Anne Landman

Skip TV Ads, Go to Jail?

The major television networks ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC are arguing that skipping commercials while watching TV shows recorded on a digital video recorder (DVR) is illegal. In a lawsuit against Dish Network, the TV networks are charging that a new feature called “AutoHop” on Dish’s new DVR that allows people to skip TV ads “induces” copyright infringement. The networks claim that skipping ads in effect robs the advertisers who pay good money to the networks with the expectation that viewers will be forced to see them. The problem is that the manufacturer of a technology can’t be held liable for inducing copyright infringement unless customers are actually proven to infringe, so the networks must prove to a court that people who simply record a TV show, watch it at a later time and skip the ads are violating federal copyright law. The networks’ suit mimics a previous lawsuit they filed in 2002 against a company called ReplayTV that made a recording device with an automatic commercial-skip feature. The sheer expense of the lawsuit drove ReplayTV out of business before a court could rule on their theory of copyright infringement. Now the networks are leveling same charges against Dish, but Dish is fighting back. It’s filed its own lawsuit against the networks charging them with attempting to stifle its latest innovation. In its counter-suit, Dish points out that its “Hopper” recorder does not erase or delete any commercials, and they “remain on the recording and can be readily viewed at each customer’s individual option.”

Main source: Electronic Frontier Foundation, May 25, 2012

Syrian Activist Video Documents Results of May 25 Massacre in Homs

Activists opposed to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad posted a startling YouTube video of the aftermath of the Syrian government’s May 25, 2012 massacre of 51 children and nearly as many adults. In the video, a man picks up the bodies of the dead and mangled children one at a time. As he shows them to the camera, a voice says “These are children, for God’s sake! Hey, World, look at Assad’s crimes! God is greater than you, you arrogant murderer!” English subtitles translate voices in the video that urge the international community to intervene to save the Syrian people. United Nations officials report Syrian government artillery and tank fire killed more than 90 people total in the district of Houla in the central province of Homs, which has been under almost constant attack by forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad for months. Syria’s state-run news agency blamed the massacre on non-specific “armed terrorists.” The Syrian government restricts journalists from entering the country, and since several journalists attempting to cover what has been happening in Syria have lost their lives, amateur videos like this one posted on YouTube are the outside world’s main source of information about what is happening inside Syria. WARNING: The video is graphic.

Source: Los Angeles Times, May 26, 2012 and YouTube, May 25, 2012

R.J. Reynolds’ “Salem Black Initiative,” 1989

This 1989 R.J. Reynolds marketing report summarizes a company brainstorming session to find ways to increase sales of Salem cigarettes to African Americans. It exemplifies how marketers view a target audience and try to appeal to them, in this case to market an addictive and deadly product. The report concludes that “the best way to reach minority consumers is through their local communities.” It says,

“…the brand’s support must be seen as being backed by other blacks — not as a big white company’s tactic to sell to blacks. If Salem can become a positive contributing factor to blacks’ economic and personal well-being, it could ultimately be ‘unpatriotic to smoke anything else.”

RJR's 2004 Kool Mixx campaign featured images of rappers, DJs and dancers on cigarette packs and in ads.

The marketers say “Salem should be seen as a friend,” and suggest ways to play up the positive aspects of [young adult] black smokers and their lifestyle, listing words and fashion items from the African American community at the time:

“…fresh” “fade” (kill) “bank” (money) “hooked”(together) “chillin'” “def” (cold, funky, hard, it’s happening) “stylin'” “dis” (disrespectful) – lots of bracelets – 2-3 holes in ear (African influence) – nose studs – fades, parts, braids – thrashed jeans – micro spandex shorts – side snap warm-up suits…”

