Thursday, November 10, 2011

What OWS Really Means - Corporate Greed in Government Chronicles - Pepsico, Quaker Oats & GMO: You’re On Your Own and For McKesson Corporation, the Mission is Price Manipulation

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Did Police Go Too Far With Clashes at Berkeley?
Video shows police attacking protesters with batons, bluntly striking them in their abdomens and elsewhere. - Police are clearly seen striking protesters, unprovoked, from behind.

By Vladimir Radyuhin
The latest report of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on Iran appears to have falsified information about a Russian scientist who allegedly helped Tehran advance its nuclear weapons programme.
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As a part of the original organizing effort of the Occupy Greensboro movement, I concur with Matt. We thought that to list our "demands" would be counterproductive to the type of real change we were demonstrating for and would undoubtedly lead to cooptation by forces who might try to buy us off and/or trivialize or minimize our concerns. Matt Taibbi finally catches on.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the political spectrum, there were scads of progressive pundits like me who wrung our hands with worry that OWS was playing right into the hands of assholes like Krauthammer. Don't give them any ammunition! we counseled. Stay on message! Be specific! We were all playing the Rorschach-test game with OWS, trying to squint at it and see what we wanted to see in the movement. Viewed through the prism of our desire to make near-term, within-the-system changes, it was hard to see how skirmishing with cops in New York would help foreclosed-upon middle-class families in Jacksonville and San Diego.

What both sides missed is that OWS is tired of all of this. They don't care what we think they're about, or should be about. They just want something different.

We're all born wanting the freedom to imagine a better and more beautiful future. But modern America has become a place so drearily confining and predictable that it chokes the life out of that built-in desire. Everything from our pop culture to our economy to our politics feels oppressive and unresponsive. We see 10 million commercials a day, and every day is the same life-killing chase for money, money and more money; the only thing that changes from minute to minute is that every tick of the clock brings with it another space-age vendor dreaming up some new way to try to sell you something or reach into your pocket.

The relentless sameness of the two-party political system is beginning to feel like a Jacob's Ladder nightmare with no end; we're entering another turn on the four-year merry-go-round, and the thought of having to try to get excited about yet another minor quadrennial shift in the direction of one or the other pole of alienating corporate full-of-shitness is enough to make anyone want to smash his own hand flat with a hammer.

If you think of it this way, Occupy Wall Street takes on another meaning. There's no better symbol of the gloom and psychological repression of modern America than the banking system, a huge heartless machine that attaches itself to you at an early age, and from which there is no escape.

You fail to receive a few past-due notices about a $19 payment you missed on that TV you bought at Circuit City, and next thing you know a collector has filed a judgment against you for $3,000 in fees and interest. Or maybe you wake up one morning and your car is gone, legally repossessed by Vulture Inc., the debt-buying firm that bought your loan on the Internet from Chase for two cents on the dollar.

This is why people hate Wall Street. They hate it because the banks have made life for ordinary people a vicious tightrope act; you slip anywhere along the way, it's 10,000 feet down into a vat of razor blades that you can never climb out of.

That, to me, is what Occupy Wall Street is addressing. People don't know exactly what they want, but as one friend of mine put it, they know one thing: FUCK THIS SHIT! We want something different: a different life, with different values, or at least a chance at different values.

There was a lot of snickering in media circles, even by me, when I heard the protesters talking about how Liberty Square was offering a model for a new society, with free food and health care and so on. Obviously, a bunch of kids taking donations and giving away free food is not a long-term model for a new economic system.

But now, I get it. People want to go someplace for at least five minutes where no one is trying to bleed you or sell you something. It may not be a real model for anything, but it's at least a place where people are free to dream of some other way for human beings to get along, beyond auctioned "democracy," tyrannical commerce and the bottom line.

We're a nation that was built on a thousand different utopian ideas, from the Shakers to the Mormons to New Harmony, Indiana. It was possible, once, for communities to experiment with everything from free love to an end to private property. But nowadays even the palest federalism is swiftly crushed. If your state tries to place tariffs on companies doing business with some notorious human-rights-violator state – like Massachusetts did, when it sought to bar state contracts to firms doing business with Myanmar – the decision will be overturned by some distant global bureaucracy like the WTO.

Even if 40 million Californians vote tomorrow to allow themselves to smoke a joint, the federal government will never permit it. And the economy is run almost entirely by an unaccountable oligarchy in Lower Manhattan that absolutely will not sanction any innovations in banking or debt forgiveness or anything else that might lessen its predatory influence.

