Russell Mokhiber

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Farm Radio Broadcaster Gets the Boot After Exposing Monsanto's 'Goon Squads'


If you have heard of Learfield Communications, it is probably from listening to college football and basketball games.

The Jefferson City, Missouri based Learfield is one of the nation’s largest broadcasters of college sports.

But it also produces news programming heard throughout the farm belt.

Learfield was started 35 years ago by Clyde Lear and Derry Brownfield.

Lear went on to be the chairman of the company. He bought out his friend and partner Brownfield in 1985.

Brownfield went on to do market news reports for the Learfield news division until 1997 or so, when he started broadcasting a daily call-in show called The Common Sense Coalition.

Derry Brownfield would broadcast The Common Sense Coalition from the studios of Learfield Communications.



Learfield would subsidize the program and allow Brownfield to use its studios and satellite hook-up.

Monsanto happens to be a big advertiser of the Learfield news division — to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars a year.

Brownfield happens to think that Monsanto is an evil corporation.

Therein lies the rub.

For weeks, Brownfield had been ripping Monsanto on air for its policies of enforcing its seed patents against farmers.

On the April 16 show, Brownfield’s topic was seed industry concentration in America.



His guests were Fred Stokes, president of the Organization for Competitive Markets, and Michael Stumo, general counsel of the group.

Stokes and Stumo were promoting a new project to study corporate concentration in the seed industry.

Monsanto is the dominant player in the global seed industry and has a reputation for playing rough.

On air, Brownfield quoted from a newly published Vanity Fair article titled “Monsanto’s Harvest of Fear” by Donald Barlett and James Steele.



“Monsanto relies on a shadowy army of private investigators and agents in the American heartland to strike fear into farm country,” Barlett and Steele write. “They fan out into fields and farm towns, where they secretly videotape and photograph farmers, store owners, and co-ops, infiltrate community meetings, and gather information from informants about farming activities. Farmers say that some Monsanto agents pretend to be surveyors. Others confront farmers on their land and try to pressure them to sign papers giving Monsanto access to their private records. Farmers call them the 'seed police’ and use words such as 'Gestapo’ and 'Mafia’ to describe their tactics.”

After reading from the Vanity Fair article, Brownfield then begins to riff on the Mafia theme.

“Multinational corporations are doing everything possible to change agriculture — and not for the better,” Brownfield says on the show. “I know a little bit about this — not a lot, just a little bit — but Monsanto literally they have Mafia goons out, do they not? They show up on farmers’ property, they try and harass them, they say if you don’t sign this, we are going to take you to court. They have literally tried to destroy agriculture as we know it. They have a goon squad. Maybe that’s not what they like to be called. But if it was the Mafia, we would call them the goon squad.”



Calling Monsanto’s patent enforcers goons was apparently the straw that broke this camel’s back.

Brownfield’s stint at Learfield was about to end.

Last week, Brownfield was told that he could no longer broadcast out of the Learfield studios. His buddy, Clyde Lear, posted a blog on the Learfield web site saying that Brownfield’s last show will be in mid-May.

“The Common Sense Coalition grinds to a halt on our system,” Lear wrote.



“Most of his listeners loved him as did his affiliates,” Lear wrote about his buddy. “He didn’t mind controversy or taking on giants like the Monsanto Corporation. He thought they were bad for farmers, too big for their britches and generally bad for America. Increasingly he’s been saying so, without seeking balance, in my opinion.”

And then later, in response to listeners who were upset that Brownfield was being let go, Lear wrote:

“Some seem to think the reason Derry is leaving is because Monsanto threatened to stop advertising if we didn’t put a gag on him. If that were the only reason Derry was asked to leave, then I can see why they think we are selling out. We’ve parted ways because accusations being made about not only advertisers, but individuals, corporations, government, (fill in the blank) were based on fear and lies with absolutely no truth to back them up. I abhor radio talk shows like Rush Limbaugh…and Derry Brownfield where half-truths are articulated. I won’t be a part of them. And, that’s my right.”

But in an interview with Corporate Crime Reporter, Lear admits that the Monsanto issue is what drove his buddy Brownfield out.



“If the Monsanto issue had not come up, we would not be here today,” Lear said.

Lear said that the President of Learfield Communications, Roger Gardner, talked recently with John Raines, Monsanto’s director of public affairs.

“John Raines talked to Roger Gardner about the difficulties they felt Brownfield is giving them,” Lear said. “(Gardner) told me he talked to John Raines about the Vanity Fair article.”

“The pressure I got came from the president of the news division, Stan Koenigsfeld,” Lear said. “Stan is the guy that has responsibility for selling and maintaining the financial viability of our news division. Stan is a no nonsense guy. So, Stan comes in and says — why are we doing this? Why do we continue to do this? We give him all of these things and he spits in our face by lambasting our good advertisers, without giving them an opportunity for fair and balanced reporting. And it is not reporting — it’s just entertainment. Why do we continue to do this?”



Lear says that the complaints have been mounting over the past five years about Brownfield.

“And I’ve been saying to Stan, settle down, it will all be alright,” Lear said. “But I imagine Stan is getting a lot of pressure from his sales executives. We have three that call on Monsanto for different products. And I would assume that he is getting pressure from those sales executives. When those sales executives call on Monsanto, Monsanto is complaining to the sales executives. That is where the connection happens. But you would have to talk to them about the kind of leverage Monsanto is putting on them. They have never to my knowledge threatened to pull any advertising.”

Lear finally confronted Brownfield.

“I went to him and said — Derry, look, lay off of this,” Lear said. “Lay off of this Monsanto thing. I am getting a lot of complaints.”



Lear said he was the only one in the company who could approach Brownfield.

“I’m the only one who can talk to him,” Lear said. “No one else in the company will go to him. He is kind of persona non grata. He is one of the guys who helped start the company years ago. He was my partner for years until 1985 when I bought him out. He is a dear friend of mine. So, there is no one else — all of the rest of the guys are half my age. They won’t go to him. They are afraid of him. They just won’t go and talk to him.”

“They all came to me and said — go talk to Derry,” Lear said. “We’ve got to quit doing this. Plus, it came at a bad time. It came during the same week that the National Association of Farm Broadcasters national convention was being held in Kansas City. And at that convention, of course, Monsanto was omnipresent. They are there trying to woo farm broadcasters, because they want them to say nice things about them, right? So, here are all of the Monsanto people at this convention. And their advertising agencies — Osborne & Barr out of St. Louis — among others. They were all there. And it was embarrassing, because all of that week, Derry is lambasting Monsanto.”



“We have explained to Monsanto, in any way we can, that the Brownfield Network has nothing to do with Derry’s show,” Lear says. “This is a completely independent show that he puts on. Well, Monsanto says - he’s doing it from your studios, isn’t he? And we say yes, we give him space because of the history.”

“And they ask — how else do you help him? If he weren’t doing the show, would this problem disappear?”

“So my guys came to me and said — we’ve got to do something about this.”



“So, I went in to Derry and I sat down with him,” Lear said. “It was very good natured. I wasn’t angry. I wasn’t planning on doing anything. I said — let this Monsanto thing go for awhile. Just let it go.”

“He said — 'Clyde- - Monsanto is an evil empire,’” Lear recalled. “'This is evil. He said — every farmer hates Monsanto. You know what they have done — and then he would lambast Monsanto and lay out this litany of stuff that they do. It included milk. Apparently there is a human growth hormone that they put in the milk. I don’t know a thing about it, but apparently they won a court case that prohibited milk retailers from putting on the milk carton the label — hormone free. I didn’t know anything about this, but Brownfield was complaining about how the liberal judges of America are siding with the evil empire. And Monsanto pays them off. All kinds of allegations which I’m sure are not true. But Derry believes them.”