Amazon.com is 16th Corporation to End its Affiliation with ALEC

The retail internet behemoth Amazon.com announced it would cut its ties to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) after activist groups delivered a petition signed by over a half million people asking the company to ditch the conservative organization. The petitions were delivered at Amazon’s annual shareholder meeting in Seattle, Washington. They filled seven bankers’ boxes, and were collected by ColorOfChange.org, People for the American Way, the Progressive Change Campaign Committee and other progressive groups. Amazon.com joined ALEC in 2011, and worked with them on tax issues. Amazon spokeswoman Mary Osako stated that “…[W]e’ve decided not to renew our participation in ALEC, in part because of positions that group took on issues unrelated to our business.” She did not say what the issues were. At the meeting, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos also promised to spend $52 million to improve working conditions at its warehouse facilities, including retrofitting them with air conditioning. ALEC is the legislative bill mill implicated in spreading legislation like the “shoot first” law that led to the Trayvon Martin case, voter ID laws that block people’s access to the ballot box, school voucher bills that direct taxpayer money to private and religious schools, and other controversial legislation that has been sweeping the country state by state.

Tobacco Companies Work in Secret to Defeat California’s Proposition 29

A pitched battle is on over California’s Proposition 29, a measure on the statewide ballot to raise the cigarette tax by one dollar to fund smoking cessation and research on tobacco-related diseases. If enacted, the measure would increase California’s per-pack cigarette tax to $1.87 per pack.  According to Maplight, the biggest donors favoring the tax are the American Cancer Society ($7.42 million), the Lance Armstrong Foundation  ($1.5 million), the American Heart Association ($546,256), the American Lung Association ($412,086) and Michael R. Bloomberg ($500,000). Laurene Powell Jobs, the widow of Steve Jobs, kicked in $25,000 to support Prop. 29. But those amounts pale in comparison to the tidal wave of money tobacco companies and their allies are pouring into defeating the measure. Philip Morris (Altria) alone has given just over $24 million, Reynolds American, Inc. has put in $9.57 million, and U.S. Smokeless (also owned by Altria) has put in $1.5 million. The California Republican Party contributed $1.14 million to defeat the tax. As usual, tobacco companies are trying to hide their role in the campaign by refusing to speak to journalists, running ads without their fingerprints on them and fighting the campaign through a front group, “Californians Against Out-of-Control Taxes and Spending,” which is aligned with right wing, pro-business groups funded by millionaires and billionaires like Americans for Prosperity, FreedomWorks, the Chamber of Commerce and the Petroleum Marketers Association. Californians Against Out-of-Control Taxes and Spending doesn’t even list tobacco companies among the “No” campaign’s endorsers on the group’s website — as if tobacco companies weren’t involved.

Billboard Companies Poisoning Trees

Poisoned trees in front of a billboard (Photo credit:FairWarning.org/NC DOT)

A former billboard company employee in Tallahassee, Florida has revealed that billboard companies intentionally poison trees that block their billboards from view. Robert Barnhart, a former crew chief for Lamar Advertising, stated in court filings that he was instructed to poison trees located on private property not belonging to Lamar if they were too big to be pruned or cut back, and blocked Lamar’s boards from view. In a court filing (pdf), Barnhart states he was instructed to wear nondescript clothing without any logos, drive to the area of the offending tree in a truck without Lamar logos, park several blocks away from the offending tree, walk over, use a machete to hack into the root system surrounding the tree’s base and pour herbicide onto the roots. The herbicide was kept in containers marked “AC Cleaner.” Barnhart said he was instructed to do this at least seven times. The actions violate numerous laws and constitute criminal mischief, trespassing, and violation of environmental laws regarding dumping of poison on land. After Barnhart provided his employer with a written objection to the offensive practice, he was subsequently threatened with termination and then fired. It wasn’t Lamar’s first such offense, either. In 2010, Lamar was found liable for trespassing and killing 83 trees along Interstate 84, and in 2009 Lamar was ordered to pay about $182,000 to a couple in Ohio for killing 34 trees on their property to improve views of their billboards. Lamar owns approximately 146,000 billboards in 44 states.

