Saturday, October 3, 2015

Slow Saturday Special: Hunger at Harvard

Unbelievable, I know, but the Globe left empty a spot on the plate:

"Harvard professor failed to disclose connection" by Laura Krantz Globe Staff  October 01, 2015

A Harvard Kennedy School professor wrote a widely disseminated policy paper last year in support of genetically modified organisms at the behest of seed giant Monsanto, without disclosing his connection, e-mails show.

So? Harvard doesn't consider that a conflict of interest and noteworthy of reporting.

Monsanto not only suggested the topic to professor Calestous Juma. It went so far as to provide a summary of what the paper could say and a suggested headline. The company then connected the professor with a marketing company to pump it out over the Internet as part of Monsanto’s strategy to win over the public and lawmakers, according to e-mails obtained through a public records request.

In other words, the professor just signed off on it all in his name. 

And you wonder why I don't gobble up $elf-$erving reports coming from the ivory towers of Harvard, the training ground for tomorrow's future oppressors??

Juma, an international development specialist, said he was not paid by Monsanto. He used material from his previously published book on the topic, he said, and did not perform new research for the company nor change his views.

“It’s not that I was trying to hide anything,” Juma said Wednesday in an interview.

The episode offers a rare glimpse into efforts by both sides in the hotly debated issue to marshal support from academics, to whom the public looks for impartial analysis.

A spokesman for the Kennedy School declined to comment on Juma’s failure to disclose his ties to Monsanto. Harvard’s conflict of interest policy states “faculty members should not permit outside activities and financial interests to compromise their primary commitment to the mission of the university.”

Juma said he did not make a conscious effort not to disclose his connection to Monsanto.

Say that again.

“It may have been bad judgment on my part, but that’s how I was thinking at the time,’’ he said.

And that's that, no biggie.

“The whole thing comes down to, in the end, a concern about whether there is inappropriate influence from the company,” said Josephine Johnston, a researcher at the Hastings Center, a nonprofit research organization in Garrison, N.Y.

Proponents of genetically modified organisms say they can help solve world hunger because crops produce higher yields and need less pesticide and fertilizer.

Actually, the yields are less. That is why Indian farmers forced to use Monsanto seed are committing suicide.

Opponents say GMOs may be harmful to human health and are responsible for creating “super weeds” that adapt to withstand the powerful herbicides used on GMO crops.

Some say they are the factor behind the collapse of honey bee colonies throughout the United States as well as the decimation of bat populations, but you never mind. Go fill up on food.

The episode involving Juma began in August 2013, when he along with eight other professors received an e-mail from Eric Sachs, head of regulatory policy and scientific affairs for Monsanto.

“This will be an important project and is designed to lead to increased engagement on critical topics that are barriers to broader use and acceptance of [genetically modified] crops globally,” Sachs wrote.

They have to force it down your throat with a sugar coating.

He went on to describe a series of seven papers he asked the professors to author.

“I understand and appreciate that you need me to be completely transparent and I am keenly aware that your independence and reputations must be protected,” Sachs wrote.

His e-mail lays out the agribusiness giant’s strategy. A marketing company would “merchandize” the papers online, disseminate them to the media, and schedule op-eds, blog posts, speaking engagements, and webinars.

Monsanto suggested the research paper assigned to Juma be headlined “Consequences of Rejecting GM crops.” In December 2014, Juma published “Global Risks of Rejecting Agricultural Biotechnology,” on the website of the Genetic Literacy Project.

Juma said he viewed the invitation to write the paper as he would an invitation to speak at a conference. The Kenya native said he often speaks with industry officials on all sides of the GMO debate but has never been a paid consultant.

“I consider GMOs as actually a small part of what it takes an agricultural system to function,” he said.


At least some at Harvard are eating good.

As ye sow, so shall ye reap (be sure to water those):

"Residents soon began complaining about the water’s smell and taste, and some reported rashes, hair loss, and other health concerns."

At least they aren't Cleveland:

"A 5-month-old girl Thursday became the city’s third fatal shooting of a child over the last four weeks."

That city really needs a hero.

Would you like to meet the kitchen staff that cooked the meal?