“So, I said — will you let Monsanto be on the air? And he said — I’m not going to give them a forum. But then he changed his mind and said — yeah, bring them on. I’ll let them on the show.”

Lear then went to hole up with his executives. And his execs told him — “It’s bigger than this now. We just don’t need to be associated with him.”

“So, I just walked back there and said to Derry — you say you are not going to lighten up. And he said no, I’m staying the course. And I said — not with us you are not. You are going to have to find some other way to distribute your program, and you are going to have to find some other office to do it out of.”



Given that he was willing put Monsanto on his show, why not keep him on?

“Maybe we should have,” Lear said.

Would you reconsider your decision?

“I don’t think so,” Lear says. “It is just not a business I want to be in anymore.”

Lear says he feels sad about parting with his old buddy, but he wants to help set up an internet radio studio for Derry out of Derry’s home office.



“We are helping him build a new facility in his home,” Lear says. “But we won’t have a connection to him. Then we can easily say to Monsanto — we don’t have a thing to do with Derry. We don’t have a thing to do with him. He’s not on our property. We can’t control him.”

Brownfield said he couldn’t comment on the situation until after May 30.

Corporate Crime by Nickel and Dime

What's the fastest growing corporate crime in America?

Corruption? Pollution? Market manipulation? Securities fraud? No.

It's hidden fees.

It's how the giant credit card, cell phone, cable, and banking corporations nickel and dime you to death. And there are literally scores of hidden fees with more being proliferated every day.

Bounce a check? That will be a $39 bounced check fee.

One day late on your credit card payment? That will be a $39 late payment fee -- and we'll hike your interest rate from the introductory 0.00 percent to 15.99 percent.

Towel fee. Towel fee?

Yeah, you get one of those deals on a swank hotel. And you show up at the hotel and get hit with a $30 a day resort fee -- including a towel fee. In case you go to the pool and use the towels. Or even if you don't. Pay the fee.

Here's one of my favorites -- the ATM denial fee. You go to your ATM machine and ask for $400 in cash. You get back a note from the ATM machine saying -- sorry, but your daily limit is $300.

So, you ask for $300. The machine spits out the $300, you grab your card and walk away. Next month, you get your statement. And there it is -- $1.50. ATM denial fee.

Bob Sullivan has written one of the best consumer books of recent decades -- Gotcha Capitalism: How Hidden Fees Rip You Off Every Day -- and What You Can Do About It (Ballantine Books, 2008). Call him the Upton Sinclair of the modern corporate jungle.

It has yet to be reviewed by the mainstream press, but on the weight of a couple of interviews on National Public Radio, it has already broken into the New York Times Paperback Advice Top Ten.

And that's not an easy list to break into. Five of the top ten books on that list are diet books -- with the top two being Skinny Bitch and Skinny Bitch in the Kitch.

If there were a top ten corporate crime books of all time list, Gotcha Capitalism would be on it.

In an interview with Corporate Crime Reporter, Sullivan said he knew something was up with the book because every time he's interviewed about it, he gets a few minutes into his pitch and the interviewer interrupts with a horror story.

And in fact, that's how Sullivan compiled the stories for his book. A couple of years ago, he was in New Orleans covering Hurricane Katrina for MSNBC.com. He started a blog called the Red Tape Chronicles about the problems facing victims of the Hurricane.

But pretty soon, people were contacting him from all over the country about consumer problems of their own. It became clear that corporate rip-offs were a huge problem. Since starting the column two years ago, he has received 50,000 e-mail messages from consumers around the country. The biggest culprits were credit card companies, banks, cell phone companies and cable companies.

Sullivan conducted a survey of consumers nationwide, asking them to identify hidden fees in their most common purchases. And he estimates that the average consumer gets hit with $1000 a year in hidden fees. That comes out to $45 billion a year.

But that's clearly an underestimate. Consumer Reports magazine says that hidden fees cost consumers $215 billion a year -- or $4,000 a year per consumer.

That's more like it.

And then you have your $25 billion a year that brokerage firms skim off your retirement funds every year for essentially doing nothing. Or the real estate fees when you close on a house. Sullivan has a whole book of them.

The rise of the hidden fee corporate crime wave parallels the corporate attack on consumer fraud enforcement. Sullivan says that hidden fees have flourished largely because laws governing false advertising aren't enforced.

"There are great folks who work very hard at the Federal Trade Commission (FTC)," Sullivan said. "They don't like it when I say this, but the truth about the FTC is that in 1979, it had 1,700 full time employees. Since then they have become responsible for huge areas like identity theft, the do not call list, internet security. And our population has grown by 75 million since 1979. But today, the FTC has 1,000 full-time employees. So, they have been cut almost in half. The budget is more of a flat-line. And you see that same trajectory at all of the other consumer protection agencies."

If you are having problems with high blood pressure or heart palpitations, or if you are manic, you might want to leave this book for another day. I mean, do you really want to read that AT&T sought consultants to design a mailer so that you, the average Joe consumer, would be more likely to throw it in the trash?

And why would they want you to throw a mailer in the trash? Because if you throw it in the trash, you agree to giving up your right to sue them if there is a dispute over your phone bill.

Do you really want to know that the hidden fee rip-off artists have two complaint desks -- one in Southeast Asia for the regular folks, and one in corporate headquarters in the USA for the sophisticates?

That's right. Consumers are divided into two categories -- suckers and sophisticates. For suckers who don't know how to complain, you get the help desk in Thailand, or India, or the Philippines.

For people who know how to work the system, and struggle to get their money back, you get the VIP treatment -- and a good chance to get at least some of the ripped off money back.

I experienced this first hand earlier this month. The Verizon DSL at our home went out. I spent five days talking to very kind people at Verizon help centers throughout Southeast Asia.

Then one day, I wrote about my problems on a blog. It got picked up by some corporate person in the U.S. And within 30 minutes of writing the piece, I got a call from Verizon telling me that someone from "escalation" will be calling me.

Within five minutes, Wendy from "escalation" calls me.

Within an hour, the problem is fixed.

I haven't followed all of the presidential debates. But as far as I can tell, Wolf Blitzer hasn't asked any of the presidential candidates about the fastest growing corporate crime in America.

Maybe that's because the corporate criminals sponsor the debates or own the television networks -- and contribute to the candidates.

In any event, the bottom line is you can buy three of Sullivan's books for the cost of a bounced check fee. Or a late payment fee.

Buy a bunch and pass them around. It teaches us how they rip us off.

And how to get to Wendy at escalation.

Twenty Things You Should Know About Corporate Crime

The following is text from a speech delivered by Russell Mokhiber, editor of Corporate Crime Reporter to the Taming the Giant Corporation conference in Washington, D.C., June 9, 2007.

20. Corporate crime inflicts far more damage on society than all street crime combined.

Whether in bodies or injuries or dollars lost, corporate crime and violence wins by a landslide.

The FBI estimates, for example, that burglary and robbery -- street crimes -- costs the nation $3.8 billion a year.

The losses from a handful of major corporate frauds -- Tyco, Adelphia, Worldcom, Enron -- swamp the losses from all street robberies and burglaries combined.

Health care fraud alone costs Americans $100 billion to $400 billion a year.

The savings and loan fraud -- which former Attorney General Dick Thornburgh called "the biggest white collar swindle in history" -- cost us anywhere from $300 billion to $500 billion.

And then you have your lesser frauds: auto repair fraud, $40 billion a year, securities fraud, $15 billion a year -- and on down the list.

