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“Dawn Of Justice”: What Exxon Mobil Knew About Possible Consequences Of Climate Change And When Did They Know It

I hope Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders were paying close attention to the press conference New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman held with former Vice President Al Gore on Tuesday:

More government officials are asking what Exxon Mobil knew about climate change.

Attorneys general from Massachusetts and the Virgin Islands announced Tuesday that they would join Eric T. Schneiderman, New York’s attorney general, in his investigation into whether Exxon Mobil lied in decades past to investors and the public about the threat of climate change.

The additional participation was announced during a news conference at Mr. Schneiderman’s offices in Lower Manhattan announcing support from 15 states, the District of Columbia and the Virgin Islands for the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan.

Attorneys general from Vermont, Maryland, Massachusetts, Virginia, Connecticut and the Virgin Islands, as well as former Vice President Al Gore, attended the event.

While none of the other officials present, aside from Maura Healey of Massachusetts and Claude Walker of the Virgin Islands, announced inquiries of their own, Mr. Schneiderman said, “not every investigation gets announced at the outset.”

Mr. Schneiderman began his investigation in November. His staff is looking at whether statements the company made to investors about climate risks — some as recently as last year — conflicted with the company’s own scientific research.

Part of that inquiry includes the company’s funding, for at least a decade, of outside groups that worked to dispute climate science, even as its in-house scientists were describing the possible consequences of climate change, along with the areas of uncertainty.

If either Clinton or Sanders becomes the 45th President of the United States, they will face intense pressure from climate activists to nominate an attorney general willing to hold ExxonMobil and other major fossil fuel companies legally accountable for their efforts to deceive the American public and distort the American political process in an effort to thwart federal efforts to combat carbon pollution–and they must respond to this call for justice. As Gore noted at the press conference, what ExxonMobil did in the late-1980s and beyond is indistinguishable from what the tobacco industry did for decades in an effort to protect their profits at the expense of the public.

Holding ExxonMobil legally accountable for its amoral actions in the late-1980s and beyond would seem to be a no-brainer. That’s why it’s so odd to see the acclaimed science blogger David Appell lashing out against the calls to bring ExxonMobil to justice, using a variation of the “Leonardo DiCaprio flies private jets, so he’s a hypocrite!” argument you often hear from the anti-science right. Appell seems to think that climate activists just want revenge on ExxonMobil. Future generations will want revenge, of course, but today’s activists just want accountability.

Appell is wrong. Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey noted that “…her office had a moral obligation to act” on ExxonMobil’s extremism. The next US Attorney General will have a moral obligation to act as well. Secretary Clinton and Senator Sanders, take note–and take heed.


By: D. R. Tucker, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, April 3, 2016

April 4, 2016 Posted by | Big Oil, Climate Change, Exxon Mobil, U. S. Attorney General | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Lethal But Legal”: Rethinking Our ‘Rights’ To Dangerous Behaviors

In the last few years, it’s become increasingly clear that food companies engineer hyperprocessed foods in ways precisely geared to most appeal to our tastes. This technologically advanced engineering is done, of course, with the goal of maximizing profits, regardless of the effects of the resulting foods on consumer health, natural resources, the environment or anything else.

But the issues go way beyond food, as the City University of New York professor Nicholas Freudenberg discusses in his new book, “Lethal but Legal: Corporations, Consumption, and Protecting Public Health.” Freudenberg’s case is that the food industry is but one example of the threat to public health posed by what he calls “the corporate consumption complex,” an alliance of corporations, banks, marketers and others that essentially promote and benefit from unhealthy lifestyles.

It sounds creepy; it is creepy. But it’s also plain to see. Yes, it’s unlikely there’s a cabal that sits down and asks, “How can we kill more kids tomorrow?” But Freudenberg details how six industries — food and beverage, tobacco, alcohol, firearms, pharmaceutical and automotive — use pretty much the same playbook to defend the sales of health-threatening products. This playbook, largely developed by the tobacco industry, disregards human health and poses greater threats to our existence than any communicable disease you can name.

All of these industries work hard to defend our “right” — to smoke, feed our children junk, carry handguns and so on — as matters of choice, freedom and responsibility. Their unified line is that anything that restricts those “rights” is un-American.

