It took four years, but the Transportation Security Administration finally fulfilled a 2008 Freedom-of-Information-Act (FOIA) request by the investigative journalism group ProPublica for documents detailing complaints against the agency. The information ProPublica received revealed some extraordinarily intrusive searches that caused the subjects substantial humiliation, pain, and in some cases physical injury. In one case, a female traveler complained that a TSA screener asked her to remove her prosthetic breast so they could swab her for explosives. Another traveler accompanying her wheelchair-bound mother reported that TSA screeners made her mother get out of the wheelchair and walk during security screening. As a result, the woman fell and was injured. Another traveler reported packing a full bottle of Jack Daniels whiskey in his luggage, only to arrive to find the bottle almost empty. Other travelers complained that after TSA searches they were were missing money, jewelry and laptop computers. When ProPublica asked TSA why it took four years for them to send the documents, they received an apology and were told the agency gets 800 requests a year for similar information. TSA also blamed the volume of records they had to review to fulfill the request, even though their total response turned out to be only 87 pages long.
New Republican legislation has been introduced in Colorado that purely benefits the oil and gas industry. House Bill 1356, introduced by Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg (R-Sterling), would punish local governments by withholding their severance tax dollars if they do anything that stands in the way of oil or gas drilling. Citizens in Sonnenber’gs district who are concerned about the negative health and environmental effects of drilling oppose the measure. The city of Sterling, Colorado also opposes Sterling’s bill, which prompted Sonnenberg to call Sterling government officials “greedy.” After Sterling city officials came out against his bill, Sonnenberg posted a Tweet to his Twitter account that read, “City of Sterling just testified they should get oil and gas money even if the city stops the industry from producing. Can you say greed?” Sonnenberg told the Colorado Statesman that opposition from cities doesn’t matter because governments don’t vote. “Maybe if governments voted, it would matter,” Sonnenberg said. Sonnenberg says his bill is about defending property rights, limiting government spending and encouraging new oil and gas drilling throughout the state. At a legislative hearing for the bill, no one testified support of the measure, but several people spoke out in opposition. It isn’t the first time Rep. Sonnenberg has worked to benefit the drilling industry at the expense of citizen and environmental health and safety. In 2008, Sonnenberg worked to block the Colorado Oil and Gas Commission from hiring 21 new employees to monitor the drilling industry’s compliance with new environmental rules. When contacted by email and asked if he is a member of the American Legislative Exchange Council, a lobby group that accepts funding from Exxon Mobil and other energy industry interests, Sonnenberg dodged the question and ultimately refused to answer.
A cell phone tower fire in Georgia in Dec. 2011 that required two homes and a daycare center to be evacuated. Photo credit: CBSAtlanta.com
After residents of DeKalb County, Georgia actively opposed plans by T-Mobile and AT&T to build telecommunications towers on the grounds of eight local public schools, Georgia State Representative Karla Drenner stepped up to the plate to help out. Rep. Drenner introduced HB 1197, “Cell Phone Towers in DeKalb County,” that would ban placing cellphone towers on public school grounds unless the cellular carrier can show that there is an absolute need for the tower, and that the location sought on school grounds is the only location that can adequately provide service to satisfy that need. Sixteen out of 18 DeKalb County representatives signed on to support the local bill. Support for the measure crossed political, racial and geographic lines. Citizens in favor of the bill also got support from all of their county commissioners and collected over 1,200 signatures on petitions supporting the measure — an admirable number considering Chuck Sims’ represents a county of only 380 people. A legislative committee heard three hours of testimony about the bill over three days at three separate state hearings, and not one person showed up to say they were in favor of plans to put the towers on school grounds. With support like that, the bill should have passed easily through the committee and moved to the House floor. But it didn’t. Why?
