The U.S. Marine Corps Fighter Attack Squadron 122 based out of Beaufort, South Carolina used to be called the “Werewolves,” but they recently adopted a new nickname: they are now called the “Crusaders,” and the symbol painted on their jets is a red, Christian-style cross. The “Crusaders” was a historic nickname used by the squadron from 1958 to 2008, but as they prepared to deploy to Iraq in 2008, the unit’s commander, Lt. Col. William Lieblein, wisely changed the name because “The notion of being a crusader in that part of the world doesn’t float.” The term “Crusader” is derived from the historic European military crusades that took the lives of millions in the middle east in the name of Christianity. Insurgents in the middle east pejoratively call American military personnel “Crusaders.” In March 2012, Al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri referred to International Security Assistance Force troops stationed in Afghanistan as “Crusader Swine.” But the unit’s new commander, Lt. Colonel Wade Wiegel, doesn’t see any problem with changing the squadron’s name back to the “Crusaders.” Mikey Weinstein, who heads the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), blasted the change. Almost a hundred concerned U.S. Marines contacted Weinstein about the change, mostly moderate Protestants and Christians who asked to remain anonymous due to fear of reprisal.
Progressive groups rejoiced after the American Legislative Exchange Council announced April 17 that it was dumping the task force through which the group advanced voter ID laws, “Stand Your Ground” gun laws and other controversial legislation, but progressives may have rejoiced too soon. On April 18, the right-wing National Center for Public Policy Research (NCPPR) announced it is fighting back against left wing pressure by forming a task force to take over the work of ALEC’s disbanded “Public Safety and Elections Task Force.” NCPPR’s replacement group, the “Voter Identification Task Force,” will continue to push for voter restriction laws across the country, which NCPPR frames as working to advance “ballot integrity.” Amy Ridenour, chair of the NCPPR, said, combatively, “We’re putting the left on notice: you take out a conservative program operating in one area, we’ll kick it up a notch somewhere else. You will not win. We outnumber you and we outthink you, and when you kick up a fuss you inspire us to victory.” NCPPR is known for sending “fright mail” to senior citizens, junk mail letters on varying letterhead written in a way that seems intended to scare recipients into donating to the group. Amy Ridenour formerly worked with disgraced right-wing lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who served on the board of NCPPR until he was convicted of fraud and conspiracy.
Thursday, May 3 is this year’s National Day of Reason, held the same day as the National Day of Prayer — a controversial, Congressionally-mandated and federally-supported event. The purpose of the National Day of Reason is to raise awareness of the threat government poses to religious liberty when it enters the private sphere of worship. The American Humanists Association (AHA), which started the event in 2003, suggests people celebrate the day with events and activities, and activities are planned around the country. The Eastern Connecticut Atheist and Freethinker Fellowship based in Putnam, Connecticut, plans to hold a “Science for Bibles” exchange that day. Anyone who attends the event and brings a Bible will get a free copy of either Charles Darwin’s “Origin of Species,” Carl Sagan’s “Cosmos,” or Richard Dawkins’ “The Magic of Reality.” The Secular Coalition for Arizona will join the Secular Student Alliance in a walk as a group to Flagstaff City Hall, where they will hold a voter registration drive. The Atheist Humanist Society of Connecticut and Rhode Island is sponsoring a blood drive at the Groton, Connecticut Library. The American Humanists Association offers a sample proclamation declaring May 3, 2012 as the National Day of Reason that people can print out and ask their City Councils to sign.
A District Court in Washington, D.C, ruled (pdf) earlier this month that it is illegal for groups to keep secret who funds their political attack ads. At the heart of the case was a regulation promulgated by the Federal Elections Commission (FEC) in December of 2007 that required disclosure of the names and addresses funders who donate $1,000 or more to organizations for electioneering communications. But the FEC, in interpreting the law, deferred to the argument that keeping track of such donations would inordinately burden corporations. In attempting to clarify the law, the FEC created a huge loophole by promulgating a follow-up rule that allowed groups to circumvent disclosure provisions required by campaign finance laws, like the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, and the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United ruling. The disclosure provisions in Citizens United have largely been overlooked. In Citizens United, justices wrote that “the public has an interest in knowing who is speaking about a candidate shortly before an election,” and “transparency enables the electorate to make informed decisions and give proper weight to different speakers and messages.” U.S. Rep. Chris Van Hollen, Jr. (D-Maryland) challenged FEC’s loophole in a lawsuit brought against the FEC in 2011.
