Anne Landman

Countdown to the National Day of Reason, May 3, 2012

"Science for Bibles" event poster

Thursday, May 3 is this year’s National Day of Reason, held the same day as the National Day of Prayer — a controversial, Congressionally-mandated and federally-supported event.  The purpose of the National Day of Reason is to raise awareness of the threat government poses to religious liberty when it enters the private sphere of worship.  The American Humanists Association (AHA), which started the event in 2003, suggests people celebrate the day with events and activities, and activities are planned around the country. The Eastern Connecticut Atheist and Freethinker Fellowship based in Putnam, Connecticut, plans to hold a “Science for Bibles” exchange that day.  Anyone who attends the event and brings a Bible will get a free copy of either Charles Darwin’s “Origin of Species,” Carl Sagan’s “Cosmos,” or Richard Dawkins’ “The Magic of Reality.” The Secular Coalition for Arizona will join the Secular Student Alliance in a walk as a group to Flagstaff City Hall, where they will hold a voter registration drive. The Atheist Humanist Society of Connecticut and Rhode Island is sponsoring a blood drive at the Groton, Connecticut Library. The American Humanists Association offers a sample proclamation declaring May 3, 2012 as the National Day of Reason that people can print out and ask their City Councils to sign. 

Federal Court Says Groups Can’t Keep Campaign Donors Secret

U.S. District Court Judge Amy Jackson, Washington, D.C.

A District Court in Washington, D.C, ruled (pdf) earlier this month that it is illegal for groups to keep secret who funds their political attack ads.  At the heart of the case was a regulation promulgated by the Federal Elections Commission (FEC) in December of 2007 that required disclosure of the names and addresses funders who donate $1,000 or more to organizations for electioneering communications. But the FEC, in interpreting the law, deferred to the argument that keeping track of such donations would inordinately burden corporations. In attempting to clarify the law, the FEC created a huge loophole by promulgating a follow-up rule that allowed groups to circumvent disclosure provisions required by campaign finance laws, like the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, and the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United ruling.  The disclosure provisions in Citizens United have largely been overlooked.  In Citizens United, justices wrote that “the public has an interest in knowing who is speaking about a candidate shortly before an election,” and “transparency enables the electorate to make informed decisions and give proper weight to different speakers and messages.”   U.S. Rep. Chris Van Hollen, Jr. (D-Maryland) challenged FEC’s loophole in a lawsuit brought against the FEC in 2011.

Increase in Earthquakes Tied to Disposal of Fracking Wastewater

Damage from the 2011 Oklahoma quake

A six-fold increase in the frequency of Richter-scale 3.0 and greater earthquakes occurring in the middle of the country correlates with increase in hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” occurring in those locations. In a new paper, scientists present a series of examples in which a significant increase in seismic activity occurred in areas where oil and gas producers increased their disposal of wastewater in deep injection wells. Between 1970 and 2000, the central area of the country averaged 21 earthquakes per year. In 2009, that average jumped to 50, in 2010 it increased to 87, and in 2011, the average rose to 134 quakes per year. While most of the earthquakes are fairly small, the 5.6 magnitude earthquake rocked Oklahoma last year and  damaged buildings and increased speculation that injection wells in the area might be a cause.  It was the largest earthquake ever to strike Oklahoma, an area without a reputation for earthquake activity. The summary of the new earthquake study from the University of Memphis, says, “Based on the previous injection history, proximity of the wells to the earthquakes and the previous seismic activity in the source area, the M5.6 earthquake [in Oklahoma] was possibly triggered by fluid injection at these wells.”

Main source: Colorado Independent, April 16, 2012

 

Blue Cross Blue Shield and American Traffic Solutions Dump ALEC

The corporate exodus out of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) continued today as insurer Blue Cross Blue Shield and the Arizona-based traffic services company American Traffic Solutions (ATS) both announced that they would not renew their membership in ALEC this year. ThinkProgress created an internet-based bulletin board listing the companies that have left ALEC so far.  In addition to Blue Cross and ATS, the bulletin board lists Reed-Elsevier, Mars, Wendy’s, McDonalds, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Pepsi, Kraft, Intuit and Coca Cola. The bulletin board site has quickly gained hundreds of followers. ALEC is the controversial “Stand Your Ground” group that helps corporations gain direct contact with predominantly conservative Republican legislators for the purpose of spreading pro-corporate legislation around the country.