19. Corporate crime is often violent crime.

Recite this list of corporate frauds and people will immediately say to you: but you can’t compare street crime and corporate crime -- corporate crime is not violent crime.

Not true.

Corporate crime is often violent crime.

The FBI estimates that, 16,000 Americans are murdered every year.

Compare this to the 56,000 Americans who die every year on the job or from occupational diseases such as black lung and asbestosis and the tens of thousands of other Americans who fall victim to the silent violence of pollution, contaminated foods, hazardous consumer products, and hospital malpractice.

These deaths are often the result of criminal recklessness. Yet, they are rarely prosecuted as homicides or as criminal violations of federal laws.

18. Corporate criminals are the only criminal class in the United States that have the power to define the laws under which they live.

The mafia, no.

The gangstas, no.

The street thugs, no.

But the corporate criminal lobby, yes. They have marinated Washington -- from the White House to the Congress to K Street -- with their largesse. And out the other end come the laws they can live with. They still violate their own rules with impunity. But they make sure the laws are kept within reasonable bounds.

Exhibit A -- the automobile industry.

Over the past 30 years, the industry has worked its will on Congress to block legislation that would impose criminal sanctions on knowing and willful violations of the federal auto safety laws. Today, with very narrow exceptions, if an auto company is caught violating the law, only a civil fine is imposed.

17. Corporate crime is underprosecuted by a factor of say -- 100. And the flip side of that -- corporate crime prosecutors are underfunded by a factor of say -- 100.

Big companies that are criminally prosecuted represent only the tip of a very large iceberg of corporate wrongdoing.

For every company convicted of health care fraud, there are hundreds of others who get away with ripping off Medicare and Medicaid, or face only mild slap-on-the-wrist fines and civil penalties when caught.

For every company convicted of polluting the nation’s waterways, there are many others who are not prosecuted because their corporate defense lawyers are able to offer up a low-level employee to go to jail in exchange for a promise from prosecutors not to touch the company or high-level executives.

For every corporation convicted of bribery or of giving money directly to a public official in violation of federal law, there are thousands who give money legally through political action committees to candidates and political parties. They profit from a system that effectively has legalized bribery.

For every corporation convicted of selling illegal pesticides, there are hundreds more who are not prosecuted because their lobbyists have worked their way in Washington to ensure that dangerous pesticides remain legal.

For every corporation convicted of reckless homicide in the death of a worker, there are hundreds of others that don’t even get investigated for reckless homicide when a worker is killed on the job. Only a few district attorneys across the country have historically investigated workplace deaths as homicides.

White collar crime defense attorneys regularly admit that if more prosecutors had more resources, the number of corporate crime prosecutions would increase dramatically. A large number of serious corporate and white collar crime cases are now left on the table for lack of resources.

16. Beware of consumer groups or other public interest groups who make nice with corporations.

There are now probably more fake public interest groups than actual ones in America today. And many formerly legitimate public interest groups have been taken over or compromised by big corporations. Our favorite example is the National Consumer League. It’s the oldest consumer group in the country. It was created to eradicate child labor.

But in the last ten years or so, it has been taken over by large corporations. It now gets the majority of its budget from big corporations such as Pfizer, Bank of America, Pharmacia & Upjohn, Kaiser Permanente, Wyeth-Ayerst, and Verizon.

15. It used to be when a corporation committed a crime, they pled guilty to a crime.

So, for example, so many large corporations were pleading guilty to crimes in the 1990s, that in 2000, we put out a report titled The Top 100 Corporate Criminals of the 1990s. We went back through all of the Corporate Crime Reporters for that decade, pulled out all of the big corporations that had been convicted, ranked the corporate criminals by the amount of their criminal fines, and cut it off at 100.

So, you have your Fortune 500, your Forbes 400, and your Corporate Crime Reporter 100.

14. Now, corporate criminals don’t have to worry about pleading guilty to crimes.

Three new loopholes have developed over the past five years -- the deferred prosecution agreement, the non prosecution agreement, and pleading guilty a closet entity or a defunct entity that has nothing to lose.

13. Corporations love deferred prosecution agreements.

In the 1990s, if prosecutors had evidence of a crime, they would bring a criminal charge against the corporation and sometimes against the individual executives. And the company would end up pleading guilty.

Then, about three years ago, the Justice Department said -- hey, there is this thing called a deferred prosecution agreement.

We can bring a criminal charge against the company. And we will tell the company -- if you are a good company and do not violate the law for the next two years, we will drop the charges. No harm, no foul. This is called a deferred prosecution agreement.

And most major corporate crime prosecutions are brought this way now. The company pays a fine. The company is charged with a crime. But there is no conviction. And after two or three years, depending on the term of the agreement, the charges are dropped.

12. Corporations love non prosecution agreements even more.

One Friday evening last July, I was sitting my office in the National Press Building. And into my e-mail box came a press release from the Justice Department.

The press release announced that Boeing will pay a $50 million criminal penalty and $615 million in civil penalties to resolve federal claims relating to the company’s hiring of the former Air Force acquisitions chief Darleen A. Druyun, by its then CFO, Michael Sears -- and stealing sensitive procurement information.

So, the company pays a criminal penalty. And I figure, okay if they paid a criminal penalty, they must have pled guilty.

No, they did not plead guilty.

Okay, they must have been charged with a crime and had the prosecution deferred.

No, they were not charged with a crime and did not have the prosecution deferred.

About a week later, after pounding the Justice Department for an answer as to what happened to Boeing, they sent over something called a non prosecution agreement.

That is where the Justice Department says -- we’re going to fine you criminally, but hey, we don’t want to cost you any government business, so sign this agreement. It says we won’t prosecute you if you pay the fine and change your ways.

Corporate criminals love non prosecution agreements. No criminal charge. No criminal record. No guilty plea. Just pay the fine and leave.

11. In health fraud cases, find an empty closet or defunct entity to plead guilty.

The government has a mandatory exclusion rule for health care corporations that are convicted of ripping off Medicare.

Such an exclusion is the equivalent of the death penalty. If a major drug company can’t do business with Medicare, it loses a big chunk of its business. There have been many criminal prosecutions of major health care corporations for ripping off Medicare. And many of these companies have pled guilty. But not one major health care company has been excluded from Medicare.

Why not?

Because when you read in the newspaper that a major health care company pled guilty, it’s not the parent company that pleads guilty. The prosecutor will allow a unit of the corporation that has no assets -- or even a defunct entity -- to plead guilty. And therefore that unit will be excluded from Medicare -- which doesn’t bother the parent corporation, because the unit had no business with Medicare to begin with.

Earlier, Dr. Sidney Wolfe was here and talked about the criminal prosecution of Purdue Pharma, the Stamford, Connecticut-based maker of OxyContin.

Dr. Wolfe said that the company pled guilty to pushing OxyContin by making claims that it is less addictive and less subject to abuse than other pain medications and that it continued to do so despite warnings to the contrary from doctors, the media, and members of its own sales force.

Well, Purdue Pharma -- the company that makes and markets the drug -- didn’t plead guilty. A different company -- Purdue Frederick pled guilty. Purdue Pharma actually got a non-prosecution agreement. Purdue Frederick had nothing to lose, so it pled guilty.

10. Corporate criminals don’t like to be put on probation.

Very rarely, a corporation convicted of a crime will be placed on probation. Many years ago, Consolidated Edison in New York was convicted of an environmental crime. A probation official was assigned. Employees would call him with wrongdoing. He would write reports for the judge. The company changed its ways. There was actual change within the corporation.

Corporations hate this. They hate being under the supervision of some public official, like a judge.

We need more corporate probation.

