Notorious Astroturf Pioneer Rick Berman Is Behind Business Group’s Anti-Labor-Board Campaign – —By Molly Redden | Wed Mar. 25, 2015 6:30 AM EDT

Washington’s “Dr. Evil” has been working with a group of CEOs to help companies avoid legal liability for their franchisees.

“I’ve worked hard and played by the rules to make my franchise business a success,” Ganahl said in an ad that ran on all three networks, as video showed her fawning over a golden retriever. “Now, unelected bureaucrats at the National Labor Relations Board want to change the rules. As Americans, we deserve better. Tell Washington, ‘No.'”

Bankrolled by a free-market advocacy group called the Job Creators Network, the ad painted a sympathetic picture of a business owner struggling against onerous regulations imposed by the NLRB, the agency that enforces labor law and has long been a conservative target. But lurking behind the anti-NLRB campaign is a notorious PR operative and astroturf pioneer who encourages his corporate clients to “win ugly or lose pretty” and who says he wakes up each morning trying “to figure out how to screw with the labor unions.”

The consultant, Rick Berman, is well known in political circles for funneling anonymous corporate money into vicious ad campaigns attacking various advocacy groups, such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving and the Humane Society of the United States, which he has accused of spending a minuscule amount of their donations on their stated missions. Berman, who heads the DC-based communications firm Berman and Company, typically launches his offensives through a network of front groups. He has used these organizations to fight regulations governing food safety, animal cruelty, workplace safety, secondhand smoke, and even tanning beds, and in the process keeps his corporate funders anonymous.

“We run all of this stuff through nonprofit organizations that are insulated from having to disclose donors,” Berman bragged in an October speech that was secretly taped and shared with the New York Times. “There is total anonymity.” His brash M.O. has earned him a nickname—Dr. Evil—that Berman appears to relish.

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Senate nears 60 on Keystone – By Laura Barron-Lopez – 11/13/14 01:39 PM EST

Screen Shot 2014-11-13 at Nov 13, 2014 1.18

Supporters of the Keystone XL oil pipeline are nearing 60 votes in the Senate ahead of a vote next week on whether to approve the project.

With passage of a pipeline bill in the House all but assured, Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) says she is “confident” she can rally the 60 votes needed for a filibuster-proof majority in the upper chamber.

“It is ready for a vote and we have the 60 votes to pass it,” Landrieu said on Wednesday.

The Keystone debate is wrapped up in midterm election politics, with both Landrieu and her opponent in the Louisiana Senate runoff — Rep. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) — taking the lead on legislation. The House is set to vote on Cassidy’s Keystone bill on Friday.

Right now, Keystone supporters have a firm 58 votes in the Senate, 13 of which are from Democrats, after Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) on Thursday said he will vote “yes.”

“Enough already, Carper said, when asked Thursday why he is backing the pipeline.

Carper said President Obama should declare victory on the climate deal with China, which he said will have “profound effects” that far outweigh Keystone in the fight on climate change.

“Let’s clear the decks” and start talking about other issues, he said.

To reach 60, Landrieu and Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.), who sponsored the bill, are working overtime to convince on-the-fence Democrats to back the oil sands project.

Hoeven said he is helping Landrieu secure as many votes as possible.

“I thought we would have to wait until the new Congress is seated to have the 60 votes. But if 15 Democrats will join us, we can pass the bill now, and we should,” Hoeven said.

If a Keystone bill passes Congress, it’s unclear whether the president will veto it.


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Amazon’s Wal-Mart problem: Why low wages, working conditions and disdain for culture will hurt us all – RICHARD (R.J.) ESKOW

Amazon drives down wages, avoids taxes and destroys intellectual life, while profiting from government subsidies

Jeff Bezos (Credit: Reuters/Shannon Stapleton/Jeff Haynes/photo montage by Salon)

Franklin Foer, editor of The New Republic, has weighed in on the Amazon controversy with a piece titled “Amazon Must Be Stopped.” The subtitle reads “It’s too big. It’s cannibalizing the economy. It’s time for a radical plan.”

I, for one, am feeling a little less alone as a result. We proposed our own “radical” approach to companies like Amazon and Google back in July, which was to treat them as public utilities if we’re not willing to apply antitrust law. It’s good to have Foer’s company in this effort.

Public utility theory proved remarkably adaptable to corporations like Amazon and Google, at least in theory. But, while the suggestion provoked a predictable string of derisive right-wing responses, there was almost total silence on the left. It’s good to see someone else recognizing the fundamental challenge posed by a company like Amazon, as well as the harm caused by the long-term erosion of our ability to respond to monopolistic threats when they are amplified by the impact of technology.

Foer’s essay has provoked a certain amount of long-overdue discussion in left/liberal circles. The question is, where does that debate go from here?