Main Source: Think Progress, April 17, 2012

ALEC, Embattled, Ditches its Public Safety Task Force

The American Legislative Exchange Council, the group that has come under attack recently for its proliferation of “Stand Your Ground” gun laws, announced today that it is eliminating its Public Safety and Elections Task force, the subcommittee responsible for creating and pushing voter suppression laws, liberal or “Shoot First” gun laws and other controversial legislation that has drawn more scrutiny to the organization. ALEC’s move to dump the task force comes shortly after ten major corporations fled the group. ALEC has been at the heart of the spread not only of controversial “Shoot First” gun laws, but also of laws that attack unions, divert taxpayer funds to private schools, “papers, please” immigration laws and other controversial laws.  ALEC explained the dumping of its Public Safety and Elections Task Force by saying it was eliminating the group to focus more strongly on economic issues that “spur competitiveness and innovation and put more Americans back to work.” An ALEC spokeswoman said the organization would no longer work on issues pertaining to elections or guns. The elimination of ALEC’s Public Safety and Elections Task Force is a victory for grassroots groups like ColorOfChange.org that have been campaigning to highlight ALEC’s role in spreading legislation drafted by corporations.

Main source: American Legislative Exchange Council press release, April 17, 2012

How Many Millionaires Pay a Higher Tax Rate than You?

The White House Buffett Rule calculator

The White House has posted a new online tool people can use to calculate how many millionaires pay a lower effective tax rate than they do. Citizens enter their wages, salary and other income and how much income tax they have paid, click a button and see the estimated number of millionaires who paid a lower effective tax rate than they did in 2009. The calculations demonstrate how under the current U.S. tax system, many millionaires are paying a lower effective income tax rate than most middle class families. In 2009, fully 22,000 American households made over $1 million, but paid the lowest effective tax rate such top earners have paid in 50 years. Of those top-earners, 1,470 paid no federal income tax at all on their million-dollar-plus incomes, according to data supplied by the Internal Revenue Service.

Pain at the Pump Funds Huge Pay Raises for Energy Executives

Chevron Vice President R. Hewitt Pate got a 75 percent pay raise in 2011

Gasbuddy.com, the website that logs gas prices across the U.S., has a big blue banner ad at the top of its pages that says “Where’s your gasoline dollar go? Click here to find out.” Clicking on the ad takes you to a page, GasPricesExplained.org, that says “Why are Gas Prices Rising?” GasPricesExplained.org points to unrest in the middle east and north Africa, declines in surplus production, weather events and exchange rates, to name a few reasons why gas prices are skyrocketing, but it doesn’t directly address the sizeable contribution speculation makes to inflated gas prices.  A section titled “Where Does My Money Go?” claims that “Most of what Americans pay at the pump for gasoline is the cost of the crude oil used to make it, which is why global demand and geopolitical factors are so important.” But the site fails to mention that sky-high gas prices are also funding huge pay hikes for energy industry CEOs.  Exxon Mobil’s Chief Executive, Rex Tillerson, for example, got a 21 percent raise in pay in 2011. He now makes about $35 million in total compensation. Tillerson is expected to get an additional 8 percent raise in 2012. John Watson, Chair and CEO of Chevron, saw his pay increase a whopping 51 percent, just since just 2010.

Philip Morris and Monsanto Sued over Birth Defects in Tobacco Farmers’ Children

Screen shot from Monsanto's website

Tobacco farmers in Argentina filed a lawsuit (pdf) against Monsanto and Philip Morris for requiring them to use herbicides and pesticides that caused a high rate of severe birth defects among their children. The farmers charge that Philip Morris and the subsidiary companies that bought their crops required the farmers to stop growing their native tobacco grow a new kind of tobacco instead that Philip Morris uses in its cigarette formulation for the North and South American markets. The new tobacco they had to grow required more pesticides, and the farmers had to use excessive amounts of Monsanto’s glyphosate-based herbicide Roundup — but the defendant companies did not warn them about the dangers of the herbicide, or provide the farmers with safety information about the chemical or any protective gear to wear when applying it.

“Clergy for Choice” Calls for 40 Days of Prayer for Abortion Rights

Logo of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice

A religious group in Humboldt County, California is initiating a new, pro-choice grassroots movement in support of abortion rights called “40 Days of Prayer Supporting Women Everywhere.” Clergy for Choice offers a message of support for women dealing with reproductive issues, including pregnancy.  A 2-page, tri-fold brochure describing the effort (pdf) says, “We are religious leaders who value all human life. We trust you to decide about your sexuality & planning your family. Humboldt County Clergy are available to talk with you about the spiritual aspects of sexuality and reproductive choice.”  The back of the brochure lists daily prayers supporters are urged to make on each of the 40 days, like: Day 1: “Today we pray for women for whom pregnancy is not good news, that they know they have choices,” Day 11: “Today we pray for better access to all forms a birth control.” Day 22: “Today we pray for women in developing nations, that they may know the power of self-determination. May they have access to employment, education, birth control and abortion.”

