Anne Landman

Republicans Circumvent Democracy in Michigan

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

Transnational Tobacco Companies Target Poor Countries

Thai child smoking (Photo from Thailand-th.net)

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.

Source: International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, March 27, 2012 (pdf)

 

TV Ad Promotes Separation of Church and State


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.

Kraft Foods Dumps the American Legislative Exchange Council

Kraft Foods announced that it will not renew its membership in the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the right-wing corporate bill mill responsible for spreading the “stand your ground” gun laws that led to the high-profile killing of Trayvon Martin in Florida. Kraft is one of three large companies that have dropped their sponsorship of ALEC just this week as a result of a grassroots push by the group Color of Change to pressure sponsors to sever their relationships with the ALEC. Coca Cola and Pepsi Cola both announced this week that they plan to end their membership in ALEC. Reynolds American, manufacturer of Camel cigarettes, has said it will remain a member of the ALEC, as did Koch Industries. Color of Change plans to continue targeting additional companies to end their relationships with ALEC. ALEC declined to comment on the companies that have decided to leave the group.

Source: Politico, April 5, 2012

Philip Morris Exec: Public Health Authorities are “Muesli-Eating, Stool-Watching Joggers”

In a January, 1988 speech to Philip Morris’ (PM) Australian sales force titled “The Challenge of Change,” John Dollisson, then head of Philip Morris Corporate Affairs Australia, describes the company as “at war” with public health advocates.  On Page 13, he describes the sales force as one of “our most effective weapons” in that war.  Dollisson displays blatant contempt for public health authorities when he calls them “Meusli-eating, stool-watching joggers who know what is best for all of us.”[Page 2] Dollisson discloses the strategies PM has employed to defeat public health efforts in Australia: funding lawsuits against the government, supporting a “spontaneous” smokers’ rights group, finding ways around state advertising bans, running their own ad campaigns during national “quit smoking” campaigns, using strategic sports sponsorships to deliver audiences to favored politicians, forming a “business/liberty group” to “defend freedoms and question the legitimacy of anti-business groups,” giving away gold “Benson & Hedges” pens actually worth $10 that customers “perceive” as being worth $50-60, and much more.

Wave of Aggressive Parenting Linked to “Baby on Board” Car Signs

A traditional Easter egg hunt in Colorado Springs was canceled due to large numbers of aggressive parents who insisted on participating in the event even though it was for children only. Last year when organizers sounded the signal to start the Easter egg hunt, parents poured over the boundary ropes and scooped up all the eggs, leaving many kids without any eggs. The overly-pushy parents turned off other parents who said they would not take their children to the event this year. The wave of aggressive parents at last year’s event led organizers to cancel the event entirely this year. Parenting experts cite a growing wave of over-protective parents they call “helicopter parents” — parents who hover over their children constantly, denying them space to learn from their own experiences. Parenting experts say this trend of overly-aggressive parenting started back in the 1980s, around the same time people started putting “Baby on Board” signs in their car windows. People who want to encourage their kids to think for themselves can go to ThoughtOnBoard.com for an erasable car sign that encourages creativity, independence and free thought.

Source: Washington Post/AP, March 26, 2012

 

Vivid Anti-Smoking Ads Prompt Flood of Quitline Calls

On March 19, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) started a new print and television ad campaign called “Tips from Former Smokers” that features real people offering tips on how to live with diseases caused by smoking or secondhand smoke. Ads show survivors of oral and throat cancer, strokes, amputations and heart attacks. The former smokers give tips like how to bathe, shave and get dressed with their conditions. The ads show amputees putting on their prosthetic limbs, and heart attack and lung cancer survivors show their surgical scars. The ads also show other grisly results of smoking that most people rarely or never get to see. The campaign has more than doubled calls to CDC’s quit line. From March 12 – March 18, the period just prior to the start of the ad campaign, the quit line got 14,437 calls. Between March 19 and March 25 — after the ads started running — the quit line got 34,413 calls. The ads are tagged with the number 1-800-QUIT-NOW, a toll-free number where smokers can get free quitting information and support.  Visits to CDC’s quit-smoking website, www.smokefree.gov, have tripled since the campaign began.