And here's one more thing I was wrong about: I originally was very uncomfortable with the way the protesters were focusing on the NYPD as symbols of the system. After all, I thought, these are just working-class guys from the Bronx and Staten Island who have never seen the inside of a Wall Street investment firm, much less had anything to do with the corruption of our financial system.

But I was wrong. The police in their own way are symbols of the problem. All over the country, thousands of armed cops have been deployed to stand around and surveil and even assault the polite crowds of Occupy protesters.

This deployment of law-enforcement resources already dwarfs the amount of money and manpower that the government "committed" to fighting crime and corruption during the financial crisis.

One OWS protester steps in the wrong place, and she immediately has police roping her off like wayward cattle. But in the skyscrapers above the protests, anything goes. This is a profound statement about who law enforcement works for in this country. What happened on Wall Street over the past decade was an unparalleled crime wave. Yet at most, maybe 1,500 federal agents were policing that beat – and that little group of financial cops barely made any cases at all.

Yet when thousands of ordinary people hit the streets with the express purpose of obeying the law and demonstrating their patriotism through peaceful protest, the police response is immediate and massive.

There have already been hundreds of arrests, which is hundreds more than we ever saw during the years when Wall Street bankers were stealing billions of dollars from retirees and mutual-fund holders and carpenters unions through the mass sales of fraudulent mortgage-backed securities.

It's not that the cops outside the protests are doing wrong, per se, by patrolling the parks and sidewalks. It's that they should be somewhere else. They should be heading up into those skyscrapers and going through the file cabinets to figure out who stole what, and from whom. They should be helping people get their money back. Instead, they're out on the street, helping the Blankfeins of the world avoid having to answer to the people they ripped off.

People want out of this fiendish system, rigged to inexorably circumvent every hope we have for a more balanced world. They want major changes. I think I understand now that this is what the Occupy movement is all about.

It's about dropping out, if only for a moment, and trying something new, the same way that the civil rights movement of the 1960s strived to create a "beloved community" free of racial segregation.

Eventually the Occupy movement will need to be specific about how it wants to change the world. But for right now, it just needs to grow. And if it wants to sleep on the streets for a while and not structure itself into a traditional campaign of grassroots organizing, it should. It doesn't need to tell the world what it wants. It is succeeding, for now, just by being something different.
Read more at Rolling Stone.

From the Corporate Greed in Government Chronicles:

Pepsico, Quaker Oats & GMO: You’re On Your Own

November 9, 2011
(Click to enlarge picture.)
Pepsico, Quaker Oats & GMO: You're On Your Own

PepsiCo Inc. is a Fortune 500 global conglomerate with interests in the manufacturing, marketing and distribution of grain-based snack foods, beverages and other products.  PepsiCo was formed in 1965 with the merger of the Pepsi-Cola Company and Frito-Lay, Inc.  PepsiCo has since expanded from its namesake product Pepsi to a broader range of food and beverage brands, the largest of which include an acquisition of Tropicana in 1998 and a merger with Quaker Oats in 2001 – which added the Gatorade brand to its portfolio as well.
Since 1989 Pepsico has contributed more than $10 million to federal and state political campaigns, and since 1997 they have spent an additional $28 million on lobbying.  Topping their politician recipient list is former Pennsylvania House Speaker John M. Perzel, the alleged mastermind of the $13 million “Computergate” scandal that pled guilty to corruption charges and is currently awaiting sentencing.  Rick Perry comes in number two, with Ed Rendel, Barack Obama and George W. Bush rounding out the top five.

We don’t know what Pepsico got from the money they gave to Perzel, but we do know at least one thing they are getting from their lobbying investment:  So far, it has kept GMO warning labels off of their products.

“GMO” stands for “genetically modified organism”, i.e. organisms whose genetic material has been artificially altered using genetic engineering techniques.  The USA is the largest commercial grower of genetically modified crops in the world, and at least 75% percent of the processed foods consumed in America contain GMO ingredients.

