Category Archives: Antitrust

FDA Raids in Florida Suggest Trump Admin. Policy Change That Benefits Big Pharma

News of the raids follows the president’s nomination of a former drug company executive to serve as secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services

By Jessica Corbett, staff writer for CommonDreams. Published 11-20-2017

Raids by federal agents in Florida suggest a policy shift that will make it more difficult for Americans to access low-cost prescription medications. (Photo: Chris Potter/ccPix.com/Flickr/cc)

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) raided nine stores in Central Florida that assist customers with placing orders for low-cost prescription drugs from Canada and other countries, Kaiser Health News reported Monday, suggesting a shift away from a long-standing policy that benefited consumers but was strongly condemned by the pharmaceutical industry.

“The storefronts primarily serve seniors who prefer in-person assistance with buying medicines from Canada and other countries, rather than using an internet site,” Kaiser reports. Bill Hepscher, co-owner of six of the stores raided last month, estimates his business serves about 10,000 people a year, and that Florida has about 20 stores similar to his. His stores are located around Tampa Bay and Orlando. Continue reading

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Trump’s Mine-Safety Nominee Ran Coal Firm Cited for Illegal Employment Practices

Records show the coal mining company formerly run by David Zatezalo retaliated against a foreman who complained of harassment and unsafe conditions.

Written by  Robert Faturechi and published 10-17-2017 in Pro-Publica.

Fox in the Coal Mine: President Trump nominated David Zatezalo, the former chairman of Rhino Resources, to be an assistant secretary of Labor in charge of the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA). Zatezalo’s company was issued two “pattern of violations” letters from MSHA over safety issues at their mines in 2010 and 2011. Photo credit: OSMRE. Published by WhoWhatWhy.org

The coal mining company run by President Donald Trump’s nominee to be the nation’s top mining regulator has already come under criticism for weaknesses in its safety record. It turns out the company was also found by the government to have illegally retaliated against a foreman who complained about sexual and ethnic harassment from supervisors, unsafe conditions and drug use at one of its mines.

The little-noticed case involved a foreman at a mine operated by Rhino Energy WV. At the time, the president of the mine’s parent company, Rhino Resource Partners, was David Zatezalo, who is now Trump’s nominee to run the Mine Safety and Health Administration. A Senate committee is scheduled to vote on his nomination Wednesday.

In the West Virginia case, Michael Jagodzinski, a foreman at the mine located near the town of Bolt, complained in 2011 that he was the target of ethnic and gay slurs. The company illegally retaliated against him, falsely accusing him of sexual harassment, and then fired him, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission found. As a result, Rhino Energy WV entered into a five-year consent decree last year, agreeing to pay $62,500 to Jagodzinski and implement reforms, including a policy against harassment and training for all managers and employees on prohibitions against discrimination and retaliation. The company also agreed to report how it handles any internal complaints of discrimination to federal regulators, and post notices about the settlement at all mine sites.

Zatezalo retired from Rhino in 2014. If confirmed to his new post, he would run an agency that is part of the Labor Department. It conducts regular inspections, trains the industry on best practices and levies penalties against mining companies for violations.

Democratic senators have questioned Zatezalo’s record in the industry, citing safety issues at mines he oversaw in West Virginia and Kentucky. One of his mines received two consecutive “pattern of violations” citations from the mining safety agency — a rare sanction used for repeat offenders.

Based on those citations, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., who often throws his support behind the mining industry’s priorities, announced he would oppose Zatezalo’s confirmation, saying he is “not convinced” the former coal executive “is suited to oversee the federal agency that implements and enforces mine safety laws and standards.”

Zatezalo did not respond to a request for an interview about the harassment case. A spokeswoman for the mine safety administration declined to comment about the allegations.

The problems at the Bolt mine were brought to the attention of federal authorities by Jagodzinski. The EEOC ultimately found that the company engaged in “unlawful employment practices” starting in May 2011.

According to the government’s complaint, Jagodzinski faced a hostile work environment based on his Polish ancestry, including a barrage of insults and false allegations of workplace violations. The company allegedly allowed graffiti on the walls of the mine Jagodzinski supervised, with messages such as “Jag the fag.” Both supervisors and rank-and-file mine employees referred to Jagodzinski using that slur and “stupid Polack,” the EEOC said.

“Supervisory personnel failed to take action to stop the harassment or prevent it from recurring,” the government’s complaint reads. “Instead, supervisors participated in the harassment.”

A poster hung in the workplace likening Jagodzinski to a caveman, with the message: “JAG IS A FAG.” At one point, according to federal authorities, another employee took Jagodzinski’s phone and used it to take a photo of his own testicles.

“The harassment was open and obvious to supervisory personnel,” federal authorities found, “and supervisory personnel participated in the harassment.”

In a sworn deposition, Jagodzinski said managers used drugs on the job. In one case, he said managers tipped off the mine’s employees about an imminent drug test.

Jagodzinski said in an interview with ProPublica that the harassment started because he was trying to enforce workplace safety rules. “I was against them breaking rules and doing drugs and stealing,” Jagodzinski said. “Oxy, nerve pills, synthetic weed, smoking underground, snorting pills underground. This place was the absolute worst place I’d worked in my entire life.”