Source: FairWarning.org, (news of safety, health and corporate conduct), April 26, 2012

Skechers Pays $40 Million for Deceptively Advertising “Butt Toning” Shoes

Kim Kardashian helped market Skechers "toning shoes"

Skechers, the maker of those roly-poly  “toning shoes” that were a big craze back in 2010, will shell out $40 million to settle charges that it deceived consumers with phony claims the shoes conferred health benefits like weight loss, muscle strengthening and butt toning.  Back in 2010, fitness footwear companies like Skechers, Nike and Reebok raked in about $1.1 billion from the “toning shoe” market by charging between $100 and $200 a pair for the shoes. Skechers controlled about 60 percent of the market, and Reebok had about a 33 percent share. The companies created demand for the shoes by running ads that falsely claimed they would help wearers “shape up while you walk” or  “get in shape without setting foot in a gym.” The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) alleged that the shoe manufacturers fudged studies and statistics to make claims about the shoes that they could not support. Last  September, Reebok agreed to pay $25 million to settle charges that it deceptively advertised roly-poly shoes with names like TrainTone, RunTone and EasyTone.  The companies are paying the millions of dollars into a fund to which shoe purchasers can apply for a refund. If you bought Reebok toning shoes, you can click here to apply for a refund. People who fell for Skechers “butt toning” shoe ads and bought them can keep an eye on this website to get refunds when the account it set up.

Main source: Advertising Age, May 16, 2012

Is the Limbaugh Show on the Ropes in Missoula?

Rush Limbaugh

Twenty advertisers have now officially pulled their ads from Rush Limbaugh’s show on KGVO talk radio in Missoula, Montana, and the airwaves went dead during his show not once, but twice — and for more than a minute each time — on Friday, May 20th. Another sign Limbaugh could be in trouble in Missoula: KGVO has started broadcasting brief comedy bits during what would normally be blocks of advertising time on Limbaugh’s show, according to listeners from RushOutOfMissoula.com, the effort to push Limbaugh off the radio in Missoula.  RushOutOfMissoula.com posts a frequently-updated list of current advertisers on Limbaugh’s show on their web page, along with the businesses’ contact information, and asks people to contact the businesses and ask them to “stop putting money in that bully’s pocket” by pulling their ads. The web page urges callers to remain polite and respectful. Many advertisers have pulled their ads as a way to remain neutral in the conflict. Businesses still advertising on Limbuagh’s show on KGVO include Allegiant Airlines, Adair Jewelers, Air Quality Mechanical, Bagels on Broadway, Edward Jones, Furniture Row, Hoagieville, Lithis Chrysler, The Montana Club, the Ravalli Family of Banks and Time Rental.  Jim Adair, owner of Adair Jewelers — one of the remaining local advertisers on Limbaugh’s show in Missoula — is fighting back by increasing his ads on the show, and running ads saying he is being blackmailed by people who want to take all talk radio off the air.  RushOutOfMissoula.com reports that 1,751 people have now signed their petition asking KGVO to take Limbaugh off the radio in their town.  RushOutOfMissoula.com was organized after Limbaugh carried on a three day tirade against Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke late last February in which he called her a “slut” and repeatedly derided and insulted her for testifying before Congress about the need to fund women’s health care.

“Robin Hood Tax” Proposal Gains Global Support

Nurses rally in Chicago to support the Robin Hood Tax

Nurses led a rally in Chicago May 18 ahead the NATO summit to boost the idea of instituting a “Robin Hood Tax,” a tiny tax on financial institutions’ transactions that would be used to offset drastic cuts in education and social services, and provide health care to Americans. Also called a Financial Speculation Tax, the tax has the support of Warren Buffett and Bill Gates, as well as President Hollande of France, Chancellor Merkel of Germany, Prime Minister Zapatero of Spain and other world leaders, as well as Nobel prize winning economists Joseph Stiglitz and Paul Krugman. The Robin Hood Tax on bankers would be less than one-half of one percent on deals over $100, and would apply to transactions like trades in derivatives, stocks, bonds and foreign currency exchanges. The charge would total less than one half on one cent on every $100 worth of transactions. Most ordinary people worldwide would never feel it, but experts estimate it would generate hundreds of billions of dollars each year to fight poverty and support public services like education and health care. National Nurses United teamed with National Peoples’ Action and local community groups to organize the rally. The were joined by veterans, members of the Occupy Movement, unions and others. The rally was part of a “global week of action” in support of the Robin Hood tax, with rallies also happening in Europe, Africa and on Mount Fuji in Japan.

