The maker of the “blu” brand of electronic cigarette is hoping smokers will respond to a particularly aggressive ad campaign that exploits their frustration and anger to sell more of their product. The ad’s headline that says, “Dear Smoking Ban.” Beneath the headline is a photo of an angry older, middle-aged woman flipping her middle finger at the viewer. The ad text links smoking to freedom, a psychological construct long used by the tobacco industry to counteract the understanding that nicotine causes a powerful addiction that robs smokers of control over their tobacco use. The ad text says, “Take back your freedom to smoke anywhere with blu electronic cigarettes. blu produces no smoke and no ash, only vapor, making it the smarter alternative to regular cigarettes. It’s the most satisfying way to tell the smoking bans to kiss off. Okay, maybe the second most satisfying way.” Electronic cigarettes contain nicotine, but since they don’t actually burn tobacco, they don’t contain as much of the hazardous byproducts of burned tobacco.
Andrew Breitbart, the right wing blogger who operated the website BigGovernment.com and who became famous for posting sensationalistic “sting” videos on his website, has died. The L.A. Times says his death was due to natural causes. Breitbart was responsible for posting a selectively edited video of former Agricultural Administration employee Shirley Sherrod, which was doctored to make her appear racist. The video was quickly exposed by mainstream media as race-baiting. Breitbart was known for posting sensationalized stories that were frequently based on distortions, falsehoods and pure speculation. He was also involved in instigating a fake nationwide ACORN “child prostitution” investigation, led an anti-gay smear campaign against Department of Education employee Kevin Jennings, broadcast yet another selectively-edited video made in conjunction with James O’Keefe (the slice-n-dice right-wing videographer who tried to frame ACORN) claiming that Census supervisors encouraged federal employees to falsify their time sheets. In 2009, Breitbart claimed on his website, BigGovernment.com, that “Transvestites, Mao and Obama Ornaments Decorate White House Christmas Tree.” On September 29, 2009, Breitbart posted a video that he claimed showed community organizers praying to then President-elect Obama. The video had captions that said, “Deliver us Obama,” and “Hear our cry, Obama.”
May he rest in peace.
Jeremy Grantham is a co-founder and chief investment strategist for GMO, a global investment firm that manages $97 billion in client assets and has more than 500 employees worldwide. CBS news called Grantham a “legendary investor,” and his résumé and business background make Grantham about as dedicated a capitalist as you can find anywhere in the U.S. these days. So when someone like Grantham writes that capitalism “threatens our existence,” people should sit up and take notice. Grantham’s February, 2012 quarterly newsletter] (pdf) is a scathing indictment of American capitalism and where it is leading the country: over a cliff. Grantham writes that “You don’t have to be a PhD mathematician to work out that if the average Chinese and Indian were to catch up with … the average American, then our planet’s goose is cooked, along with most other things. Indeed, scientists calculate that if they caught up, we would need at least three planets to be fully sustainable. But few listen to scientists these days.” Grantham points out that “our collective ability to feed ourselves, through erosion and fertilizer depletion has “received little or no attention,” and that “capitalism and corporations have absolutely no mechanism for dealing with these problems, and seen through a corporate discount rate lens, our grandchildren really do have no value.” He also writes, “Capitalism, by ignoring the finite nature of resources and by neglecting the long-term well-being of the planet and its potentially crucial biodiversity, threatens our existence.”
Source: GMO Quarterly Newsletter, (pdf) February, 2012
An ongoing criminal investigation into media mogul Rupert Murdoch’s News of the World phone hacking scandal in Britain has unearthed new and damaging information: that Murdoch’s paper, The Sun, illegally paid sums ranging into the hundreds of thousands of dollars to corrupt officials inside the British government, police and military in exchange for news tips and titillating gossip. Mr. Murdoch and his son, James, have tried to blame rampant phone hacking, bribes and other wrongdoing at Murdoch’s papers on a single rogue reporter, but the inquiry into the phone hacking scandal shows such activities were widespread in the organization and knowledge about them reached the highest levels of the papers’ management. The investigation found that former News International executive Rebekah Brooks was notified by police in 2006 that detectives possessed evidence that the cell phones of dozens of politicians, sports figures and celebrities had been illegally hacked by someone working for News of the World. In emails circulated among newspaper employees, staff talked about the risks of losing their pensions or their jobs if they weren’t careful to keep their payments to sources secret. The emails showed that journalists at Murdoch’s papers were fully aware what they were doing was wrong. Recently several senior editors and reporters at The Sun were arrested under allegations that they illegally paid sources, and on February 29, 2012, James Murdoch quit his position as executive chairman of News International, the company that owns the The Sun and the Sunday Times. James Murdoch will still run News Corporation’s television interests outside the U.S.