In a sworn deposition, a company executive said Zatezalo approved the termination, but denied that the company harassed Jagodzinski or fired him as retaliation. The company, he said, had strict policies against drug use.

“These people work in a confined space, underground in a confined space where large equipment moves. Any impairment to judgment is a very, very high risk, so we tolerate — we tolerated zero,” the executive said.

Court filings show Zatezalo was also scheduled to be deposed, but it appears the company agreed to settle with the government before he was interviewed under oath.

The consent decree followed other documented problems at Rhino, which at the end of 2011 operated 11 mines in four states, with a total of more than 1,000 workers. One mine, also near Bolt, was hit in 2010 with a “pattern of violations” letter from the mining agency, a sanction that according to the agency’s website is “reserved for mines that pose the greatest risk to the health and safety of miners, particularly those with chronic violation records.”

A few months later, rock from a wall in the same mine pinned and killed a miner. The mine was given a second “pattern of violations” letter, with the safety agency finding that the company had not maintained the safety improvements it made after the first letter.

In another instance, government regulators accused the company of alerting miners underground of an imminent agency inspection, which would have allowed workers to clean up any potential violations.

A review of regulatory filings by The Charleston Gazette-Mail found that during his career Zatezalo was listed as director of mining operations or as mine general manager during accidents that resulted in three mining deaths. He was a top officer at the time of a fourth death.

During a Senate confirmation hearing earlier this month, Zatezalo acknowledged that at times his local managers were “not doing what they should have been doing” and that in those cases, he replaced them. He said that if he was confirmed he wouldn’t weaken mine regulation.

“Inspections in the mines in the United States are a necessity,” he said.

Zatezalo began his mining career as a union laborer, before rising in the ranks to hold top positions at American Electric Power Coal and Rhino. He also helped lead coal advocacy associations in Ohio and Kentucky.

Zatezalo was not widely known nationally before he was nominated. In an interview with his hometown newspaper in Wheeling, West Virginia, Zatezalo said that industry contacts had urged him to come out of retirement and put his name in the running for the post. Among his backers, he said, were Robert Murray, the influential chairman of mining giant Murray Energy.

“There aren’t a lot of people in the industry I don’t know, and people said, ‘You’d be great for that position. I’m going to call Sen. (Mitch) McConnell and tell him he needs to support you for this,’” Zatezalo recalled.

Zatezalo later clarified and said he was not sure if Murray had lobbied on his behalf.

Jagodzinski, the mine foreman at the center of the government’s discrimination suit, said he has been stigmatized after being falsely fired for sexual harassment, and has had difficulty finding steady employment since.

“They ruined me, dude. I’ve lost everything,” he said in an interview. “And now I see Zatezalo’s going to run MSHA. I cannot believe it.”

This article is republished under a Creative Commons Share A-like License.

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As Tech Giants Threaten Democracy, Calls Grow for New Anti-Monopoly Movement

“It is time for citizens in America and all over the world to stand up to the bullies in our society, the monopolists.”

By Jake Johnson, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 9-1-2017

“Americans are fed up with monopolies rigging our economy and politics,” said Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.). (Photo: takomabibelot/Flickr/cc)

A major Washington-based think tank’s decision to fire a prominent Google critic earlier this week brought to the surface the massive and “disturbing” influence large tech companies have on political debate in the U.S., leading many analysts and lawmakers to call for the creation of an anti-monopoly movement to take on the threat consolidated corporate power poses to the democratic process.

As Brian Fund and Hamza Shaban note in an analysis for the Washington Post, “funding of think tanks is just one way Silicon Valley is expanding its influence in Washington.” Tech giants like Google, Amazon, Facebook, and Apple are also “regularly setting records in their spending on lobbying and are pushing as many as 100 issues—or more—every year.” Continue reading

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Serving Wall Street Predators, GOP Launches Swift Attack on New Rule Protecting Consumers

The rule from the CFPB blocks ‘a fine-print trick that banks and predatory lenders use to evade accountability and conceal illegal behavior’

By Andrea Germanos, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 7-12-2017

Consumer Financial Protection Bureau architect Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), seen here in 2016, said the new rule from the agency “will allow working families to hold big banks accountable when they’re cheated.” (Photo: New America/flickr/cc)

A new rule by a federal watchdog—hailed as having “paramount importance” for protecting consumers from Wall Street predators and curbing corporate abuses—is under direct attack by Republicans just days after being issued.

