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corporate bastards

a tale of two videos: one by activists, one by corporate shills

Two interesting "undercover" videos came my way today. The first is from activist group Mercy For Animals, and shows workers at an Ohio dairy farm abusing cows and young calves, including stabbing cows in the face, legs and stomach with pitchforks, and kicking injured "downed" cows -- abuse carried out and encouraged by the farm's owner.

Does this represent every dairy farm? Of course not. Most make at least some effort to be humane.

(Though there's a sharp limit on how humane you can be in the production of milk in industrial quantities, since you have to keep the dairy cows giving birth to keep the milk flowing; those calves mostly end up as beef and veal, and there's no retirement plan for old dairy cows once they are no longer economically viable milk producers. The natural life span of a cow is 15 to 20 years, but a typical dairy cow (conventional or organic) only lives four to six years before she's slaughtered and ends up as sausages and pet food. Still, I believe the level of cruelty seen in this video would sicken most dairy farmers.)

Not everyone likes the fact that cruelties like this get exposed. Some in the industries that profit from animal abuse would like to "shoot the messenger". Thus, the second animal-abuse related video -- or, supposed animal-abuse related video -- that came my way today: a claimed exposé of the Humane Society of the United States's (HSUS) Duchess Horse Sanctuary, by a group called the Center for Consumer Freedom.

Now, I've sent money to HSUS before, so I was anxious to see if my donations were being misused. What did I see in this exposé? Horses being beaten? Starving, diseased animals? No. I saw some horses in a muddy field, with captions that suggest that this is the entirety of the sanctuary. I've camped out in fields that were almost as bad after enough rain. (Squishwood!)

In point of fact, the Duchess Sanctuary is an 1,120-acre facillity; a video that shows that that an area of perhaps a half an acre is muddy on some day in February (a fairly rainy month in the Eugene, Oregon area, is not exactly damning.

So, I asked myself, what's up with this "Center for Consumer Freedom"? And with a little Google-fu, I had my unsurprising answer: shills. The "Center for Consumer Freedom", the group behind this video, is an front group for the restaurant, meat, alcohol, and tobacco industries, who's primary strategy is to "shoot the messenger" and attempt to discredit any groups -- such as the HSUS -- that criticize these industries.

According to SourceWatch:

how Verizon lost a FiOS sale

I've got a fairly slow DSL line out here at the Secret Headquaters: a 384k symmetric DSL line. Now that's faster than dial-up, but a lot slower than cable or other DSL services. (I have my line with Cavalier, and other than the speed have been generally satisfied.

I'm just barely close enough to the CO (the telephone company "central office") to get DSL service, and because of the distance have been told I can't get a faster line. So I've been looking at options.

There's cable, but a) Comcast sucks, and b) a cable connection is shared with everyone on your block. There are performance and security concerns with the whole setup.

So I was thinking about Verizon's FiOS. Now, yes, Verizon also sucks, so I was reluctant to consider it, but I figured I'd at least check it out.

So I sent them an e-mail with some questions: technical ones like the availability of static IP addresses, and billing ones about the fees they might tack on. (I do not understand how it is legal for telcos to advertize a $49.95 price and then add a whole bunch of unmandated "fees" on top of that, as much as $20 more. Not taxes, mind you, that their competitors would also have to charge, but "fees" that they choose to charge but don't include in the price you sign up for. How is this not fraud? Grrr.)

The response from Verizon? "In order to provide you with the best customer service, please contact our Verizon FIOS Sales and Customer Service department at (800) 837-4966 Monday through Friday, between 8:00 AM and 6:00 PM Eastern Time."

Uh, no. I took the time to write out my questions so that we could have precise communication. I do not want to wait on hold to talk to a salesdroid in your customer service department. If you are not willing to answer my questions in writing, if this is how you treat a potential customer, then thank you, but no, we will not be doing business.

(So now I'm considering Sprint's 4G wireless. Not as fast as FiOS, but they did get right back to me when I e-mailed them questions.)

buy stock in Shaolin

Ugh. The Chinese government agency that handles tourism at the Shaolin temple, is going to take the Shaolin "brand" into the stock market.

I say again: ugh.

Shaolin is not just the setting for kung-fu dramas. It is -- or rather, was, prior to the murderous reign of Mao -- a real temple, regarded as the birthplace of Ch'an/Zen Buddhism. Legend has it that 1,500 years ago, Bodhidharma, the legendary founder of Zen, came from India (or maybe Persia) and ended up at Shaolin, where he spent several years in seated meditation, staring at the wall of a cave. He supposedly found the monks at Shaolin too weak to endure the rigors of his style of meditation, so introduced a set of exercises (presumably with some origin from yoga) that became the basis of kung fu/wushu and, later, karate, and also of qi gong and Asian bodywork therapies. (It's a good myth, but any connection to actual historical events is probably coincidental.)

