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.
A religious group in Humboldt County, California is initiating a new, pro-choice grassroots movement in support of abortion rights called “40 Days of Prayer Supporting Women Everywhere.” Clergy for Choice offers a message of support for women dealing with reproductive issues, including pregnancy. A 2-page, tri-fold brochure describing the effort (pdf) says, “We are religious leaders who value all human life. We trust you to decide about your sexuality & planning your family. Humboldt County Clergy are available to talk with you about the spiritual aspects of sexuality and reproductive choice.” The back of the brochure lists daily prayers supporters are urged to make on each of the 40 days, like: Day 1: “Today we pray for women for whom pregnancy is not good news, that they know they have choices,” Day 11: “Today we pray for better access to all forms a birth control.” Day 22: “Today we pray for women in developing nations, that they may know the power of self-determination. May they have access to employment, education, birth control and abortion.”
On April 12, 2012 a group of citizens in Missoula, Montana delivered a “Take Rush Limbaugh off the air in Missoula” petition containing more than 1,600 signatures to KGVO Radio in Missoula, which broadcasts the show. KGO representatives politely explained to meeting attendees why they did not want to end the Rush Limbaugh show, saying too many people support Rush, and they have contracts to broadcast the show. Shortly after the meeting, though, Dave Chrismon, who headed up the petition project, unveiled a new website, RushOutOfMissoula.com, that lists Rush’s sponsors on KGVO as of April 13, 2012, along with their contact information. Local sponsors include Triple Play Family Fun Park, Grizzly Fence and the Computer Guys, among others. Some national sponsors on the list are Tax Resolution Services, Fram Oil Filters, Curves for Women, Match.com, Lear Capital, Insperity, and LifeLock. The site pledges to update the list of advertisers regularly and list any advertisers that drop their support of the show. RushOutOfMissoula.com also includes a link to a YouTube video message by Dave Strohmaier, who is running for the U.S. House of Representatives in Montana, condemning Rush’s negative discourse and hateful rhetoric, and supporting the effort to get him off the air. RushOutOfMissoula.com urges people to be kind when they contact advertisers, saying “We are all very passionate, but don’t lose your cool. We don’t want anyone to act like Rush.”
If your hairline is receding and you’re are thinking about taking Merck’s baldness drug Propecia, you might want to think again. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) ordered drug maker Merck to change the warning labels for Propecia and its prostate drug Proscar to include “libido disorders, ejaculation disorders and orgasm disorders,” conditions that FDA notes may continue well after patients stop taking the drugs. While FDA says it isn’t clear whether finasteride, the active chemical in Propecia and Proscar, is what causes the persistent sexual problems, side effects reported by those using the drugs “suggest a broader range of adverse effects than previously reported in patients taking these drugs.” FDA approved Proscar in 1992 and Propecia in 1997. Since then, the agency has reviewed 421 post-marketing reports of sexual dysfunction from those taking Propecia between 1998 and 2011. Of those, 59 cases described sexual dysfunction lasting a minimum of three months after discontinuing Propecia. FDA reviewed 131 reports of similar problems associated with Proscar. In 2011, FDA ordered the warning labels of both product be revised to include erectile dysfunction that continues after patients stop taking the drug. People can report adverse side effects of prescription drugs to FDA’s MedWatch hotline at 1-800-332-1088, report them online at MedWatch Online or through the U.S. mail using the MedWatch form (pdf) available at FDA’s website.
NFL football players endorsing products for money isn’t new, but DeMarcus Ware of the Dallas Cowboys, Wes Welker of the New England Patriots and Clay Matthews of the Green Bay Packers have all agreed to try on “Depend” adult undergarments and promote them by wearing them on the field — and on camera — while running drills. Kimberly-Clark, the maker of Depends, has a new ad campaign called the “Great American Try On,” in which American celebrities and sports icons wear the underwear in public in exchange for hefty donations to selected charities. Sexy actress Lisa Rinna appears in a new ad in which she announces she is wearing the company’s new “Silhouette” product under a slinky, form-fitting black dress while walking the red carpet with her husband.
Two more companies have dropped their affiliation with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the conservative nonprofit organization that drafts pro-corporate “model bills” which Republicans then introduce in state houses across the country as though the legislation was their own. One of the companies is Wendy’s, the country’s second largest fast-food chain. Wendy’s tweeted about ALEC on it’s official Twitter account, “We decided late 2011 and never renewed this year. It didn’t fit our business needs.” Wendy’s departure from ALEC is key, according to Mother Jones magazine, since the company has supported politically conservative causes in the past, including Rick Berman’s Center for Consumer Freedom, an astroturf group that battles regulation of the food and beverage industries. The second company to depart ALEC is Reed Elsevier, a large publisher of medical and scientific books and journals. Reed Elsevier resigned from its board seat at ALEC and ended it’s membership in the group. A spokesperson for Reed commented that, “We made the decision after considering the broad range of criticism being leveled at ALEC.” ALEC has been criticized for promoting laws that liberalize gun use, privatize schools, restrict people’s right to vote, crush unions, and more.