"Teamsters Local 25 members facing federal extortion charges tied to ‘Top Chef’ production" by Milton J. Valencia and Andrew Ryan Globe Staff  September 30, 2015

Four members of a local Teamsters union were indicted Wednesday on federal extortion charges, accused of harassing and intimidating a television show production crew with what US Attorney Carmen Ortiz called “old school thug tactics’’ that reflected “poorly on our city.’’

The members of Teamsters Local 25 were charged with conspiracy and extortion related to their encounters in the spring of 2014 with members of the “Top Chef” staff — including host Padma Lakshmi — while the popular Bravo network cooking show was taping in the Boston area.

Teamsters allegedly warned the show’s producers that they would picket any event in which the crew did not hire union drivers. And when the Top Chef crew attempted to tape an episode at Steel and Rye restaurant in Milton in June 2014, they were allegedly threatened by Teamster members, who “chest-bumped” the Top Chef staff, who were using a nonunion crew.

“The defendants yelled profanities and racial and homophobic slurs at the crew and others,” prosecutors said in an indictment filed in federal court in Boston. They also “blocked vehicles from the entryway to the set and used actual physical violence and threats of physical violence to try and prevent people from entering the set.”

The food show’s staff also reported that their car tires were slashed, authorities said.

“Top Chef” had originally planned to film at a Boston venue. But, according to the indictment, an unnamed official from Mayor Martin J. Walsh’s administration called two venues — a Boston restaurant and a hotel — and said that, if they hosted the film crew, the union would picket the site. The calls resulted in the venues, identified in the indictment as Omni Parker House and Menton, canceling preplanned events with the television show.

Walsh is a former labor leader, and unions, including the Teamsters, generously supported his campaign for mayor. While serving as a state representative in 2011, he was named head of the Boston Building Trades, an umbrella group that represents unions of ironworkers, electricians, and Local 25. Walsh was paid $175,000 a year, according to records.

Bit much, wasn't it?

Walsh resigned from the post to run for mayor in 2013, the year before the Teamsters’ alleged extortion of “Top Chef” staff. The show was not named in the indictment, though the events at Steel and Rye were publicly reported at the time they occurred.

Walsh initially refused to discuss the indictment or his administration’s relationship with the union Wednesday morning, but he later told reporters that he went on the television show, and that the city granted the permits the show requested.

Walsh appeared on “Top Chef’s” first episode of the season, on Oct. 15, four months after the filming at Steel and Rye.

“If these allegations turn out to be true, then I’m very disappointed by it,” the mayor said. He said he did not know who from his office would have called the restaurants warning of the protests.

“There’s an ongoing case now, clearly,” the mayor said. “There were indictments made today. We’re going to see as we move forward. If we need to be cooperative in any matter, we’re certainly going to be.”

The union members who were arrested Wednesday are Mark Harrington, 61, of Andover, who is the local’s secretary-treasurer; John Fidler, 51, of Holbrook; Daniel Redmond, 47, of Medford; and Robert Cafarelli, 45, of Middleton.

Harrington, Redmond, and Cafarelli pleaded not guilty at a brief court hearing Wednesday and were released on $50,000 unsecured bond. Fidler, who has a criminal record, is slated to appear in court Thursday, and prosecutors are seeking to keep him detained pending trial.

A fifth man was arrested, but the case against was him dismissed after federal authorities realized he was charged in a case of mistaken identity. They are still pursing a fifth person in the extortion case.

Lawyers for Redmond, Cafarelli, and Fidler would not comment Wednesday.

Robert Goldstein, an attorney for Harrington, said that his client “is innocent.”

“The only conduct in which he engaged in is to exercise his lawful right to protest a company that was not maintaining area standards for wages and benefits,” Goldstein said.

According to the indictment, Local 25 leaders confronted the producers of “Top Chef” and demanded that they hire Teamsters while they were filming in Greater Boston.

Harrington allegedly told crew members that “he did not care about [the television crew] and that all he cared about was that some of his guys get hired on the show,” according to the indictment.

“Harrington and another official warned the producer that if [the show] did not make a deal with Local 25, they would start to follow them and picket.”