Modern "Shaolin kung fu" is an impressive array of acrobatics that has fsck-all to do with Zen, wushu, or everyone's favorite red-bearded barbarian.

Pity the poor temple, ravaged decades ago by Maoism, and now by capitalism.

I say once more time: ugh.

health information brought to you by Coca-Cola

As if Big Pharma's constant bribery of physicians wasn't distorting health care enough, it seems we have to watch out for the junk food makers too: AOL News reports on a deal between the American Academy of Family Physicians and Coca-Cola to have Coke fund "educational materials" about soft drinks for the academy's web site.

Academy CEO Dr. Douglas Henley said Wednesday that the deal won't influence the group's public health messages, and that the company will have no control over editorial content. He said the new online information will include research linking soft drinks with obesity and will focus on sugar-free alternatives.

But critics say the Coke deal will water down the advice.
"Coca-Cola, like other sodas, causes enormous suffering and premature death by increasing the risks of obesity, diabetes, heart attacks, gout and cavities," Harvard University nutrition expert Dr. Walter Willett said in an e-mail.

He said the academy "should be a loud critic of these products and practices, but by signing with Coke, their voice has almost surely been muzzled."


Dr. William Walker, public health officer for Contra Costa County near San Francisco, likened the alliance with ads decades ago in which physicians said mild cigarettes were safe.


The Coke deal is not the only corporate alliance for the family physicians group. In 2005, it received funding from McDonald's for a fitness program. And its consumer Web site includes advertising for a variety of products, including deli meats and air freshener.
Henley said the Coke deal is worth six figures, but he and a Coca-Cola spokeswoman declined to elaborate.


Coca-Cola is among several corporate contributors to the American Academy of Family Physicians Foundation, a separate philanthropic group. These contributors include many drug companies, McDonald's, PepsiCo and a beef industry group.

Toyota fakes stalking as a marketing gimick

From the "if you work in marketing, please kill yourself now" department: ABCnews reports on a lawsuit filed against Toyota over a marketing campaign that fooled a woman into thinking she was being stalked:

In a lawsuit filed Sept. 28 in Los Angeles Superior Court, Amber Duick claims she had difficulty eating, sleeping and going to work during March and April of last year after she received e-mails for five days from a fictitious man called Sebastian Bowler, from England, who said he was on the run from the law, knew her and where she lived, and was coming to her home to hide from the police.


Duick's attorney said the marketing company went so far as to send Duick a bill for damages the fictitious man supposedly made to a hotel room.

"Amber, ran into a little problem at the hotel," a note with the invoice stated. "After I'm done visiting you, I'm going to go back and sort out that front desk Muppet."

The alleged harassment lasted five days, according to the suit, and frightened Duick so much she contacted neighbors, friends and family, and the occupant of her former home about the man she feared was coming to visit....


It turns out the prank was actually part of a marketing effort executed by the Los Angeles division of global marketing agency Saatchi & Saatchi, which created the campaign to promote the Toyota Matrix, a new model launched in 2008.


Her attorney, Nick Tepper, said the Matrix campaign was similar to "Punk'd" a former MTV show starring Ashton Kutcher that featured celebrities being set up by their friends for elaborate pranks. Toyota's marketers used the Internet to find people who wanted to set up friends to be "punked," and Duick was set up by a friend of hers, he said.

Toyota claims that Duick volunteered to play their psychopathic little game -- a claim apparently based on tricking her into clicking on a link in a "personality test" that a friend e-mailed to her.

Toyota is not only unapologetic, but continues to work with Saatchi & Saatchi. While I was very happy with my old Toyota Tercel, and was even considering a Matrix next time around, I certainly will not consider owning a Toyota again unless and until the company apologizes and makes restitution for this outrageous behavior.

say no to a mandate without a public option

If Bob Cesca is right about what's in Max Baucus's version of the health care reform bill, that it contains a mandate to give your money to private insurers, then that version must not pass. Indeed, no reform at all would be preferable to this give-away to the insurance parasites that got us into this mess -- a bill authored by the industry it's supposed to reform:

The short answer is that Baucus receives around $1500 a day from the health care lobby and PACs and he needs to keep his financiers wallowing in their own filth. But a more specific answer can be defined by who wrote the Baucus Plan.

Funny story. Baucus and his staff forgot to delete the name of the author of the plan from the Acrobat version of the document. Whoops!

In the Properties dialogue box of the PDF, in the "author" slot, the name Liz Fowler appears. Fowler is a Baucus staffer who was with the senator in the early part of this decade but left to take a breather in the private sector and only returned to Capitol Hill last year. During her time in the private sector, can you guess where Fowler worked?