9. Corporate criminals don’t like to be charged with homicide.

Street murders occur every day in America. And they are prosecuted every day in America. Corporate homicides occur every day in America. But they are rarely prosecuted.

The last homicide prosecution brought against a major American corporation was in 1980, when a Republican Indiana prosecutor charged Ford Motor Co. with homicide for the deaths of three teenaged girls who died when their Ford Pinto caught on fire after being rear-ended in northern Indiana.

The prosecutor alleged that Ford knew that it was marketing a defective product, with a gas tank that crushed when rear ended, spilling fuel.

In the Indiana case, the girls were incinerated to death.

But Ford brought in a hot shot criminal defense lawyer who in turn hired the best friend of the judge as local counsel, and who, as a result, secured a not guilty verdict after persuading the judge to keep key evidence out of the jury room.

It’s time to crank up the corporate homicide prosecutions.

8. There are very few career prosecutors of corporate crime.

Patrick Fitzgerald is one that comes to mind. He’s the U.S. Attorney in Chicago. He put away Scooter Libby. And he’s now prosecuting the Canadian media baron Conrad Black.

7. Most corporate crime prosecutors see their jobs as a stepping stone to greater things.

Spitzer and Giuliani prosecuted corporate crime as a way to move up the political ladder. But most young prosecutors prosecute corporate crime to move into the lucrative corporate crime defense bar.

6. Most corporate criminals turn themselves into the authorities.

The vast majority of corporate criminal prosecutions are now driven by the corporations themselves. If they find something wrong, they know they can trust the prosecutor to do the right thing. They will be forced to pay a fine, maybe agree to make some internal changes.

But in this day and age, in all likelihood, they will not be forced to plead guilty.

So, better to be up front with the prosecutor and put the matter behind them. To save the hide of the corporation, they will cooperate with federal prosecutors against individual executives within the company. Individuals will be charged, the corporation will not.

5. The market doesn’t take most modern corporate criminal prosecutions seriously.

Almost universally, when a corporate crime case is settled, the stock of the company involved goes up.

Why? Because a cloud has been cleared and there is no serious consequence to the company. No structural changes in how the company does business. No monitor. No probation. Preserving corporate reputation is the name of the game.

4. The Justice Department needs to start publishing an annual Corporate Crime in the United States report.

Every year, the Justice Department puts out an annual report titled "Crime in the United States."

But by "Crime in the United States," the Justice Department means "street crime in the United States."

In the "Crime in the United States" annual report, you can read about burglary, robbery and theft.

There is little or nothing about price-fixing, corporate fraud, pollution, or public corruption.

A yearly Justice Department report on Corporate Crime in the United States is long overdue.

3. We must start asking -- which side are you on -- with the corporate criminals or against?

Most professionals in Washington work for, are paid by, or are under the control of the corporate crime lobby. Young lawyers come to town, fresh out of law school, 25 years old, and their starting salary is $160,000 a year. And they’re working for the corporate criminals.

Young lawyers graduating from the top law schools have all kinds of excuses for working for the corporate criminals -- huge debt, just going to stay a couple of years for the experience.

But the reality is, they are working for the corporate criminals.

What kind of respect should we give them? Especially since they have many options other than working for the corporate criminals.

Time to dust off that age-old question -- which side are you on? (For young lawyers out there considering other options, check out Alan Morrison’s new book, Beyond the Big Firm: Profiles of Lawyers Who Want Something More.)

2. We need a 911 number for the American people to dial to report corporate crime and violence.

If you want to report street crime and violence, call 911.

But what number do you call if you want to report corporate crime and violence?

We propose 611.

Call 611 to report corporate crime and violence.

We need a national number where people can pick up the phone and report the corporate criminals in our midst.

What triggered this thought?

We attended the press conference at the Justice Department the other day announcing the indictment of Congressman William Jefferson (D-Louisiana).

Jefferson was the first U.S. official charged with violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

Federal officials alleged that Jefferson was both on the giving and receiving ends of bribe payments.

On the receiving end, he took $100,000 in cash -- $90,000 of it was stuffed into his freezer in Washington, D.C.

The $90,000 was separated in $10,000 increments, wrapped in aluminum foil, and concealed inside various frozen food containers.

At the press conference announcing the indictment, after various federal officials made their case before the cameras, up to the mike came Joe Persichini, assistant director of the Washington field office of the FBI.

"To the American people, I ask you, take time," Persichini said. "Read this charging document line by line, scheme by scheme, count by count. This case is about greed, power and arrogance."

"Everyone is entitled to honest and ethical public service," Persichini continued. "We as leaders standing here today cannot do it alone. We need the public’s help. The amount of corruption is dependent on what the public with allow.

Again, the amount of corruption is dependent on what the public will allow."

“"f you have knowledge of, if you’ve been confronted with or you are participating, I ask that you contact your local FBI office or you call the Washington Field Office of the FBI at 202.278.2000. Thank you very much."

Shorten the number -- make it 611.

1. And the number one thing you should know about corporate crime?

Everyone is deserving of justice. So, question, debate, strategize, yes.

But if God-forbid you too are victimized by a corporate criminal, you too will demand justice.

We need a more beefed up, more effective justice system to deal with the corporate criminals in our midst.

Stinky Roses for Valentine's Day

Before you buy your sweetie those roses for Valentine's Day, pause for a moment to consider where they come from, and at what cost – and what can be done to give a bit more joy not just to the flowers' recipients, but their producers.

Cut flowers are a highly globalized industry. The majority of cut flowers sold in the United States are imported, especially from Colombia and Ecuador. Kenya and Tanzania are the key overseas suppliers for Europe. Here's how the industry looks from the multinational corporate perspective: "In just a 24-hour period, each stem is cut, packed and loaded onto a temperature controlled UPS aircraft heading to Miami. There, they clear Customs and are distributed to florists and consumers across the country. Eighty-seven percent of all cut flower imports arrive in Miami." UPS reports that it imported more than 14.8 million stems of cut flowers into the United States last year from South American countries such as Colombia and Ecuador.

But on the ground in Colombia and Ecuador, things don't look so smoothly efficient and trouble free.

Olga Tutillo is secretary general of Rosas del Ecuador, a flower workers' union in Ecuador. She has worked at flower plantations for 22 years. She is 38 years old and has five children.

Tutillo explains how hard the work is for Ecuador's roughly 100,000 flower workers, about 70 percent of whom are women; the faces behind Cupid. The International Labor Organization estimates about 20 percent of the workforce consists of children.

The workers generally earn the national minimum wage, $145 per month. They work especially long hours in advance of Valentine's Day and other flower-giving holidays in the United States. They experience major occupational risks. Back pain is common among those who must stand or lean all day. Repetitive motion injuries are common. Rose pickers are frequently cut by thorns.

"There are also problems caused by pesticide fumigation," she explains. "Fumigation happens every day, either to prevent the plants from getting different diseases or to deal with it when they do get those diseases. Some of these chemicals are highly toxic."

Flower workers who try to organize to improve their working conditions face severe repression.

"It is extremely difficult to unionize in Ecuador," says Tutillo. "The companies are organized among themselves and they have a list on the internet of the people who have tried to unionize or have unionized. If someone tries to create a union, the company threatens to fire them and says they won't be able to find another job. These are the famous blacklists."

Thanks to firings, blacklisting and other tactics – like increasing use of contract workers instead of full-fledged employees – the unionization rate in Ecuador is depressingly low. Among 300 flower companies in Ecuador, reports Tutillo, "only four have unions – the other attempts to unionize have been repressed."

The story is much the same in Colombia, says Ricardo Zamudio, president of Cactus, a Colombian organization that conducts research on issues related to the flower industry.