Philip Morris: “Get sick children on Oprah”

In 1993, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) officially listed secondhand tobacco smoke as a Group A Human Carcinogen, the same rating the agency gives to asbestos, radon gas and vinyl chloride. The listing was a public relations disaster for the tobacco industry, and their internal documents show how tobacco companies reacted. A 6-page Philip Morris planning document found in the files of Ted Lattanzio (Director of Philip Morris Worldwide Regulatory Affairs), lists strategies and budgets for fighting efforts to ban smoking in workplaces and public places.  Page 4 describes a strategy for dealing with public information about how childrens’ health is disproportionately affected by exposure to secondhand smoke:

“Shift the debate on ETS [environmental tobacco smoke] and children to: Are our schools and day care centers making children sick?”

Tactics proposed for making the public believe that schools and day care centers are making children sick (instead of secondhand smoke) include:

“Feed available information to National School Board Association in D.C.  Feed information to Oprah, et. al. Get sick children on the shows.  Research newspaper clippings of parents who keep children at home because of school environment — pass those on.  Why?  Shift the debate.  Why is EPA not spending research dollars on solving school problem?? I have the research budget for next year — not very much is going to identify or solve the school problem.  Get information to EPA Watch.”

Philip Morris’ estimated budget for the effort to blame day care facilities for making children sick was $100,000.

Justice for Kenneth Chamberlain, Sr.


By now millions of people know about of the tragic killing of Trayvon Martin in Florida. Far fewer, though, know about the equally, if not more tragic killing of Kenneth Chamberlain, Sr. an elderly veteran with a heart condition who lived in White Plains, New York, who was killed by police in his own home last November. Around 5:30 a.m. on the morning of November 19, 2011, Chamberlain, 68, unknowingly triggered the medical-alert pendant he wore around his neck while he was sleeping. The medical alert company contacted Chamberlain’s apartment through a speaker box in the dining room to ask if he was all right. When Chamberlain didn’t respond, the company called 911 and told police they were responding to a medical emergency, not a crime. The police arrived at Chamberlain’s house and knocked on the door. Chamberlain woke up, went to the door and told the police that he was fine and that he didn’t call them. The police insisted on gaining entry to Chamberlain’s home, though, insisting that they wanted to see that he was all right. Chamberlain kept refusing to open the door and asking them to leave. Finally, after about an hour of this standoff, the officers, uttering racial slurs and expletives, broke down Mr. Chamberlain’s front door. Once inside, they fired a taser at Mr. Chamberlain. The taser prongs apparently missed Mr. Chamberlain and one of the officers shot Mr. Chamberlain in the chest, killing him.

President Obama’s Defense of Planned Parenthood Draws Little Notice

Republican attacks on Planned Parenthood have drawn a lot of media attention in recent months, but a video message from President Obama in support of Planned Parenthood recently posted on the Internet drew little notice. In the video, Mr. Obama talks about how politicians are trying to deny millions of American women the health care they rely on. He says that when people hear “some professional politicians casually say they’ll get rid of” Planned Parenthood, what they are really talking about is eliminating the funding “for preventive care that millions of women rely on and leaving them to fend for themselves.” Mr. Obama talks about how he stood up to Republicans who wanted to shut down the government over funding for Planned Parenthood, and that it is wrong for legislators to play politics with women’s health. While he doesn’t mention it in the video, Obama has a personal stake in this issue. He was raised by a single mother who died at age 53 from ovarian cancer.

