Ethics

Walgreens' "Million Hearts" HealthWashing Ploy

smoking heartOn September 13, 2011, Walgreens announced it is partnering with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services in a "new effort to fight heart disease" called the "Million Hearts Initiative." Walgreens says the goal is to help prevent one million heart attacks and strokes over the next five years by "finding ways to reduce the number of people who need treatment and improve the quality of treatment for those who need it." The chain's press release about the  Initiative says heart disease and stroke are the first and third leading causes of death, respectively. What Walgreens doesn't say is that while it searches for ways to prevent heart disease, the chain also continues to sell one of the nation's leading causes of heart disease and stroke: cigarettes. Not only that, but when the city of San Francisco passed an ordinance in 2008 banning pharmacies from selling cigarettes (based on the logic that as health-promoting businesses, pharmacies should not promote smoking) Walgreens fought the measure. The chain even issued an
action alert (pdf) saying it needed to keep selling cigarettes to help people quit
smoking. When that failed, Walgreens sued the city of San Francisco to try and block the ordinance. When the court threw out Walgreens' suit, the chain filed an appeal to continue the challenge.

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GOP Backs Insurance Industry-Friendly, Anti-Consumer Bills

House Republicans, unable to repeal President Obama's health care reform law outright, have decided to go after it piece by piece. If they are successful, what's likely to remain is the kind of reform the insurance industry dreamed of, but never really thought could be the law of the land.

Health insurance costsAlthough the Republican-controlled House passed legislation to repeal the Affordable Care Act several months ago, the Senate, controlled by Democrats, rejected it. Bills are now being considered in the House that would strip some of the most important consumer protections from the new law. If the bills' sponsors are successful, health insurers would be free to spend as little of our premium dollars on our health care as they want, and they would be able to continue setting lifetime limits on policies and cancel our coverage at the time we need it most -- when we get sick. Other important benefits to consumers would also disappear.

Capitalizing on Pain: The Growing Business of 9/11

Scottsdale, AZ-based Stingray Sushi's "9-11 Remembrance roll"Businesses are seeking to cash in on the emotion generated by the tenth anniversary of the 9-11 terrorist attacks by selling 9-11 related swag. The vintner Lieb Cellars released 9-11 commemorative bottles of wine priced at $19.11 per bottle, with "up to 10 percent" of the proceeds going to the National September 11 Memorial and Museum. Reebok is offering 9/11 commemorative sneakers and gloves, and a website called Ruby Lane is selling 9/11 commemorative cribbage boards with the words "Never Forget" emblazoned on them for $115. An assortment of 9-11 musical snow globes are for sale on EBay, including one that "features a revolving subway on the base of the globe that plays the theme of New York, New York when the globe is cranked." Consumers also need to be on the lookout for rip-offs involving the sale of 9/11 commemorative coins. A website cleverly named Govmint.com is charging a whopping $495 each for $1 Silver Eagle coins dated 2001 that it claims came from a vault that was dug up from under the rubble of the twin towers.

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Dining on Deceit: PR Stunt Backfires for ConAgra

LasagnaFood and family bloggers across New York received invitations from celebrity TV chef George Duran to attend an exclusive meal at an intimate underground Italian restaurant that had just popped up in the Village called Sotto Terra. The invitation promised "a delicious four-course meal," the Chef's "one-of-a-kind sangria," a discussion about food trends from a food industry analyst and "an unexpected surprise." Upon confirming attendance, bloggers got extra tickets to give away to their readers. But instead of a fresh Italian meal prepared by Duran, diners were quietly served Marie Callender's Three Meat and Four Cheese Lasagna, a frozen food line produced by ConAgra.

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Justice Prosser Back in the Spotlight

Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice David ProsserEmbattled Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice David Prosser is in the spotlight once again, this time for a conflict-of-interest in a pending case involving Koch-funded Tea Party groups.

The case, Wisconsin Prosperity Network v. Myse, involves a challenge by Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity to proposed campaign disclosure rules passed in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court's Citizens United decision (and subsequently enjoined by the Wisconsin Supreme Court). Attorney Jim Troupis is arguing against the transparency requirements on behalf of Americans for Prosperity and the other Tea Party-affiliated groups. Troupis Law Office was also paid $75,000 by Justice Prosser to represent his campaign during last spring's contentious supreme court election recount.

Insurers Deliberately Confuse Policyholders and Dump the Sick

A couple of years ago, when Sen. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia asked me to testify about little-known health insurance industry practices at a hearing of his Senate Commerce Committee, I initially was reluctant. I knew that if I was completely honest, my life would change forever.

What he was asking me to do was to disclose practices that have contributed to the growing number of Americans without insurance, the even faster growing number of us who are underinsured, and the phenomenal increase in insurance industry profits over the years, even as the ranks of those without coverage swelled.

Corporations are People, My Friend, and So are States, Say GOPers

While on the campaign trail in Iowa, former corporate executive and Republican governor of Massachusetts Mitt Romney shot back at hecklers who were challenging his stance that it would be unfair and unwise to raise taxes on wealthy individuals and corporations to reduce the deficit.

Corporations are people"Corporations are people, my friend," Romney said. "Everything corporations earn ultimately goes to the people. Where do you think it goes? Whose pockets? People's pockets! Human beings, my friend."

Democrats were quick to pounce.

ALEC: Facilitating Corporate Influence Behind Closed Doors

Closed meetingThrough the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), corporations pay to bring state legislators to one place, sit them down for a sales pitch on policies that benefit the corporate bottom line, then push "model bills" for legislators to make law in their states. Corporations also vote behind closed doors alongside politicians on this wish-list legislation through ALEC task forces. Notably absent were the real people who would actually be affected by many of those bills and policies.

With legislators concentrated in one city, lobbyists descend on the conference to wine-and-dine elected officials after-hours, a process simplified by legislators' schedules being freed from home and family responsibilities. Multiple Wisconsin lobbyists for Koch Industries, the American Bail Coalition, Competitive Wisconsin, State Farm, Pfizer, and Wal Mart were in New Orleans, as were lobbyists for Milwaukee Charter School Advocates, Alliant Energy, and Johnson & Johnson. Corporations also sponsor invitation-only events like the Reynolds American tobacco company's cigar reception, attended by several Wisconsin legislators including Health & Human Services chair Leah Vukmir.

Can PR Save Bahrain's Monarchy?

Bahrian's Sunni-led monarchy has hired the Washington, D.C. PR firm Qorvis Communications at a rate of $40,000/month to help improve its image after the Bahraini government, struggling to suppress a Shia-led protest movement, attacked the humanitarian group Doctors Without Borders (DWB).

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