Workers are trying to organize despite the repression they face. In Colombia a recent important development has been independent unionization at one flower company owned by Dole, which altogether controls 20 percent of Colombia's flower exports. The International Labor Rights Fund (ILRF) is running a letter-writing campaign to urge Dole Fresh Flowers and the Colombian-based firm Splendor Flowers to respect workers' right to unionize (www.laborrights.org).

Unfortunately, as long as the repression remains intense, consumers have much more freedom to demand flower justice than do the flower workers.

In Europe, a flower certification program has taken hold that tells consumers whether flowers were grown on farms or plantations that respect minimal environmental and labor conditions. According to the International Labor Organization, a substantial portion of flowers grown in Kenya, Tanzania and Zimbabwe receive certification under the Flower Label Program. The flower certification program is no panacea, but it does help modestly improve environmental and working conditions, and it gives workers more space to organize.

The program has had much less impact in South America, in considerable part because the Flower Label Program hasn't taken hold in the United States, where most Colombian and Ecuadorian flowers are shipped.

Just like with sweatshops, consumer pressure can make a significant difference in the lives of the flower workers. But the opportunity is in some ways greater, because of the concentration among both flower producers and sellers. ILRF is leading the way, trying to galvanize consumer pressure to force Dole and large cut-flower sellers – Albertsons, Safeway, Costco and Wal-Mart, among others – to pressure flower suppliers to respect workers' rights to organize, protect employees' health and safety, and pay overtime wages.

So go ahead and give that rose for Valentine's Day. But be careful of the thorns; and to avoid sticking it to the flower workers, support the ILRF campaign.






The 10 Worst Corporations of 2004

It is never easy choosing the 10 Worst Corporations of the Year – there are always more deserving nominees than we can possibly recognize. One of the greatest challenges facing the judges is the directive not to select repeat recipients from last year's 10 Worst designation.

The no-repeat rule forbids otherwise-deserving companies – like Bayer, Boeing, Clear Channel and Halliburton – from returning to the 10 Worst list in 2004.

Of the remaining pool of price gougers, polluters, union-busters, dictator-coddlers, fraudsters, poisoners, deceivers and general miscreants, we chose the following – presented in alphabetical order – as the 10 Worst Corporations of 2004:

Abbott Laboratories: Drug-Pricing Chutzpah

Chutzpah. Webster's defines the Yiddish term now incorporated into English slang as: 1. unmitigated effrontery or impudence; gall. 2. audacity; nerve.

In the next edition, they may want to add: 3. See Abbott.

In December 2003, the company raised the U.S. price of its anti-AIDS drug Norvir (generic name ritanovir) by 400 percent. That is, unless the product is used in conjunction with other Abbott products – in which case the price increase is zero.

Norvir has become an increasingly important treatment in recent years. Scientists have discovered that while Norvir is generally too toxic for safe use as a protease inhibitor (one category of anti-AIDS drugs), in lower doses it works well as a booster to increase the efficacy of other protease inhibitors. As a result, Norvir is frequently prescribed along with other protease inhibitors.

The Norvir price increase does not apply when the product is used as a booster with another Abbott protease inhibitor (in the combined product Kaletra). Thus the impact of the Norvir price increase is to make Kaletra far cheaper than rival combinations of Norvir and non-Abbott protease inhibitors.

Norvir is especially important for patients in need of a "salvage therapy" of new and powerful treatments because their virus has become resistant to other medicines.

Lynda Dee, co-chair of the AIDS Treatment Activists Coalition's Drug Development Committee, called the price increase for these patients, who may have no choice as to the medications they need to survive, "pharma-terrorism perpetrated against the patients who need new drugs the most."

Abbott said the price spike was justified by its need to raise money for research and development. "New medicines cost hundreds of millions of dollars to develop," Jeffrey Leiden, president and chief operating officer of Abbott's Pharmaceutical Products Group, told a National Institutes of Health meeting in May.

Moreover, Leiden said, the price increase would not deny any patients access to the drug. The price increase does not apply to federal AIDS drug programs, which cover 54 percent of people with HIV/AIDS. Price increases only apply to private insurers and to uninsured individuals, who Abbott says can get the product for free under a special program it operates.

Making the Abbott price jump especially pernicious in the eyes of consumer advocates was that the drug was invented on a grant from the U.S. federal government.

Because of the U.S. government's financing role, Essential Inventions, Inc., a nonprofit corporation created to distribute affordable public health and other inventions, in January petitioned the government to exercise its "march-in" rights under the federal Bayh-Dole Act and issue an open license to generic firms to produce their own version of Norvir.

"Essential Inventions is asking the Bush administration to adopt a simple rule – U.S. consumers should not pay more for drugs invented on government grants," said Essential Inventions president James Love. Following the U.S.-only price increase, Norvir is 5 to 10 times more expensive in the United States than in other high-income countries.

But NIH rejected the Essential Inventions proposal, arguing that companies that obtained licenses to government-funded inventions have a duty only to commercialize the inventions. NIH does not have authority to consider the price at which a product is sold and the impact of the price on access, the agency ruled – even though the Bayh-Dole Act says government-funded inventions should be made "available to the public on reasonable terms."

"If Secretary Thompson agrees that quadrupling the price of a life-or-death AIDS drug, rigging the market, and discriminating against U.S. consumers is 'reasonable,' you can't help but wonder what the [s]ecretary considers unreasonable," said Rep. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, in criticizing the NIH decision.

AIG: Deferred Prosecutions On the Rise

When the world's largest insurer, American International Group Inc. (AIG), was charged by federal prosecutors with crimes in November, it quickly cut a deal with the Justice Department that ended a criminal probe into its finances with a deferred prosecution agreement.

In a deferred prosecution, the corporation accepts responsibility, agrees not to contest the charges, agrees to cooperate, usually pays a fine and implements changes in corporate structure and governance to prevent future wrongdoing.

If the company abides by the agreement for a period of time, then the prosecutors will drop the criminal charges.

In a non-prosecution agreement – like the one secured by Merrill Lynch's in 2003 with New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer – prosecutors agree not to bring criminal charges in exchange for corporate fines, cooperation and a change in corporate structure and governance.

"This comprehensive settlement brings finality to the claims raised by the SEC and the Department of Justice," said AIG Chair M. R. Greenberg. "The role of the independent consultant complements our own transaction review processes. We welcome this enhancement to our overall risk management and control mechanisms."

Under the deal with AIG, an AIG subsidiary was charged with a crime for the next 12 months, but then the charge will be dismissed with prejudice – if AIG abides by the deferred prosecution agreement.

As part of the agreement, AIG and two subsidiaries will pay an $80 million penalty, and $46 million into a disgorgement fund maintained by the SEC.

Federal officials in October filed a criminal complaint charging AIG-FP PAGIC Equity Holding Corp., a subsidiary of AIG, with violating the federal securities laws, by aiding and abetting PNC Financial Services Group, Inc. (PNC) in connection with a fraudulent transaction to transfer $750 million in mostly troubled loans and venture capital investments from subsidiaries off of its books.

These transactions were previously the subject of a deferred criminal disposition involving PNC.

Earlier this year, the Department dismissed the criminal complaint against a PNC subsidiary, after the company fulfilled its deferred prosecution agreement obligations.

Merrill, AIG and PNC are three of 10 major corporations that have settled serious criminal charges with deferred prosecution, no prosecution or de facto no prosecution agreements over the last two years. Companies are getting off the criminal hook with these agreements, which were originally intended for minor street crimes. Now they are being used in very serious corporate crime cases.