The rule from the successful and broadly-supported Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) bans companies from using mandatory arbitration clauses, which makes consumers give up their right to file or join class-action lawsuits. In other words, it blocks “rip-off clauses” that are “a fine-print trick that banks and predatory lenders use to evade accountability and conceal illegal behavior,” as advocacy group Public Citizen put it, noting that they are also used by many corporations. Continue reading

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‘You Can’t Make This Up’: Comcast Threatens Legal Action Against Net Neutrality Proponents

If FCC chairman Ajit Pai’s plan “is enacted, there would be nothing preventing Comcast from simply blocking sites like Comcastroturf.com that are critical of their corporate policies”

By Lauren McCauley, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 5-23-2017

“This is exactly why we need Title II net neutrality protections that ban blocking, throttling, and censorship,” said Evan Greer, campaign director of Fight for the Future. (Photo: Alyson Hurt/cc/flickr)

Open Internet proponents who have been fighting the Trump administration’s rollback of net neutrality protections, which has been enacted at the bidding of the telecom industry, said Tuesday that Comcast is now threatening legal action saying the website Comcastroturf.com is infringing on its trademark.

As the organization Fight for the Future quipped on Twitter, “You can’t make this stuff up.”

The website in question is currently providing a tool for the public to see if their names are among those stolen and used by anti-net neutrality bots to post comments in support of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) plan to undo Title II protections that classify the internet as a public utility. Continue reading

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Massive Corporate Consolidation of Local News Underway

By Anti-Media Staff. Published 5-12-2017 by The Anti-Media

Image: LittleRoughRhinestone [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

In a deal that will allow one broadcasting company to reach 72 percent of U.S. households through ownership of local news stations, it was reported this week that Sinclair Broadcast Group is buying Tribune Media for nearly $4 billion.

Such a move wouldn’t have been possible a few weeks back, but Donald Trump’s new Federal Trade Commission (FCC) chairman, Ajit Pai, just began implementing sweeping changes to previously established media ownership rules. Bloomberg explains: Continue reading

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In Latest Populist Betrayal, Trump Executive Order Unchains Wall Street Greed

Orders signed Friday are ‘nothing more than special favors for the same Wall Street banks that crashed our economy in 2008 and put millions of Americans out of work’

By Deirdre Fulton, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 4-21-2017

Photo: YouTube

In yet another Wall Street giveaway, President Donald Trump on Friday afternoon took executive action to chip away at Dodd-Frank financial regulations and roll back rules aimed at reducing corporate tax avoidance.

Lisa Gilbert, vice president of legislative affairs for watchdog group Public Citizen, described the orders signed Friday at the Treasury Department as “nothing more than special favors for the same Wall Street banks that crashed our economy in 2008 and put millions of Americans out of work.” Continue reading

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The future of US net neutrality under Trump

Administrative decisions related to the country’s telecommunications policy often go unnoticed by the majority of the US citizenry. But now, net neutrality in its purest form is in peril.

By Michael J. Oghia. Published 3-17-2017 by openDemocracy

Welcome and Opening Remarks from Commissioner Ajit Pai, May 2014.Wikicommons/Federal Communications Commission.Public domain.

As this openDemocracy series has poignantly highlighted, digital rights should never be taken for granted. For all those keeping a close eye on US politics, this reality could not resonate more ominously. With the new Republican administration of Donald J. Trump, there is plenty of kindle to fuel a fire of discussion and, often enough, outrage.

Yet, behind all of the grandstanding, tweeting, and obscene showmanship, there lies a political machine forged in the corridors of Capitol Hill, skyscraping towers of corporate America, and musty legal libraries ready to take up the bureaucratic responsibility of running the United States. You see, outside of the more widely covered political issues such as immigration and healthcare, administrative decisions related to the country’s telecommunications policy often go unnoticed by the majority of the US citizenry. Continue reading

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‘Dangerous’ and ‘Dumb’: Trump Signs Executive Order Torching Regulations

“It will fundamentally change our government’s role from one of protecting the public to protecting corporate profits”

By Andrea Germanos, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 1-30-2017

A demonstrator in Washington, D.C. holds a sign on Jan. 27, 2017. (Photo: Lorie Shaull/flickr/cc)

President Donald Trump signed an executive order on Monday that aims to slash regulations—an action, advocacy groups say, that puts lives at risk.

The order—the latest of a flurry since he took office—states that “for every one new regulation issued, at least two prior regulations be identified for elimination,” fulfilling a campaign promise he made.

“For fiscal year 2017, which is in progress, the heads of all agencies are directed that the total incremental cost of all new regulations, including repealed regulations, to be finalized this year shall be no greater than zero,” it adds. Continue reading

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State Lawmakers Urge Rejection of Militaristic, Conflict-Ridden Nominees

125 state legislators demand U.S. Senate only confirm cabinet nominees who respect diplomacy, civil liberties, and ‘our sacred tradition of a civilian-led government’

By Deirdre Fulton, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 1-9-2017

“From crumbling bridges and inadequate road maintenance to the opioid crisis and a lack of support for our veterans, the last 15 years of war and nation-building endeavors have taken an enormous toll on our communities and our ability as state lawmakers to provide critical services to our constituents,” the letter reads. (Photo: Adventures of KM&G Morris/flickr/cc)

A coalition of progressive state lawmakers from around the country on Monday sent a letter to Sens. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), demanding the U.S. Senate only confirm cabinet nominees “who have an established record of respecting the importance of diplomacy and other tools of statecraft over the unnecessary use of force, respecting civil liberties, placing American interests over personal interests, and upholding our sacred tradition of a civilian-led government.” Continue reading

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