The Vermont Senate voted to ask the U.S. Congress to introduce a constitutional amendment to undo the Citizens United ruling, the 2010 Supreme Court ruling in which the Court declared that corporations are the equivalent of people with First Amendment free speech rights. The Citizens United ruling opened the floodgates for corporations and billionaires to start pouring huge sums of money into influencing elections at every level of government — and they have, largely anonymously. On December 8, 2011, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders introduced the “Saving American Democracy Amendment”, which would restore the ability of lawmakers to enact campaign spending limits like those that fell in the wake of Citizens United. In early March of this year, 64 Vermont towns approved resolutions calling on Congress to amend the U.S. Constitution to counter the Citizens United ruling. The national Move to Amend campaign is also mobilizing a grassroots campaign from coast to coast calling for a constitutional amendment to establish that corporations are not people and that the First Amendment does not protect unlimited political spending as free speech.
The state of Arkansas has ordered Johnson & Johnson and one of its subsidiaries, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, to pay $1.2 billion in fines for deceptively marketing the antipsychotic drug Risperdal, approved to treat conditions like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. The companies were accused of failing to provide adequate warning about potential side effects of the drug, which include diabetes, weight gain, neurological problems and increased risk of strokes and death in elderly patients with dementia. Fletch Trammell, a lawyer in the case who had used Risperdal, said that J&J hid studies that showed Risperdal caused diabetes at a higher rate than a competing drug. The court also found nearly 240,000 instances in which the companies violated the state laws against Medicaid fraud, with each count representing one prescription for Risperdal written to a state Medicaid patient over a 3 1/2 year period. The fine for the Medicaid fraud portion of the case, at $5,000 per prescription, was the state’s minimum. A 12 person jury deliberated for three hours before finding against J&J. Arkansas is just one of several states suing over Risperdal. South Carolina and Texas have already reached settlements with J&J in their lawsuits. J&J plans to appeal the Arkansas ruling, claiming it did not break the law and that the package insert that comes with the medication was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Main source: New York Times, April 11, 2012
Corporate Accountability International (CAI), a group that challenges corporate abuses, posted an open letter on its website asking hospitals that house McDonalds restaurants to end their contracts with the fast food chain to “stop fostering a food environment that promotes harm, not health.” The letter points out that the rates at which children suffer from diet-related illnesses like diabetes are “staggering,” and the problem is related in part to the consumption of junk food. Locating McDonalds stores in hospitals is part of a marketing strategy, CAI says, that is aimed at imparting an aura of healthfulness to the food — a goal that is inconsistent with the goals of a health institution. “Health professionals are devoted to caring for sick children and adults and to preventing illness. But these efforts cannot compete with the profit-driven mechanisms by which McDonalds and the fast food industry operate their business, and the toll that McDonalds’ practices have had on children’s health,” the letter states. CAI’s petition to get McDonalds out of hospitals is here.
Kraft Foods, Coke, Pepsi, Intuit and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation have all pulled their support of the controversial corporate bill mill the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). Now Common Cause, a nonprofit public interest advocacy organization, is circulating a petition urging McDonalds, State Farm Insurance and Johnson & Johnson to cut their ties to ALEC. ALEC has been revealed as a driving force behind so-called Shoot-First laws that led to the Trayvon Martin killing and increased citizen vigilantism, “Voter ID” bills that deny millions of U.S. citizens a right to vote and attacks on public schools that divert taxpayer money to charter and private schools. ALEC is a members-only group that exposes state legislators to corporate lobbyists several times throughout the year at conferences and gatherings at tony beach-front spa and golf resorts. Legislators pay a small fee to belong to ALEC, but corporations pay tens of thousands of dollars to become members. Corporate members gain direct access to legislators at ALEC-sponsored events. You can read more about ALEC at ALECExposed.org.