Yet each industry, as it (mostly) legally can, designs products that are difficult to resist and sometimes addictive. This may be obvious, if only in retrospect: The food industry has created combinations that most appeal to our brains’ instinctual and learned responses, although we were eating those foods long before we realized that. It may be hidden (and borderline illegal), as when tobacco companies upped the nicotine quotient of tobacco. Sometimes, as Freudenberg points out, the appeals may be subtle: Knowing full well that S.U.V.’s were less safe and more environmentally damaging than standard cars, manufacturers nevertheless marketed them as safer, appealing to our “unconscious ‘reptilian instincts’ for survival and reproduction and to advertise S.U.V.’s as both protection against crime and unsafe drivers and as a means to escape from civilization.”

The problems are clear, but grouping these industries gives us a better way to look at the struggle of consumers, of ordinary people, to regain the upper hand. The issues of auto and gun safety, of drug, alcohol and tobacco addiction, and of hyperconsumption of unhealthy food are not as distinct as we’ve long believed; really, they’re quite similar. For example, the argument for protecting people against marketers of junk food relies in part on the fact that antismoking regulations and seatbelt laws were initially attacked as robbing us of choice; now we know they’re lifesavers.

Thus the most novel and interesting parts of Freudenberg’s book are those that rephrase the discussion of rights and choice, because we need more than seatbelt and antismoking laws, more than a few policies nudging people toward better health. Until now (and, sadly, perhaps well into the future), corporations have been both more nimble and more flush with cash than the public health arms of government. “What we need,” Freudenberg said to me, “is to return to the public sector the right to set health policy and to limit corporations’ freedom to profit at the expense of public health.”

Redefining the argument may help us find strategies that can actually bring about change. The turning point in the tobacco wars was when the question changed from the industry’s — “Do people have the right to smoke?” — to that of public health: “Do people have the right to breathe clean air?” Note that both questions are legitimate, but if you address the first (to which the answer is of course “yes”) without asking the second (to which the answer is of course also “yes”) you miss an opportunity to convert the answer from one that leads to greater industry profits to one that has literally cut smoking rates in half.

Similarly, we need to be asking not “Do junk food companies have the right to market to children?” but “Do children have the right to a healthy diet?” (In Mexico, the second question has been answered positively. Shamefully, we have yet to take that step.) The question is not only, “Do we have a right to bear arms?” but also “Do we have the right to be safe in our streets and schools?” In short, says Freudenberg: “The right to be healthy trumps the right of corporations to promote choices that lead to premature death and preventable illnesses. Protecting public health is a fundamental government responsibility; a decent society should not allow food companies to convince children to buy food that’s bad for them or to encourage a lifetime of unhealthy eating.”

Oddly, these are radical notions. But aren’t they less “un-American” than allowing a company to maximize its return on investment by looking to sell to children or healthy adults in ways that will cause premature mortality? As Freudenberg says, “Shouldn’t science and technology be used to improve human well-being, not to advance business goals that harm health?” Two other questions that can be answered “yes.”


By: Mark Bittman, Contributing Op-Ed Writer, The New York Times, February 26, 2014

March 2, 2014 Posted by | Consumers, Public Health | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“CVS, Smokes And Liberal Fascism”: Fox News Turns Up The Stupidity

In Fox News Land, no one does anything in the public interest. It’s just Obama’s commie thugs bullying a corporate giant to do what the president thinks is ‘good for you.’

Bravo, CVS. That’s a bold and even historic move, banning cigarettes. It’s true it isn’t costing the company much—the sticks accounted for just $2 billion of its $123 billion in revenue last year, according to The New York Times. But even so, it’s a decision by an American mega-corporation that was made in… sit down and steady yourself… the public interest! Everyone’s for that, right? Right? Wait, what’s that rumble I hear over the gloaming?…

Why, it’s Fox News! And they aren’t happy. Yes—you read that right. On Fox News, CVS’s decision not to sell an addictive product that kills hundreds of thousands of Americans prematurely every year stinks of a big commie plot. Daytime host Gretchen Carlson said something idiotic Wednesday even by daytime Fox News’s idiotic standards. From Media Matters:

“Is it OK legally… to restrict tobacco availability in a private store like this?” She questioned her guests as to whether they would continue shopping at CVS and observed that, “For people who smoke, you know, they have a right to buy cigarettes. It’s not illegal.”