Main source: The New York Times, February 27, 2012
A strange ad was broadcast during the Academy Awards that tried to stir up anger and mistrust against the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) by claiming HSUS spends only a paltry amount of its donors’ money to support local animal shelters. What the ad didn’t say is that the national office of the Humane Society by design doesn’t operate or fund animal shelters. Its mission is to lobby for laws that reduce animal abuse, especially in big commercial animal-abuse industries like puppy mills, confinement cattle operations and chicken houses. HSUS also pushes for enforcement of existing laws that protect animals from abuse. Local Humane Societies, which do operate shelters, do their own fundraising, often without involvement from the national HSUS. The ad took advantage of peoples’ ignorance about how the Humane Society is organized nationally to attack the Humane Society.
HSUS is very effective at what it does. It successfully pushed to end tail docking of dairy cows in California, to end commercial farmers’ cruel confinement of pigs in gestation crates, and worked to end the use of chimpanzees in biomedical testing, among other significant accomplishments in recent years. The HSUS’s remarkable effectiveness is why this misleading TV ad exists. The deceptive ad was paid for by HumaneWatch.org, a website created by the Center for Consumer Freedom (CCF), a front group backed by big food companies and national restaurant chains. The man behind CCF is Rick Berman, the notorious Washington lobbyist who has made a lucrative career from creating misleading ads and websites that attack consumer safety, animal welfare and environmental protection groups. Berman has created groups to advocate for minimum wage jobs; in response to the creation of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, he formed a group called “Beverage Retailers Against Drunk Driving” (BRADD) to advocate for greater tolerance of drinking. He operates a website, FishScam.com, which tells people to ignore warnings about mercury in seafood. He operates the “Center for Union Facts,” a front group for individuals and businesses that oppose unions. Berman gets paid well by businesses whose interests he protects. In recognition of his creepy reputation, in 2007 CBS’ 60 Minutes profiled Rick Berman in segment aptly titled, “Meet Rick Berman, A.K.A. ‘Dr. Evil.'”
Few people know about “Dr. Evil” and his activities, which is why he can freely continue to engaging in them, and why we see ads like the one we saw on the Academy Awards. Big businesses love Berman because they can attack consumer interest groups while hiding behind him. This way, current and potential customers won’t see their dark side and their brands will remain untarnished. But people are starting to fight back against Berman. Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington created a website, BermanExposed.org, that outs Rick Berman, his activities and fake groups. CREW also asked the IRS to investigate Berman’s misuse of the so-called “charitable” nonprofit groups he has created.
Consumer interest groups that are really effective at what they do, like the Humane Society of the U.S., become targets of big business, just like the front-runners in elections become targets for the candidates who are running behind. Berman facilitates big industries’ dirty attack business, and he won’t stop attacking public interest groups until people work to stop him from doing it.
To read more about Rick Berman and his activities, click here.
For Immediate Release – Monday, February 27, 2012
Contacts: Anne Landman, Western Colorado Atheists and Freethinkers (970) 216-9842 or
Joel Prudhomme, Unitarian Universalist Congregation, (970) 250-5413
Noted Sociology Professor to Discuss his Book, “Faith No More: Why People Reject Religion”
Dr. Phil Zuckerman will speak in Grand Junction, Colorado on Saturday, March 24 at 1:00 p.m. in the Sanctuary of of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of the Grand Valley at 1022 Grand Avenue, Grand Junction. Refreshments will be served and there will be a book signing afterwards.
Dr. Zuckerman, a professor at Pitzer College in Claremont, California, will talk about the recent increase of secularity in America and some of the reasons for this increase. He will explain why individuals are leaving religion in greater numbers than ever before.
Dr. Zuckerman teaches the Sociology of Religion, Sociology Through Film and Scandinavian Cultures and Societies, among other topics. He has authored two other books and numerous articles on religion and society. His special are of interest is Scandinavian culture, known for its secular leanings.
The talk is FREE, open to the public, and is jointly sponsored by the Unitarian Universalist Congregation and Western Colorado Atheists and Freethinkers. Everyone is welcome, as this topic is certain to be of interest to religious and secular audiences alike.