Missoula Citizens Deliver Petition Against Rush Limbaugh

Banner logo from RushOutOfMissoula.com

On April 12, 2012 a group of citizens in Missoula, Montana delivered a “Take Rush Limbaugh off the air in Missoula” petition containing more than 1,600 signatures to KGVO Radio in Missoula, which broadcasts the show.  KGO representatives politely explained to meeting attendees why they did not want to end the Rush Limbaugh show, saying too many people support Rush, and they have contracts to broadcast the show.  Shortly after the meeting, though, Dave Chrismon, who headed up the petition project, unveiled a new website, RushOutOfMissoula.com, that lists Rush’s sponsors on KGVO as of April 13, 2012, along with their contact information. Local sponsors include Triple Play Family Fun Park, Grizzly Fence and the Computer Guys, among others. Some national sponsors on the list are Tax Resolution Services, Fram Oil Filters, Curves for Women, Match.com, Lear Capital, Insperity, and LifeLock. The site pledges to update the list of advertisers regularly and list any advertisers that drop their support of the show.  RushOutOfMissoula.com also includes a link to a YouTube video message by Dave Strohmaier, who is running for the U.S. House of Representatives in Montana, condemning Rush’s negative discourse and hateful rhetoric, and supporting the effort to get him off the air.  RushOutOfMissoula.com urges people to be kind when they contact advertisers, saying “We are all very passionate, but don’t lose your cool. We don’t want anyone to act like Rush.”

FDA Orders Sexual Dysfunction Warning Added for Merck Baldness Drug Propecia

If your hairline is receding and you’re are thinking about taking Merck’s baldness drug Propecia, you might want to think again. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) ordered drug maker Merck to change the warning labels for Propecia and its prostate drug Proscar to include “libido disorders, ejaculation disorders and orgasm disorders,” conditions that FDA notes may continue well after patients stop taking the drugs.  While FDA says it isn’t clear whether finasteride, the active chemical in Propecia and Proscar, is what causes the persistent sexual problems, side effects reported by those using the drugs “suggest a broader range of adverse effects than previously reported in patients taking these drugs.” FDA approved Proscar in 1992 and Propecia in 1997.  Since then, the agency has reviewed 421 post-marketing reports of sexual dysfunction from those taking Propecia between 1998 and 2011. Of those, 59 cases described sexual dysfunction lasting a minimum of three months after discontinuing Propecia. FDA reviewed 131 reports of similar problems associated with Proscar. In 2011, FDA ordered the warning labels of both product be revised to include erectile dysfunction that continues after patients stop taking the drug.  People can report adverse side effects of prescription drugs to FDA’s MedWatch hotline at 1-800-332-1088, report them online at MedWatch Online or through the U.S. mail using the MedWatch form (pdf) available at FDA’s website.

Source: U.S. Food and Drug Administration, April 11, 2012

NFL Players Promote Adult Diapers

NFL football players endorsing products for money isn’t new, but DeMarcus Ware of the Dallas Cowboys, Wes Welker of the New England Patriots and Clay Matthews of the Green Bay Packers have all agreed to try on “Depend” adult undergarments and promote them by wearing them on the field — and on camera — while running drills.  Kimberly-Clark, the maker of Depends, has a new ad campaign called the “Great American Try On,” in which American celebrities and sports icons wear the underwear in public in exchange for hefty donations to selected charities. Sexy actress Lisa Rinna appears in a new ad in which she announces she is wearing the company’s new “Silhouette” product under a slinky, form-fitting black dress while walking the red carpet with her husband. 

Wendy’s and Reed-Elsevier Dump ALEC

Two more companies have dropped their affiliation with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the conservative nonprofit organization that drafts pro-corporate “model bills” which Republicans then introduce in state houses across the country as though the legislation was their own. One of the companies is Wendy’s, the country’s second largest fast-food chain. Wendy’s tweeted about ALEC on it’s official Twitter account, “We decided late 2011 and never renewed this year. It didn’t fit our business needs.” Wendy’s departure from ALEC is key, according to Mother Jones magazine, since the company has supported politically conservative causes in the past, including Rick Berman’s Center for Consumer Freedom, an astroturf group that battles regulation of the food and beverage industries.  The second company to depart ALEC is Reed Elsevier, a large publisher of medical and scientific books and journals. Reed Elsevier resigned from its board seat at ALEC and ended it’s membership in the group. A spokesperson for Reed commented that, “We made the decision after considering the broad range of criticism being leveled at ALEC.” ALEC has been criticized for promoting laws that liberalize gun use, privatize schools, restrict people’s right to vote, crush unions, and more.

