Navigating Chaos: Lessons abound as businesses grapple with unexpected challenges in Trump Era

imagesA CEO’s poorly timed tweet leads to a Twitter campaign that leads 200,000 customers to delete the company’s app from their phones.

An iconic motorcycle manufacturer sees the President pull out of a planned visit to their Wisconsin facility when company officials express concern about a protest that could mar the event.

Ninety-seven American firms, including some technology giants, sign on to an amicus brief denouncing President Trump’s executive order on immigration.

A new administration in the White House with a distinctly different approach to governing has left many people nervous about what may come next. It also has American companies jittery, wondering how to operate in a divided political environment and fearful they’ll be caught in the crossfire the next time a controversial issue explodes in the media.

There are ways to navigate the chaos caused by a White House with a fondness for sweeping executive orders, denouncing critics in late-night tweets, and framing policy discussions in “us against them” terms. The actions of Uber, Harley-Davidson, and dozens of other firms speaking out against a travel ban targeting immigration provide some important insights on how to avoid crisis situations in the Age of Trump and respond to challenges in a nimble manner that can protect your business brand.

Be Extra Careful on Social Media

When the Trump administration signed its controversial travel ban on a Friday afternoon, the time usually preferred by politicians for dumping bad news or decisions they don’t want scrutinized, it led to an immediate firestorm of protests at airports across the country. The day after the executive order hit, cabbies working JFK Airport in New York City launched a one-hour strike, halting service to highlight their support for the protests.

Uber immediately tweeted it would halt its surge pricing at a time when demand for a lift to or from the airport was expected to intensify. The move was seen by critics as a way to break the strike and profit off the slowdown in service. Within an hour, it led to the creation of a hashtag campaign on Twitter, urging customers of the service to #DeleteUber, dumping the popular app from their cell phones. It worked and Uber’s been scrambling since to unwind this debacle.


Uber CEO Travis Kalanick quit his position on a Presidential business advisory board and announced the company would donate $3 million to a legal defense fund for drivers needing immigration and translation services. Good moves in response to a crisis, but steps that would not have been necessary if Uber hadn’t waded into the news cycle with a ham-fisted attempt to get some free publicity during the crisis. There was no good reason to throw out a tweet that could hardly be interpreted as anything but an attempt to undermine the protests and profit off a courageous decision by cab drivers to stand up for immigration.

An active and effective presence on social media means moving at the speed of the platform—which is fast. But it also requires knowing when to put the brakes on, understanding that in times when emotions run high and people are sharing up-to-the-minute news on Twitter, comments and statements can be misinterpreted and your ability to control your messaging can disappear. A missed opportunity is better than a high-profile stumble that antagonizes your customers.

You Don’t Have to Go Whole Hog


Harley-Davidson managed to sidestep a serious crisis when the backlash to Trump’s executive order on immigration threatened to damage the motorcycle manufacturer’s brand. The Midwest firm is located in a purple state, one that Trump unexpectedly won. Getting sucked into an early term controversy swirling around the new administration in Washington was not something Harley executives were looking for.

But that’s exactly how it played out. On the heels of the immigration crisis, the White House was planning to send the President on the road, to sign a new executive order or two aimed at improving America’s business climate. What looked like a great opportunity for Harley-Davidson to serve as a backdrop to a Presidential effort to improve American manufacturing was now shaping up to be an event that was going to tie the company to an ongoing political crisis involving cries of executive overreach.

Word of a planned protest caused Harley executives to approach the White House and, according to the latest media accounts, Trump administration officials pulled the plug on the visit. Instead, Harley-Davidson officials traveled to Washington for a photo op and meeting to discuss manufacturing issues.

That’s about as good an outcome as Harley-Davidson could have hoped for—not playing a central role in an event that was sure to feature questions about the heated protests surrounding the President’s travel ban, but taking part in a meeting that could be positioned as focusing on jobs and reviving American manufacturing. Harley-Davidson’s leadership team was nimble enough to understand the bad optics of hosting a Presidential visit that was going to be met by local protests and to settle for a very workable (and much less damaging) Plan B—a visit by corporate executives to the White House to discuss a topic that is central to their business.

Don’t Be Afraid to Lead

Nearly one hundred companies have signed on to an amicus brief, filed in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, designed to block President Trump’s executive order on immigration. The group includes many technology firms and some very well-known companies—Facebook, Google, Intel, Apple, Netflix, Levi Stauss & Co., Uber, Airbnb, and Chobani.

