Charles and David Koch — the billionaire industrialist brothers who already exert out-sized influence over American politics — are suing (pdf) to gain direct control over the Cato Institute, one of the country’s leading libertarian think tanks. Cato is a non-profit organization incorporated under Kansas law, which — unusually — allows it to be owned by a board of shareholders. Until recently Cato’s board consisted of four people — founder Ed Crane, Charles Koch, David Koch, and economist William Nikasen. Each held 16 shares valued at $1 per share. When Nikasen passed away in October, 2011, his shares fell to his widow, Kathryn Washburn, who has not yet offered to sell them to the other shareholders, as required by Kansas law. The Kochs are suing Washburn and the Cato Institute to force her to sell her shares to the other shareholders, which would give the Kochs a shareholder majority, and thus definitive control over Cato. The Kochs maintain that this is not a hostile takeover, (pdf) but the chair of Cato’s board, Bob Levy, said the Kochs — who now have the power to appoint half of the board — have been placing “operatives” on the board who are pushing Cato towards supporting Republican party ideals rather than libertarian ideals. Cato’s traditional libertarian stances on issues have often differed with Republican positions, for example by supporting same-sex marriage and hands-off foreign intervention and immigration policies. These more truly libertarian (and liberal) stances led to a falling-out between the Kochs and Cato over the years. But now the Kochs see their opportunity to gain more control over Cato. According to some close to the dispute, the Kochs want to use Cato to create more “intellectual ammo” for their front group, Americans for Prosperity, to use to defeat Obama in the 2012 general election. Some close to the dispute also say that if the Kochs successfully gain control of Cato, it will ruin the Institute’s credibility and lead to its demise.
At the one-year anniversary of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear powerplant disaster, some American news outlets are still minimizing the seriousness of the event, if they even cover it at all. A March 1, 2012 New York Times article titled “Sizing Up the Health Impacts a Year After Fukushima,” reports that “experts” have concluded the “health impacts from the radioactive materials released in the Fukushima Daiichi meltdowns will probably be too small to be easily measured.” There was no mention of a 70-page study (pdf) issued by the Union of Concerned Scientists on U.S. nuclear plant safety titled “Living on Borrowed Time” that reported on 15 near-misses that occurred at U.S. nuclear power plants in 2011. Many of those events happened because reactor owners either ignored known safety problems or took inadequate steps to prevent them. Also, in a February 25, 2012 articled titled “Fukushima — Worse than Chernobyl,” Janette Sherman and Joseph Mangano — she a specialist in internal medicine and toxicology with an emphasis on nuclear radiation and he the executive director of the Radiation and Public Health Project — make the case that the U.S. media has engaged in a “selective blackout” on news following up on the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant disaster. They conclude that not enough health and environmental data are being gathered after the Fukushima disaster to allow measurements of disease levels occurring as a result of the event. The two previously reported on a significant increase in infant deaths they noticed in the Pacific northwest following the Fukushima disaster. Based on their observations of the health and environmental impacts of Fukushima, Sherman and Mangano advocate ending all deaths and disease caused by nuclear power by closing remaining nuclear reactors.
Dave Friend,the CEO of the online backup service Carbonite, announced today that he was pulling his advertising from the Rush Limbaugh show in response to Limbaugh’s over-the-top insults against a third year law student who Friend says is about the same age as his own two daughters. Friend made the announcement via email to people who had contacted his company to complain about Carbonite’s sponsorship of Limbaugh’s show.
Advertisers are fleeing Rush Limbaugh’s show in droves after his over-the-top tirade of insults against third-year law student Sandra Fluke, who testified before Congressional Democrats last week in favor of making sure contraception remains available for women. After calling Fluke a “slut” and a “prostitute,” Limbaugh doubled down in his tirade last Thursday when he said, “So Miss Fluke, and the rest of you Feminazis, here’s the deal. If we are going to pay for your contraceptives, and thus pay for you to have sex, we want something for it. We want you post the videos online so we can all watch.” By Saturday morning, LegalZoom, Citrix Success, Quicken Loans, Sleep Train, Sleep Number Beds had all announced they were pulling their ads from Limbaugh’s radio show. Carbonite and ProFlowers are considering doing the same. Remaining advertisers LifeLock, LendingTree, TaxResolution and Sears, have not made any statements. A new website called “Boycott Rush” boasts it has gotten almost 50,000 supporters in under 24 hours, and a petition on UltraViolet to pressure ProFlowers to drop its advertising on Limbaugh’s show garnered 25,000 signers in a couple of hours. A Twitter hashtag, #BoycottRush, is helping organize the effort to split off advertisers from Limbaugh’s show. A similar grassroots campaign was successful in pushing Glenn Beck’s show off television after he made racially bigoted comments about Barack Obama.