Is it legal?! Good God. Quintuple bacon cheeseburgers are legal. And yet, some restaurants choose not to offer them! Lawbreakers! Pinkos!

Yes, pinkos, see, because they’re becoming part of, you guessed it, the Obama agenda. That was the worry of Neil Cavuto, who wondered if CVS was “getting scaredy cat” since “with the health-care law and the changes and everything else,” selling tobacco products “didn’t look good.” And to round things out, Dana Perino, who actually used to stand at a podium to convey to the American people the substance of their government’s positions and policies, asked on the show called The Five: “Is this President Obama now saying that corporations are allowed to have values and express them? Because if that’s the case, maybe corporations then don’t have to provide contraceptive care to their employees or their health plans.”

See the thread there? It’s Obama’s fault. A corporation makes a decision of its own volition, on the highly logical grounds that if it purports to be in the health business it shouldn’t also be in the cigarette business, and it’s Obama’s fault. If he weren’t out there making people buy insurance, and if that nettlesome wife of his weren’t forcing all these poor children to grow all that awful kale, if they weren’t trying to make America… healthy (!), CVS never would have done this.

Perino turns up the stupid by dragging in the Hobby Lobby case. Private corporations in the United States can do a lot of things. If that Chick-Fil-A guy wants to close on Sundays to honor Jesus? Fine, let him. But there are things corporations can’t do—there are laws and regulations they have to follow. And they have never claimed a right to the free exercise of their religion. That’s because corporations aren’t people, my friend. They don’t have a religion. They have Catholic and Methodist and Jewish and Hindu and Muslim and Jainist and atheist and all kinds of employees. The idea that a corporation has a religious “value” is preposterous, although with this Supreme Court, admittedly anything is possible.

But that’s a side point. What Fox News is really unhappy about, of course, is what it likes to call “liberal fascism,” as defined by the concept’s savant, Jonah Goldberg. As I slogged my way through Goldberg’s tedious book on the subject a few years back (producing this rather amusing review), I noticed that as he plowed through history, liberal fascism started out as, oh, the Civilian Conservation Corps, which I recall him comparing to the Hitler Youth. After all, both were in the 1930s, both involved kids wearing uniforms, both movements professed the goal of social uplift. One was dedicated to the greater glory of one man; the other to flood control and forest protection—but OK, Jonah, whatever.

Once he got to our time, Goldberg was reduced to arguing that the liberal-fascist tendency was alive and well in Whole Foods. Because Whole Foods purveys salubrious items, wants you to have things that are “good for you,” and that sounded to him suspiciously like things Hillary Clinton wants, and she’s the biggest liberal fascist of all. Or was until Obama. Who is—until he leaves the White House and Hillary moves back in when she’ll take back over.

So now, anything a corporation does that smacks of being in the public interest will reek of liberal fascism and will thus be met with resistance in Ailes-land. Car companies pursuing improved gas mileage, introducing more hybrids? Manufacturers using sustainable materials and processes? Junk-food makers cutting back on the sugar and salt? They’re not trying to do anything good for the world. They can’t be doing that. Normal, good, red-blooded, private-sector Americans don’t do that. There must be a reason, and in Foxland, it’s that these folks are ninnies who are just preemptively kowtowing to the thugs Obama keeps on the payroll to dream up new rules Americans should have to live by.

The silver lining here is that they’re on the losing side of history. One imagines that in due course, Rite Aid will follow, and Walgreens, and Duane Reade, and in a few years’ time cigarettes will be out of all drugstores. And then the convenience stores will start to tumble, and the vast majority of Americas will agree that this is fine. And the Fox News demographic will start aging into the grave, and Gretchen Carlson can go on fuming to a smaller and smaller audience, and the rest of us will be able to say to them, in the words of Stevie Winwood: Light up and leave us alone.