Twisted Women’s Prayer Group Prays for Others to Get Cancer

An anonymous women’s prayer group sent an email to Mikey Weinstein, the founder of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), in which they promised to pray for women who work for MRFF or who are related to Weinstein to get incurable breast cancer as punishment for the organization’s activities. The Military Religious Freedom Foundation works to ensure that all members of the United States Armed Forces get the Constitutional guarantee of religious freedom to which they are entitled by the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. Doing this sometimes requires that MRFF point out when fundamentalist Christian programs and activities step over the line of separation of church and state. This has earned MRFF some powerful detractors, and while hate mail is routine for the organization, this email was particularly misguided. The authors of the email specifically named the women they would target in their prayers, saying (note errors are in original)

“Our prayer circle has never failed to achieve our hosts granting of the scripture we pray. for direct intervention against you as you are a true demon to America. Luke 9:1 We will not stop our prayers until you stop the evil you do with Lucifer on a daly basis. Luke 9:1 But not against you Mickey. We know by your internet site and your book who it is to be. Now for our prayer, we pray that the women who work in your MFRR and the women in your family will befall fast moving breast cancer which can not everbe cured.” The email then listed the names of 14 women associated with MRFF. The last line of the email stated, “[K]now that we pray and pray hard all the days until you stop your destruction of our American army and accept Christ Jesus as Lord and join His army.”

 

The MRFF says that the organization’s “significant base of Christian supporters often shares their horror at the actions” of fundamentalist Christians like those who wrote the email “that give all Christians a bad name and awful reputation.”

Source: Military Religious Freedom Foundation press release, April 24, 2012

Clean, Sustainable Energy vs. Fracking Colorado

A guest post by Michele Swensen

The week prior to Senator Morgan Carroll’s May 2 introduction of SB 107 (The Fracking Safety Act) to the Senate Judiciary Committee, an oil drilling site near Windsor, Colorado, operated by Ranchers Exploration Partners based in Greeley, was issued a cease-and-desist order by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC), which declared an environmental emergency. The site, located in unincorporated Larimer County above the Ridge West residential subdivision, the Poudre River and a lake, was declared a public health hazard after the drilling rig became unstable and brought up potentially toxic solid waste from the landfill upon which it was positioned. The COGCC had issued a drilling permit in September 2010, and state health officials were satisfied that the company had moved the drilling site sufficiently away from the landfill, based on a June, 2011 six-foot test drill over the site. Ranchers Exploration plans to move the drilling rig yet again to another site on the same property, ostensibly away from the old landfill.

The COGCC’s field inspection of the drilling site concluded that Ranchers Exploration failed to follow “most best management practices for drilling sites,” e.g., failing to build secondary containment for “storm water runoff, sewage, chemicals and other toxins that might flow off the drilling pad.”

CleanSlateNow: Medicine for America’s Broken Democracy

Throughout his 16 years in the Colorado state legislature, former Colorado Senate Majority Leader Ken Gordon saw first-hand how corporate money is killing government, and it alarmed him. Gordon saw legislators failing to represent the people who elected them, and instead represent the big money donors who kept them in office. Now Gordon is on a mission to change our broken system.

Ken Gordon came of age in Michigan during the U.S. war in Vietnam. The experience of the war impressed upon him the need to become active when you see something terrible going on around you. “Clearly government was doing something awful,” he says of the Vietnam war, noting that between one and two million people lost their lives because of America’s military involvement in Vietnam. Gordon did everything he could to help end the war: he marched in anti-war rallies in Washington and in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The wave of anti-war protests that swept the country eventually pushed the American government to end the war, and the experience showed Gordon the power people wield when enough of them get behind a cause.