CVS Drug Stores Tout Healthy Image While Profiting from Disease & Death

Dr. Gerace's CVS protest ad

For 103 days now, Terence Gerace, Ph.D. has stood outside CVS pharmacies in Washington, D.C. protesting their sales of a product that is known to be deadly when used exactly as directed: cigarettes. In press releases and ads, CVS claims it works to improve health and lower health care costs for Americans, but all the while it continues to sell the leading causes of preventable death and disease in the U.S. No matter what they say in their ads, the truth is that CVS, and other national drug chains, like Rite Aid and Walgreens (pdf), do not care about health one bit. They care about profits, and every day they profit from both causing and curing disease. Pharmacies are among the most trusted sources of health information in the U.S., but for decades, national drug chains have actively colluded behind the scenes with tobacco companies not only to market cigarettes, but also to oppose legislation (pdf) to regulate tobacco. Dr. Gerace, a former Research Associate Professor in the Department of Epidemiology and Public Health at the University of Miami School of Medicine, knows all of this, so it’s no wonder he saw red after spotting a full-page CVS ad in the Washington Post that screamed, “To better manage chronic diseases, we needed a new kind of pharmacy…” Incensed, Dr. Gerace made a new sign out of the ad by adding the big words “NEW CVS Cigarette-Free!” above the headline. Now he uses this sign in his ongoing, one-man protest against CVS selling cigarettes. In 2010, the American Pharmacists Association issued a statement urging U.S. pharmacies to stop selling tobacco.  Boston and San Francisco have passed laws forcing pharmacies to stop selling cigarettes, and Target, the nation’s third-largest retailer chain, stopped selling cigarettes in 1996.  It is counter-intuitive, inimical to their mission and just plain two-faced for a business to portray itself as caring about people’s health while also selling cigarettes, but until a law forces them stop, CVS, as well as Rite Aid and Walgreens, plan to keep advertising that they care about health while continuing to sell the leading cause of death and disease in the U.S.

Limbaugh, in Crisis Management Mode, Bribes Listeners to Support Him

Rush Limbaugh

In a move that the Daily Kos has dubbed “Operation Buy Me Some Love,” Rush Limbaugh is trying to buy support from his remaining listeners by luring people to retweet statements he posts to his Twitter account in exchange for a chance to win a prize. Rush announced on his show that each day he will randomly select someone from his list of Twitter followers who retweets his messages to win a new third-generation IPad. He promises NOT to announce the name of the winner on his show, apparently to save them the embarrassment of being exposed as a listener. Limbaugh refers to the advertising boycott against him as “a pure act of terrorism.” Limbaugh has also hired a reputation and crisis manager, Brian Glicklich, to help him with defense and “media correction.” Glicklich served as a crisis manager for Glenn Beck and Paris Hilton.

Main source: Daily Kos, March 23, 2012

Vodka Ad Jokes About Sexual Assault, Gets Yanked

Offensive Facebook ad for Belvedere Vodka

The makers of Belvedere Vodka yanked a controversial ad that appeared to joke about rape. The ad showed a horrified woman trying desperately to escape from a leering man who was grabbing her from behind. The tagline read, “Unlike some people, Belvedere always goes down smoothly.” The company tweeted the controversial ad and posted it on their Facebook page, only to get strong and immediate backlash. Belvedere moved quickly to remove the post and apologized several times. Belvedere’s ad agency, Arnell Group, has done ads with strong sexual overtones for the brand before, but the agency denies that it created this particularly controversial ad.

Main Source: Ad Age, March 23, 2012

CleanSlateNow.org Lists Courageous Candidates Who Turn Down All PAC Funding


A new website created in Colorado, CleanSlateNow.org, is the first and only site so far to publicly list candidates for office at all levels of government nationwide who have pledged to forgo all special interest money. The listed candidates do not accept any funding from political action committees, big banks, insurance companies, unions, big oil, pharmaceutical companies or any other corporate interests. As CleanSlateNow states, the only problem is that these candidates are little-known. The website aims to fix that. CleanSlateNow.org was founded in October, 2011 by former Colorado Senate Majority Leader Ken Gordon, who was term-limited out of office in 2009. Gordon is famous for making a chilling 2007 “No Stuntman Used” campaign video in which he appears in person in scuba gear from inside a shark tank to demonstrate his independence from local political sharks. The goal of CleanSlateNow is to create an environment where people, and not money, will start determining the outcome of U.S. elections.