By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, February 7, 2014

February 8, 2014 Posted by | Fox News, Public Health | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Eeerily Similar Marketing Stragety Of The Tobacco Industry”: Gun Industry Aims To Sell Youth On Assault Weapons

Responding to Americans’ declining interest in shooting sports, gun manufacturers are developing programs to market their products to younger children. The National Shooting Sports Foundation trade association and the industry-funded National Rifle Association spend millions of dollars annually to recruit kids as gun enthusiasts. And those efforts increasingly focus on pushing semi-automatic assault weapons, including the very model used by the shooter in the Newtown, Connecticut tragedy.

The New York Times reports:

The pages of Junior Shooters, an industry-supported magazine that seeks to get children involved in the recreational use of firearms, once featured a smiling 15-year-old girl clutching a semiautomatic rifle. At the end of an accompanying article that extolled target shooting with a Bushmaster AR-15 — an advertisement elsewhere in the magazine directed readers to a coupon for buying one — the author encouraged youngsters to share the article with a parent.

“Who knows?” it said. “Maybe you’ll find a Bushmaster AR-15 under your tree some frosty Christmas morning!”

The industry’s youth-marketing effort is backed by extensive social research and is carried out by an array of nonprofit groups financed by the gun industry, an examination by The New York Times found. The campaign picked up steam about five years ago with the completion of a major study that urged a stronger emphasis on the “recruitment and retention” of new hunters and target shooters.

Federal law prohibits the sale of rifles to those under age 18. But through programs at Boy Scout camps and 4-H clubs, the NRA trains children on how to safely shoot single-shot rifles. And, according to the report: “Newer initiatives by other organizations go further, seeking to introduce children to high-powered rifles and handguns while invoking the same rationale of those older, more traditional programs: that firearms can teach ‘life skills’ like responsibility, ethics and citizenship.”

This effort seems eerily similar to the marketing strategy employed by the tobacco industry in the 1980s. Recognizing that the number of smokers in America was declining — and dying off — cigarette companies sought to addict underage children to ensure a continuing market for their product. A now infamous 1981 Philip Morris corporate memo noted that “[t]oday’s teenager is tomorrow’s potential regular customer, and the overwhelming majority of smokers first begin to smoke while still in their teens. In addition, the 10 years following the teenage years is the period during which average daily consumption per smoker increases to the average adult level. The smoking patterns of teenagers are particularly important to Philip Morris.”

One gun-industry study noted a similar need to “start them young,” observing that “stakeholders such as managers and manufacturers should target programs toward youth 12 years old and younger… This is the time that youth are being targeted with competing activities. It is important to consider more hunting and target-shooting recruitment programs aimed at middle school level, or earlier.”


By: Josh Israel, Think Progress, January 27, 2013

January 28, 2013 Posted by | Gun Violence, Guns | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Freedom Isn’t Free”: Congress Won’t Act On Gun Control, But The President And The States Can

It has now been nearly two weeks since the Newtown massacre once again cast an ugly shadow of gun violence over our country. In the ensuing fortnight, the pundits have been working overtime generating their ideas on “what to do” about guns.

Their ideas aren’t new: Ban assault weapons. Limit high-capacity magazines. Make access to mental health care as easy as access to a gun. All reasonable ideas, though it must be acknowledged that 1) such hand-wringing after past shootings has faded rather quickly as the public moves on and 2) if anything, because today’s congressional districts are drawn up so safely, lawmakers are less inclined to do anything about guns than ever before.

Let’s face facts: Congress hasn’t passed a major gun control bill since 1994, when at the behest of Ronald Reagan, it approved an assault weapons ban (long since expired) and, in 1993, the Brady Bill, which requires background checks on gun buyers when a gun is bought for the first time. (Subsequent sales of those used weapons are often unregulated, thus the so-called “gun show loophole.”) The fights to pass those laws were nasty and protracted, and in the ensuing years, positions have hardened even more. Bottom line: As disturbing and outrageous as the Newtown massacre was, there is essentially zero chance that Congress will do anything of substance about it.

So what can be done?