GMOs are banned or significantly restricted in 30 other countries around the world, including Australia, Japan and all of the nations in the European Union.  But here in the Corporate States of America, consumers aren’t even given the benefit of GMO warning labels so they can decide for themselves if a risk exists and whether they are willing to accept it.  To make matters worse, IN AMERICA IT IS LEGAL TO LABEL FOOD PRODUCTS AS “NATURAL” EVEN IF THEY CONTAIN GMO.  And why are things that way?  Because profit-before-principle corporations like Pepsico – working through co-opted and false fronts like the Organic Trade Association (OTA) – lobby to keep them that way:

“General Mills (currently represented on the OTA board by Craig Weakly of Small Planet Foods), H.J. Heinz Co. (invested in the Hain-Celestial Group), PepsiCo (Tropicana and Quaker produce a few organic products), and Kellogg’s (owns Kashi), joined a coalition of corporate giants – the “Coalition Against the Costly Labeling Law” – including chemical makers Monsanto and DuPont, agribusiness ConAgra, food processor Sara Lee, the pesticide lobbying group CropLife and the junk food lobbying group the Grocery Manufacturers Association, in spending some $5.5 million to defeat mandatory GMO labels.”

So before you sit down for your next piping-hot bowl of “healthy living” Quaker oatmeal, consider this:

“Quaker Oats states that it is an ‘all-natural’ product.  Pepsico/Quaker Oats manages a processing plant that emits roughly 19,000 pounds of sulfuryl fluoride yearly.  Sulfuryl fluoride is a toxic greenhouse gas used to treat crops like oats in storage.”

For McKesson Corporation, the Mission is Price Manipulation

November 8, 2011

For McKesson Corporation, the Mission is Price Manipulation

With 2010 revenues of $108.7 billion and earnings of $1.2 billion, McKesson Corporation ranks #15 on the Fortune 500.  It is the nation’s largest healthcare provider, with pharmaceuticals distribution being the backbone of the company:  One-third of all medicines used in the U.S. run through the McKesson pipeline.  The company is also the dominant player in healthcare information systems, as more than 70% of our major hospitals use its technology to digitize prescriptions and patient medical records.

McKesson is also one of the U.S. government’s largest contractors with billions in federal contracts awarded annually, over $4.6 billion in 2010 alone.  It also ranks high in the POGO (Project On Government Oversight) Federal Contractor Misconduct Database (FCMD), with 14 documented instances of misconduct totalling more than $1.3 billion.

Aside from a history of securities fraud beginning with the infamous McKesson-Robbins scandal of 1938 to their more recent McKessonHBOC debacle, the focus of McKesson’s white-collar criminal activity is the manipulation of prices paid for pharmaceuticals.  As they compete with the CIA for the “America’s Drug Dealer” moniker, obviously the more they charge for each prescription that moves through their pipeline the more money they make.  Here’s a judge’s description of how one of their recent schemes worked:

“Beginning in 2001, FDB and McKesson reached a secret agreement to raise the markup between WAC (wholesale average cost)and AWP (average wholesale price) from its standard 20% to 25% for over four hundred drugs. … McKesson communicated these new 25% WAC to AWP markups to FDB, which then published AWPs with the new markup…  McKesson has estimated that by 2002, 95% of all prescription drug manufacturers used the inflated 25% markup, and by 2004, 99% of all prescription drug manufacturers did so. … The scheme ended on March 15, 2005, when FDB told its customers that it would ‘no longer survey drug wholesalers for information relating to’ AWP.  The scheme resulted in higher profits for retail pharmacies that purchase drugs on the basis of WAC but are reimbursed on the basis of AWP, a differential called ‘the spread’. … McKesson implemented the scheme in order to provide a greater ‘spread’ to important retail pharmacy clients like Rite Aid as well as to its own pharmacy related businesses.”

Nobody went to jail over this, but thanks to a class-action lawsuit McKesson was forced to pay a $350 million penalty:

“The prices of about 1,400 branded drugs are about to get a little cheaper because of a $352.7 million class action settlement with wholesale drug distributor McKesson…  In addition to the payment, the prices of 1,442 medicines will be lowered by 4 percent, according to a federal court ruling…  The court-approved deal wraps up a lengthy case in which McKesson and First Databank were accused of engaging in a ‘racketeering enterprise to fraudulently increase the published ‘average wholesale price’ (‘AWP’) of over four hundred branded drugs by five percent from late 2001 to 2005,’ Judge Patti Saris wrote.  MediSpan published the same false prices…  Affected drugs include Lipitor, Claritin, Prozac, Nexium, Plavix, Allegra, Wellbutrin, Ambien, Prilosec, Zantac, Valtrex, Zyprexa, Celebrex, Imitrex, Risperdal, Seroquel, and Neurontin.”