Perhaps from an excess of caution, Foer opens with a paean to the company’s accomplishments. “Before we speak ill of Amazon,” he writes, “let us kneel down before it.” Foer tells us that “the company began with the stated goal of creating a bookstore as comprehensive as the great Library of Alexandria,” adding that it “quickly managed to make even that grandiloquent ambition look puny” and “could soon conjure the full text of almost any volume onto a phone in less time than a yawn.” He adds that Amazon’s catalogue “comes damn close to serving every human need … as cheap as capitalism permits.”

Amazon hasn’t earned those kind words. As Barnes & Noble pointed out in a 1997 lawsuit, Amazon isn’t a bookstore at all. It’s a “broker” of books, most of which it did not have directly on hand in its early years. It couldn’t “soon conjure” books onto phones. The Kindle platform wasn’t rolled out until 2007, 12 years after went online. And, as Foer himself later suggests, its products are as cheap as monopolistic practicespermit.

Push to end predatory payday lending gathers steam – By Gary Kalman August 19, 2014, 03:00 pm

Payday lenders are taking a beating of late.  From the caustic segment on Last Week Tonight with John Oliver urging potential payday loan customers to do “literally anything else” in a cash crunch to recent news that a New York District Attorney charged a local payday lender with usury, the news has not put the industry in a positive light.

With the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) poised to issue rules to rein in abusive payday lending, the timing couldn’t be better. What’s clear now – to anyone following these developments – is that there is a real need for strong, robust oversight of the payday lending industry.

In the last 20 years, these lenders have proliferated through aggressive marketing to financially vulnerable families, targeting members of the military, and profiling African American and Latino neighborhoods. During the 1990s, the number of payday lending storefronts grew from 200 to over 22,000 in urban strip malls and military bases across the country. As John Oliver tells us, there are currently more payday lenders in America than McDonald’s restaurants or Starbucks cafes. These storefronts issue a combined, estimated $27 billion in annual loans.

Sadly, the “financial success” of the industry appears to be less attributable to consumer satisfaction than to a debt trap that captures borrowers in a cycle of repeat loans.  In fact, 76 percent of all loans (or $20 billion of the estimated $27 billion) are to borrowers who take out additional loans to pay the previous ones. Consumers pay $3.4 billion annually in fees alone.Consider that in Washington State lenders continue to fight for repeal of a law to limit the number of loans to 8 per year. Lenders market their payday loans as a one-time solution for a short-term cash flow problem, but their opposition to an 8 loan per year limit speaks volumes about their true business model.

The Real Reason Pot Is Still Illegal – Lee Fang July 2014

Opponents of marijuana-law reform insist that legalization is dangerous—but the biggest threat is to their own bottom line.

This story was reported in partnership with The Investigative Fund at The Nation Institute.

Patrick Kennedy, son of the late Senator Ted Kennedy, did several stints in rehab after crashing his car into a barricade on Capitol Hill in 2006, a headline-making event that revealed the then–US congressman for Rhode Island had been abusing prescription drugs, including the painkiller OxyContin. Kennedy went on to make mental health—including substance abuse—a cornerstone of his political agenda, and he is reportedly at work on a memoir about his struggles with addiction and mental illness. In 2013, he also helped found an advocacy group, Project SAM (Smart Approaches to Marijuana), which has barnstormed the country opposing the growing state and federal efforts to legalize pot.

Taking the stage to rousing applause last February, Kennedy joined more than 2,000 opponents of marijuana legalization a few miles south of Washington, DC, at the annual convention of the Community Anti-Drug Coalition of America (CADCA), one of the largest such organizations in the country.

“Let me tell you, there is nothing more inconsistent with trying to improve mental health and reduce substance-abuse disorders in this country than to legalize a third drug,” Kennedy boomed. The former congressman also praised his fellow speakers for standing up to the “extremist responses” from legalization advocates.

Given that CADCA is dedicated to protecting society from dangerous drugs, the event that day had a curious sponsor: Purdue Pharma, the manufacturer of Oxy-Contin, the highly addictive painkiller that nearly ruined Kennedy’s congressional career and has been linked to thousands of overdose deaths nationwide.

Prescription opioids, a line of pain-relieving medications derived from the opium poppy or produced synthetically, are the most dangerous drugs abused in America, with more than 16,000 deaths annually linked to opioid addiction and overdose. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that more Americans now die from painkillers than from heroin and cocaine combined. The recent uptick in heroin use around the country has been closely linked to the availability of prescription opioids, which give their users a similar high and can trigger a heroin craving in recovering addicts. (Notably, there are no known deaths related to marijuana, although there have been instances of impaired driving.)

People in the United States, a country in which painkillers are routinely overprescribed, now consume more than 84 percent of the entire worldwide supply of oxycodone and almost 100 percent of hydrocodone opioids. In Kentucky, to take just one example, about one in fourteen people is misusing prescription painkillers, and nearly 1,000 Kentucky residents are dying every year.