Vermont Senate Votes to Overturn Citizens United

Graph by CleanSlateNow.org

The Vermont Senate voted to ask the U.S. Congress to introduce a constitutional amendment to undo the Citizens United ruling, the 2010 Supreme Court ruling in which the Court declared that corporations are the equivalent of people with First Amendment free speech rights. The Citizens United ruling opened the floodgates for corporations and billionaires to start pouring huge sums of money into influencing elections at every level of government — and they have, largely anonymously. On December 8, 2011, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders introduced the “Saving American Democracy Amendment”, which would restore the ability of lawmakers to enact campaign spending limits like those that fell in the wake of Citizens United.  In early March of this year, 64 Vermont towns approved resolutions calling on Congress to amend the U.S. Constitution to counter the Citizens United ruling.  The national Move to Amend campaign is also mobilizing a grassroots campaign from coast to coast calling for a constitutional amendment to establish that corporations are not people and that the First Amendment does not protect unlimited political spending as free speech.

Johnson & Johnson Fined $1.2 Billion for Illegal Drug Marketing

The state of Arkansas has ordered Johnson & Johnson and one of its subsidiaries, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, to pay $1.2 billion in fines for deceptively marketing the antipsychotic drug Risperdal, approved to treat conditions like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. The companies were accused of failing to provide adequate warning about potential side effects of the drug, which include diabetes, weight gain, neurological problems and increased risk of strokes and death in elderly patients with dementia.   Fletch Trammell, a lawyer in the case who had used Risperdal, said that J&J hid studies that showed Risperdal caused diabetes at a higher rate than a competing drug. The court also found nearly 240,000 instances in which the companies violated the state laws against Medicaid fraud, with each count representing one prescription for Risperdal written to a state Medicaid patient over a 3 1/2 year period. The fine for the Medicaid fraud portion of the case, at $5,000 per prescription, was the state’s minimum.  A 12 person jury deliberated for three hours before finding against J&J. Arkansas is just one of several states suing over Risperdal. South Carolina and Texas have already reached settlements with J&J in their lawsuits. J&J plans to appeal the Arkansas ruling, claiming it did not break the law and that the package insert that comes with the medication was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Main source: New York Times, April 11, 2012

Campaign Urges Hospitals to Evict McDonalds Restaurants

Corporate Accountability International (CAI), a group that challenges corporate abuses, posted an  open letter on its website asking hospitals that house McDonalds restaurants to end their contracts with the fast food chain to “stop fostering a food environment that promotes harm, not health.” The letter points out that the rates at which children suffer from diet-related illnesses like diabetes are “staggering,” and the problem is related in part to the consumption of junk food. Locating McDonalds stores in  hospitals is part of a marketing strategy, CAI says, that is aimed at imparting an aura of healthfulness to the food — a goal that is inconsistent with the goals of a health institution.  “Health professionals are devoted to caring for sick children and adults and to preventing illness. But these efforts cannot compete with the profit-driven mechanisms by which McDonalds and the fast food industry operate their business, and the toll that McDonalds’ practices have had on children’s health,” the letter states. CAI’s petition to get McDonalds out of hospitals is here.

Corporations Flee ALEC — Will More Follow?

ALEC protest in Arizona in 2011

Kraft Foods, Coke, Pepsi, Intuit and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation have all pulled their support of the controversial corporate bill mill the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). Now Common Cause, a nonprofit public interest advocacy organization, is circulating a petition urging McDonalds, State Farm Insurance and Johnson & Johnson to cut their ties to ALEC. ALEC has been revealed as a driving force behind so-called Shoot-First laws that led to the Trayvon Martin killing and increased citizen vigilantism, “Voter ID” bills that deny millions of U.S. citizens a right to vote and attacks on public schools that divert taxpayer money to charter and private schools. ALEC is a members-only group that exposes state legislators to corporate lobbyists several times throughout the year at conferences and gatherings at tony beach-front spa and golf resorts. Legislators pay a small fee to belong to ALEC, but corporations pay tens of thousands of dollars to become members. Corporate members gain direct access to legislators at ALEC-sponsored events.  You can read more about ALEC at ALECExposed.org.

Billboard Campaign Promotes Marijuana Legalization in Colorado

A big new billboard has appeared right over a liquor store near Mile High Stadium in Denver that shows a mainstream, straight-laced looking woman smiling with her harms folded, saying, “For many reasons, I prefer…marijuana over alcohol. Does that make me a bad person? RegulateMarijuana.org.” The board is the first in an educational campaign by backers of the Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act, a measure that will appear on the state’s November election. The group backing the measure seeks to educate people about the ways that marijuana is safer than alcohol, specifically that it is less addictive than alcohol and tends to cause fewer adverse health effects. Users also cannot overdose on marijuana. The measure would permit limited possession and cultivation of marijuana by adults, and would let state and local governments in Colorado regulate the commercial production and distribution of marijuana or ban marijuana sales completely within their jurisdictions. On its website, the pro-legalization campaign says, “We are not suggesting that marijuana is better than alcohol … We are simply asserting that there are many good reasons to use marijuana instead of alcohol.”