Another Town Loses Lawsuit Over Christian Prayers at Public Meetings

The town board of of Greece, New York (population about 94,000, outside of Rochester) regularly opened its public meetings with Christian prayers.  More times than not the prayers contained references to “Jesus Christ, “Jesus,” “Your Son, or “the “Holy Spirit.” But in a unanimous decision issued May 17, 2012, the United States Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the town’s practice violated the U.S. Constitution by favoring one religion over others. Two citizens of Greece, Susan Galloway and Linda Stephens, complained to the town several times about the prayer practice, sometimes during public comment periods at meetings. When the two pointed out that the prayers impermissibly aligned the town with Christianity, the town failed to respond. Nor did the town respond when one person delivering an invocation in October, 2007 described objectors to the town’s prayer practice as a “minority … ignorant of the history of our country.”

The Bottled Water Scam

Some beverage companies secretly bottle tap water and then charge 1,900 times more for it

People who buy bottled water pay up to 1,900 times what tap water costs, but get less access to key information about the pricey water than they do for tap water. Big companies that sell bottled water, like Pepsi (Aquafina) and Coke (Crystal Geyser), want you to think their water is special, but refuse to reveal where their water comes from, the methods used to purify it or whether their own testing revealed any contaminants in the water. According to the Environmental Working Group (pdf), the makers of the top ten best-selling brands of bottled water refuse to answer at least one of those questions. Only one — Nestle, maker of Pure Life Purified water — willingly discloses the specific source of its water, treatment method and gives consumers access to a water quality test report. Digging for information reveals that at at least one brand of bottled water, Aquafina, is bottled from a public water source. California passed a law in 2007 ordering bottle water manufacturers to publicly disclose quality information about their bottled water, but as of 2011 only 34 percent of companies were complying with the law. When asked to supply water quality information, the makers of Aquafina claimed it was “proprietary information” that was “not for the public.” Bottled water companies make claims like their water is purely from rainfall, purified by “equatorial winds” (Fiji Water) or can help you live longer, but cannot and do not substantiate these claims. In the mean time, every 27 hours, Americans drink enough bottled water to circle the Earth with plastic bottles stacked end to end. EWG recommends drinking filtered tap water instead of bottled water. Municipalities issue annual tap water quality reports that are always available to the public.

Source: Environmental Working Group report 2011 Bottled Water Scorecard (pdf)

Christian Groups Hyperventilate After CO Appeals Court Ruling

In the wake of the Colorado State Court of Appeals’ unanimous ruling (pdf) May 10 that a state-sanctioned “Day of Prayer” violates the state constitution, the National Day of Prayer (NDP) Task Force has started a petition asking Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper to “prepare a vigorous defense” against the decision. The Freedom From Religion Foundation, which brought the case and won, is fighting back by asking Colorado residents to support the ruling by contacting the governor and state attorney general and asking them not to appeal the Court’s decision. The Court was careful to preface its ruling by saying “Our decision does not affect anyone’s constitutionally protected right to pray, in public or in private, alone or in groups,” but pointed out that religious liberty is “abridged when the State affirmatively sponsors the particular religious practice of prayer.” Despite this clear statement that no one’s right to pray is in danger, the National Day of Prayer Task Force is spinning the ruling as a threat, saying it “undermines the heritage and tradition of the American people.” Similarly, the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) — a Christian organization that tries to encourage prayer in local, state and federal government — portrays  efforts to end improper government endorsements of religion as “targeted attacks on religious freedom.” Like the NDP Task Force, the ADF similarly tries to stir up fear by claiming that “those who believe in God are increasingly threatened, punished and silenced.”