The court filing makes a powerful argument about the role of immigrants in American life, their contributions to innovation, and their importance in the growth and development of “some of the country’s most innovative and iconic companies”.

Tom O’Guinn, a professor of marketing at the Wisconsin School of Business has made the case that companies sometimes need to get ahead of issues and identify themselves with a cause they consider important. In an interview with Wisconsin Public Radio last month, he stated;

“What marketers want is to create brand loyalty and brand loyalty isn’t just repeat purchases. It’s where you form an emotional bond that changes how you process information. Most companies now believe you are better off to take a stand to make 10 million people really happy with you and create long-term loyalty than to take no stand and have 50 million feel neutral about you.”

In the case of dealing with a new President, it may seem counterintuitive for executives to take this kind of action now, essentially putting themselves in the crosshairs of a White House that has not been shy about attacking critics. But on an issue that is central to the operations of these companies—being able to recruit a diverse, talented workforce from around the globe—engagement can have a powerful impact. And if they believe a significant number of their customers will understand their position, all the more reason to step into the debate and take a stand.

The first weeks of the Trump administration have been a maelstrom of activity and controversy. Companies need to understand that this kind of chaos creates danger and can lead to unintended outcomes. It can also create opportunities to send effective messages that will build brand loyalty and positively impact the bottom line.


The Surprising Value of “The Big Short”

I grudgingly went to see “The Big Short” tonight, believing I wasn’t going to like it for making heroes out of a group of people who profited from the global financial meltdown of 2008.

Sure the movie focuses on a handful of guys who saw the danger in mortgage-backed securities coming and chose to bet against the American economy. I expected Hollywood would turn this into a tale of some wacky, financial industry mischief-makers who gleefully took advantage of the system with no harm/no foul for the rest of us. (While Ryan Gosling’s Jared Vennett pretty much falls into that category, he does give voice to some of the most unpleasant truths about the real-world impacts of the crisis.)

My favorite part of this movie is that it spelled out the lunacy of no one going to jail for this nonsense. It laid it out on the line by speaking the fundamental truth that drives each generation of Wall Street robber barons—when it all goes to hell, don’t worry. We’ll blame it on the immigrants and the poor (and in this case, for the first time, the teachers).

To this day, I never cease to be gobsmacked by the number of people who want to blame Barney Frank and Democratic efforts to stop redlining as the real driver of the 2008 financial debacle. As if banks somehow finally caved in to Barney Franks’ awesome power and just started writing mortgages to anyone he sent their way.

Umm, no. Banks started writing mortgages to anyone with a pulse because they found a way to make money off it. Poor lending practices were not the result of imposed do-gooderism on the industry. They were the result of complex, largely unregulated securities created by Wall Street that ended up dominating the balance sheets of too many big banks.

So you may hear some crackpot running this rap about Democrats strong-arming banks into giving poor people mortgages. It usually comes when they are attacking financial regulation or blasting Elizabeth Warren for being too tough on the banks and trying to pretend that the 2008 collapse was about something other than Wall Street malfeasance. When you do, mention this movie or to the original book of the same name by Michael Lewis. If they’ve seen it and are still peddling such nonsensical arguments, there’s no hope, so it’s best to just move on. But if they haven’t seen it, maybe there’s a chance for a teachable moment.

Because if nothing else, “The Big Short” takes the story that was so compellingly told in the documentary “Inside Job” and lays it out in a more digestible, entertainment product. Maybe, just maybe, we can learn something from this mess.

Deflategate and the Scourge of Modern Journalism

CMOpoC2WcAIKyJ7Before stuff gets real again for Sheriff Roger Goodell and yet another court hands him yet another reminder that he is not quite the master of his NFL domain, I wanted to pose a question about one element of “Deflategate” that has really bothered me.

Why won’t Chris Mortensen torch his source?

Or—to offer what should be a less heretical alternative for those in the media who can’t imagine a world where reporters actually do their readers a favor and release the names of sources who lie to them (and us)—why doesn’t he publicly commit to never using that source again?

Because what we have here in this little episode is, I think, a perfect example of what’s wrong with America’s media.