At Steel and Rye, the members allegedly threatened the crew, including Lakshmi, the host, with one Teamster allegedly screaming at her, “We’re gonna bash that pretty face in,” you [expletive] whore,” according to press accounts at the time.

Labor representatives said then that members were legally protesting the show’s use of nonunion workers. A representative from Local 25 could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

In a statement, Ortiz said, “A group of rogue Teamsters employed old-school thug tactics to get no-work jobs from an out of town production company.”

She added, “This kind of conduct reflects poorly on our city and must be addressed for what it is — not union organizing, but criminal extortion.”

That's what happens when you are hungry.

The Charlestown-based Teamsters Local 25 has had a historically volatile relationship with Hollywood, according to Boston Globe archives.

And last year, two members of Boston-based Teamsters Local 82 — which was merged into Local 25 because of organizational disputes — were convicted of racketeering for rigging elections and intimidating business owners.

Meanwhile, Teamsters Local 25 has built a politically powerful base. In 2013, the group donated $14,999 to Walsh’s mayoral campaign.

Other checks have included $1,500 to former state representative Eugene O’Flaherty, who is now a top adviser to Walsh at City Hall, and $1,500 to Felix G. Arroyo, a former city councilor whom Walsh hired as chief of health and human services.

Also, in the last year the union has given each of Boston’s 13 City Council members a $500 donation.

The Massachusetts Republican Party issued a statement Wednesday urging city officials to return any contributions they received from the union. But many balked.

“Councilor [Ayanna] Pressley views the alleged actions of the rogue group of Teamsters as repugnant,’’ said James Chisholm, the councilor’s campaign and communications manager. But, he added, “At this point, so early in the process and with no indication of involvement from anyone other than this rogue group of five individuals among Local 25’s 11,000 members, Councilor Pressley does not plan to return the recent donations.”

Councilor Bill Linehan, of South Boston, said in a statement he is waiting for further details on the indictments.

“At this time, I do not plan to return the contribution Local 25 gave my campaign,’’ Linehan said. “A portion of this contribution stems from union dues generated by the hard-working men and women of Local 25, which is greatly appreciated.”

This as he tries to get a raise from the city.


"Union local’s ‘sordid’ past reprised in ‘Top Chef’ charges" by Shelley Murphy and Travis Andersen Globe Staff  October 01, 2015

When a Hollywood crew arrived in Boston in the late 1970s to film “The Brink’s Job” about a brazen North End robbery dubbed the crime of the century, it was the victim of another hold-up — this one by members of Teamsters Local 25.

Two union job captains ordered the movie company to put fictitious workers on its payroll and mail the checks to the Somerville home of a Local 25 trustee and general organizer. The company quietly paid, but the plot to extort money from that movie company and several others was later exposed, and the men behind it were sent to prison on federal racketeering charges.

It's easier now; they simply get tax checks written to them by government.

On Wednesday, a federal indictment accuses four members of the same Charlestown-based union with threatening and harassing the “Top Chef” staff while the popular reality show was filming in Greater Boston. It is the latest chapter in the union’s checkered history of dealing with Hollywood.

The indictment alleges that Local 25 members shouted profanities and racial and homophobic slurs at the show’s crew, slashed the tires on their cars, and threatened to stop production because the show hired non-union drivers. The members are charged with attempted extortion.

I'm sorry, readers, but I'm full up.

Robert M. Bloom, a Boston College law professor and former prosecutor, said that while the Teamsters may have “a history of doing spotty things,” the government does not frequently bring indictments against unions.

“Obviously, unions are important to elections and one way to not get the union support is to go after them criminally,” he said. “The decision to go after a union in a criminal way is obviously a legal decision, but politics enters the equation.”

US Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz, whose office brought the new case against the four Teamsters, is not an elected official, She serves at the pleasure of President Obama, who nominated her in 2009.

The president of Local 25, Sean M. O’Brien, could not be reached for comment Wednesday, but acknowledged in a 2011 Globe interview that the union “had a sordid past in the motion-picture industry.”

However, O’Brien said at the time that he and other local union leaders traveled to Hollywood in an effort to convince the industry that the climate in Massachusetts had improved with the enforcement of a new code of conduct.

The overture by union leaders and state officials had come after decades in which local unions had a reputation for driving up costs on movie sets and adding unnecessary workers to a job.