While admission is free, tax deductible donations to WCAF are encouraged.
For more information call Anne Landman at (970) 216-9842.
Last year, citizens of Rapid City, South Dakota — a town besieged by billboards — passed an initiative banning construction of any more of those quick-changing, super-eye-catching digital billboards within the City. The highly popular measure passed by a 2-1 vote. But outdoor advertisers quickly retaliated by pushing a bill through South Dakota’s state legislature to block local authorities from banning “any advertising technology” within their limits. Senate Bill 157 would effectively make it illegal for local municipalities to ban digital billboards. Outdoor advertisers and digital sign manufacturer Daktronics argue such bans will cost jobs and threaten the industry’s image. South Dakotans are not alone in trying to fight digital billboard blight and the powerful advertising lobby. A similar bill to block local control over outdoor advertising was introduced in Salt Lake City, and Arizona has been fighting to ban digital billboards as well, saying they violate the state’s ban on intermittent lighting along roads. An organization called Scenic America works to protect the quality and safety of America’s scenic roadways, and offers technical assistance for local efforts to control the spread of digital billboards, as well as other roadside blights.
Source: ScreenMediaMag.com, February 2, 2012
A digital billboard at a bus stop on London’s busy Oxford Street has a built-in HD camera that scans the faces of people waiting nearby and shows ads only to women. The camera analyzes the facial features of pedestrians, like the shape of the jaw, the distance between the eyes and the width of the nose, to determine which subjects are female. When it determines a female is watching, it shows an ad called “Choices for Girls” that aims to raise awareness of the lack of educational opportunities available to females in developing countries. Men only see a web link to a charity’s official website.
Source: The Tech Herald, February 22, 2011
A radio ad playing in Colorado features Governor John Hickenlooper promoting the environmental safety of hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” the drilling process the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found responsible for contaminating groundwater in Wyoming. Hickenlooper made the ad for the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, the lobbying group for the oil and gas industry. In the ad, Hick claims that since 2008, “…we have not had one instance of groundwater contamination associated with drilling and hydraulic fracturing” in Colorado. Unfortunately, that claim is easy to verify as a lie. On September 13, 2011, an article ran in the Denver Post titled “Drilling spills rise in Colorado, but fines rare.” The article stated, “Colorado’s wave of gas and oil drilling is resulting in spills at the rate of seven every five days — releasing more than 2 million gallons this year of diesel, oil, drilling wastewater and chemicals that contaminated land and water.” In August, 2011, Kerr-McGee, a subsidiary of Andarko Petroleum, not once, but three times released cancer-causing benzene and other chemicals in spills that contaminated both land and water. Even a report (pdf) issued by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission describes the August spill as “historic,” and acknowledges that it did in fact cause groundwater contamination. The report states the COGCC assessed over $1.6 million in penalties on the drilling industry “for violations associated with spills and releases” from drilling activities in Colorado.
Sixty four percent of all contracts written for bulk oil purchases in the U.S. are made by companies that will never take delivery of even one drop of oil. They are made by speculators positioning themselves to make money off the scare over recent events involving Iran. Recently and American warship was targeted with gunfire in the Strait of Hormuz. Initial reports attributed the attack to Iran, but it turned out to have been made by smugglers — a correction that was buried in the media. Iran also announced it would stop selling oil to Britain and France, but those countries had already stopped buying oil from Iran anyway — a fact less reported than Iran’s announcement. Decades ago, financial speculators made up only about 30 percent of oil trading markets and refiners and end-users made up about 70 percent. Today those numbers are reversed; now only about 36 percent of all oil contracts are made by producers and end users, while increasing demand for oil in the U.S. is a myth. Demand for oil and gas in the U.S. is down while production of American oil has increased so much that the U.S. has actually started exporting oil to Europe, Asia and Latin America. In fact, now America’s major supplier of oil is Canada, not the middle east. So high gas prices now simply cannot be explained by any shortage or increase in demand, since neither exist. But they can be explained by speculators and their effect on the market, and we are all paying a heavy price for their activity.
Everyone who buys insurance should visit the website Fight Bad-Faith Insurance Companies (FBIC), at BadFaithInsurance.org. FBIC lists insurers who chronically screw consumers by discounting, lowballing, fudging and delaying payment of legitimate claims. FBIC examines formal complaints lodged against insurers and reviews documents obtained through litigation against insurers to sort out good insurers from bad. FBIC finds that many well known insurers frequently act unethically and illegally. Consumers have virtually no recourse against these companies either, because government agencies that regulate the insurance industry are not only toothless and underfunded, but they are also often staffed by former insurance people.