For those unfamiliar with Mortensen’s unique role in the Deflategate fiasco, it was the ESPN football reporter’s January 21, 2015 story which pretty much turned some garden variety kvetching from the Indianapolis Colts front office in the wake of another post-season thrashing at the hands of the New England Patriots into a full-blown scandal. This particular Mort report relied on unnamed “league sources” to offer the bombshell that 11 of the Patriots’ 12 game balls were “inflated 2 pounds per square inch below what’s required by NFL regulations”.

That single report led to breathless speculation in the run-up to the Super Bowl and a memorable press conference where Patriot QB Tom Brady seemed stunned by the news.

Unfortunately, the whole thing turned out be a load of hooey. Complete nonsense. Utter poppycock. Or, as some Pat fans (like yours truly) like to think, the first of a series of slanderous salvos coming from an NFL front office that doesn’t much like our organization and will do anything to tarnish it.

Today, a federal court judge considering the NFL’s 4-game suspension of one of their marquee players over the incident, pretty much asked Commissioner Goodell’s team of independent legal eagles, “Where’s the damned beef, boys?” In so doing, he pretty much drove a final stake through the heart of Mort’s story and the credibility of the goons running the NFL, who have not had a very good track record when it comes to truly independent people—like judges—taking a look at their disciplinary handiwork.

Which begs the question of why Mort has allowed his reputation as a sports journalist to be tarnished for being such a willing tool of such willful liars in the NFL front office. He recently ducked out of an appearance on Boston sports radio’s WEEI, after one of his colleagues went on air and defended Mort as “a pioneer in this industry” and “as good a reporter as there is”. Mort decided to let those words stand rather than be forced into answering tough questions that might leave this particular “pioneer” looking more like a gullible rube getting taken at by a Three Card Monte grifter.

It’s a sad sign of where the modern media has come—and not just the sports media. Modern journalists have come to rely on unnamed sources way consumers have taken to online shopping—something they didn’t have at one point but now can’t seem to live without. And that’s fine.

What’s less than fine is their similar dependency on being first out of the gate with a story, even it proves to a tissue of lies, and on preserving access to the key people they rely on for information. Because that means when a source lies to them, they won’t do anything about it, because burning that source—even for a very good reason—might scare away other potential sources or send them to another, less scrupulous reporter/outlet. Now I happen to think that’s a load of crap, especially in a case like this where we can reasonably assume that the sources feeding Mortensen nonsense were among a few well known NFL front office folks with grudges against the Patriots. Burning the folks who exposed Mort to ridicule and have caused people to question his journalistic standards would be fair play, an understandable response to people who were happy to feed him garbage to advance their own agendas with no fear of any consequences.

But let’s assume the terror of doing anything that might offend potential unnamed sources and risk losing out on the next big story is preventing Mort from taking such action. Why in the name of Joe Montana’s perfect spirals can’t he at least come out and say, “I know who fed me this crap, and my audience can rest assured that I will not be relying on these individuals again for information or granting them anonymity, as they have violated the right to that protection after feeding me false information.”?

Wouldn’t it be liberating? Wouldn’t it be a commitment to avoid the journalistic malpractice which has caused people to question his credibility? Shouldn’t it be standard operating procedure in this kind of circumstance?

Mort could become a journalistic trendsetter, showing the way for outlets like the New York Times, which  recently took it on the chin for getting fed some nonsense about an alleged Justice Department criminal probe into the Hilary Clinton emails…a probe that wasn’t happening anywhere but in the fevered imaginations of some Republican House members.

Unfortunately, being first and having a steady gravy train of information, even if it proves to be laughably unreliable, seems to be Mort’s top priority and journalists across the board. And it’s not doing us any favors…as sports fans, as consumers of information, or even as a country.

Uber Doesn’t Have a PR Problem–It Has a Corporate Culture Problem

As a public relations professional, I’m in a number of LinkedIn groups for PR/communications practitioners and every time a corporate scandal pops up, I see the inevitable posts about what the company could have done to avoid their problem or what they should do to get out of the mess.

Quite often, I feel like offering up a comment along the lines that in some cases there’s nothing to be done in some cases because some people/companies aren’t well-positioned to  project a positive public image or can’t be bothered to do so.

