After Exxon Mobil posted first-quarter 2011 profits of $10.7 billion -- $6.3 billion more than it earned last year by this time -- the company put out a defensive statement arguing that it is not to blame for gasoline exceeding $4 around the country. Instead, the company blamed skyrocketing gas and oil prices on the U.S. government, saying Exxon makes about seven cents on a gallon of gasoline, while state and federal governments collect 40 to 60 center a gallon in taxes. Jack Gerard, CEO of the American Petroleum Institute, the oil and gas industry's lobbying group, spun his industry's record income as a positive, saying high oil company profits signal a stronger U.S. economy. Gerard said Americans "should be proud" of a high-earning oil industry, since it supports millions of jobs and provides income for retirees in the form of profits paid on shares in people's retirement accounts. Exxon vice president Ken Cohen portrayed the push to eliminate $4 billion in government subsidies for the industry as an attempt to raise taxes on the industry, saying the subsidies help keep jobs from being exported to other countries.
One of the reasons I wanted to return to journalism after a long career as an insurance company PR man was to keep an eye on the implementation of the new health reform law. Many journalists who covered the reform debate have moved on, and some consider the writing of regulations to implement the legislation boring and of little interest to the public.
But insurance company lobbyists know the media are not paying much attention. And so they are able to influence what the regulations actually look like -- and how the law will be enforced -- with little scrutiny, much less awareness.
Rumors have been circulating about a little-known initiative to subject Wisconsin local governments to "stress tests" and other new constraints. Many believe the proposal resembles the "martial law" bill that was recently passed in Michigan, which allows the state government to dissolve local governments in a "fiscal emergency," and worry that Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker or his friends in the legislature could be cooking up a similar plan.
Rep. Paul Ryan's plan to privatize Medicare would accelerate a trend started several years ago by corporate CEOs and their political allies to shift ever-increasing amounts of risk from Big Business and the government to workers and retirees.
If enacted, the Ryan plan would represent a windfall of unprecedented proportions for insurance corporations and other businesses.
For millions of average Americans, many of whom already are finding it impossible to save for retirement, it would represent financial calamity. The nation's middle class would pay dearly for Ryan's proposed shredding of the social safety net that Medicare currently provides.
The disaster at Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant hasn't stopped some U.S. legislators from insisting U.S. nuclear power plants are completely safe, but that support may be based less on facts than on financial influence. Between 1998 and 2010, the nuclear industry invested over $46 million in lobbying, about $18 million of which came from the industry's trade group, the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI). In addition to simply giving money to legislators who deal with energy legislation, the NEI has also employed congressional staffers and bestowed awards upon members of Congress. Senate Energy Resources Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-New Mexico), still supports nuclear energy, saying Japan's nuclear plant disaster hasn't altered opinions much on Capitol Hill -- but Bingaman has taken generous donations from people and institutions with vested interests in nuclear power. Over his career, Bingaman has accepted over $49,000 from Los Alamos National Laboratory, the place where the atomic bomb was invented. The country's largest owner and operator of nuclear power plants, the Exelon Corporation, has given Bingaman over $38,000, and in 2006 the Nuclear Energy Institute gave him a leadership award. Similarly, House Representative Joe Barton (R-Texas) has taken over $31,000 in donations from the Nuclear Energy Institute, and was graced with the same award from the NEI. Barton, who recently toured the Comanche Peak Nuclear Power Plant located about 80 miles southwest of Dallas, insisted to the Dallas Morning News that American nuclear plants are 100 percent safe.
For some, when the going gets tough, the tough gas up the custom-painted luxury motorcoach.
So it is with the Wisconsin branch of the Koch-backed group, Americans for Prosperity (AFP), whose four-day, ten-city bus PR event across Wisconsin to support controversial Governor Scott Walker started in Kenosha March 3 and concluded in Madison on March 7 -- but not at the Capitol, where the bus would have been surrounded by the tens of thousands of people gathered to oppose Walker's union-crushing "budget repair" bill. Instead, AFP ended its tour at the Alliant Energy Center, where protesters against Walker's radical proposals who were outside in the cold easily outnumber the pro-Walker crowd in inside the rented space.
And so it went with AFP's "Stand with Walker" Wisconsin road show. At every stop, the AFP PR gambit was met by some supporters, but it was also greeted often by an equal or a substantially greater numbers of opponents. A little-watched YouTube video of AFP's stop at Serb Hall on March 3, 2011 shows a group of about a dozen Scott Walker supporters, and a sidewalk packed with what appears to be about several hundred demonstrators against the governor's extreme proposals.
According to its newly-minted website, the Advocates "are dedicated to supporting the University of Wisconsin-Madison ... [and] will promote greater accountability through enhanced autonomy for this unique institution." This lobbying effort is similar to efforts afoot in other states to use state budget issues to privatize public higher education institutions and put more assets and power at the disposal of powerful corporate interests.
The lobby shop's PR description closely mirrors the title of the Wisconsin Public Research Institute's December 2010 report titled, "Making the University of Wisconsin More Accountable Through Greater Autonomy." WPRI is heavily funded by the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, a right-wing neo-conservative think tank.
From the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:
Here's a complete transcript of the Buffalo Beast prank conversation with Governor Scott Walker Tuesday, from recordings by the Beast. Ian Murphy of the Beast poses in the call as David Koch, a billionaire contributor of Walker's.
Walker: Hi; this is Scott Walker.
Data gathered by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities shows no direct correlation between the size of a state's budget deficit and whether a state has collective bargaining or not. Wisconsin is projected to have a 2012 fiscal year budget deficit of 12.8 percent, but North Carolina, which is non-unionized and prohibits government employees from bargaining, has a significantly higher deficit of 20 percent. The state of Ohio, whose Republican governor, like Scott Walker of Wisconsin, is also pushing to curtail collective bargaining rights, faces a deficit half the size of North Carolina's. This shows that collective bargaining is unrelated to the size of a state's budget deficit. Rather, the size of a state's deficit is the result of the relative impact of the recession within that given state. What these Republican governors have failed to explain is how curtailing collective bargaining rights will create good jobs in the private sector or improve the lot of the struggling middle class -- the main concerns of citizens at the moment.
Today, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, believing he was talking to prominent financial backer David Koch, told a Buffalo, New York blogger that he was getting ready to issue pink slips to state workers in a strategy to force Democratic state senators back to work. In the short interview posted on YouTube and discussed at length by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel today, there is a wealth of news. Click here to listen in and tell us what you think. The embarrassing revelations prompted Walker to cancel a 2:30 p.m. press conference today.