She was the VP for Public Policy and External Affairs at WellPoint, the health insurance parent company of Blue Cross.

Really, it wouldn't matter if Baucus had written the legislation himself, since he's wholly owned by big pharma and the insurance giants. Between 2003 and 2008, they paid him over a $1,000,000. This is the guy who, in discussing his real employer's position on health care reform, said ""Merck is not ready for single pay. I mean, America."

Why An Anarchist Favors Government Health Care

(some notes toward a manifesto of sorts)

I've generally found myself in agreement with Thoreau:

"I heartily accept the motto, -- 'That government is best which governs least'; and I should like to see it acted up to more rapidly and systematically. Carried out, it finally amounts to this, which also I believe, -- 'That government is best which governs not at all'; and when men are prepared for it, that will be the kind of government which they will have."

and with Kerry Thornley's "Zenarchy":

"As a doctrine, it holds Universal Enlightenment a prerequisite to abolition of the State, after which the State will inevitably vanish. Or - that failing - nobody will give a damn."

Over the years, some of you have heard me rail against many things the government has done: war, drug policy, domestic surveillance, censorship, and so on. For example, way back in 1993, in a USENET discussion about drug policy I spoke of the feds as

"...the government that gave us the Dredd Scott decision, Prohibition, McCarthyism, MK-ULTRA mind-control experiments with LSD, the Bay of Pigs, the Vietnam police action, Watergate, Iran-Contra, the House banking and Post Office scandals, the Waco [assault], and 20-page MILSPECS for brownies..."

and a decade and a half later, I find nothing to disagree with in that statement.

(I Am Not Making This Up: the 2003 version of the military specification for brownies actually runs to 26 pages.)

So, how is it that I now find myself arguing in favor of that same government taking up a greater role in health care?

It is because, under current and foreseeable circumstances, the alternative is health care from the same sorts of massive corporations that brought us the Bhopal disaster, the Exxon Valdez debacle, the Merck fake medical journals, the Enron and Halliburton and KBR and Blackwater and Madoff and Goldman Sachs scandals.

A large corporation is an animal dedicated to its own preservation and growth; if actual goods and services are produced, that's just a fortunate by-product of its metabolic processes. And that's fine when we're dealing with ordinary consumer goods. But a health care system in which some people might occasionally receive care, if it doesn't affect the bottom line too much? Stacked against that, a government-regulated system (however subject to inefficiency and corruption and mistakes) that claims as its prime directive to provide care, starts to sound attractive.

Exxon vs. the EPA

ExxonMobil's 2008 profits, according to Fortune magazine: $40.6 billion dollars. That's profit, mind you, not total revenue; that was a bit under $373 billion.

2010 budget for the entire EPA: $10.5 billion.

I.e., if the EPA devoted itself entirely to policing this one oil company, ExxonMobil could outspend it three to one and still remain profitable.

Res ipsa loquitor.

We own it. Let's run it.

So we're going to own the majority of GM. But Obama says that he has no interest in having the majority owner -- the U.S., i.e. you and I, though our elected officials -- run the company.

Absentee ownership is never a good idea. We own a large industrial manufacturer now, and we ought to run for our benefit.

And what is the best way to use this industrial giant to our benefit? Should we have it continue to make gas-guzzlers? Should we have our company try to compete with Japan and Korea -- and rising stars China and India -- to make affordable and fuel-efficient cars?

Here's a better idea -- let's repurpose its manufacturing capability. Already, manufacturing plants once dedicated to the automobile industry are being used for things like wind turbines. And up until 2004, GM had a large locomotive division. Why not have our company lead the way in green industry, not with a showy and over engineered attempt at an electric car, but with renewable power, and with a renaissance of the only sensible and green form of ground transport, rail?

But instead, it looks like under the moderately conservative Obama administration, we'll have what capitalism always comes down to: lots of talk about free markets, and then lots of action to intervene in the market to support the investment class, the capitalists and the corporate managers, at the expense of the people who actually do the work. We'll hand the investors a lot of money to tide them over this troubled time, then give the company back to the same people who screwed up the first time around, so they can continue to mismanage the company and to make products detrimental to planetary health.

Remember Edwards? And Kucinich?

Remember John Edwards? Manlier then Hillary, whiter than Obama, but by some estimations more progressive than either? Not as progressive as Kucinich, of course, but Edwards is considered more electable - especially by NBC, which is trying to revoke Kucinich's invitation to a debate.

And apparently they'll be able to keep Kucinich out, so long as they keep the broadcast only to cable's MSNBC. Broadcast and cable TV fall under different rules.


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