The maker of the “blu” brand of electronic cigarette is hoping smokers will respond to a particularly aggressive ad campaign that exploits their frustration and anger to sell more of their product. The ad’s headline that says, “Dear Smoking Ban.” Beneath the headline is a photo of an angry older, middle-aged woman flipping her middle finger at the viewer. The ad text links smoking to freedom, a psychological construct long used by the tobacco industry to counteract the understanding that nicotine causes a powerful addiction that robs smokers of control over their tobacco use. The ad text says, “Take back your freedom to smoke anywhere with blu electronic cigarettes. blu produces no smoke and no ash, only vapor, making it the smarter alternative to regular cigarettes. It’s the most satisfying way to tell the smoking bans to kiss off. Okay, maybe the second most satisfying way.” Electronic cigarettes contain nicotine, but since they don’t actually burn tobacco, they don’t contain as much of the hazardous byproducts of burned tobacco.
Andrew Breitbart, the right wing blogger who operated the website BigGovernment.com and who became famous for posting sensationalistic “sting” videos on his website, has died. The L.A. Times says his death was due to natural causes. Breitbart was responsible for posting a selectively edited video of former Agricultural Administration employee Shirley Sherrod, which was doctored to make her appear racist. The video was quickly exposed by mainstream media as race-baiting. Breitbart was known for posting sensationalized stories that were frequently based on distortions, falsehoods and pure speculation. He was also involved in instigating a fake nationwide ACORN “child prostitution” investigation, led an anti-gay smear campaign against Department of Education employee Kevin Jennings, broadcast yet another selectively-edited video made in conjunction with James O’Keefe (the slice-n-dice right-wing videographer who tried to frame ACORN) claiming that Census supervisors encouraged federal employees to falsify their time sheets. In 2009, Breitbart claimed on his website, BigGovernment.com, that “Transvestites, Mao and Obama Ornaments Decorate White House Christmas Tree.” On September 29, 2009, Breitbart posted a video that he claimed showed community organizers praying to then President-elect Obama. The video had captions that said, “Deliver us Obama,” and “Hear our cry, Obama.”
May he rest in peace.
Jeremy Grantham is a co-founder and chief investment strategist for GMO, a global investment firm that manages $97 billion in client assets and has more than 500 employees worldwide. CBS news called Grantham a “legendary investor,” and his résumé and business background make Grantham about as dedicated a capitalist as you can find anywhere in the U.S. these days. So when someone like Grantham writes that capitalism “threatens our existence,” people should sit up and take notice. Grantham’s February, 2012 quarterly newsletter] (pdf) is a scathing indictment of American capitalism and where it is leading the country: over a cliff. Grantham writes that “You don’t have to be a PhD mathematician to work out that if the average Chinese and Indian were to catch up with … the average American, then our planet’s goose is cooked, along with most other things. Indeed, scientists calculate that if they caught up, we would need at least three planets to be fully sustainable. But few listen to scientists these days.” Grantham points out that “our collective ability to feed ourselves, through erosion and fertilizer depletion has “received little or no attention,” and that “capitalism and corporations have absolutely no mechanism for dealing with these problems, and seen through a corporate discount rate lens, our grandchildren really do have no value.” He also writes, “Capitalism, by ignoring the finite nature of resources and by neglecting the long-term well-being of the planet and its potentially crucial biodiversity, threatens our existence.”
Source: GMO Quarterly Newsletter, (pdf) February, 2012
An ongoing criminal investigation into media mogul Rupert Murdoch’s News of the World phone hacking scandal in Britain has unearthed new and damaging information: that Murdoch’s paper, The Sun, illegally paid sums ranging into the hundreds of thousands of dollars to corrupt officials inside the British government, police and military in exchange for news tips and titillating gossip. Mr. Murdoch and his son, James, have tried to blame rampant phone hacking, bribes and other wrongdoing at Murdoch’s papers on a single rogue reporter, but the inquiry into the phone hacking scandal shows such activities were widespread in the organization and knowledge about them reached the highest levels of the papers’ management. The investigation found that former News International executive Rebekah Brooks was notified by police in 2006 that detectives possessed evidence that the cell phones of dozens of politicians, sports figures and celebrities had been illegally hacked by someone working for News of the World. In emails circulated among newspaper employees, staff talked about the risks of losing their pensions or their jobs if they weren’t careful to keep their payments to sources secret. The emails showed that journalists at Murdoch’s papers were fully aware what they were doing was wrong. Recently several senior editors and reporters at The Sun were arrested under allegations that they illegally paid sources, and on February 29, 2012, James Murdoch quit his position as executive chairman of News International, the company that owns the The Sun and the Sunday Times. James Murdoch will still run News Corporation’s television interests outside the U.S.
