An entirely new kind of law firm has opened up in Washington, D.C. and New York City. Its stated mission is to take the side of average working people against the big dogs: the corporate polluters, discriminatory employers and unsafe manufacturers whose policies, behaviors, products and activities make life difficult for the rest of us. The new, high-powered public interest law firm specializes in fighting for beleaguered, regular working-class clients and on the way getting court rulings that will benefit entire communities. The group, Advocates for Justice Chartered Attorneys (AFJ), is made up of activist-minded attorneys who have extensive experience litigating against big corporations in specialty areas like labor and employment, consumer rights, environmental justice and civil rights. “Our mission is to ensure that high-quality legal representation is not limited to the wealthy, but is available to those who need it most. We represent regular, working people who suffer the bulk of our country’s legal problems,” says Sharon Y. Eubanks, one of the firm’s founding attorneys. Ms. Eubanks is an example of the high caliber of attorneys at AFJ — she served as lead counsel for the United States in the largest civil Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) enforcement action ever filed, United States v. Philip Morris USA, et al., also known as the federal tobacco litigation. Other attorneys at AFJ are Arthur Z. Schwartz, Cate Edwards, Richard Soto and Tracey Kiernan. AFJ’s website is afjlaw.com. In one of the firm’s current cases, AFJ is representing 170 parents and community members in a civil rights action against a school district in New York. The suit alleges that the school district violated the plaintiffs’ constitutional rights by intentionally segregating white students into private schools, while cutting funds to the primarily black and Hispanic student population of the public schools. AFJ Law in D.C. is located at 11 Dupont Circle, Washington, D.C. 20036. The group also has an office on Broadway in New York City. If you need help or want a consultation, contact information is on the firms’ web site.
A University of California, Berkeley physics professor and longstanding critic of prevailing global warming science has reversed course and now attributes climate change directly to greenhouse gases produced by human-related activities. Professor Richard A. Muller, a climate change skeptic in the past, has taken funding from the Charles Koch Charitable Foundation named after billionaire Charles G. Koch, owner of the big petrochemical conglomerate Koch Industries and one of the most prolific funders of climate change denial and misinformation on Earth. Muller says a research project he undertook actually showed “that the average temperature of the Earth’s land has risen by two and a half degrees Fahrenheit over the past 250 years, including an increase of one and a half degrees over the most recent 50 years. Moreover,” he says, “it appears likely that essentially all of this increase results from the human emission of greenhouse gases.” Muller further concludes that “Humans are entirely the cause” of global warming. He calls his stance a “total turnaround” from the way he used to think. Muller authored an opinion piece in the Saturday, July 28 issue of the New York Times titled “The Conversion of a Climate-Change Skeptic.”
Source: Los Angeles Times, July 29, 2012
Colorado citizens had a rare opportunity to vote for a candidate who openly rejected corporate, PAC and special interest funding, and they took it. Jovan Melton, a Democrat who made the honorable but unusual decision to publicly turn down special interest PAC money, appears to have won his election. As of Wednesday, June 27, 2012 — the day after the election — Melton had a 51 vote lead in his district. If he is declared the winner, he will have no opponent in the general election, assuring Colorado’s General Assembly of having one more representative who pledged to only be beholden to constituents. Ken Gordon, founder of CleanSlateNow.org, the new and unique responsive-government organization that backed Melton and has been working to get him elected said, “Our slogan is ‘People…Not Money.’ Huge piles of campaign cash are profoundly undermining our democracy, so we made a major effort to help Melton. We mailed 8,000 pieces of campaign literature, and volunteers made 11,054 calls. However, it was not the amount of literature that we sent or the number of calls that made the difference; it was the power of the message. People want to be represented by elected officials who work for them and not big special interest contributors. It was the power of that message that made the difference.This race was a demonstration project. Americans do not have to accept the inevitability of big money dominating our political process. Citizens can use the power of their vote to fight against the influence auction that American politics has become.” CleanSlateNow.org is a non-partisan organization that opposes special interest money from both the left and the right. They support candidates who do not take special interest money, and they educate the public on the issue of big money in politics. Their website maintains the only known public list of state and national candidates who do not take special interest contributions.