The latest flap over Uber and the comments of senior executive Emil Michael–who chose to opine at a well-attended dinner event last Friday night that it would be a neat idea for the company to hire an opposition research team to dig up dirt on journalists as a means of fighting negative press–exemplify this notion.  He suggested they could look into “your personal lives, your families” as a means of going after media critics.  The words seemed particularly targeted at reporter Sarah Lacy of PandoDaily who had accused the company of “sexism and misogyny” and previously included them in an “asshole roll call” of Silicon Valley companies.

Here is perhaps the most disturbing nugget of Ben Smith’s story on Buzzfeed’s which broke the story on Michael’s unique approach to PR strategy:

“Then he returned to the opposition research plan. Uber’s dirt-diggers, Michael said, could expose Lacy. They could, in particular, prove a particular and very specific claim about her personal life.  

Michael at no point suggested that Uber has actually hired opposition researchers, or that it plans to. He cast it as something that would make sense, that the company would be justified in doing.”

Yeah, right.  Why come out and say you are actually doing something like that when simply threatening to do it and clearly stating you would have no problem doing it are probably good enough to do the trick in terms of making some reporters think twice before taking a shot at your company?

Let me just stop here for a second and offer up what should be a fairly obvious lesson to all the tough-talking execs out there who like to take their macho swagger out for a public trot every once in a blue moon.

If you or your company are being accused of frat-boy/bully boy tactics and it’s being suggested that you have a problem with how you treat women, a significant portion of your customer base, then maybe…just maybe…and remember, I’m only spitballing here…but maybe you should be a little less thin-skinned and not feel compelled to lash out a female reporter in a manner which pretty much confirms everything she said and turns a one-day story into an ongoing nightmare.

But if you are not capable of it, if your entire business model is based on a thuggish/”us against the world”/destroy our enemies” ethos, maybe there’s not a whole lot sensible PR people can do for you.

Just look at Uber’s response to the Buzzfeed story.  First, Michael tried to insist it was an off-the-record, private comment, even though it was made to a room full of people who apparently didn’t sign anything or offer a blood oath.  (As if the idea of breaking that supposed off-the-record code was somehow worse than what he actually said,  Priceless.)  Then they trotted out the guy who brought Ben Smith to the dinner, the USA Today‘s Michael Wolff, to say Smith hadn’t reported the words in their proper context.  Suffice to say, I don’t think Wolff’s attempt to gussy up Michael’s comments are very convincing, although I guess it does show the value of offering up free dinners to members of the media.

And then they hit the Trifecta of Stupid, when Ashton Kutcher hit Twitter to give his thumbs up to the idea of attacking “shady reporters” like Lacy.  Without bothering to mention he’s an investor in the company.  Yeah, thanks for weighing in, funny man.

It’s one thing to declare war on business competitors and do anything you can to wipe them out.  It happens in business all the time.  But taking that same approach with media people who don’t treat you with the fealty you feel you are entitled to is just plain stupid and symptomatic of a greater problem.

This “crush, kill, destroy” approach to business seems to be in Uber’s DNA and is clearly infecting their public relations.  Because when you say indefensible things in public, you need to take immediate action to fix the problem.  The weak string of Tweets from Uber’s CEO denouncing Michael’s remarks don’t cut it, especially since there is no indication he will in any way be punished for his remarks.  (OK, you don’t want to fire the guy because he’s indispensable?  How about a month off without pay to get his head around the fact that he can’t be stupid in public?)

Maybe Lacy was onto something.  Maybe the bad-boy culture of Uber has fostered a recklessness and arrogance that can’t be contained or simply targeted on the company’s competitors.  When a senior executive can talk about smearing reporters and suffer no consequences, there’s no way that attitude doesn’t work it’s way down the food chain.  Maybe the only thing that will change it is if enough people delete the Uber app from their phone, as Lacy did.  That may be the only kind of reckoning these folks understand.

And let me share one other wild thought.  In a roomful of media people, why was there only one reporter willing to call out Michael for his absurd and offensive comments?  Did they get the message he was sending and figure silence was better than incurring the wrath of Uber?  Or did they merely think it would be unseemly to bite the hand that fed them that night?

Roger Goodell’s Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Week Isn’t Going to Get Any Better Soon

“Where is Richard Nixon, now that we need him? He was crooked in every way and his hands were covered with blood — but he was a rabid, high-rolling football fan with a sly taste for gin; and on some nights, he could be good company.”