Colorado Legislator Who Killed Civil Unions Bill has Gay Son

Rep. Don Coram (R-Montrose)

The lone Republican legislator responsible for killing Colorado’s civil unions bill voted against it even though his son and only child is gay. Rep. Don Coram of Montrose cast the deciding vote on a 5-4 party line vote May 14. Rep. Coram is the father of Dee Coram, who runs the Coffee Trader, a popular coffee bar in downtown Montrose. Dee Coram has served on a local economic development board, has been active in helping revitalize downtown Montrose and even got an award from the Governor for his work. Dee Coram says his father not only let him down, but also let down the entire gay community. Commenting on his father’s vote, Coram said, “I was told by my grandfather, there’s always a time to lead and there’s always a time to follow. He was given a time to lead, and he didn’t do it. He could have and should have been the deciding vote.” Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper called the special session to address the civil unions bill after Republican maneuvering blocked it from coming to a vote in the entire House, where it had enough votes to pass. The bill had already received the approval of three separate House committees during the regular session and had enough bipartisan support to pass in the full House. To kill it, House Speaker Frank McNulty (R-Highlands Ranch) assigned the bill to yet a fourth committee — the House State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee — where he knew it would not pass.

Online Petition Battles Junk Mail

The U.S. Post Office, suffering from reduced mail volume, has started a new program aimed at encouraging businesses to send junk mail, or “direct mail.” The program is called “Every Door Direct Mail,” and for a greatly reduced price it lets businesses blast out mailings like coupons, fliers and menus to every single household within a specific Zip code or mailing route. Business owners don’t even have to address their ads. The program is the source of fliers packing mail boxes that are addressed to “Our Neighbor,” “Postal Customer” or Current Resident.” Your name gets added to junk mail lists whenever you unwittingly turn over your name and address to a merchant, for example when you buy a big-ticket item like a car or a house, order something from a catalog, donate to a charity, fill out a product registration form or sign up for a grocery store surveillance card (euphemistically called “loyalty cards.”). Any time you hand your name and address over to a merchant, you can expect to start getting more junk mail, and mailing lists are valuable. Companies that sell or rent mailing lists make a lot of money off them. But a nonprofit consumer advocacy group called Catalog Choice, that helps people stop getting junk mail, has started on online petition asking the U.S. Postmaster General to let people opt out of getting unaddressed advertising mail.  Catalog Choice doesn’t fault the USPS for its junk mail program, but says it should give people a choice to opt out of such mass-mailing programs.  Right now, under USPS’s new program consumers must contact each individual business if they would rather not receive their mail ads — a cumbersome burden to place on people. The USPS defends their new junk mailing program by saying it lets people “know what’s going on in their own neighborhood.”

Compass Colorado Links Obama and U.S. Energy Policy to Iranian Dictator

CompassColorado.org's new billboard

The Republican front group Compass Colorado is running billboards across the state that link President Obama with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The boards show a photo of President Obama alongside photos of Ahmadinejad and, varyingly, three lesser-known Colorado Democratic Congressional candidates: Representatives Joe Mikloski, Sal Pace and Congressman Ed Perlmutter. Above the photos, text says “Higher gas prices YES! U.S. Energy Independence NO!” The boards fail to mention that the U.S. does not buy any oil from Iran. By using their photos and names next to that of President Obama, Compass Colorado is unwittingly giving the three lesser-known candidates a free boost to their name recognition. Compass Colorado is run by Tyler Q. Houlton, who worked as communications director for former Colorado Rep. Tom Tancredo. Tancredo gained fame for his February 4, 2010 speech at the National Tea Party Movement Convention in which he said Barack Obama became president because of “people who could not even spell the word ’vote’ or say it in English.” Tancredo then proposed making people take “a civics literacy test” as a prerequisite to voting. Houlton also worked for Rep. Scott McInnis’ failed campaign for governor of Colorado. McInnis’ campaign tanked after journalists revealed McInnis had plagiarized an extensive essay about water law that a nonprofit group had paid him to write. McInnis blamed the plagiarism on an elderly research assistant and refunded the $300,000 to the organization that paid him. Compass Colorado does not reveal its funders.

Main source: Colorado Pols, May 12, 2012