The big biotechnology firm Syngenta is facing criminal charges for covering up a U.S. study that showed cows died after eating the company’s genetically-modified (GM) corn. The charges came after a long struggle by Gottfried Gloeckner, a German dairy farmer and former supporter of genetically-modified crops, agreed to participate in authorized field tests of “Bt176,” a corn variety manufactured by Syngenta that was genetically-modified to express an insect toxin and a gene that made the corn resistant to glufosinate herbicides. Gloeckner allowed the GM corn to be grown on his farm from 1997 to 2002, and fed the resulting corn to his dairy herd. By 2000, Gloeckner was feeding his cows exclusively Bt176 corn. Shortly after, several of Gloeckner’s cows became sick. Five died and others had decreased milk yields. Syngenta paid Gloeckner 40,000 euros as partial compensation for his losses and veterinary costs. Gloeckner brought a civil suit against Syngenta over the loss, but Syngenta refused to admit its GM corn could be in any way related to the illnesses and deaths of Gloeckner’s cows. The court dismissed the civil case and Gloeckner received no further payments from Syngenta, leaving him thousands of Euros in debt. Gloeckner stopped using the GM feed in 2002, but continued to lose cows. In 2009, Gloeckner discovered Syngenta had commissioned a study in the U.S. of its GM feed in 1996. In that study, four cows died within two days of eating the GM feed, and the study was abruptly ended.
Dell Computers became the latest company to drop its membership in the American Legislative Exchange Council, the right-wing group behind the spread of voter suppression laws and “shoot first” laws like the one invoked by George Zimmerman, the man involved in the Trayvon Martin murder in Florida. Deborah Albers, Dell’s principal social strategies, wrote in a letter to ThinkProgress, that the company “will not be renewing our participation” in ALEC. Albers is based at Dell in Round Rock, Texas.
The Sparkasse Bank in Chemnitz, in eastern Germany, asked customers to vote on images they would most like to see on their MasterCards, and by far the winner was Karl Marx, the German philosopher who predicted the end of capitalism. More than one third of people voting selected Marx’s image. The bank reports that even people in western Germany were calling and asking to open bank accounts to get a MasterCard with Marx’s image on it. Reuters reports that a survey done in 2008 revealed that 52 percent of citizens living in eastern Germany thought the free market economy was “unsuitable” and 43 percent preferred to go back to a socialist system. NPR’s Planet Money, in a report on the Karl Marx MasterCard, asked people to suggest possible slogans to advertise the card. Some of the responses? “Che Guevara t-shirt: $15. Annotated copy of the Communist Manifesto: $10. Being able to demonstrate your ideological confusion every time you make a purchase: Priceless.,” “I don’t always seize the means of production from the bourgeoisie, but when I do, I prefer the Marx MasterCard,” “A Mastercard for the master race,” and my personal favorite: “Use it when you’re in the red.”
As corporations continue to flee the embattled American Legislative Exchange Council, ALEC is struggling to stop the bleeding with a new a damage-control website called “IStandWithALEC.com,” that blames former Obama administrator Van Jones, George Soros and “Big Labor” for recent woes that have put the group on the hot seat. But as soon as ALEC put up its new site, the controversial group was met with yet another activist challenge: a hilarious, new competing one-page website with the very similar domain name, “IStandWithALEC.org,” that features pictures of Alec Baldwin and says, “I stand with Alec, not ALEC.” The site is filled with funny pictures of Alac Baldwin and statements contrasting how nice Alec Baldwin is and how mean ALEC is, like “Alec Baldwin created a scholarship for low income drama students…ALEC creates scholarships for corporations to funnel money to legislators,” and “Alec likes surfing the web naked,” but “ALEC wants you to pay 750% more for high-speed Internet.” The site asks visitors to “Join our efforts to stand up to front groups like ALEC!” The dueling websites make it clear that anti-ALEC activists aren’t cutting ALEC much slack these days, no matter what corporate PR strategy it tries to try and escape from its death spiral.
Johnson & Johnson announced it is ending its membership in the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the embattled right-wing bill mill charged with spreading “shoot first” laws like the one that drew attention in the killing earlier this year of unarmed Florida teen Trayvon Martin. J&J is the 19th company to flee ALEC, and held a seat on ALEC’s “Private Enterprise Board.” The company made the announcement after a petition and phone campaign by People for the American Way Foundation, the Color of Change and other groups gathered more than half a million signatures asking corporations to end their support of ALEC’s agenda. ALEC has been a driving force behind the spread of voter suppression laws across the country, like the law that led to the purge of legitimate voters from Florida’s voter rolls. The U.S. Department of Justice filed a formal lawsuit against Florida today to stop the purge. J&J issued a statement saying it did not “condone legislative proposals that could serve, even inadvertently, to limit the rights or impact the safety of any individual,” and that it worked with ALEC only on “matters that help create a climate that supports jobs and innovation in the U.S.” Other companies and organizations that have dropped their ALEC memberships include Coca-Cola, Pepsico, Kraft, Wendy’s, Wal-Mart, Procter & Gamble, Yum! Brands, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Intuit, Mars, Inc., Arizona Public Service, and Kaplan.