I'm sure they still do, but now taxpayers pick up that tab.

In recent years, the state, which offers a film and television production tax credit, has been widely successful in luring Hollywood projects to Massachusetts.

For who?

Films that have recently filmed in the state include: “Black Mass,” starring Johnny Depp as James “Whitey” Bulger; “Spotlight,” the Tom McCarthy film about The Boston Globe’s investigation of the Catholic Church sex-abuse scandal; “Ghostbusters,” a remake starring an all-female cast; “The Judge,” starring Robert Downey Jr.; and “The Finest Hours,” about a dramatic rescue by the US Coast Guard off Cape Cod. 

I wonder how much tax loot was needed to pay those star salaries. And Bostonians are upset about how they look because of Bulger.

That success followed decades of tumult, controversy, and criminal allegations involving Local 25.

In 2003, George Cashman, who had billed himself as a reformer for 11 years as the flamboyant and politically powerful president of Local 25, was sentenced to 34 months in prison for swindling the union he vowed to clean up.

He pleaded guilty to extorting a $20,000 kickback from a health care company and falsifying work orders so that 19 ineligible truck drivers — including a Charlestown gangster — could collect union medical benefits.

Was there ever a day you could believe in a union?

In a letter to the judge seeking leniency for Cashman, former Governor William F. Weld credited Cashman with wooing filmmakers back to the state after they had threatened to boycott Massachusetts “on account of corruption problems with the Teamsters.”

Cashman replaced the local Teamsters who had been dealing with the movie industry and personally accompanied Weld to California to meet with studio executives, the former governor said.

In 2001, then-governor Paul Cellucci vowed to make key changes recommended in a state-funded report that criticized him and the Teamsters union for allowing the state to become a “celluloid pariah” in the film industry.

That would have been fine with me; could have saved hundreds of millions of tax dollars.


"‘Top Chef’ indictment triggers City Hall review; Extortion case raises questions" by Andrew Ryan and Milton J. Valencia Globe Staff  October 01, 2015

Mayor Martin J. Walsh hired a former federal corruption prosecutor Thursday as questions persist about his administration’s role in calling targets of an alleged extortion scheme by Teamsters who opposed the use of nonunion workers on the television show “Top Chef.”

Walsh told reporters that Brian T. Kelly will investigate on City Hall’s behalf “to make sure that the city has done everything correctly.” But the mayor did not pledge to make Kelly’s findings public, and his work appears to be exempt from the open records law because of attorney-client privilege.


The federal indictment charging that five Teamsters had harassed and intimidated “Top Chef” producers includes a single line stating that an unidentified member of Walsh’s administration had called a hotel and restaurant to say that union members would picket if the businesses hosted the TV shoot.

No city employees have been charged with a crime. The identity of the City Hall caller has not been publicly disclosed, and Walsh said in a statement Thursday he did not know who called the businesses.

That's why we have an NSA sweeping up all electronic communications. Someone knows who called.

Two people familiar with the investigation identified the caller as Kenneth Brissette, the Walsh administration’s director of tourism, sports, and entertainment. Brissette did not return a phone message seeking comment.


Before being hired by Walsh in April 2014, Brissette worked at the State House, where he ran the Office of Travel and Tourism.

This year, as he was organizing the New England Patriots Super Bowl victory parade, Brissette described his city job as the “minister of fun.”

The indictment’s reference to City Hall is particularly sticky for Walsh, a longtime labor leader who won the mayor’s office with the staunch financial support of Teamsters and other unions.

As a prosecutor, Kelly helped convict gangster James “Whitey” Bulger and headed the public corruption unit in the US attorney’s office. Kelly, now a partner at Nixon Peabody, also prosecuted members of Teamsters Local 25, the union accused in the extortion scheme.

In an interview with the Globe, Kelly said he sees his role “as assisting in an internal review of this matter and assisting the city in its dealings with the federal authorities.”

When asked why the city needed an outside lawyer, he said, “There are serious allegations involved here, and the city is simply being prudent and wants to make sure it gets to the bottom of the situation.”