Main source: The New York Times, February 27, 2012
A strange ad was broadcast during the Academy Awards that tried to stir up anger and mistrust against the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) by claiming HSUS spends only a paltry amount of its donors’ money to support local animal shelters. What the ad didn’t say is that the national office of the Humane Society by design doesn’t operate or fund animal shelters. Its mission is to lobby for laws that reduce animal abuse, especially in big commercial animal-abuse industries like puppy mills, confinement cattle operations and chicken houses. HSUS also pushes for enforcement of existing laws that protect animals from abuse. Local Humane Societies, which do operate shelters, do their own fundraising, often without involvement from the national HSUS. The ad took advantage of peoples’ ignorance about how the Humane Society is organized nationally to attack the Humane Society.
HSUS is very effective at what it does. It successfully pushed to end tail docking of dairy cows in California, to end commercial farmers’ cruel confinement of pigs in gestation crates, and worked to end the use of chimpanzees in biomedical testing, among other significant accomplishments in recent years. The HSUS’s remarkable effectiveness is why this misleading TV ad exists. The deceptive ad was paid for by HumaneWatch.org, a website created by the Center for Consumer Freedom (CCF), a front group backed by big food companies and national restaurant chains. The man behind CCF is Rick Berman, the notorious Washington lobbyist who has made a lucrative career from creating misleading ads and websites that attack consumer safety, animal welfare and environmental protection groups. Berman has created groups to advocate for minimum wage jobs; in response to the creation of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, he formed a group called “Beverage Retailers Against Drunk Driving” (BRADD) to advocate for greater tolerance of drinking. He operates a website, FishScam.com, which tells people to ignore warnings about mercury in seafood. He operates the “Center for Union Facts,” a front group for individuals and businesses that oppose unions. Berman gets paid well by businesses whose interests he protects. In recognition of his creepy reputation, in 2007 CBS’ 60 Minutes profiled Rick Berman in segment aptly titled, “Meet Rick Berman, A.K.A. ‘Dr. Evil.'”
Few people know about “Dr. Evil” and his activities, which is why he can freely continue to engaging in them, and why we see ads like the one we saw on the Academy Awards. Big businesses love Berman because they can attack consumer interest groups while hiding behind him. This way, current and potential customers won’t see their dark side and their brands will remain untarnished. But people are starting to fight back against Berman. Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington created a website, BermanExposed.org, that outs Rick Berman, his activities and fake groups. CREW also asked the IRS to investigate Berman’s misuse of the so-called “charitable” nonprofit groups he has created.
Consumer interest groups that are really effective at what they do, like the Humane Society of the U.S., become targets of big business, just like the front-runners in elections become targets for the candidates who are running behind. Berman facilitates big industries’ dirty attack business, and he won’t stop attacking public interest groups until people work to stop him from doing it.
To read more about Rick Berman and his activities, click here.
For Immediate Release – Monday, February 27, 2012
Contacts: Anne Landman, Western Colorado Atheists and Freethinkers (970) 216-9842 or
Joel Prudhomme, Unitarian Universalist Congregation, (970) 250-5413
Noted Sociology Professor to Discuss his Book, “Faith No More: Why People Reject Religion”
Dr. Phil Zuckerman will speak in Grand Junction, Colorado on Saturday, March 24 at 1:00 p.m. in the Sanctuary of of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of the Grand Valley at 1022 Grand Avenue, Grand Junction. Refreshments will be served and there will be a book signing afterwards.
Dr. Zuckerman, a professor at Pitzer College in Claremont, California, will talk about the recent increase of secularity in America and some of the reasons for this increase. He will explain why individuals are leaving religion in greater numbers than ever before.
Dr. Zuckerman teaches the Sociology of Religion, Sociology Through Film and Scandinavian Cultures and Societies, among other topics. He has authored two other books and numerous articles on religion and society. His special are of interest is Scandinavian culture, known for its secular leanings.
The talk is FREE, open to the public, and is jointly sponsored by the Unitarian Universalist Congregation and Western Colorado Atheists and Freethinkers. Everyone is welcome, as this topic is certain to be of interest to religious and secular audiences alike.
While admission is free, tax deductible donations to WCAF are encouraged.
For more information call Anne Landman at (970) 216-9842.