Colorado Day of Prayer Ruled Unconstitutional

In a unanimous ruling issued on May 10, 2012 (pdf), three judges on the Colorado Court of Appeals declared  Colorado’s state-endorsed “Day of Prayer” unconstitutional. The court found that the Colorado Day of Prayer violates the Preference Clause of the Religious Freedom section of Colorado’s constitution which states, “…[n]or shall any preference be given by law to any religious denomination or mode of worship.” The Preference Clause is Colorado’s equivalent of the Establishment Clause in the U.S. Constitution. In a 74-page ruling, the Court concluded Colorado’s Day of Prayer is religious in purpose and content, lacks any secular purpose and its only purpose is to advance religion and give “preferential treatment to religion in general.” The Day of Prayer, said the Court, “conveys or attempt to convey a message that religion or a particular religious belief is favored or preferred.”  The First Amendment requires all levels of government to be completely neutral in matters of religion. “By requiring this neutrality,” the Court states, “the Preference Clause protects believers and nonbelievers from feeling as if they are ‘not fully accepted within our greater community.’ A reasonable observer would conclude that these proclamations [declaring state-sanctioned Days of Prayer] send the message that those who pray are favored members of Colorado’s political community, and that those who do not pray do not enjoy that favored status.” In April, 2010, a U.S. District Court judge ruled that the National Day of Prayer is unconstitutional because it amounts to a call for religious action.

Bizarre Ideas to Sell More Smokes from Philip Morris

This 1987 Philip Morris brainstorming document is full of bizarre ideas for how to make cigarettes more appealing and marketable to consumers, and how to design cigarettes to help counter the social stigma of smoking. Ideas include making cigarettes that deodorize a room, control appetite, alter consciousness, administer an aphrodisiac, mimic certain drugs, emit insect repellant, control cholesterol intake, serve as a laxative, renew energy, and even –amazingly enough — cure cancer (although ironically this last one was one of the very few ideas that was later crossed off the list).

Page 3 contains a brief discussion of how to lure quitters back to smoking: “Someone suggested talking with quitters to discover how we might recover these consumers…” The document also discusses ways to “turn the tables” on the Surgeon General by making a “healthy cigarette,” and ways to make the pack more attractive and useful. Ideas include making the pack into a smoke detector, an alarm clock, a calculator, a “handy mirror,” a “breatholyzer”, or use microchips to make packs that play tunes, or tell smokers how many cigarettes remain in the pack. Another idea was for a “jolt” cigarette that offered extra-high nicotine.  Other ideas included cigarettes that enhance athletic performance and increase lung capacity, or slow formation of wrinkles, a “taco-dorito”- flavored cigarette and a carbonated cigarette that would make the mouth all tingly.

Memo Exposes Huge PR Campaign to Attack Wind and Solar Industries

A group of energy industry-affiliated, right-wing groups is readying a massive PR plan to try and turn American public opinion against the renewable energy industries. The UK Guardian obtained a confidential draft memo written by Illinois anti-wind power attorney Rich Porter that outlines a massive PR campaign to change public opinion towards wind and solar power among “citizens at large.” The goals of the campaign, according to Porter’s memo, are to “A) Cause the targeted audience to change its opinion and action” based on anti-wind messaging, “B) Provide credible counter message to the (wind) industry, C) Disrupt [wind] industry message with countermeasures, D) Cause subversion in message of [wind] industry so that it effectively becomes so bad no one wants to admit in public they are for it (much like wind has done to coal, by turning green to black and clean to dirty.) Ultimate Goal: Change policy direction based on message.” The memo suggests teaming up with established  groups like Americans for Prosperity, the American Legislative Exchange Council, the Heartland Institute, the Brookings Institute, the Cato Institute and other climate change deniers. It also suggests developing derogatory names for wind energy, like calling it “puff power” and “breeze energy.”

Heartland Institute Likens People Who Believe in Climate Change to Mass Murderers

The Heartland Institute's billboard in Illinois

The Heartland Institute put up an inflammatory billboard along a major highway Illinois that compared belief in global warming to mass murder, but public reaction to the board — and even that of Heartland supporters — was so angry that Heartland pulled it down within 24 hours. Heartland posted the billboard along Interstate 290 in Illinois, which runs through Chicago. It featured a mug shot of Ted Kazinski, the “Unabomber,” alongside text that said, “I still believe in Global Warming. Do you? www.heartland.org” Despite the strong negative reaction to the ad, Heartland says it plans more similar billboards featuring Charles Manson, Fidel Castro and Osama bin Laden. The Heartland Institute is a climate change-denying think tank that accepts funding from big energy interests like Exxon Mobil and foundations related to Koch Industries. Heartland also belongs to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). Heartland says the board was meant to promote its upcoming climate denial conference slated to begin May 21 in Chicago. In a media advisory about its ads, Heartland says the billboard was intentionally provocative and was an “experiment” intended to grab attention.