If a crime has been committed – and there is little doubt that crimes have been committed by the corporations in these cases – then the companies should plead guilty and pay the penalty. If prosecutors want to impose change on the corporation, they can do this after securing a conviction through probationary orders. Right now, corporate lawyers are teaming up with prosecutors to go after individual executives while the company's record is wiped clean.

Coca-Cola: KillerCoke.org vs. CokeKills.org

On KillerCoke.org, you'll find a raft of information on Coke and its bottlers' operations in Colombia. There is extensive documentation of rampant violence committed against Coke's unionized workforce by paramilitary forces, and powerful claims of the company's complicity in the violence.

An April 2004 report from a fact-finding delegation headed by New York City Council member Hiram Monserrate contends:

"To date, there have been a total of 179 major human rights violations of Coca-Cola's workers, including nine murders. Family members of union activists have been abducted and tortured. Union members have been fired for attending union meetings. The company has pressured workers to resign their union membership and contractual rights, and fired workers who refused to do so."

"Most troubling to the delegation were the persistent allegations that paramilitary violence against workers was done with the knowledge of and likely under the direction of company managers."

Allegations such as these formed the basis of a lawsuit filed in 2001 by the International Labor Rights Fund and the United Steelworkers of America in U.S. courts against Coke on behalf of a Colombian trade union and union leader victims of violence at Coke bottling facilities in Colombia.

In 2003, a federal court dismissed the claims against Coke, arguing that its relationship with the owners of the Coke bottling plant in Colombia was too attenuated to hold the soft drink multinational responsible for human rights abuses at the plant. The plaintiffs have since refiled their complaint – they argue the original decision was mistaken, but that Coke's subsequent purchase of the Colombia bottlers means the company is now clearly responsible for the bottlers' actions.

Strangely, for the response to KillerCoke.org, you can check out CokeKills.org. That site, which is operated by Coke, redirects you to CokeFacts.org.

Here's what Coke has to say:

"The pervasive violence in Colombia, and the targeting of union members by its perpetrators, has, unfortunately, touched The Coca-Cola Company in a very personal way. Employees of our Company and bottling partners in Colombia have been threatened, kidnapped, and some have even been murdered ... In a lawsuit in Colombia, the court concluded that the bottler not only took proper steps to initiate investigation by the authorities, but went further to enhance its workers' safety by heightening security at the plant."

Leave aside for the moment the issue of Coke's legal liability. The idea that Coke can't control the behavior of its bottlers is simply implausible. It can control them if it so chooses – just the way that clothing retailers can control the actions of their manufacturers, but even more so.

Instructive in raising questions about Coke's good-faith concern for its workers is its unwillingness to support an independent investigation into the Colombia allegations – even after the company's former General Counsel, and the former assistant U.S. attorney general, Deval Patrick, had committed to one. Coke's refusal to authorize an investigation reportedly contributed to Patrick's decision to resign from the corporation.

Dow Chemical: Forgive Us Our Trespasses

At midnight on Dec. 2, 1984, 27 tons of lethal gases leaked from Union Carbide's pesticide factory in Bhopal, India, immediately killing an estimated 8,000 people and poisoning thousands of others.

Today in Bhopal, at least 150,000 people, including children born to parents who survived the disaster, are suffering from exposure-related health effects such as cancer, neurological damage, chaotic menstrual cycles and mental illness. Over 20,000 people are forced to drink water with unsafe levels of mercury, carbon tetrachloride and other persistent organic pollutants and heavy metals.

Activists from around the world – including human rights, legal, environmental health and other experts – mobilized this year to demand that Dow Chemical, the current owner of Union Carbide, be held accountable.

Twenty years after this disaster, the company responsible for this catastrophe and its former executives are still fugitives from justice. Union Carbide and its former chairman, Warren Andersen, were charged with manslaughter for the deaths at Bhopal, but they refuse to appear before the Indian courts.

Here is part of Dow's statement on Bhopal:

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The 10 Worst Corporations of 2003

2003 was not a year of garden variety corporate wrongdoing. No, the sheer variety, reach and intricacy of corporate schemes, scandal and crimes were spellbinding. Not an easy year to pick the 10 worst companies, for sure.

But Multinational Monitor magazine cannot be deterred by such complications. And so, here follows, in alphabetical order, our list for Multinational Monitor of the 10 worst corporations of 2003.

Bayer: 2003 may be remembered as the year of the headache at Bayer. In May, the company agreed to plead guilty to a criminal count and pay more than $250 million to resolve allegations that it denied Medicaid discounts to which it was entitled. The company was beleaguered with litigation related to its anti-cholesterol drug Baycol. Bayer pulled the drug – which has been linked to a sometimes fatal muscle disorder – from the market, but is facing thousands of suits from patients who allege they were harmed by the drug. In June, the New York Times reported on internal company memos which appear to show that the company continued to promote the drug even as its own analysis had revealed the dangers of the product. Bayer denies the allegations.

Boeing: In one of the grandest schemes of corporate welfare in recent memory, Boeing engineered a deal whereby the Pentagon would lease tanker planes – 767s that refuel fighter planes in the air – from Boeing. The pricetag of $27.6 billion was billions more than the cost of simply buying the planes. The deal may unravel, though, because the company in November fired for wrongdoing both the employee that negotiated the contract for Boeing (the company's chief financial officer), and the employee that negotiated the contract for the government. How could Boeing fire a Pentagon employee? Simple. She was no longer a Pentagon employee. Boeing had hired her shortly after the company clinched the deal.

Brighthouse: A new-agey advertising/consulting/ strategic advice company, Brighthouse's claim to infamy is its Neurostrategies Institute, which undertakes research to see how the brain responds to advertising campaigns. In a cutting-edge effort to extend and sharpen the commercial reach in ways never previously before possible, the institute is using MRIs to monitor activity in people's brains triggered by advertisements.

Clear Channel: The radio behemoth Clear Channel specializes in consuming or squashing locally owned radio stations, imposing a homogenized music play list on once interesting stations, and offering cultural support for U.S. imperial adventures. It has also compiled a record of "repeated law-breaking," according to our colleage Jim Donahue, violating the law – including prohibitions on deceptive advertising and on broadcasting conversations without obtaining permission of the second party to the conversation – on 36 separate occasions over the previous three years.

Diebold: A North Canton, Ohio-based company that is one of the largest U.S. voting machine manufacturers, and an aggressive peddler of its electronic voting machines, Diebold has managed to demonstrate that it fails any reasonable test of qualifications for involvement with the voting process. Its CEO has worked as a major fundraiser for President George Bush. Computer experts revealed serious flaws in its voting technology, and activists showed how careless it was with confidential information. And it threatened lawsuits against activists who published on the Internet documents from the company showing its failures.

Halliburton: Now the owner of the company which initially drafted plans for privatization of U.S. military functions – plans drafted during the Bush I administration when current Vice President and former Halliburton CEO Dick Cheney was Secretary of Defense – Halliburton is pulling in billions in revenues for contract work – providing logistical support ranging from oil to food – in Iraq. Tens of millions, at least, appear to be overcharges. Some analysts say the charges for oil provision amount to "highway robbery."

HealthSouth: Fifteen of its top executives have pled guilty in connection with a multi-billion dollar scheme to defraud investors, the public and the U.S. government about the company's financial condition. The founder and CEO of the company that runs a network of outpatient surgery, diagnostic imagery and rehabilitative healthcare centers, Richard Scrushy, is fighting the charges. But thanks to the slick maneuvering of attorney Bob Bennett, it appears the company itself will get off scot free – no indictments, no pleas, no fines, no probation.

