The Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) based in Madison, Wisconsin is pushing back against a new coalition, “Stand up for Religious Freedom,” led by the Pro-Life Action League and Citizens for a Pro-Life Society, that is leading a nationwide rally June 8 to “stop the HHS mandate.” The religious groups oppose a provision in the Obama administration’s new health insurance law that requires most private health insurers cover FDA-approved prescription contraceptive drugs and devices, including the “morning after pill.” The Department of Health and Human Services’ so-called mandate includes an exemption for religious employers who object to contraception, and the rule does not apply to any churches, but that doesn’t go far enough for these organizations, which are trying to block all financial assistance with contraceptives. Moreover, the Catholic Bishops have introduced into Congress the so-called “Respect for Rights of Conscience Act,” which goes even further than banning financial help with contraceptives. The Bishops’ bill would allow any private employer with a “religious or moral objection” to veto coverage for specific treatments for employees. For example, an employer who is a Jehovah’s Witnesses could bar coverage of emergency blood transfusions for its employees, and a Southern Baptist or Mormon employer could deny prescription birth control to its single, female employees.
This three-page document dated November 15, 2001, from Philip Morris’ online corporate document collection, argues that the federal government would be better off diverting funds from the U.S. Department of Justice’s 1999 lawsuit against the tobacco industry to concentrate on the fight against terrorism. The strategy leverages the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the U.S. as a reason to stop the government’s investigation into the major American tobacco companies’ decades-long conspiracy to defraud the American people about the links between smoking and disease. On November 29, 2001 (just days after this document was written) the investigative organization Center for Public Integrity revealed that then-House Majority Whip and tobacco industry ally Tom DeLay (R-Texas) had done the bidding of the tobacco companies by quietly inserting a clause into the Financial Anti-Terrorism Act of 2001 (a bill rushed through Congress in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks) shielding U.S. tobacco companies from foreign lawsuits that alleged cigarette smuggling and money laundering.
A slew of major media outlets including the Los Angeles Times, the Wall Street Journal and CNN reported on a speech that Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney gave on May 31 in front of the shuttered offices of Solyndra, the California-based solar panel manufacturer that went bankrupt after taking a $535 million loan from the U.S. Department of Energy — but they all failed to check on whether what Romney said in his speech was true. Referring to Solyndra’s government loan, Romney said, “An independent inspector general looked at this investment and concluded that the [Obama] administration had steered money to friends & family, to campaign contributors. This building — the half a billion dollar taxpayer investment — represents a serious conflict of interest on the part of the President and his team. It’s also a symbol of how the President thinks about free enterprise. Free enterprise to the President means taking money form the taxpayers and giving it freely to his friends.” But Romney’s statements are a bald-faced, easily-verifiable lie and it took days for the major media covering the speech to fact-check Romney’s statements after media watchdogs called them out.
Citizens of Missoula, Montana continue to make headway in their effort to push Rush Limbaugh off the air in that town. Dave Chrismon, head of the grassroots effort and website RushOutOfMissoula.com, reports that seven more businesses have pulled their ads from Limbaugh’s show in the last week, for a total of 27 businesses that have abandoned the show since the group’s effort started in mid-April, 2012. “We’re shaking this bully’s tree!” Chrismon crowed. Remaining advertisers can be seen at this link on RushOutOfMissoula.com, which is tracking advertisers on the show. Local businesses still advertising on Limbuagh’s show include Adair Jewelers, whose owner, Jim Adair, claims he is being “blackmailed” by supporters of RushOutOfMissoula.com and who says the group wants to “take all talk radio off the air.” KGVO, the station that broadcasts Limbaugh in Missoula, has featured Adair on its talk shows as a way to try and defend the station’s keeping Limbaugh on the air amid the firestorm of disapproval of the show. Nationwide businesses that have quit Limbaugh’s show include Home Depot, Sam’s Club, ProActiv, Constant Contact and Legal Zoom. Some of the national businesses that continue to advertise on the show include Allegiant Airlines, Curves (the health club for women), Habitat for Humanity, Max Muscle, Dish Network, Fram Oil Filters, LifeLock and Match.Com.
An NBC investigative team has exposed historical and financial ties between many of the supposedly independent groups actively opposing Proposition 29, a measure to increase California’s tobacco tax by $1.00 per pack, and the tobacco industry. Collectively, groups against the measure have spent $46.7 million so far — over four times more than the amount spent by groups supporting the measure. Much of the money to oppose the measure came from cigarette makers Reynolds American and Philip Morris, laundered through groups that are seemingly independent from the industry, like Americans for Tax Reform, the Small Business Action Committee and the California Taxpayers’ Association. Tobacco industry documents now available on the Internet reveal these groups have historically received significant financial support from Philip Morris, R.J. Reynolds and the Tobacco Institute. Political analyst Larry Gerston commented, “These kinds of transfers of money increasingly take place under a very dark shadow.” The strategy of burying tobacco industry involvement in ballot measure campaigns is revealed in a 1998 proposal by a political consulting group that worked for the Tobacco Institute on another cigarette tax fight.