Two Men Sell Their Faces To Pay Off Student Debt

McPainted Face

Two young British men desperate to pay off student debt and facing dismal prospects for employment  have started selling ad space on their faces — and are doing remarkably well at, it while having a blast. Ross Harper and Ed Moyse, both 22, created BuyMyFace.com, where people go to schedule the time they want rent the two young mens’ faces. Customers then upload a logo or picture along with any brief text they want displayed, and then, on the appropriate dates, Harper and Moyse have the specified graphics expertly painted on their faces and go out and about in public sporting the ads. Advertisers can send the two men to festivals, skiing, skydiving, go-karting or on other adventures to help boost visibility of their ads. The two are advertising their service on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and LinkedIn, as well as through newspapers and word of mouth. The big, London-based audit and financial advisory firm Ernst and Young bought ten days’ worth of advertising on BuyMyFace.com in December, 2011, and have since become exclusive sponsor of the BuyMyFace.com website.  In addition to winning the firm’s valuable sponsorship, thousands of people are visiting BuyMyFace.com every day. Days are sold for the next two months, ranging in price from £150-600 (U.S. $238-955).  Now, at day 180 of their unique effort, Harper and Moyse have earned £32,682 (about U.S. $52,000) toward paying off their student loans.

Source: PRWeb UK, March 29, 2012

A Grassroots Effort to Track the Side Effects of Prescription Drugs

A new word has entered the lexicon: “Pharmageddon.” Wiktionary defines it as “a dystopian scenario wherein medicine and the pharmaceuticals industry have a net detrimental effect on human health and medical progress does more harm than good.” We are fast approaching pharmageddon, as drugs are increasingly fast-tracked to approval and only later found to do little or no good, or, even worse, to cause harm. In 2010, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) pulled the breast cancer drug Avastin off the market, after having fast-tracked its approval. Over $6 billion worth of Avastin was sold before two follow up studies showed that the survival rate of patients who took Avastin was no better than patients who took other drugs. Not only did huge numbers of women take this essentially worthless drug to treat their breast cancer, but the listed side effects of Avastin included conditions severe enough to merit  a descriptor of potentially fatal several times in the drug’s informational brochure. Another factor in prescription drug danger is the fact that drug companies are increasingly engaging in criminal behavior aimed at boosting sales at any cost. In 2009, the drug maker Pfizer paid a record $2.3 billion fine and pled guilty to a felony for illegally promoting its painkiller Bextra. Pfizer paid kickbacks to doctors and dished out perks, like massages and all-expense-paid trips to fancy resorts, to get doctors to prescribe Bextra for off-label, or unapproved, uses. Like Avastin, Bextra was ultimately pulled off the market due to safety concerns. This wasn’t the first or even the second time Pfizer had been caught marketing drugs illegally, either. It was the fourth time just  since 2002 that FDA had fined Pfizer or one of its subsidiaries fined for marketing its drugs in an illegal manner.

Taking prescription drugs is increasingly fraught with danger. Adverse side effects have risen over the years to where they are now a leading cause of death, disability, and illness.  It is estimated that only 1 to 10 percent of adverse drug events ever get reported to the FDA. Many people suffer side effects from prescription drugs that are considered “medically mild” but that are nonetheless disabling, like detrimental effects on memory, concentration, and judgment. Often people report adverse side effects to their doctors, only to be told there is little or no evidence linking their problem to the drug. This lack of information is not a mistake — it traceable to the fact that most of the data on prescription drugs is the property of  the pharmaceutical companies, since the companies run most of the clinical trials for the drug. Up to 60% of these trials are never publicly reported. For obvious reasons, companies have a vested interest in not fully disclosing the side effects of their products.