A big new billboard has appeared right over a liquor store near Mile High Stadium in Denver that shows a mainstream, straight-laced looking woman smiling with her harms folded, saying, “For many reasons, I prefer…marijuana over alcohol. Does that make me a bad person? RegulateMarijuana.org.” The board is the first in an educational campaign by backers of the Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act, a measure that will appear on the state’s November election. The group backing the measure seeks to educate people about the ways that marijuana is safer than alcohol, specifically that it is less addictive than alcohol and tends to cause fewer adverse health effects. Users also cannot overdose on marijuana. The measure would permit limited possession and cultivation of marijuana by adults, and would let state and local governments in Colorado regulate the commercial production and distribution of marijuana or ban marijuana sales completely within their jurisdictions. On its website, the pro-legalization campaign says, “We are not suggesting that marijuana is better than alcohol … We are simply asserting that there are many good reasons to use marijuana instead of alcohol.”
Under the law, American citizens used to have to back away from threats, but since 2005 many American states have radically expanded self-defense rights to allow people to meet threats with force, not just in their own homes, but in public places as well. Since 2005, over 30 states have passed so-called “Shoot first” or “Stand Your Ground” laws that make it harder to convict people of murder if they claim they killed in self-defense. Since Florida’s shoot-first law was enacted in 2005, justifiable homicide cases have tripled, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. In the five years prior to the passage of Florida’s shoot-first law, 12 private citizens committed killings, but in the five years after the law’s passage, the average number of killings by private citizens in Florida jumped to 36. The national group Associate of Prosecuting Attorneys says “Stand your Ground” laws present a barrier to the prosecution of genuine criminals. Such laws have been spread in part through the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a corporate-backed group in which corporations partner with legislators behind closed doors to promote conservative, pro-business bills.
Main source: OregonLive.com/Washington Post, April 7, 2012
Fifty-eight percent of Facebook users are women, and women account for over 70 percent of daily fan activity on the site, but when Facebook goes public a few weeks from now, its board of directors will consist of only seven white men, and no women. To address this inequity, the women’s rights group Ultraviolet has started circulating a petition, and a group of women from across the world have started a campaign called “Face It” to pressure Facebook to include women — and expand the diversity — on its board. What’s raising eyebrows even more about the complete absence of women from the board is the extent to which Facebook depends on women, since women are known to be more avid users of Facebook than men and account for about 70 percent of Facebook’s fan activity. Facebook’s estimated $100 billion public stock offering would not be anywhere as big as it is without massive participation from women — a fact that the demographics of its board fails to reflect.
A judge has ruled that Republicans in control Michigan’s House of Representatives have been violating their state’s constitution by failing to hold recorded votes on bills. Instead, the House Speaker has been asking members of the legislature stand to indicate their support for a new law taking immediate effect, and no official count was conducted. Democrats had been asking for votes to be officially recorded, but Republicans refused and kept using so-called “standing votes.” The Democrats sued the Republicans in court, and a Circuit Court judge ruled that Republicans have been violating the state’s constitution by failing to acknowledge Democrats’ repeated requests for recorded votes. The judge issued a restraining order against House Republicans ordering them to hold recorded votes whenever a minimum of 22 Democrats request one. The state’s constitution requires a roll call be conducted whenever one fifth of the House members request one. On another front, the city of Detroit narrowly escaped coming under the state’s new emergency financial manager law enacted in 2011, known as Public Act 4, which allows the state to seize control of financially troubled cities, install an “emergency manager” of the governor’s choosing, terminate city contracts and block elected city officials from making any decisions. So far, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder has appointed emergency managers in four Michigan cities: Benton Harbor, Ecorse, Flint and Pontiac.
Main source: Detroit News, April 2, 2012
A new study reveals PR strategies transnational tobacco companies use behind the scenes to derail, delay and undermine public health policies in low- and middle-income countries. The authors uncovered six core strategies tobacco companies use in Thailand to interfere in tobacco control policymakin: (1) doing business with “two faces,” (2) working to influence people in high places, (3) “buying” advocates inside grassroots organizations, (4) putting up deceptive fronts, (5) using intimidation, and (6) undermining controls on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship. The companies often apply several of the strategies simultaneously. Public health advocates in poorer countries have successfully counteracted these strategies by remaining vigilant to spot them, excluding tobacco companies from policymaking, restricting cigarette sales, keeping up pressure on the companies and working to assure adequate resources are dedicated to enforcing tobacco control regulations. The entire text of the article is available free in PDF form here.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is running a television ad promoting the separation of church and state, the first such ad of its kind to be shown on major television. The ad is running on NBC’s Sunday “Meet the Press” show and all this week on MSNBC’s “Rachel Maddow Show” Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday 9-10 p.m., Eastern Central. FFRF’s ad played twice on the Monday “Rachel Maddow Show.” The Freedom From Religion Foundation works to promote the constitutional principle of separation between church and state and educate the public about non-theism. The Foundation has over 17,000 members. Since 1978, the Foundation has acted on countless violations of the separation of state and church, and has won many significant victories, including lawsuits to end state/church entanglements.