Main source: The Raw Story, May 4, 2012

RushOutOfMissoula.com Makes Headway as KGVO Hijinks Backfire

Rush Limbaugh

The grassroots effort to push Rush Limbaugh off the airwaves in Missoula, Montana reports that as of this week 18 advertisers have  pulled their ads off Limbaugh’s local broadcast on KVGO Radio — six more than last week’s total. Dave Chrismon, organizer of RushOutOfMissoula.com, also discovered some advertisers held the mistaken belief that because they purchased packages of ads from KGVO, they had no control over where there ads are placed. This turned out to be untrue. An anonymous KGVO employee told Chrismon the radio station’s computer system can easily keep any business’s ads, or any nonprofit organization’s public service announcements, off Limbaugh’s show while still running them on other shows. Business owners just need to ask KGVO to keep their ads off Limbaugh’s show. On another front, KGVO went into full attack mode last week over what it calls the “Hush Rush” campaign. On Monday, April 30, the station featured a local business owner and Rush supporter on its “Talk Back” program who called RushOutOfMissoula participants “blackmailers” for voicing their opinion about where he should place his ads. The show stimulated a flood of “dittoheads” (Rush Limbaugh supporters) to call the show and verbally abuse business owners who asked that their ads be removed from Limbaugh’s program — but many of those businesses still advertise on KGVO.

ALEC: Big Tobacco’s “Third-Party” Ally

Tina A. Walls, former Philip Morris VP of State Government Affairs

Tobacco industry documents reveal that the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) has abetted the failure of state legislatures to take meaningful steps to rein in the devastation caused by tobacco use. In a previously-secret, 1993 internal Philip Morris (PM) presentation called Grasstops Government Relations, Tina A. Walls, then Vice President of State Government affairs at PM, describes the company’s strategies to influence legislators, and demonstrates how ALEC works with corporations to bolster that influence. As she shows Philip Morris employees a chart she calls “The Influence Wheel,” Walls describes how PM’s Government Affairs department analyzes every part of a legislator’s world and misses no opportunity to exert influence. Walls tells the audience how PM provides legislators with trips to “promotional and cultural events” in nice places, and as an example cites a trip ALEC facilitated in which a group of American legislators traveled to Brussels, Belgium. Walls wrote,

“We make sure legislators are aware of, and invited to, promotional and cultural events funded by Philip Morris. {CITE ALEC 1992 TRIP TO BRUSSELS AS AN EXAMPLE}”

Walls also discusses PM’s strategy to keep itself out of the media by using third parties to “carry its baggage,” and describes how PM uses third parties allies like ALEC to dodge issues:

“…we try to keep Philip Morris out of the media on issues like taxation, smoking bans and marketing restrictions. Instead, we try to provide the media with statements in support of our positions from third party sources, which carry more credibility than our company and have no apparent vested interest…”

Abbott Labs Pays $1.6 Billion for Illegal Drug Marketing

Abbott Laboratories, the maker of Ensure, PaediaSure, Similac and Vicodin, pled guilty to misbranding and illegally marketing its drug Depakote. Abbott will pay a $1.6 billion fine and undergo five years of probation under an agreement reached with the U.S. Department of Justice in which Abbott admitted that from 1998 to 2006 it kept a separate, specially-trained sales force to market Depakote to nursing homes for the control of aggression and agitation in elderly patients with dementia, even though no credible scientific research existed showing Depakote was effective for that use. Abbott also admitted that from 2001 through 2006 it marketed Depakote for the treatment schizophrenia, in the absence of any proof that the drug was effective for that condition, either. Abbott funded two separate studies on the use of Depakote for schizophrenia, but neither study met its set goals. Abbott took two years to tell its sales force about the failed studies, and in the meantime kept marketing Depakote for schizophrenia. The case against Abbott arose in 2007 when a former Abbott saleswoman filed a lawsuit accusing the company of encouraging  its sales force to illegally promote use of Depakote in nursing homes and publicly-operated mental health centers, where most patients are covered by federal health programs like Medicaid. Whistleblowers also filed suits against Abbott in Virginia, Illinois and the District of Columbia accusing the company of paying illegal kickbacks to doctors and pharmacists to discuss off-label uses of Depakote to increase sales.