Even worse, bad-faith insurers dominate the market. FBIC’s list of the top 50 bad-faith insurers contains many of the same insurers that advertise constantly on television. The worst company, State Farm (which FBIC rates “DO NOT BUY” in big, red letters), is followed closely by The Hartford and Allstate, which now owns E-surance. FBIC rates all three with a big, red “DO NOT BUY.” Liberty Mutual, Progressive, Geico, Mercury, UnitedHealth, WellPoint and Blue Cross Blue Shield are close behind. Fortunately, FBIC also lists the top 50 good-faith insurers — a shrinking list of companies that, for the most part, act ethically and responsibly toward customers and conduct business in accordance with the law. The list of good-faith insurers is topped by companies you’ve probably never heard of: Amica, Allianz and Chubb. Maybe these companies don’t carpet-bomb us with ads because their reputations are good enough to provide them with all the business they need.
After reading FBIC’s website, my husband and I switched our homeowner and vehicle insurance from Farmers to Chubb. We were surprised to find Chubb offered much higher quality insurance for about the same money. For example, in the event that you total your car, Chubb pays enough to go out buy a brand new car exactly like the one you had, instead of just giving you blue book for your wrecked one. Rental cars are covered in full under Chubb’s policy, and if you get personal liability coverage, Chubb provides $50,000 worth of identity theft coverage, including paying professionals to help you get your identity back and deal with problems caused by the theft.
Insurance is one area where you can vote with your money. Read Fight Bad Faith Insurance Companies’ reviews and move your business to an insurance company that treats consumers fairly, abides by the law and deals in good faith.
In 1983, Mitt Romney took his wife, five kids and the family’s Irish setter Seamus, on a road trip to his family’s cabin in Ontario. Romney put Seamus in a dog crate and strapped the crate to the roof of the family car. Romney proceeded to drive at interstate speeds for 12 hours, until the dog — stressed, sick and afraid — came down with diarrhea, which dripped all over the car and grossed out his kids. According to the story, Romney stopped long enough to hose down the car and the dog, and then hit the road again, with the wet, scared, wind-whipped dog still strapped to the roof of the car.
Romney does not deny the story. But to hear him tell it, the dog enjoyed the fresh air of the roof — a statement that strains credulity as much as any of his varying political positions.
The story has resurfaced this election cycle and is persuading a lot of people — including Fox News contributor Lanny Davis — of Romney’s unfitness for the presidency. Davis, a Washington, D.C. attorney, wrote that anyone who would do what Romney did to his dog “shouldn’t be president of the United States.” I have to agree, but I’m far from the only one.
In 2007, Scott Crider founded Dogs Against Romney, to publicize “Crate Gate” and spread the word about Romney’s legendary form of dog abuse. Dogs Against Romney sells poignant swag like bumperstickers that say “Get ‘Ruff’ with Romney,” and “Mitt is Mean,” official doggy bandanas that say “I Ride Inside,” and T-shirts that say “Dogs Aren’t Luggage.” Dogs Against Romney even formed a super PAC to oppose Romney’s nomination for the presidency.
On Tuesday, February 14, Dogs Against Romney held a press event outside the Westminster Dog Show at Madison Square Garden to help draw attention to Crate Gate. Dogs Against Romney says it does not endorse any candidate, but held its even alongside “Pet Lovers for Obama” — another organization working to bring attention to Romney’s mistreatment of his family dog.
Corporations, and even entire industries, publicly claim that they adopt voluntary codes of conduct out of caring and concern for the health and welfare of people and the environment, but in reality, these codes confer far greater benefits upon the companies than they do upon the public, and can range from deceptive to fraudulent. Corporations use these codes as a crisis management strategy to stave off government regulation, improve their image, boost their credibility with legislators and regulators, and thus preserve their seat at the table in any regulatory discussions. Voluntary codes also give political cover to legislators who favor industry by giving the legislators something they can point to to calm public demands to rein in harmful corporate behavior. You can read my full article on voluntary corporate codes here. (Published in 2008 in CounterPunch)
This is the blog of Anne Landman, tobacco document researcher and former managing editor for the Center for Media and Democracy. I will be posting news items of interest, as well as my own thoughts and commentary in this blog. I hope you enjoy it! Fee free to comment and/or circulate posts.