related diseases and with documentation piling up on how these tobacco titans deliberately marketed cigarettes to youngsters to hook them for life, none of these company officials went to jail or were even personally fined. Remember the celebrated Congressional hearings when about a dozen tobacco executives, under oath, said they didn’t believe there was a connection between their heavily promoted products and disease? There was no prosecution for perjury then or later when it became abundantly clear these executives knew all about the health impacts from evidence inside the companies.

The same impunity and immunity attached to the asbestos and lead manufacturers whose bosses knew for decades of the lethal impacts on millions of their long suffering victims.

So why the difference? The sexual harassment reactions came because the perpetrators had done demonstrable damage—to their victims, to the cultures of their workplaces, to productivity, and, of course, to the public relations of the organizations writ large. Weren’t the companies that brought about the recession or criminally destroyed lives also afraid of losing sales and talent if they didn’t rid themselves of the culpable perpetrators?

One difference may be that the evicted sexual assaulters did their deeds personally and directly, unlike the more remote corporate bosses or even middle management, their crimes more abstract within the enormity of the bureaucratic machines that they’ve rigged to avoid accountability. The other difference is that the public outrage was more personal and intense over the high-profile victims in the Hollywood episodes, which set the level of high media visibility. But what are the other factors at work?

Tell us your thoughts at nader.org/contact. The stakes are nothing less than equal protections of the law and equal justice under the law.

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