Main source: Courthouse News Service, May 7, 2012

Health Insurers Shake Down Subscribers for Prescriptions

Big health insurers have found yet another new way to extort customers — by buying up “pharmacy benefit managers,” (companies that supply medications to people) and then forcing subscribers to buy medications exclusively from the drug distributors they own. People are receiving letters from their health insurance companies telling them they must either buy medications from a specific company they own and get medications through the mail, or patronize a retail drug store of their choice and pay a much higher price. Prices may be lower for insurance companies under this kind of arrangement, but policyholders miss out on face-to-face interaction with pharmacists, who verbally counsel customers on drug dosing instructions and dangerous interactions with other drugs. Herding people towards a single option drug supplier is also taking a toll on neighborhood pharmacies who have been serving the same families for generations. The trend towards consolidation in the drug sales market starkly limits consumer choice. Just three major pharmacy benefit management companies dominate the drug delivery market: Express Scripts Holding, which recently bought Medco for $29 billion, CVS Caremark, and OptumRX, a subsidiary that now belongs to the big health insurance company UnitedHealthcare Group.

Source: Los Angeles Times (consumer advocate David Lazarus), May 4, 2012

Female, African-American Doctor Backs Tobacco Industry in New Ad

The tobacco industry’s front group, “Californians Against Out-of-Control Taxes and Spending,” is spending millions to run a 30-second TV ad opposing Proposition 29, a ballot measure to increase in the state’s cigarette tax. The ad features an unlikely ally: a female, African-American doctor named LaDonna Porter, M.D. Prop. 29 would increase California’s 87-cent per pack cigarette tax by an additional $1.00 to fund cancer research, smoking reduction programs and enforcement of tobacco-related laws. In the ad, Porter, stands in an examination room wearing a white lab coat and says she’s against smoking, but she finds Proposition 29 flawed. “Not one penny” of the funds generated by the measure will go towards new funding for cancer treatment, Porter says, and she raises the specter that the money could be spent out of state. The ad is consistent with the tobacco industry’s longtime strategy of getting doctors to endorse their products and back their favored policies. Still, it has generated outrage. The African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council in Oakland, California sent a scathing open letter to Dr. Porter expressing shock and outrage that she is working for Big Tobacco. It’s not the first time Dr. Porter has worked for Big Tobacco. In 2006, as LaDonna White, she starred in a tobacco industry-backed ad opposing Proposition 86, yet another measure to increase taxes on cigarettes and chewing tobacco. Dr. Porter has also lent her credibility to the pharmaceutical industry to fight an initiative that would have put a dent in drug companies’ profits.

89 Degrees in the Rocky Mountains in April?

Aspen, CO snowless ski race (Photo credit: 350.org)

At 4,500 feet elevation on the Rocky Mountains’ western slope, the average daytime temperature in the month of April in the city of Grand Junction, Colorado is 65 degrees. This year saw abnormally high temperatures for almost the entire month, with a record high of 89 degrees on April 23. Moreover, Grand Junction wasn’t alone. March, 2012 was the warmest March on record in the contiguous 48 states since 1895, when the government started recording climate data, says the National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration’s (NOAA) Climate Data Center. The average temperature across the U.S. was 8.6 degrees F higher than the 20th century average for March, with 15,272 warm temperature records (day and night) shattered across the country during the month. March is also traditionally Colorado’s wettest month, but this year Colorado had its driest March on record, depressing income for ski resorts and commercial rafting companies. A lack of snow kept the Vail ski area from opening its back bowls. In addition to record high winter and spring temperatures, in recent years Colorado has also experienced extensive pine beetle infestations, early season wildfires, decreased snowpack and droughts. To draw attention to the increasing impacts of climate change, the Aspen Skiing Company recently teamed up with 350Colorado.org to put on a snowless skiing event called “Protect Our Winters: Connect the Dots,” that featured speakers and activities linked to climate change. Attendees were encouraged to wear white to substitute for the snow that would normally be present on the ski slopes this time of year.