The crew from “Top Chef,” a Bravo network cooking show, ultimately abandoned plans to tape at the Omni Parker House and the upscale French restaurant Menton, and relocated to a restaurant in Milton, where Teamsters are accused of yelling profanities, hurling racial and homophobic slurs, slashing tires, and making “threats of physical violence to try and prevent people from entering the set.”

Check, please!

The Walsh administration said it granted the production company all requested permits and did nothing to obstruct taping by a nonunion crew. The mayor even tacitly endorsed “Top Chef” by appearing on a segment filmed at the Museum of Science before the incident in Milton.

“This is an awkward moment for the mayor,” said Jeffrey M. Berry, a Tufts University political scientist. “Although there is no smoking gun, the mayor’s office is implicated in behavior that suggests pressure was applied to the Omni Parker House.”

The indictment’s neutral language described phone calls in June 2014 from “a representative from the City of Boston” to the Omni Parker House and Menton, where filming was scheduled the for the next day. The court filing said the city official called “to inform” the establishments they could face a picket line from Local 25.

The indictment’s reference to City Hall was “curious,” said Roger I. Abrams, a labor law specialist and professor at Northeastern Law School. The phone calls did not appear to cross a line, Abrams said, but the sentence mentioning the city official was not included by mistake.

“It’s not superfluous. Normally, those indictments do not contain as we lawyers like to say, ‘mere surpluses,’ ” Abrams said.

The indictment did not reveal the content or tone of the phone calls. It did not say that the unidentified city official exerted pressure. But the end result was clear: The Omni Parker House and Menton told the production company that it was no longer welcome.

“From reading the indictment, it could have been a friendly heads up” about a potential picket line, said Samuel R. Tyler, president of the Boston Municipal Research Bureau, a fiscal watchdog funded by businesses and nonprofit institutions. “Or it could be furthering the interest of a union, which is inappropriate for a public official.”

Susan Moir, executive director of the Labor Resource Center at the University of Massachusetts Boston, described the Omni Parker House as a symbol in the labor movement. The staff is unionized, she said, and for years organized labor has hosted events at the hotel.

“To me, it is not in any way suspicious that someone would let the Parker House know that there was a possible picket line,” said Moir, who was active in Walsh’s mayoral campaign. “That happens all the time.”

Members of Teamsters Local 25 have gone to prison in the past for extorting money from film companies. Still, the local has remained a potent political force, and the mayor is one of many elected officials who have embraced the union.

You guys should have got jobs at a bank.

As a top labor leader, Walsh was paid to advocate on behalf of the Teamsters and other unions. While serving as a state representative, Walsh in 2011 was named head of the Boston Building Trades, an umbrella group representing ironworkers, electricians, and Teamsters Local 25.

Walsh resigned from the building trades’ position in 2013 when he launched his mayoral bid. Teamsters Local 25 donated $14,999 to Walsh’s campaign. Other unions took advantage of a law allowing organized labor to contribute substantially more than individuals.

The fall 2013 edition of Teamsters Local 25’s newsletter “The Spokesman” trumpeted Walsh’s victory. The front of the newsletter carried a large picture of Walsh with his arm around Sean M. O’Brien, the union’s president, who was not named in the indictment.

“Teamsters Local 25 was instrumental in electing our next mayor of Boston, Marty Walsh,” the newsletter read. “Members understood what was at stake during this election, and I think the media’s constant negative portrayal of labor only made us stronger.”

Most modern labor disputes are settled by lawyers who fight in court and not on worksites, said Jake Rosenfeld, a sociology professor at Washington University in St. Louis who wrote the 2014 book “What Unions No Longer Do.” That makes allegations against Local 25 stick out.

“It conjures up images of labor’s unseemly past,” Rosenfeld said. “The stereotypical image of organized labor has proven pretty hard to shake despite the fact that both organized labor’s power and the shenanigans that were pretty commonplace in certain unions in periods past have really just gone away.”

Related: Hoffa

I'm getting all nostalgic.


And just in case you are hungry for more:

Fifth Teamsters member arrested in ‘Top Chef’ case

No place for Teamsters’ thuggish tactics

So what channel is the show on?


Healey defends Teamsters union

Teamsters case casts an unwanted cloud over City Hall