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This is how Boko Haram funds its evil – BY TERRENCE MCCOY June 6 at 3:29 am

A grab made on May 5, 2014 from a video obtained by AFP shows the leader of the Islamist extremist group Boko Haram Abubakar Shekau (C) delivering a speech. Shekau vowed to sell hundreds of schoolgirls kidnapped in northern Nigeria three weeks ago, in a new video obtained on May 5 by AFP.

Image made on May 5, 2014, from a video obtained by Agence France-Presse shows Abubakar Shekau, the leader of the Islamist extremist group Boko Haram. (AFP/Getty Images)

If there was an exact moment the international community understood the breadth of Boko Haram’s evil, it came on May 5, when the group’s leader grinned and announced he would sell 200 kidnapped schoolgirls in his “market of selling human beings.”

It was day. He was surrounded by masked minions. And behind Abubakar Shekau, a man who rose through Boko Haram’s ranks through unmatched brutality and religious fanaticism, loomed several armored vehicles. Local experts said the video was likely shot in the remote Sambisa forest in northeastern Nigeria — and the juxtaposition between the bucolic settings and the high-tech machinery made a jarring contrast.

Despite the poverty of northern Nigeria — where 70 percent of people live on less than a dollar per day – the Boko Haram terrorist group has at its disposal a seemingly limitless amount of heavy weaponry, vehicles, bombs and ammunition that it uses to kill with unfathomable wantonness.

The Islamic militancy, masquerading as members of the military, raided three villages in northeastern Nigeria this week and mowed down 400 villagers “from house to house” using “sophisticated weapons,” one local leader told Bloomberg.

Dozens more members of Boko Haram arrived at another village disguised as preachers and assembled the entire of village of Bargari ostensibly to teach Islam. Once gathered, “another large number of terrorists came from nowhere and opened fire on the congregation,” one resident told Nigeria’s Daily Post. ”The gunmen numbering 20 ambushed the village with four Toyota Hilux vehicles, AK47 rifles, improvised explosive devices, and petrol bombs.”

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Among the many mysteries of America, for me, is just how “stuff” that should belong to “the nation”, or “the people”, or “the government”, or “the citizens”, or whichever non-private entity you might choose to designate, came to fall into the hands of the oligarchs? There are other questions related to that.

1. How did Standard Oil and those who walk in its footsteps come to “own” the oil that they refine and sell to the 300 million members of “We, the people……?”

2. Same as question 1, except as the question relates to the mining industries.

3. It costs about 37 CENTS to refine a gallon of gasoline from crude oil. By the time all the “middle men” get their cut, you and I pay $3.45 PER GALLON. WHY?

4. How did the Department of Water and Power in Los Angeles and similar entities in other places come to “own” the water and the electricity which is delivered and/or produced? The infrastructure for delivery of these services is usually paid for with taxpayer dollars and tax benefits. Shouldn’t the taxpayers own the end product?

5. Why is it that Public Utility Commissions are always largely composed of members of the industries that they are “regulating”? Should that not represent a criminal conflict of interest?

6. Why are increases in “public utility” fees almost always approved?

7. Why are some “Public Utility” CEOs paid FORTY TIMES the annual amount paid each year to the President of the United States? From Forbes Magazine, April 7, 2013:

“ tallied it all up for 2011: First Energy Corp.’s Anthony Alexander was paid the most, it says, earning $1.3 million in salary and $18 million in total executive compensation. Dominion’s Thomas Farrell was paid $1.2 million and got $14 million overall. And, Wisconsin Energy Corp.s Gale Klappa was paid $1.2 million and earned $11.3 million in total comp.

8. If the “airwaves belong to the public”, how does the Federal Communications Commission “sell/lease” these airwaves to companies such as NBC, CBS, ABC, FOX, Verizon, Comcast,, at a price that is miniscule when compared to the financial benefits the “purchaser/lessor” gains from the acquisition? The notion that these companies use their investor dollars to develop the end product that they sell to you and me falls by the wayside when you consider that all their “investment” is deducted when they file their tax returns as a “business expense”?

9. Assuming that land owned by the “government”, the “people”, the “nation”, the “citizenry”, and “managed” by the Bureau of Land Management, truly does belong to “the people”, what then is the justification for selling that land in parcels sized so that only financial institutions and the wealthiest 95% of Americans can afford to buy them? The investors then re-parcel the land, build commercial property and houses on it, and then re-sell it to “the people” who owned it a few months ago at a tremendous profit, with no benefit of the larger transaction accruing to “the people”.

10. Why was not the Homestead Act of 1862 perfected, then continued?

And, finally, two more questions? The first question is, why are laws crafted to enable these entities to avoid paying taxes on the income that they generate from these assets that should, rightfully, belong to “the people”? And the second question is, why do “we the people” tolerate such?