Recognizing the extent and severity of the problem of prescription drug side effects, Dr. David Healy, author of a just-published book titled “Pharmageddon,” along with group of people who, like Healy, have risked their careers to speak out about adverse drug events, are developing a free website where people can share information on the side effects they experience while taking prescription drugs.  RxRisk.org, in effect, aims to crowd-source real-time data about drug side effects, to create a fuller picture of exactly how these drugs  are really affecting people. The site accepts no advertising and is not linked in any way to big Pharma. Use of it is free and anonymous. The site also helps users research drugs they are taking. People who report information on the side effects they experience can get a free report they can take to their doctors, to encourage fuller and more informed discussion of their treatment. Doctors can also add information to their patients’ reports. RxRisk.org’s advisory board is comprised of people with relatives injured by adverse drug events, health care activists and independent scientists. The site is currently in beta development, but RxRisk.org is a much-needed grassroots effort to track the side effects of prescription drugs and build a record of them, so that it eventually it will become unreasonable to say the problem can’t be happening in at least some people. Visit the new, consumer-friendly drug-tracking website here.

National Organization for Marriage Exposed in Secret PR Documents

 

Sign from NOM anti-gay rally in Indianapolis (Photo: NOM Exposed)

Previously-secret internal documents released during the course of a lawsuit in Maine reveal the National Organization for Marriage had a PR strategy to turn blacks against gays in an effort to stir up opposition to gay marriage. NOM, a right-wing, anti-gay group founded in 2007 to fight efforts to legalize same-sex marriage, works to defeat marriage equality laws in states where they are advancing.

A confidential 2008-2009 report to NOM’s Board of Directors states,
“The strategic goal of this project is to drive a wedge between gays and blacks—two key Democratic constituencies. Find, equip, energize and connect African American spokespeople for marriage, develop a media campaign around their objections to gay marriage as a civil right; provoke the gay marriage base into responding by denouncing these spokesmen and women as bigots…Find attractive young black Democrats to challenge white gay marriage advocates electorally…”
Lifting directly from the tobacco industry strategy, one NOM’s document states (on page 23) “Identify and nurture a worldwide community of highly credentialed intellectuals and professional scholars, physicians, psychiatrists, social workers and writers to credential our concerns and to interrupt the silencing that takes place…around gay marriage and related family matters… Expert Witness Project 2010 Budget: $50,000.”

NOM released a statement defending its strategies of pitting minorities against each other, saying “Gay marriage is not a civil right, and we will continue to point this out in written materials such as those released in Maine. We proudly bring together people of different races, creeds and colors to fight for our most fundamental institution: marriage.”

Main Source: Human Rights Campaign, March 26, 2012

DirecTV’s Disappearing-Channels Scam

Thinking of subscribing to DirecTV? Think again. DirecTV pulls a fast one on subscribers to push them into more expensive packages after they sign up. Here’s how it works: Like all cable and satellite TV providers, DirecTV offers different levels of programming that include specific channels. New subscribers select the package with the channels they want — or so they think. A few months after you subscribe to their service, DirecTV pulls some of the channels originally included in your package. All of a sudden when you try to watch those channels, you get a “Channel Not Purchased” message on your screen. When you call DirecTV to tell them about the suddenly-missing channels, they say they’ve taken them out of your package and you’ll need to upgrade to a pricier package to get them back. DirecTV makes little effort to notify subscribers in advance of this change. They don’t announce the changes, for example, in any of the regular emails they send customers announcing special deals and “free” weekends of premium channels. They don’t add any more channels to your package to make up for the ones they’ve removed, and they don’t compensate customers financially for the loss by adjusting your bill for the channels you no longer get. On their website, they explain the loss by saying they took the channels away to help “manage rising programming costs.” Their website also says, “At DIRECTV, we strive to bring you the best entertainment experience available.” All you have to do is subscribe, or peruse the comments at CustomerServiceScoreboard.com/DIRECTV to find out that DirecTV pulls this scam with relative frequency. DirecTV also charges you $10.00/month extra to get a high-definition receiver, where most other pay TV services provide HD to all customers as part of the deal.