                                                                        – Hunter S. Thompson


nixon012813-jpg_230826It’s hard not to think of Richard Nixon and his fondness for football now that the NFL is in the middle of a very serious scandal involving the punishment of a player who got caught on videotape violently striking his girlfriend and dragging her unconscious out of an elevator.

After all, people are asking “What did he know and when did he know it?” of the league’s commissioner, Roger Goodell. And the NFL seems to have it’s own Rosemary Woods in a woman from the front office who left a voicemail for a law enforcement official acknowledging the receipt of a particularly damaging piece of videotape in the case—a piece of videotape which, in a highly-publicized interview with CBS’ Nora O’Donnell this week, Goodell said he had no knowledge of and no one in his office had seen.

From a public relations perspective, Goodell’s behavior in this matter has been a disaster from the get-go. On February 15th of this year, Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice assaulted his then-fiancée (now wife) Janay Palmer in the elevator of a casino in Atlantic City. Both were arrested that night on simple assault charges. A few days later, videotape appeared of Rice dragging an unconscious Palmer out of the elevator and leaving her on the ground.

That footage alone should have warranted significant action by the NFL and the Baltimore Ravens. Instead, the Ravens waited for the NFL to act and Goodell stepped in it by dishing out mere 2 game suspension for Rice, despite a police report that made clear he hit Palmer in the elevator and at least two reports by respected NFL reporters which said that NFL sources told them they had seen the videotape of what happened inside the elevator and it “was not pretty”, with Rice striking Palmer who then fell and hit her head on a railing.

Goodell was roundly criticized for dishing out such a weak penalty. But there were no calls for his resignation, no demands for him to do more.

Which is why it’s strange that on August 28th, Goodell came out and basically admitted he “didn’t get it right” with the Rice punishment and announced a revamped domestic violence policy for the NFL, imposing a 6 game suspension for a first-time offense and a lifetime ban for a second offense. Call me a conspiracy theorist, but I have a funny feeling Goodell knew something bad was coming down the pike and he knew he had to get it front of it and this was his effort to do that.

That “something bad” hit Monday, when TMZ released the videotape from the inside of the elevator that February night, showing Rice brutally knocking his fiancée out cold.

Goodell rushed out to give an interview with CBS’ Nora O’Donnell in which he denied knowledge of the tape’s existence and said no one in the NFL front office had seen it. In so doing, he basically blamed law enforcement in New Jersey for refusing multiple requests from the NFL to get a copy of the tape.

It didn’t take very long for an unnamed law enforcement source to blow that story straight to hell by going to the Associated Press and reveal the NFL was given a copy of the tape. The law enforcement official even had the recording of a 12-second voicemail from an NFL office number where a female voice expresses thanks for video being sent in and says, “You’re right. It’s terrible.”

Goodell’s credibility is in tatters. Even before the AP story hit, no one believed he didn’t know about the second videotape because the NFL has a well-deserved reputation for having a very effective security apparatus, composed of former law enforcement officials with strong contacts in that community. Even if NFL officials hadn’t been given a chance to see the video, it strains the limits of credulity to think there were no back-channel communications going on, no “wink, wink, nudge, nudge” conversations taking place where law enforcement officials were quietly making friends and or former colleagues in the NFL front office aware of what happened in that elevator.

It doesn’t help that Carolina Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy is slated to play again this weekend, as he did last weekend, after being convicted of domestic violence last July. Since he’s appealing the case, it’s as if nothing happened. It’s as if he didn’t threaten to kill his ex-girlfriend. Or pick her up and throw her into a tub. Or drag her out and then throw her onto a couch filled with his stash of rifles and guns.

And then there’s Adrian Peterson.

The National Organization for Women has already called for Goodell to be fired. And he should be. But it shouldn’t stop there. The male-dominated power structure of the NFL has responded to the issue of domestic violence abominably. In the Ray Rice case, the legal system didn’t do much better. Law enforcement had both tapes—Rice dragging his fiancée out of the elevator and knocking her cold in it. First offense or not, the actions on both of those tapes deserved more than a pretrial intervention program, a program whose own website claims is meant to be used in cases that are either “victimless crimes” or don’t involve violence.

A spokesman for the Atlantic County prosecutor’s office in New Jersey had this to say when asked about the disposition of Rice’s case:

“Mr. Rice received the same treatment by the criminal justice system in Atlantic City that any first-time offender has, in similar circumstances.”