Inamed: The California-based company sought Food and Drug Administration approval for silicone breast implants, even though it was not able to present long-term safety data – the very thing that led the FDA to restrict sales of silicone implants a decade ago. In light of what remains unknown and what is known about the implants' effects – including painful breast hardening which can lead to deformity, and very high rupture rates – the FDA in January 2004 denied Inamed's application for marketing approval.

Merrill Lynch: This company keeps messing up. Fresh off of a $100 million fine levied because analysts were recommending stocks that they trashed in private e-mails, the company saw three former execs indicted for shady dealings with Enron. The company itself managed to escape with something less than a slap on the wrist – no prosecution in exchange for "oversight."

Safeway: One of the largest U.S. grocery chains, Safeway is leading the charge to demand givebacks from striking and locked out grocery workers in Southern California. Along with Albertsons and Ralphs (Kroger's), Safeway's Vons and Pavilion stores are asking employees to start paying for a major chunk of their health insurance. Under the company's proposals, workers and their families will lose $4,000 to $6,000 a year in health insurance benefits.

Russell Mokhiber is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based Corporate Crime Reporter. Robert Weissman is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based Multinational Monitor.

Ari & I

Author's Note: Yesterday was Ari Fleischer's last White House press briefing. He's leaving the White House to start a consulting firm that will advise corporate executives on how to handle the news media.

Mokhiber: Ari, in the 2002 election campaign, the Republican Party took in $7.2 million from convicted criminals. Is the President okay with his party taking millions of dollars from convicted criminals?

Ari Fleischer: I have no idea what you are referring to --

Mokhiber: I'm referring to, let me tell you --

Ari Fleischer: Obviously, if money is received -- both parties from people who are later found out to be people who shouldn't be giving money -- then it gets returned.

Mokhiber: These are actually major corporations convicted of crimes. ADM gave $1.7 million, Pfizer $1.1 million, Chevron $875,000. Is the President okay with those companies giving direct contributions to the Republican Party after being convicted of crimes?

Ari Fleischer: Russell, as you know, the Presidential campaign takes no money from corporations.

Mokhiber: I'm talking about the party.

Ari Fleischer: Well, you'll have to address your questions to the party.

Mokhiber: Well, as the titular head of the party, is he okay with the party taking money from convicted criminals?

Ari Fleischer: I don't know what information you have where you can say this corporation is a criminal.

Mokhiber: Convicted -- they pled guilty to crimes.

Ari Fleischer: Were the crimes of such a nature that they are no longer in existence?

Mokhiber: ADM pled guilty to one of the most massive antitrust crimes and paid a $100 million fine.

Ari Fleischer: I think you need to address any questions about specific companies with the specifics in mind, and if that company is still doing business and is still in operation, that means it is still in operation with the law, and every case is individual, and the party decides about whether the money needs to be returned or not. But I don't have specifics.

Mokhiber: One follow-up.

Ari Fleischer: Go ahead, Russell.

Mokhiber: One follow up. It's actually a broad philosophical question. Is the President okay with taking money from convicted criminals?

Ari Fleischer: I informed you that the President does not take money from corporations.

Mokhiber: No, I'm talking about -- as titular head of the party, is he okay with the party taking money from convicted criminals. For example, in Enron --

Ari Fleischer: I just have to differ with your notion that because a company has been fined --

Mokhiber: No, they pled guilty to crimes. They pled guilty to crimes.

Ari Fleischer: Even so -- I don't know what specifics you are referring to -- that that company is a convicted criminal.

Mokhiber: If you plead guilty to a crime, you are a criminal.

Ari Fleischer: Does that mean that they need to go out of business?

Mokhiber: I'm asking -- should the Republican Party take money from convicted criminals?

Ari Fleischer: You need to address your question to the Republican Party.

Mokhiber: But he's the titular head of the party.

Ari Fleischer: And the titular head of the party refers you to the party.

White House reporter Russell Mokhiber is the editor of the Washington, D.C.-based Corporate Crime Reporter -- www.corporatecrimereporter.com. He can be reached at: russell@nationalpress.com

U.S. Hires Christian Extremists to Produce Arabic News

The U.S. government this week launched its Arabic language satellite TV news station for mostly Muslim Iraq. It is being produced in a studio -- Grace Digital Media -- controlled by fundamentalist Christians who are rabidly pro-Israel. That's grace as in "by the grace of God."

Grace Digital Media is controlled by a fundamentalist Christian millionaire, Cheryl Reagan, who last year wrested control of Federal News Service, a transcription news service, from its former owner, Cortes Randell. Randell says he met Reagan at a prayer meeting, brought her in as an investor in Federal News Service, and then she forced him out of his own company.

Grace Digital Media and Federal News Service are housed in a downtown Washington, D.C. office building, along with Grace News Network. When you call the number for Grace News Network, you get a person answering "Grace Digital Media/Federal News Service." According to its web site, Grace News Network is "dedicated to transmitting the evidence of God's presence in the world today."

"Grace News Network will be reporting the current secular news, along with aggressive proclamations that will 'change the news' to reflect the Kingdom of God and its purposes," GNN proclaims.

The Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), the U.S. government agency producing the television news broadcasts for Iraq, likes to say it is the BBC of the USA. BBG runs Radio Free Europe, Voice of America, and Radio Sawa -- Arabic language radio for the Middle East.

"Our mission is clear," BBG's Joan Mower told us. "To broadcast accurate and objective news about the United States and the world. We don't do propaganda, leafleting -- we are like the BBC in that respect."

Well, then why hook up with Grace?

BBG's Joan Mower said that Grace Digital Media is a mainstream production house used by all kinds of mainstream news organizations.

"Grace will have nothing to do with the editorial side of the news broadcast," she said. "They are renting us equipment, space, studio. The Grace personnel we use include technicians, production people but no editorial people."

But Mower said she couldn't get us a copy of the contract between BBG and Grace Digital Media. Nor could she say how Grace Digital was chosen as the production studio.

Grace News Network proclaims that it will be a "unique tool in the Lord's ministry plan for the world," according to the company's mission statement. "Grace News Network provides networking links and portals to various ministries and news services that will be of benefit to every Christian believer and seeker of truth."

The CEO of Grace News Network is Thorne Auchter. The same Thorne Auchter who began the dismantling of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) under Presidents Reagan and George Bush I. Auchter did not return our calls seeking comment for this story.

While it's unclear whether Grace News Network actually produces any news, it has produced a documentary movie titled "Israel: Divine Destiny" which it showed at the National Press Club in September 2002. The film is about "Israel's destiny and the United States' role in that destiny," according to Grace News Network.

Grace News said that it could not make a copy of the film available to us at this time, since it is now undergoing post-production editing. Nor could it provide a transcript.

The mainstream media has documented strong and growing ties between right-wing Republican Christian fundamentalists and right-wing Sharonist Israeli expansionists. This alliance is personified in Ralph Reed's Stand Up for Israel, a group formed to "mobilize Christians and other people of faith to support the State of Israel."

President Bush has very strong ties to fundamentalist Christians, most notably Franklin Graham, the son of Rev. Billy Graham. Last week, Franklin Graham delivered a Good Friday message at the Pentagon, despite an uproar over his previous slander of Islam as "a very evil and wicked religion."

Don Wagner, a professor of religion and director of the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at North Park University, an evangelical Christian college in Chicago, has written extensively about what he calls Christian Zionism, whose leaders he identifies as, among others, Ralph Reed, Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, Gary Bauer, and Franklin Graham.

"Christian Zionists have historically pointed to Genesis 12:3-96 -- I will bless those who bless you. And the one who curses you, I will curse," Dr. Wagner said. "They have interpreted this to mean that individuals and nations who support the state of Israel will be blessed by God. It has come to mean political, economic and moral support, often uncritically rendered to the state of Israel."