In April 2011 the U.S. Supreme Court decision in the “AT&T Mobility v. Concepcion” case made it easy for corporations to shield themselves from class action lawsuits like this going forward.  But even if that shield is taken away, McKesson has an ample $442 million litigation reserve set aside so they can continue to focus on profits regardless of propriety:

The Pfelons of Pfizer: Too Crooked to Fail and Don’t Go to Jail

November 7, 2011

The Pfelons of Pfizer: Too Crooked to Fail and Don't Go to Jail

With 2010 revenues of $67.8 billion and profits of $8.2 billion, Pfizer Inc. ranks #31 on the Fortune 500 and is the world’s largest pharmaceuticals corporation.  Brand names include Viagra, Celebrex, Norvasc, and Lipitor.  The company also manufactures animal care products such as Revolution, an anti-parasitic.  In 2009, Pfizer acquired its rival Wyeth for 68 billion dollars.  Wyeth’s over the counter brands included Advil, Centrum, Robitussin and ChapStick.  The majority of its sales are conducted through the wholesale companies McKesson and Cardinal Health.  Here is a complete listing of the Pfizer’s products:

Since 1989 Pfizer has contributed over $21 million to federal and state politicians, with George W. Bush and Barack Obama being the top recipients.  And since 1999 the company has spent more than $105 million in lobbying on issues that have more to do with Pfizer’s wealth than America’s health.

In return for their political payola and lobbying investment, Pfizer has been awarded over $5 billion in U.S. government contracts over the past few years, mostly for drugs ordered by the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs:

At the same time Uncle Sam was handing billions of your tax dollars over to Pfizer, he was spending millions more investigating their illegal activities.  As reported by the New York Times on 3 September 2009…
“The pharmaceutical giant Pfizer agreed to pay $2.3 billion to settle civil and criminal allegations that it had illegally marketed its painkiller Bextra, which has been withdrawn.  It was the largest health care fraud settlement and the largest criminal fine of any kind ever…  It was Pfizer’s fourth settlement over illegal marketing activities since 2002…  The government charged that executives and sales representatives throughout Pfizer’s ranks planned and executed schemes to illegally market not only Bextra but also Geodon, an antipsychotic; Zyvox, an antibiotic; and Lyrica, which treats nerve pain.
While the government said the fine was a record sum, the $2.3 billion fine amounts to less than three weeks of Pfizer’s sales.  Much of the activities cited Wednesday occurred while Pfizer was in the midst of resolving allegations that it illegally marketed Neurontin, an epilepsy drug for which the company in 2004 paid a $430 million fine and signed a corporate integrity agreement – a companywide promise to behave.
John Kopchinski, a former Pfizer sales representative whose complaint helped prompt the government’s Bextra case, said that company managers told him and others to dismiss concerns about the Neurontin case while pushing them to undertake similar illegal efforts on behalf of Bextra.  ‘The whole culture of Pfizer is driven by sales, and if you didn’t sell drugs illegally, you were not seen as a team player,’ said Mr. Kopchinski, whose personal share of the Pfizer settlement is expected to exceed $50 million.
Mr. Kopchinski left Pfizer in 2003.  Altogether, six whistle-blowers will collect $102 million from the federal share of the settlement and more from states’ shares.  Forty-nine states and the District of Columbia will collect $331 million, with New York State alone getting $66 million.  Only South Carolina chose not to participate in the settlement…  As news of the riches earned by whistle-blowers spread through the industry in recent years, scores of fraud cases have been filed by former drug sales representatives using a Civil War-era law that pays a bounty for fraud alerts.  The cases charge that illegal drug marketing cost the federal Medicare and Medicaid program millions.”

Will a fine of only three week’s sales change the greedy corporate culture at Pfizer, or simply be viewed as a small price to pay for billions of dollars in profits annually from illegal operations, including crimes against humanity?

“Sidney Wolfe, director of Public Citizen’s Health Research Group, said the Pfizer settlement ‘may sound large, but it’s not enough to ensure drug companies will curb their bad behavior.’  Wolfe pointed out that the Pfizer agreement topped a landmark settlement set by Eli Lilly in January, when that company paid more than $500 million in criminal penalties for improper marketing of the antipsychotic drug Zyprexa.  Five other major drug manufacturers logged smaller settlements over the past decade… 

‘The U.S. pharmaceutical industry, long one of the most profitable in the country, with profits last year of close to $50 billion, has engaged in an unprecedented amount of criminal activity in the past decade
,’ Wolfe said. ‘Unfortunately, the ever-escalating fines are unlikely to stop drug companies from continuing to bribe doctors because they represent just a fraction of drug company profits and no one has gone to jail.’”
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