If that’s true, we have a problem that clearly goes well beyond the NFL. Here’s hoping the spotlight shown on the issue of domestic violence by this case will lead to changes that don’t stop with Goodell losing his job.  Because those of us who read the horrible stories about how the Massachusetts legal system failed Jennifer Martel by putting a serial abuser like Jared Remy back on the street again and again after numerous episodes of brutality know that there aren’t many happy endings when it comes to domestic violence.

The Raimondo Portfolio: There Aren’t Many RI Moms Investing in This Stuff

You would think a General Treasurer who went down the path of socially conscious investing by deciding to have the state pension fund divest from gun distributors might be asked about her own personal investment strategy and whether she avoids supporting morally questionable activities with her stock purchases.

Or you might imagine a candidate for Governor who decided her image needed help and chose to highlight her “regular mom” status, Tweeting a favorite meatloaf recipe and filming a political spot featuring her and the kids biking around Providence, might get a bit of scrutiny if her investment portfolio featured some companies most Rhode Island moms wouldn’t support.

You’d be wrong.

Gina Raimondo’s ethics filings for 2009 and 2010 provide a detailed listing of more than 55 companies that Raimondo and husband Andrew Moffit have holdings in, along with more than 25 companies Raimondo has invested in on her own. (According to the report, the holdings must meet a threshold of a “10% or greater ownership interest or a $5,000 or greater ownership or investment interest”.)

Gradually, that transparent view of the Raimondo portfolio begins to slowly vanish. In the 2011 filing, the joint holdings are still listed out, but Raimondo’s individual holdings are listed as being in a blind trust, with interest income of not more than $1,000. And in the 2012 filing, the listing of joint holdings disappeared, with Raimondo reporting only a blind trust, with income described as capital gains in the $200,001 to $500,000 range. (Interestingly enough, Raimondo chose to dump interest income from Point Judith Capital into a blind trust in 2012 as well.) By 2013, the blind trusts disappear entirely from the filing, apparently because they generated no income.

The change in reporting style apparently helped to stifle any questions that might be raised about the kind of places Raimondo parks her money. Which is a good thing, because some of the more notable holdings in her portfolio can most charitably be called not very mom-like. These include investments in:

  • foreign tobacco companies that target young people, distributing samples and creating candy and fruit flavored cigarettes;
  • mining companies involved in gang rape, mass killings and forced evictions to displace indigenous populations;
  • an Indian bank accused of inhumane collections methods and engaging in illegal money-laundering; and
  • a French bank hit with billions in fines for doing business with countries facing US sanctions, such as Sudan and Iran.

Here’s a more detailed run-down on some of her holdings. I haven’t researched every company that showed up on the 2009-2011 ethics filings, so there may be some even more interesting information to found. I would encourage interested persons to have at it. Because on this day, when Raimondo is trotting out campaign surrogates who should know better to insist that Gina isn’t working for Wall Street and that Angel Taveras is a big meanie for saying so, it’s worth taking a close look at her substantial portfolio and the investment choices she has made.

At the end of this campaign cycle, the Big Con of the Raimondo campaign may not be her stubborn refusal to ignore the fact that her signature accomplishment in public life, the so-called “pension reform” law, could be declared invalid by a court, putting us back at square with millions in legal fees down the drain. Instead, it may be Gina Raimondo’s shrill insistence—after taking gobs of campaign money from the John Arnolds and Pete Petersons of the world along with a vast range of financial firms and the lawyers who represent them, after ramping up the state pension fund’s exposure to hedge funds and essentially transferring the savings generated by “pension reform” to shadowy money managers and after investing her own money in companies engaged in morally questionable activities—that she’s just a regular Rhode Island mom and not at all interested in serving the interests of Wall Street.



“A BBC investigation has found that a British tobacco company is actively targeting young people and teenagers in Africa.”

“The companies insist they only give the samples to adult smokers, but there’s evidence their own rules are not being followed.”


“It has been in publications with a high readership among young people, and they have had candy and fruit flavours that are attractive to this age group. A very important source for the tobacco industries growth is to target children, and they know it,” Cunningham said.