Grace News Network seems to fit the mold.

Joan Mower says that BBG is currently producing and transmitting six hours of news into Iraq including a dubbed version of the daily evening news from ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox and PBS, plus three hours of original news programming from BBG.

BBG says it sees no problem in having Grace produce the evening news broadcast for Iraq. Given the brewing anti-American revolt through all sectors of Iraqi society, maybe it should reconsider.

We called Grace Digital Media to speak with Cheryl Reagan. Her secretary told us that she has been away in extended vacation for more than a month -- in Israel.

When will she back? we asked. No one knows, the secretary said.

Russell Mokhiber is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based Corporate Crime Reporter. Robert Weissman is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based Multinational Monitor. They are co-authors of "Corporate Predators: The Hunt for MegaProfits and the Attack on Democracy" (Monroe, Maine: Common Courage Press).

The Unbalanced Hawks at the Washington Post

What is going on at the Washington Post?

We would say that the Post editorial pages have become an outpost of the Defense Department -- except that there is probably more dissent about the pending war in Iraq in the Pentagon than there is on the Post editorial pages.

In February alone, the Post editorialized nine times in favor of war, the last of those a full two columns of text, arguing against the considerable critical reader response the page had received for pounding the drums of war.

Over the six-month period from September through February, the leading newspaper in the nation's capital has editorialized 26 times in favor of war. It has sometimes been critical of the Bush administration, it has sometimes commented on developments in the drive to war without offering an opinion on the case for war itself, but it has never offered a peep against military action in Iraq.

The op-ed page, which might offer some balance, has also been heavily slanted in favor of war.

In February, the Post op-ed page ran 34 columns that took a position on the war: 24 favored war and 10 were opposed, at least in part. (Another 22 mentioned Iraq, and sometimes were focused exclusively on Iraq, but didn't clearly take a position for or against the war.)

Over the last four months, the Post has run 46 op-ed pieces favoring the war, and only 21 opposed.

This constitutes a significant change from September and October, when the opinion pieces were much more balanced, and even tilted slightly in favor of peace.

A few words on our methodology: We reviewed every editorial and op-ed piece in the Post over the last six months that contained the word "Iraq." We looked at the substance of the articles, and did not pre-judge based on the author. We categorized as neutral pieces which mentioned Iraq as an aside, or which discussed the war without taking a position. For example, an article which assesses how European countries are responding to U.S. Iraq-related proposals, but does not take a position on the war itself, is categorized as neutral. Neutral articles are not included in our tally.

The methodology tends to undercount pro-war columns. We categorized as neutral articles which we thought presumed a certain position on the war, but which did not explicitly articulate it. Over the last four months, there were 17 "neutral" articles which we believe had a pro-war slant, and only five "neutral" pieces with an anti-war orientation.

Our methodology also tended to overcount pro-peace op-eds. We tallied an op-ed as pro-peace if it took a position opposing the drive to war on the issue of the moment -- even if the author made clear that they favored war on slightly different terms than the President proposed at the time (for example, if UN authorization was obtained).

Someone else reviewing the Post editorial page might disagree with our categorization of this or that article. We concede it may be rough around the edges. But overall, we think other reviewers would agree that our count is in the ballpark, and tends to underestimate the disparity between pro- and anti-war pieces.

Moreover, the dramatic quantitative tilt in favor of the war if anything underplays how pro-war the Post's editorial pages have been.

Among the regular columnists at the Post, those providing pieces that we considered anti-war include E.J. Dionne, a self-described "doubter" not opponent of the war, Mary McGrory, who pronounced herself convinced by Colin Powell's presentation to the United Nations (a position from which she has backtracked) and Richard Cohen, who actually is pro-war. Only William Rasberry could be labeled a genuine and consistent opponent of war.

On the other side, the regular pro-war columnists are extraordinarily harsh and shrill. George Will labeled David Bonior and James McDermott, two congresspeople who visited Iraq, "American collaborators" with and "useful idiots" for Saddam. Michael Kelly, in one of his calmer moments, says no "serious" person can argue the case for peace. Charles Krauthammer says that those who call for UN authorization of U.S. military action in Iraq are guilty of a "kind of moral idiocy."

The Post op-ed page has been full of attacks on anti-war protesters. Richard Cohen has managed to author attacks on John Le Carre, for an anti-war column he wrote, poets against the war, and Representative Dennis Kucinich. Cohen joined war-monger Richard Perle in calling Kucinich a "liar" (or at very least a "fool"), because Kucinich suggested the war might be motivated in part by a U.S. interest in Iraqi oil. (Is this really a controversial claim? Pro-war New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman says that to deny a U.S. war in Iraq is partly about oil is "laughable.")

Neither Le Carre, the poets, nor Kucinich has been given space on the Post op-ed page.

Indeed, virtually no one who could be considered part of the peace movement has been given space. The only exceptions: A column by Hank Perritt, then a Democratic congressional candidate from Illinois, appeared in September. Morton Halperin argued the case for containment over war in February. And Reverend Bob Edgar, a former member of Congress who now heads the National Council of Churches, a key mover in the anti-war movement, was permitted a short piece that appeared in the week between Christmas and New Year's, when readership and attention to serious issues is at a lowpoint.

Edgar only was given the slot after editorial page editor Fred Hiatt, in an op-ed, characterized the anti-war movement, and Edgar by name, as "Saddam's lawyers."

Does this shockingly one-sided treatment on the Post editorial pages of the major issue of the day matter?

It matters a lot.

The Washington Post and the New York Times are the two papers that most fundamentally set the boundaries for legitimate opinion in Washington, D.C. The extraordinary tilt for war in the Post editorial pages in the last four months makes it harder for officialdom in Washington and the Establishment generally to speak out against war.

Everyone who might be characterized as an "insider" in the political-military-corporate establishment knows there are major internal divisions on the prospect of war among elder statesmen, retired military brass and present-day corporate CEOs. There are many reasons those voices are inhibited from speaking out, but the Post's extremist editorial pages are certainly a real contributor.

The failure to give a prominent platform to anti-war voices has also worked to soften the debate among the citizenry. It's no answer to say a vibrant anti-war movement, reliant on the Internet, its own communications channels and dissenting voices in other major media outlets, has sprung up. Sending out an e-mail missive is not exactly the same thing as publishing an op-ed in the Washington Post.

The Post editorial page editors have failed to fulfill their duty to democracy. The heavy slant on the editorial pages, the extreme pro-war rhetoric offset only by hedging and uncertain war critics, and the scurrilous attacks on the anti-war movement to which minimal response has been permitted -- all have undermined rather than fueled a robust national debate.

At this point, there is no real way for the Post to rectify its wrongdoing. It could start to mitigate the effect by immediately making a conscious effort to solicit and publish a disproportionately high number of pro-peace op-eds, and to let the peace movement occasionally speak for itself, especially since the paper's regular columnists so savagely and repeatedly attack it.

Unfortunately, the drive to war, which the Post editorial pages have helped fuel, may not stop in Iraq. There is good reason to believe that a war with Iraq will be followed by calls from the hawks at the Post and around the administration for more military action, against some other target. Will the paper's editorial page editors find a better way to achieve balance in advance of the next military buildup? Or are the paper's editorial pages now simply devoted to the Permanent War Campaign?

Russell Mokhiber is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based Corporate Crime Reporter. Robert Weissman is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based Multinational Monitor, multinationalmonitor.org. They are co-authors of Corporate Predators: The Hunt for MegaProfits and the Attack on Democracy (Monroe, Maine: Common Courage Press; corporatepredators.org.

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