The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is reportedly pulling strings behind the scenes to shut down dissent at its annual meeting this summer. The Alliance for a Better Utah, a Utah progressive group, reports that after it reserved space at the Little America Hotel in Salt Lake City for July 25-28 — the same hotel and dates where ALEC will hold its 2012 annual meeting — the hotel called back and canceled the group’s reservation. The Alliance for a Better Utah says ALEC is using its political clout to get the hotel to refuse to rent rooms to other groups it doesn’t like during its annual conference. A hotel spokeswoman would not comment on the pulled reservation. ALEC has been under greater scrutiny since it was linked to the spread of “shoot first” laws like the one cited in the Trayvon Martin shooting in Florida. The good-government group Common Cause is seeking an investigation into the tax exempt status of ALEC, charging that ALEC is primarily a lobbying group and as such may be in violation of its tax exempt status.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
A guest post by Michele Swensen
The week prior to Senator Morgan Carroll’s May 2 introduction of SB 107 (The Fracking Safety Act) to the Senate Judiciary Committee, an oil drilling site near Windsor, Colorado, operated by Ranchers Exploration Partners based in Greeley, was issued a cease-and-desist order by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC), which declared an environmental emergency. The site, located in unincorporated Larimer County above the Ridge West residential subdivision, the Poudre River and a lake, was declared a public health hazard after the drilling rig became unstable and brought up potentially toxic solid waste from the landfill upon which it was positioned. The COGCC had issued a drilling permit in September 2010, and state health officials were satisfied that the company had moved the drilling site sufficiently away from the landfill, based on a June, 2011 six-foot test drill over the site. Ranchers Exploration plans to move the drilling rig yet again to another site on the same property, ostensibly away from the old landfill.
The COGCC’s field inspection of the drilling site concluded that Ranchers Exploration failed to follow “most best management practices for drilling sites,” e.g., failing to build secondary containment for “storm water runoff, sewage, chemicals and other toxins that might flow off the drilling pad.”
Throughout his 16 years in the Colorado state legislature, former Colorado Senate Majority Leader Ken Gordon saw first-hand how corporate money is killing government, and it alarmed him. Gordon saw legislators failing to represent the people who elected them, and instead represent the big money donors who kept them in office. Now Gordon is on a mission to change our broken system.
Ken Gordon came of age in Michigan during the U.S. war in Vietnam. The experience of the war impressed upon him the need to become active when you see something terrible going on around you. “Clearly government was doing something awful,” he says of the Vietnam war, noting that between one and two million people lost their lives because of America’s military involvement in Vietnam. Gordon did everything he could to help end the war: he marched in anti-war rallies in Washington and in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The wave of anti-war protests that swept the country eventually pushed the American government to end the war, and the experience showed Gordon the power people wield when enough of them get behind a cause.
A group of energy industry-affiliated, right-wing groups is readying a massive PR plan to try and turn American public opinion against the renewable energy industries. The UK Guardian obtained a confidential draft memo written by Illinois anti-wind power attorney Rich Porter that outlines a massive PR campaign to change public opinion towards wind and solar power among “citizens at large.” The goals of the campaign, according to Porter’s memo, are to “A) Cause the targeted audience to change its opinion and action” based on anti-wind messaging, “B) Provide credible counter message to the (wind) industry, C) Disrupt [wind] industry message with countermeasures, D) Cause subversion in message of [wind] industry so that it effectively becomes so bad no one wants to admit in public they are for it (much like wind has done to coal, by turning green to black and clean to dirty.) Ultimate Goal: Change policy direction based on message.” The memo suggests teaming up with established groups like Americans for Prosperity, the American Legislative Exchange Council, the Heartland Institute, the Brookings Institute, the Cato Institute and other climate change deniers. It also suggests developing derogatory names for wind energy, like calling it “puff power” and “breeze energy.”
The Heartland Institute put up an inflammatory billboard along a major highway Illinois that compared belief in global warming to mass murder, but public reaction to the board — and even that of Heartland supporters — was so angry that Heartland pulled it down within 24 hours. Heartland posted the billboard along Interstate 290 in Illinois, which runs through Chicago. It featured a mug shot of Ted Kazinski, the “Unabomber,” alongside text that said, “I still believe in Global Warming. Do you? www.heartland.org” Despite the strong negative reaction to the ad, Heartland says it plans more similar billboards featuring Charles Manson, Fidel Castro and Osama bin Laden. The Heartland Institute is a climate change-denying think tank that accepts funding from big energy interests like Exxon Mobil and foundations related to Koch Industries. Heartland also belongs to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). Heartland says the board was meant to promote its upcoming climate denial conference slated to begin May 21 in Chicago. In a media advisory about its ads, Heartland says the billboard was intentionally provocative and was an “experiment” intended to grab attention.
Main source: The Raw Story, May 4, 2012