Congressman Pete Stark of California gave a statement on the House floor April 27 officially recognizing the National Day of Reason held today, Thursday, May 3, 2012. Rep. Stark said, in part, “Mr. Speaker, I rise today to recognize Thursday, May 3, 2012 as the 2012 National Day of Reason. The National Day of Reason celebrates the application of reason and the positive impact it has had on humanity. It is also an opportunity to reaffirm the Constitutional separation of religion and government.” Stark pointed out that our nation is home to a wide range of people of different backgrounds and beliefs, and “the only way we can solve our problems is through cultivating intelligent, moral and ethical interactions among all people.” Rep. Stark said the National Day of Reason is about helping others and improving communities, and mentioned efforts by secular people across the U.S. to conduct food drives, donate blood and help those in need on this day. Rep. Stark urged everyone to observe the day by focusing on the use of reason, critical thinking, the scientific method and free inquiry to improve the world and our country. May 3 is also the “National Day of Prayer,” and event that was ruled unconstitutional by a U.S. District Court in Wisconsin. On April 15, 2010, Judge Barbara Crabb issued a ruling in which she concluded the National Day of Prayer violates the establishment clause of the First Amendment, saying it “goes beyond mere ‘acknowledgement’ of religion because its sole purpose is to encourage all citizens to engage in prayer, an inherently religious exercise that serves no secular function in this context.” President Obama is holding the National Day of Prayer despite the federal court ruling against it.
Watch another episode in a series of episodes on the practices of tobacco companies. The series of short videos highlights tobacco industry documents research using the online Legacy Tobacco Documents Library (http://legacy.library.ucsf.edu) and British American Tobacco Documents Archive (http://bat.library.ucsf.edu)
Anne Landman, special guest
Marty Otañez, Assistant Professor, Anthropology Department, University of Colorado, Denver
After a lifetime in the church, Teresa McBain, pastor of Tallahassee, Florida’s Lake Jackson United Methodist Church, got a standing ovation when she announced that she is an atheist at the American Atheists National Convention. McBain publicly apologized to her neighbors back home for having been a fundamentalist who knocked on peoples’ doors to offer them religious tracts, hoping to convert them and believing they were wrong for having other beliefs. “I didn’t know anything about you. I’d never seen your faces. You were just ‘those people.’ And I was the one on the right track, and you were the ones who were going to burn in hell. And I’m happy to say, as I stand before you right now, I’m going to burn with you,” McBain said at the convention. McBain served as a pastor for ten years. Her coming out as an atheist resulted partly from her participation in the Clergy Project, a private, invitation-only, safe online community of current and former pastors, priests and rabbis who no longer hold the supernatural beliefs of their religious traditions. The Clergy Project was founded in March, 2011 by Dan Barker, also formerly a minister for 19 years and co-founder of the Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) in Madison, Wisconsin. When the project started, it immediately gained 52 members Since then it has grown to over 200 participants.
Members of a British Parliament committee have declared 81 year old media mogul Rupert Murdoch, owner of News Corporation, the Wall Street Journal and Fox News, unfit to lead a major international company. A bipartisan House of Commons parliamentary committee reached the conclusion after issuing a detailed, 125 page report on May 1, 2012, about a phone hacking scandal involving Murdoch’s UK newspaper, the News of the World. The report accuses Rupert Murdoch, his son James and their media company News International, of purposely misleading the government’s investigative committee, intentionally covering up the truth about their paper’s phone hacking scandal and failing to conduct a proper internal investigation of the matter. The MPs wrote that the Murdochs’ “instinct throughout, until it was too late, was to cover up rather than seek out wrongdoing and discipline the perpetrators, as they also professed they would do after the criminal convictions. In failing to investigate properly, and by ignoring evidence of widespread wrongdoing, News International and its parent News Corporation exhibited wilful blindness, for which the companies’ directors — including Rupert Murdoch and James Murdoch — should ultimately be prepared to take responsibility.” The MPs found James Murdoch’s “lack of curiosity” and “wilful ignorance” about the scandal “astonishing.” Page 70 of the report states, “We conclude, therefore, that Rupert Murdoch is not a fit person to exercise the stewardship of a major international company.”