A six-fold increase in the frequency of Richter-scale 3.0 and greater earthquakes occurring in the middle of the country correlates with increase in hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” occurring in those locations. In a new paper, scientists present a series of examples in which a significant increase in seismic activity occurred in areas where oil and gas producers increased their disposal of wastewater in deep injection wells. Between 1970 and 2000, the central area of the country averaged 21 earthquakes per year. In 2009, that average jumped to 50, in 2010 it increased to 87, and in 2011, the average rose to 134 quakes per year. While most of the earthquakes are fairly small, the 5.6 magnitude earthquake rocked Oklahoma last year and damaged buildings and increased speculation that injection wells in the area might be a cause. It was the largest earthquake ever to strike Oklahoma, an area without a reputation for earthquake activity. The summary of the new earthquake study from the University of Memphis, says, “Based on the previous injection history, proximity of the wells to the earthquakes and the previous seismic activity in the source area, the M5.6 earthquake [in Oklahoma] was possibly triggered by fluid injection at these wells.”
Main source: Colorado Independent, April 16, 2012
The corporate exodus out of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) continued today as insurer Blue Cross Blue Shield and the Arizona-based traffic services company American Traffic Solutions (ATS) both announced that they would not renew their membership in ALEC this year. ThinkProgress created an internet-based bulletin board listing the companies that have left ALEC so far. In addition to Blue Cross and ATS, the bulletin board lists Reed-Elsevier, Mars, Wendy’s, McDonalds, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Pepsi, Kraft, Intuit and Coca Cola. The bulletin board site has quickly gained hundreds of followers. ALEC is the controversial “Stand Your Ground” group that helps corporations gain direct contact with predominantly conservative Republican legislators for the purpose of spreading pro-corporate legislation around the country.
Main Source: Think Progress, April 17, 2012
The American Legislative Exchange Council, the group that has come under attack recently for its proliferation of “Stand Your Ground” gun laws, announced today that it is eliminating its Public Safety and Elections Task force, the subcommittee responsible for creating and pushing voter suppression laws, liberal or “Shoot First” gun laws and other controversial legislation that has drawn more scrutiny to the organization. ALEC’s move to dump the task force comes shortly after ten major corporations fled the group. ALEC has been at the heart of the spread not only of controversial “Shoot First” gun laws, but also of laws that attack unions, divert taxpayer funds to private schools, “papers, please” immigration laws and other controversial laws. ALEC explained the dumping of its Public Safety and Elections Task Force by saying it was eliminating the group to focus more strongly on economic issues that “spur competitiveness and innovation and put more Americans back to work.” An ALEC spokeswoman said the organization would no longer work on issues pertaining to elections or guns. The elimination of ALEC’s Public Safety and Elections Task Force is a victory for grassroots groups like ColorOfChange.org that have been campaigning to highlight ALEC’s role in spreading legislation drafted by corporations.
The White House has posted a new online tool people can use to calculate how many millionaires pay a lower effective tax rate than they do. Citizens enter their wages, salary and other income and how much income tax they have paid, click a button and see the estimated number of millionaires who paid a lower effective tax rate than they did in 2009. The calculations demonstrate how under the current U.S. tax system, many millionaires are paying a lower effective income tax rate than most middle class families. In 2009, fully 22,000 American households made over $1 million, but paid the lowest effective tax rate such top earners have paid in 50 years. Of those top-earners, 1,470 paid no federal income tax at all on their million-dollar-plus incomes, according to data supplied by the Internal Revenue Service.
Gasbuddy.com, the website that logs gas prices across the U.S., has a big blue banner ad at the top of its pages that says “Where’s your gasoline dollar go? Click here to find out.” Clicking on the ad takes you to a page, GasPricesExplained.org, that says “Why are Gas Prices Rising?” GasPricesExplained.org points to unrest in the middle east and north Africa, declines in surplus production, weather events and exchange rates, to name a few reasons why gas prices are skyrocketing, but it doesn’t directly address the sizeable contribution speculation makes to inflated gas prices. A section titled “Where Does My Money Go?” claims that “Most of what Americans pay at the pump for gasoline is the cost of the crude oil used to make it, which is why global demand and geopolitical factors are so important.” But the site fails to mention that sky-high gas prices are also funding huge pay hikes for energy industry CEOs. Exxon Mobil’s Chief Executive, Rex Tillerson, for example, got a 21 percent raise in pay in 2011. He now makes about $35 million in total compensation. Tillerson is expected to get an additional 8 percent raise in 2012. John Watson, Chair and CEO of Chevron, saw his pay increase a whopping 51 percent, just since just 2010.
Tobacco farmers in Argentina filed a lawsuit (pdf) against Monsanto and Philip Morris for requiring them to use herbicides and pesticides that caused a high rate of severe birth defects among their children. The farmers charge that Philip Morris and the subsidiary companies that bought their crops required the farmers to stop growing their native tobacco grow a new kind of tobacco instead that Philip Morris uses in its cigarette formulation for the North and South American markets. The new tobacco they had to grow required more pesticides, and the farmers had to use excessive amounts of Monsanto’s glyphosate-based herbicide Roundup — but the defendant companies did not warn them about the dangers of the herbicide, or provide the farmers with safety information about the chemical or any protective gear to wear when applying it.