The retail giant Wal-Mart is joining other big businesses in ending its membership in the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the conservative corporate bill mill that helps spread “shoot first” laws like the one linked to the killing of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin. In a letter to ALEC, Wal-Mart Vice President Maggi Sans wrote, “Previously, we expressed our concerns about ALEC’s decision to weigh in on issues that stray from its core mission ‘to advance the Jeffersonian principles of free markets’” Sans said. “We feel that the divide between these activities and our purpose as a business has become too wide. To that end, we are suspending our membership in ALEC.” Other large corporations that have already left the organization include Coca Cola, Pepsi, Kraft Foods, Intuit and others.
Under the guise of preventing voter fraud — a virtually nonexistent problem in Florida — the state of Florida is demanding tens of thousands of American citizens provide proof of citizenship to the state in person or lose their right to vote. Acting on a directive from Governor Rick Scott, Florida’s secretary of state sent letters to 180,000 voters to be stricken from the voter rolls unless they prove to the state that they are, in fact, citizens. Recipients were told they must attend an administrative hearing in person to provide proof of their citizenship. The list includes many people falsely flagged as non-citizens, including 91 year-old Bill Internicola, a World War II veteran who won a Bronze Star for bravery, and Maureen Russo, a 60 year old business owner who has been a registered voter in Florida for 40 years. ThinkProgress estimates that more than 20 percent of the voters flagged as non-citizens in Florida are actually full-fledged citizens. The massive purge of voters by Florida’s Republican administration comes at a time very close to the impending general election this fall, giving falsely-accused voters minimal time to correct the records. The purge also disproportionally affects Democrats. Two thirds of the supposed non-citizens on the purge list live in Miami-Dade County, which leans heavily Democratic. In response to information that legitimate citizens are being targeted for purging from the voter rolls, Gov. Scott defiantly vowed to intensify his efforts to remove voters from the rolls.
After people started avoiding high-fructose corn syrup in the foods they buy, the Corn Refiners Association (CRA) petitioned the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to change the name “high fructose corn syrup” to a more wholesome-sounding name on nutrition labels: “corn sugar.” That was in 2010. Around the same time corn refiners started a widespread TV ad campaign to try and convince people there is no significant difference between their product and regular, granulated white sugar — a claim that prompted refiners of granulated sugar to file a lawsuit against the CRA accusing them of deceiving the public. Now comes more bad news for the corn guys: May 30, 2012, the FDA squashed CRA’s hopes for renaming its much-maligned product when the agency officially rejected their requested change. FDA told CRA that the agency defines sugar as a dried, crystallized solid — not a syrup. In a press release, the CRA said the “vast majority of American consumers are confused” about high-fructose corn syrup and claimed FDA denied its application on “narrow, technical grounds.” Changing names to escape a PR debacle is common. Two examples: Cigarette maker Philip Morris changed its name to “Altria” to relieve its food companies of the taint of tobacco, and the mercenary firm Blackwater changed its name to “Xe” after its agents engaged in the Nisour Square massacre in Iraq in 2007.
If your local TV news broadcasts are all starting to sound the same from channel to channel, it’s because they are. A sneaky form of media consolidation is happening all over the country called “covert consolidation” in which different local TV newscasts use the exact same stories, the same video, same scripts and the same viewpoints, but do it under different “brands.” Covert consolidation occurs when a number of TV stations in the same area are owned by a single corporate entity. Broadcasters between the multiple stations will share their news operations to save money. Covert consolidation not only circumvents Federal Communications Commission (FCC) rules regarding ownership of stations, it also eliminates independent local journalism and the competition and diversity between stations that are the basis of a healthy democracy. Covert consolidation has been documented in 83 of the nation’s 210 news communities throughout the U.S. as TV stations across the country quietly merge newsrooms to cut costs — all at a time when broadcasters are already making record profits. Covert consolidation is also a factor blocking minorities and women from owning and operating TV stations. Big media companies are using loopholes and backroom deals to get around FCC rules prohibiting media consolidation. To draw attention to the problem of covert consolidation, FreePress.org has created an interactive map showing which stations across the U.S. are consolidated, and the severity of the consolidation. FreePress also offers a free “Change the Channels” tool kit (pdf) people can download to document and record media consolidation in their areas, and instructions for exposing covert consolidation in your own local community.
Main source: FreePress/SaveTheNews.org, May 29, 2012
The average fast food restaurant meal today is over four times bigger than it was in the 1950s, according to a new website by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. The site, MakingHealthEasier.org, encourages healthy behaviors to help head off chronic disease. CDC finds that portion creep has resulted in a “new abnormal” for food portions in American society. In the 1950s, the average fountain soda at a fast food restaurant was just 7 ounces. Today it’s 42 ounces. The average hamburger was 3.9 ounces, and today it’s 12 ounces. A portion of french fries in the 1950s was just 2.4 ounces and today it is 6.7 ounces. Since the early 1900s, the average size of a chocolate bar has increased by 1,233 percent. Since the 1960s, the weight of the average American woman has increased by 24.5 pounds and the average weight of a man has increased by 28 pounds. As portions have grown, so have obesity and diabetes, and the problems and medical expense they bring. In 1958, only about one percent of the country’s population had diabetes. By 2009, that number had risen 22 percent. In 2011, an estimated 25.6 million (11.3%) (pdf) of people age 20 and above were diagnosed with diabetes in the U.S., with an estimated 7 million more undiagnosed. Medical expenses for diabetics are over two times greater than people without diabetes.
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
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.
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.”
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…”
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.
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.
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.
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
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.