National Nurses United support a tiny financial transaction tax to pay for universal healthcare in the U.S.
Over a thousand activists including members of National Nurses United marched in New York City April 26 to demand the government levy a tiny tax — just 0.5 percent — on speculative financial trades to fund universal health care in the United States. The idea is to add a small sales tax to Wall Street transactions of stocks, dividends and other financial deals, just like the tax ordinary consumers pay when they buy goods at a department store. The proposed tax, just one-half of one percent, would amount to just 50 cents on every $100 worth of financial transactions, but it would add up to a huge amount of money: about $350 billion each year. The tax wouldn’t apply to ordinary consumer transactions like ATM use, debit card purchases or home loans, and traders would be barred from passing the costs of the tax on to consumers. The main targets of the a tax are the big financial firms whose risky trading led to the meltdown of the global economy, like Citibank, JP Morgan, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley. These four firms alone account for almost a quarter of the entire global market volume on trades of currency. The tiny tax would take advantage of a huge increase in speculative financial activity over the past decade to benefit Americans’ access to health care. A financial transaction tax isn’t a new idea. The U.S. had such a tax in place from 1914 to 1966. The idea of a financial transaction tax is gaining acceptance has been endorsed by conservative presidents in France and Germany, as well as former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan.
Anti-Rush Limbaugh activists racked up another successful week after six more businesses vowed to drop sponsorship of the Rush Limbaugh Show on KGVO Radio in Missoula, Montana. Their success brings the total to 13 businesses that have pulled their support of the show since April 13, 2012, when a grassroots effort to push Limbaugh off Missoula’s airwaves began. The current effort to kick Limbaugh off the air in Missoula started the day after citizens delivered a 1,600-signature petition KGVO Radio asking them to take Rush Limbaugh off the local air. The radio station refused to pull the show, and the next day, on April 13, activists unveiled a website, RushOutOfMissoula.com, that lists the show’s local and national sponsors, with each business’ contact information. Citizens began dialing the business owners to express their displeasure for the businesses’ support of Limbaugh and his persistent, hate-filled rhetoric. Dave Chrismon, organizer of the Missoula anti-Limbaugh effort, posted an upbeat email update in which he reported getting positive feedback from the community for the effort. “This is from an email,” Chrismon wrote, ” ‘I just wanted to inform you that as of today, we requested our ads not be run during the Rush Limbaugh Show. . . Thank you for letting us know that our ads were being run . . . The owner had no idea and was very upset when she found out.’ Shopping yesterday, I met someone who works at one of the past advertisers. She thanked me for the effort and told me, ‘We want to avoid controversy. After we pulled our ad, a longtime supporter called and thanked us on behalf of her daughter.'” Missoula activists aren’t letting up on their effort. Their current goal is to persuade a total of 20 advertisers to drop the show. They are also thanking the businesses that have withdrawn their ads for “saying no to bullying.”
Fast-food giant Burger King announced this week that it will no longer buy pork from pig producers that use gestation crates, and will now use only 100 percent cage-free eggs. Gestation crates are confinement cages that commercial pig farmers use that are so small that pigs cannot turn around inside them. Female pigs raised on factory farms spend almost their entire lives in these tiny crates. U.S. egg producers typically cram millions of chickens into cages that offer only about 67 square inches of space per bird — less space than a single sheet of paper — on which the birds spend their entire lives. Burger King’s policy changes came about in large part due to the efforts of the Humane Society of the U.S. (HSUS), which has been tackling cruel practices in commercial agriculture, like the use of veal crates, battery cages and tail-docking of dairy cows. HSUS is forming state Agricultural Councils across the U.S. to promote humane food production practices on farms and ranches. The group’s goal is to move agriculture away from a system that treats living creatures as biological “machines,” keeping them confined in conditions that maximize efficiency but are extremely cruel and inhumane, to a more ethical, humane and sustainable system.