BARRICK GOLD CORP (2009, 2010)

“Bonasso reproduces heart wrenching storied of gang rape by Barrick’s security guards for the Porgera Mine in Papua New Guinea, mass killings and forced evictions of entire communities and small mining workers being buried alive to force and accommodate Barrick’s operations in projects in Tanzania, which replaced nearly 400,000 local small miners, with a mere few hundred Barrick jobs. Munk allegedly said to a Canadian news source, in relation to the rapes in the South Pacific by Barrick’s security guards, dismissing the event lightly, “Gang rape is a cultural habit”.”

Al Gore has dumped financial backing from controversial Canadian mining company Barrick Gold for his upcoming Santiago event “Global Warming and Climate Change: The Time Has Come to Act.” The Academy Award-winning environmentalist distanced himself from any association with the mining company, which owns the controversial Pascua Lama gold mine.

“Unfortunately, we were never asked to approve Barrick Gold as a cosponsor and as soon as we became aware that they were co sponsors, we asked that they be removed,” Gore’s press spokesperson Kalee Kreider told The Santiago Times. “I was informed that they were removed yesterday.”


“Safety is not being given the priority it demands,” the Congress of South African Trade Unions, the country’s biggest Labor federation, said in an e-mailed statement, calling for an end to the “carnage which is still taking place.”

Petroleo Brasileiro SA ADR – Petrobras (2009, 2010, 2011)

Furthermore, Petrobras was among the energy companies accused of pushing “uncontacted” indigenous tribes to extinction in Peru and Ecuador. Indigenous communities are allegedly being driven into remote areas of the Amazon jungle to make way for oil and gas activities that are destroying the ecosystems on which these vulnerable communities depend.

POSCO ADR (2009, 2010, 2011)

Last week, a United Nations expert panel issued a harsh report expressing concern over the construction of a $12 billion steel project in Odisha, India, financed by the South Korean steel conglomerate POSCO. The project reportedly threatens to forcibly displace over 22,000 people and disrupt the livelihoods of many thousands more. The forests and fields now claimed by the Indian government to build the sprawling project have long been occupied by locals, who rely on the land for their livelihoods.


The decision-making process surrounding the CNOOC-Nexen deal lacked transparency, and was devoid of the consultation mandated in cases of foreign takeovers. The considerations on which the decision was based were essentially of an economic character. Human rights considerations do not appear to have been factored into the decision at all.

Hutchison Whampoa Ltd ADR (Hong Kong)

Li’s connections to the Chinese government and military are well documented. Trent Lott, in fact, called Li Ka-shing’s company, Hutchison Whampoa, an “arm of the PLA [People’s Liberation Army].” Documents from U.S. embassies all over the world have shown that Li: helped the PLA finance communication networks, accepted $400 million from the Chinese government for Hutchison Whampoa, and entered a real estate deal with Chinese president Jiang Zemin. U.S. Commerce Department documents show Li owns 25 percent of a firm run by the Chinese air force and one-third of Asiasat, which is owned in part by the Chinese army.

ICICI Bank (2009, 2010, 2011) 

Inhuman debt recovery methods

A few years after its rise to prominence in the banking sector, ICICI bank faced allegations on the recovery methods it used against loan payment defaulters. A number of cases were filed against the bank and its employees for using “brutal measures” to recover the money. Most of the allegations were that the bank was using goons to recover the credit card payments and that these “recovery agents” exhibited inappropriate and in some cases, inhuman behavior. Incidents were reported wherein the defaulters were put to “public shame” by the recovery agents.

The bank also faced allegations of inappropriate behavior in recovering its loans. These allegations started initially when the “recovery agents” and bank employees started threatening the defaulters. In some cases, notes written by the bank’s employees asking the defaulters to “sell everything in the house including family members”, were found. Such charges faced by the bank rose to a peak when suicide cases were reported wherein the suicide notes spoke of the Bank’s recovery methods as the cause of the suicide. This led to a lot of legal battles and the bank paying huge compensations.[70][71][72]

Money laundering allegations

ICICI Bank was one of the leading Indian banks accused of blatant money laundering through violation of RBI guidelines in the famous CobraPost[73] sting operation which shook up Indian banking industry during April–May 2013.[74]

On 14 March 2013 the online magazine Cobrapost released video footage from Operation Red Spider showing high-ranking officials and some employees of ICICI Bank agreeing to convert black money into white, an act in violation of Money Laundering Control Act. The Government of India and Reserve Bank of India ordered an inquiry following the exposé. On 15 March 2013, ICICI Bank suspended 18 employees, pending inquiry.[6][7][8] On 11 April 2013 Deputy Governor of RBI, H R Khan reportedly told that the central bank is initiating action against ICICI Bank in connection with allegations of money laundering.[9][10]

BNP Paribas (2009, 2010, 2011)

BNP Paribas was hit with a record $8.9B fine for doing business with countries that face US sanctions, such as Sudan and Iran. The French bank pled guilty to criminal charges and state and federal authorities called the bank the worst offender of several which had settled cases. The wrong-doing was significant in scope, ranging from 2002-2012, when American regulators were already investigating such violations.