The Constitution grants any president of the United States executive powers. Some have argued that President Obama could exercise them to close the gun show loophole — which has arguably allowed up to 40 percent of all private gun purchases to occur with no background check whatsoever, just pay and be on your way. This appears to be easy politics. Even before Newtown, a survey by GOP pollster Frank Luntz said that 85 percent of non-NRA gun owners and 69 percent of NRA members favored this.

Look for this to be among the recommendations given to Obama by his “gun czar,” Vice President Biden. These background checks could also include any known information on a customer’s mental health. The Justice Department has also studied the idea of better information-sharing among different agencies, sort of like how the CIA and FBI began working better together after the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks. These are all ideas worth discussing, though state’s rights and privacy laws are legitimate barriers.

Even the National Rifle Association has a few ideas. The NRA’s Wayne LaPierre, blaming just about everyone other than his own organization for Newtown, says Hollywood is at fault for gratuitous violence, as are the manufacturers of violent videogames (one, he said, was called “Kindergarten Killer”). He calls this kind of content “the filthiest form of pornography.” On this one point, LaPierre is right. Parents should know better than to expose their kids to this kind of garbage. But here’s a question for Mr. LaPierre: If the NRA insists that the Second Amendment is sacred and must be protected, is it not hypocritical to suggest that the First Amendment, whose free speech protections cover movie and game makers, be weakened? (It’s a moot point anyway: The Supreme Court, in June 2011, upheld the free speech rights of videogame makers to spew out their filth.)

LaPierre has also suggested, as you’ve no doubt heard, that guns in schools might have prevented the Newtown massacre. “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,” he insisted. LaPierre, whose rantings caused former President George H.W. Bush to quit the NRA in outrage in 1995, seems to have forgotten that an armed guard at Columbine High School couldn’t prevent the murder of 12 students and a teacher (he fired four times and missed). There were plenty of good guys with guns at the Fort Hood army base in 2009. And on and on.

So why not go after guns — and the NRA itself — the way 46 states went after cigarettes back in the 1990s? Guns are similar to cigarettes in one key respect: Long after they are used, both incur very large and ongoing costs that states, local communities, and thus taxpayers are forced to absorb. Aside from the immediate anguish and grief that can result from the use of a gun, the economic burden is spread over many years, in the form of lost work, medical care, insurance, law enforcement, and criminal justice. One study puts a price on this: $174 billion a year.

The societal cost of just one gun homicide averages $5 million, according to the institute. That includes $1.6 million in lost work; $29,000 in medical care; $11,000 on surviving families’ mental-health treatment; $397,000 in criminal-justice, incarceration and police expenses; $9,000 in employer losses; and $3 million in pain, suffering and lost quality of life.

Who pays for much of this? You do. Doesn’t matter whether you have a gun or not. Just like smoking. You pay for much of its after-effects whether you smoke or not.

Here is what the states did about cigarettes: In November 1998, Big Tobacco, worn down by legal wrangling on dozens of fronts, agreed to pay 46 states a minimum of $206 billion over 25 years. The landmark deal, known as the Master Settlement Agreement (MSA), exempted Philip Morris, R.J. Reynolds, Brown & Williamson and Lorillard from private tort liability resulting from harm caused by tobacco use. In addition to paying billions, the companies agreed to end or limit marketing of cigarettes, fund anti-smoking education campaigns, and dissolve industry-funded trade groups such as the “Tobacco Institute.”

The landmark agreement with the states wasn’t designed to put cigarette makers out of business, just make them more accountable and responsible for the use of their product, which was and remains legal. Guns, by virtue of the Second Amendment, are even more protected, but this hardly excuses their defenders from accountability for their use. Only a handful of states and the District of Columbia have laws governing private sales at gun shows. Those who lack such laws can cite states’ rights, a legitimate point — but often it’s the taxpayers in those states who pay for years to come. States with tougher laws can sue neighboring states that don’t to recover their costs; the NRA can be sued for similar reasons. Want a gun? Oppose reasonable restrictions on them? Fine. But you know the saying: Freedom isn’t free. Give those who oppose tighter gun laws an economic incentive to comply.


By: Paul Brandus, The Week, December 26, 2012

December 28, 2012 Posted by | Gun Violence, Guns | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


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