Opinion

"Energy in Depth," "Counter-Insurgency" Tactics, and Astroturf "Energy Citizens"

The corporations pushing for expanded "hydraulic fracturing" ("fracking") for "natural gas" are putting big money into PR campaigns due to growing citizen concerns about this damaging drilling process. At a "Media and Stakeholder Relations: Hydraulic Fracturing Initiative 2011" meeting this winter, an industry representative went so far as to suggest that industry public relations agents download the U.S. Army/Marine Corps' "Counterinsurgency Field Manual." He noted that it would be helpful because the industry is "dealing with an insurgency."

When Medicare Isn't Medicare

Let's say you have a Ford and decide to replace everything under the hood with Hyundai parts, including the engine and transmission. Could you still honestly market your car as a Ford?

That question gets at the heart of the controversy over who is being more forthright about GOP Rep. Paul Ryan's plan to "save" Medicare, Republicans or Democrats.

Profit, risk, lossIf you overhaul the Medicare system like you did your Ford and tell the public it's still Medicare, are you doing so honestly?

Break Up Bank of America Before it Breaks Us

On Monday, Bank of America (BofA) stocks briefly traded for under $5. Yes, you could buy a share of BofA for less than the noxious debit card fee they tried to force down your throat.

BofA is massive, with assets equivalent to 15 percent of U.S. GDP. So why is it trading for the price of a latte?

Because Wall Street's dirty little secret is that BofA is a zombie bank. Now the reek is getting too strong to ignore.

The Teenager Who Changed My Life

In remembrance of Nataline SarkisyanIt was four years ago today that I received a phone call from a Los Angeles TV reporter that would change my life, although I certainly didn't realize it at the time.

The reporter said she had been told that CIGNA, the big health insurer I worked for back then, was refusing to pay for a liver transplant for a 17-year-old girl, even though her doctors at UCLA believed it would save her life and her family's policy covered transplants.

I didn't pay much attention to the call at first, because as chief spokesman for the company, I had received many calls over the years from reporters seeking comment about benefit denials. We took them seriously, but usually didn't have to do more than tell the inquiring reporters we couldn't comment substantively because of patient confidentiality restrictions. If pressed, we'd email a statement to the reporter briefly noting that we covered procedures deemed medically necessary and that patients and their doctors could appeal a denial if they disagreed with a coverage decision.

JPMorgan Chase Greedwashes Reputation with "American Giving Awards"

ChaseAs the New York Times media reporter, Brian Stelter, noted on Saturday, December 9, NBC agreed to broadcast a two-hour television show fully funded and sponsored by JPMorgan Chase called the "American Giving Awards." The program showcased solely recipients of charitable donations from Chase, featured commercials for Chase and reminded viewers constantly throughout the broadcast that the entire event was "presented by Chase."

Will "Obamacare" Force Americans to Buy Junk Health Insurance in 2014?

The money that patients' rights advocates have to spend trying to convince the Obama administration that Americans should have decent health care benefits pales in comparison to the boatloads of cash insurers and their corporate allies have on hand to do largely the opposite. But at least the advocates are now in the game.

Bad faith insurance companiesLast week a broad coalition of patient-focused groups launched its "I Am Essential" campaign in an effort to make sure that when all of us have to buy health insurance in 2014, we will be getting good value.

Rick Perry's Big Health Care "Oops"

I did exactly what the doctor told me to do. Unfortunately, I'm not feeling a bit better. Maybe even a little worse.

Last week, Dr. Michael C. Burgess, tweeted this directive: "Mark your calendars: Rick Perry will join Health Caucus' Thought Leaders Series next Wednesday, December 7 @ 5 p.m."

Texas Governor Rick PerryEager to hear what thought leadership the Texas governor and presidential candidate would be imparting, I marked my calendar as Dr. Burgess prescribed. Imagine my dismay when I learned yesterday morning that Perry would be sharing his thoughts behind closed doors. The media and public, it turns out, had been disinvited.

OWS: Real Grassroots vs. Astroturf

Astroturf vs. GrassrootsThe "Occupy Wall Street" movement is providing a real-time case study of the difference between a true grassroots movement and a corporate-backed astroturf movement.

Americans in recent years have been besieged by industry-funded astroturf efforts masquerading as real grassroots movements. One example is the "Hands off my Healthcare" national roadshow, which was backed by the Koch-funded group, Americans for Prosperity. Another is the Tea Party, which got a corporate-sponsored media boost from the Fox News Channel and benefitted from the the efforts of a Sacramento, California-based Republican PR firm, Russo Marsh & Rogers. Astroturf uses manufactured spin and messaging that requires real money for things like media buys, front groups, mass-broadcast faxes, telemarketing-generated petitions, glossy postcards, form letters and talk radio-inspired phone calls.

Insurers Use PR Playbook to Keep Us in the Dark About Health Insurance

If you wonder why the health insurance industry has to set up front groups and secretly funnel cash to industry-funded coalitions to influence public policy, take a look at the most recent results of the Kaiser Family Foundation's (KFF) monthly Health Tracking Poll.

Screaming infantIn its November poll, KFF added a few new survey questions to find out exactly which parts of the Affordable Care Act/Obamacare are the most popular and which are the least popular. Insurers were no doubt annoyed to see that the provision of the law they want most -- the requirement that all of us will have to buy coverage from them if we're not eligible for a public program like Medicare -- continues to be the single most hated part of the law. More than 60 percent of Americans have an unfavorable opinion of that mandate.

Defunct War Strategy Program May Still Overshadow University of Wisconsin-Madison's History of Dissent

Guest post by Steve Horn and Allen Ruff

This article is part 2 of a two-part series on the military's influence in academia. Part 1 ran previously on Truthout.

Once viewed by some as a "rising star" at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, historian Jeremi Suri announced in early May that he was leaving Madison to pursue his fame and fortune at the University of Texas-Austin.

With him went the fortunes of the short-lived and now deceased UW-Madison Grand Strategy Program (GSP), which he founded and headed as one part of a broader network of strategic studies programs currently underway on select campuses elsewhere.

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