RIO TINTO (2009, 2010, 2011)

A British and Australian multinational corporation in metals and mining. The Government of Norway divested itself from Rio Tinto shares and banned further investment due to concerns about damage to the environment done by the company’s operations, most notably the Grasbert mine in Indonesia. There have also been labor and safety issues raised about Rio Tinto’s operations. In January of 2010, the company locked out nearly 600 workers from a mine in Boron, CA after they rejected a contract proposal claiming it would scrap their seniority system and allow Rio Tinto to hire non-union employees. (The workers were represented by the International Longshore and Warehouse Union.

The 38 Studios Bond Debate and RI’s Rip Van Winkles

In watching the ongoing debate over repaying the controversial 38 Studios bonds, I’m getting more and more disgusted over the efforts to frame this discussion a matter of intellect/common sense vs. emotion/unchecked anger. It’s the kind of insulting and condescending nonsense that got us into trouble in the first place.

After all, when the initial 38 Studios deal was rammed through the legislature, the self-appointed adults in the room (legislative leaders, the Governor, lawyers and financial experts) all argued that the responsible thing to do was make this strong investment in Rhode Island’s economic future, to be bold and visionary and do what was needed to create jobs. Those who dared raise concerns about handing over $75M in loan guarantees to one company, in an industry with a high failure rate being run by a CEO with no business experience, were dismissed as engaging in hysterical political attacks. They were holding our state back because of their unwillingness to trust the state’s political leadership.

You’d think just four years later, we might be a little more careful about trusting the people pushing for repayment of the 38 Studios bonds when their argument can best be boiled down to “trust what the rating agencies are telling us to do.”

I don’t know where these Rip Van Winkles were in late 2008, early 2009 when the global economy was on the brink of a financial meltdown. But those of us who were awake and paying attention can’t help but remember the central role those rating agencies played in that financial crisis. Standard & Poor’s, Moody’s and Fitch all managed to give great ratings to some of the worst financial products the financial marketplace had ever seen. I’m talking about the mortgage-backed securities products–the SIVs, CDOs and other vehicles–which they happily advised state pension funds and other investors to go whole hog on.

Guess what happened? When the housing market collapsed, a range of institutional investors were left holding worthless products because the underlying mortgages weren’t worth the paper they were printed on. Banks were issuing mortgages to anyone with a pulse so they could turn around and feed Wall Street’s demand for more crap mortgages to shovel into bad financial products.

But it was more than just bad judgment. The Big Three rating agencies were also exposed as having cozy relationships with the firms whose products they were rating. They came out of the 2008-2009 debacle bruised, bloodied and having all the credibility of a con artist running a boardwalk Three Card Monte table.

(And let’s not forget, those same rating agencies happily gave their blue ribbon seal of approval to the 38 Studios bonds in 2010, essentially telling their marks to pay no attention to the company’s lack of capital and the fact that 3 out of 4 candidates for Governor in Rhode Island that year were threatening to scrap or revisit the state’s investment.)

Despite their horrific track record, the Big Three are now being treated as the voices of reason by the pro-bond repayment crowd. Rhode Islanders are being told to take their threats seriously and to dutifully shout “How high?” when these guys with red noses and big floppy shoes order our state to jump.

I’ve got some advice for anyone who wants to play “serious thinker” and insist that we must listen to people with a track record of abject failure. Go pick up a copy of Matt Taibbi’s “Griftopia” or watch “Inside Job”. Understand that the rap you are running now was discredited by the reality of the 2008-09 financial crisis. Worshipping at the altar of Wall Street credibility may get politicians some nice campaign contributions and it might give consultants and pundits the chance to act like they are the voice of reason. But those of us who weren’t taking nap during the financial crisis know that you are either being played or are playing us.

And I think Rhode Islanders are tired of being treated like easy marks.