Category: Corruption

Help Unseat Mesa County Commissioner Craig Meis

Mesa County, Colorado Commissioner Craig Meis: Doesn’t understand what “fire ban” means?

Mesa County, Colorado County Commissioner Craig J. Meis epitomizes the self-important, small-town elected official. During his stint as County Commissioner, Meis has repeatedly broken the law and then used his elected position to pressure law enforcement officers to drop actions against him. In 2007, police showed up at Meis’s home in response to a loud party complaint. Meis dropped the names of prominent local Republican elected officials attending his party to pressure the officers to stop demanding he turn the music down. Then, in 2010, Colorado State Parks officer Craig Johnson issued Meis a $50 ticket at Mesa County’s Highline Lake State Recreation area for allowing his 14 year old son to operate a personal watercraft on the lake in violation of the law. In his report about the incident, Officer Johnson wrote that Meis repeatedly tried to use his elected position as a county commissioner to pressure him to reduce the ticket to a warning. According to the report, during the encounter Meis boasted repeatedly that he was good friends with the District Attorney. After Officer Johnson refused to reduce the ticket to a warning, Meis complained about him in an email to the director of the state Department of Natural Resources, saying officer Johnson exhibited a “lack of discretion” in issuing the ticket. Meis copied the email to a long list of other public officials. When asked about the incident, Meis claimed Officer Johnson lied about the statements he made during the incident. Meis then insisted on taking the ticket all the way to a jury trial, was found guilty and had to pay a $78 fine.  Now, just this month, a Chaffee County Deputy ticketed Meis for lighting an open grill in a forested area during a highly-publicized, state-wide fire ban that came amid severe drought and extreme fire danger. After getting the ticket, Meis wrote an email to the Chaffee County Sheriff explaining that he was aware of the fire ban but didn’t understand what a fire ban “truly means.” He wrote that he is “getting educated on it daily.” Meis argued that the disposable charcoal grill he used was far too small to be troublesome and asked for “discretion” regarding the ticket.
Chaffee County Sheriff Pete Palmer emailed Meis back saying, “It’s not often I receive a request to have a ticket fixed, and yours is the first from a county commissioner.” Palmer pointed out that either Stage I or Stage II fire bans had been in effect for weeks, and the information had been posted publicly for over a month on the Chaffee County Sheriff’s website. At the time, Colorado’s Waldo Canyon fire — the most destructive wildfire in state history — was raging and had destroyed hundreds of homes, killed one person and caused over 30,000 people to have to evacuate their homes. Yet amid this disaster, Meis cavalierly lit an open fire, and then tried to avoid the legal consequences. Throughout his time in elected office Craig Meis has constantly shown he thinks his position as county commissioner puts him above the law. His behavior has been an embarrassment to Mesa County and caused the County added expense. Help us get Commissioner Meis to leave his position by adding your name to our petition, Mesa County Commissioner Craig Meis: Resign.

Family of Kenneth Chamberlain, Sr. Files $21 Million Civil Rights Lawsuit Against White Plains Police

Kenneth Chamberlain, Sr.’s family (Screen capture from Democracy Now! video)

The family of Kenneth Chamberlain, Sr. has filed a $21 million civil rights lawsuit against the City White Plains, New York and the White Plains Police Department. Kenneth Chamberlain, Sr., 68, was shot dead inside his own home in the early morning on November 19, 2011 by White Plains police after he accidentally set off his life aid medical alert pendant while sleeping. Police arrived at his apartment, but responded as though a crime was in progress instead of as if responding to potential medical emergency. The police knocked in Chamberlain’s door and demanded he open it. Chamberlain told the police he was okay, and didn’t need their help, but the police continued to pound on Chamberlain’s door, yelling racial slurs and demanding Chamberlain open the door.  Afraid, Chamberlain refused. Police then broke down Chamberlain’s door, shot him with a taser, then fired beanbags at him. Finally, White Plains Police Officer Anthony Carelli shot Chamberlain dead. Police claimed Chamberlain tried to attack them with a knife. Video from a camera on the taser gun surfaced in May, showing police breaking down Chamberlain’s door and shooting him with the taser. Chamberlain is seen standing inside his apartment, shirtless and wearing boxer shorts. The family filed the lawsuit just under two months after a Westchester County grand jury refused to indict Police Officer Anthony Carelli for the shooting.

Source: Democracy Now! July 2, 2012

Biotech Giant Syngenta Facing Criminal Charges Over GM Corn

Spontaneous abortion, one of the symptoms seen in livestock eating genetically-modified corn feed.

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 Walks Away From the American Legislative Exchange Council

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.

Source: International Business Times, June 21, 2012

Christian Groups Using U.S. Soldiers as Government-Paid Missionaries

The wall of separation between church and state in the military has completely disappeared. A network of hard-line Christian chaplains and fundamentalist parachurch ministries that operate inside the military are using it as a fertile recruiting ground for coercing soldiers to become Christians. A video posted June 15, 2012 by the Military Religious Freedom Foundation contains actual footage of military chaplains saying young people who enter the military become “government-paid missionaries when they leave here.” The missionaries’ strategy? Pounce on soldiers with the gospel at the most difficult points in their training, when they are most vulnerable. Army Ranger School Chaplain Major Jeff Struecker explains,

“Army Ranger School puts the Ranger student in the absolute worst possible conditions. Most of them will go a couple of days with no food. Some of them have gone as long as three days without any sleep whatsoever. My goal has been to meet them when they are at their absolute worst, when they’re coldest and they’re most tired and the most hungry that they’re going to be, because the more difficult the circumstances [a person is in], the more receptive the average person becomes to issues of faith. Many of them are … confronted with the gospel for the first time with no distractions, and I think that’s part of the reason why a number of them will respond.”

U.S. Military Revokes Approval of Military Emblems on Bibles

Cover of Holman Military Bible

The Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) announced it has won a major battle to halt the publication of Bibles bearing official U.S. armed forces emblems on the covers. The bibles were published by Holman Bible Publishers, the publishing arm of the Southern Baptist Convention. The Bibles also contained a fake quote from George Washington that was created by excerpting a paragraph of Washington’s 1783 letter to the governors of the states at the end of the Revolutionary War and altering it to make it into a prayer in the name of Jesus Christ. Almost 2,000 servicemembers contacted MRFF to complain that the bibles were being featured on the shelves of military exchanges and in stores around the world. The bibles made it look like the Bible was endorsed by the U.S. military and was the official religious text of the U.S. military services. MRFF says that over the past few years, it has received more complaints from servicemembers about these bibles than any other single separation of church and state issue it has dealt with. MRFF says the bibles were a “clear violation of the U.S. Constitution” because they used U.S. armed forces logos to promote a specific religious text. Responding to pressure by MRFF over the inappropriateness of the bibles, all four branches of the U.S. Military revoked their approval of the Military series of Holman Christian Standard Bibles, blocking further use of their emblems on the texts.

Source: Military Religious Freedom Foundation, June 12, 2012

Johnson & Johnson Ditches ALEC

Citizens protest ALEC. (Credit: Raw Story)

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.

Sources: Sources: People for the American Way, press release, June 12, 2012 and NJ.com, June 12, 2012

ALEC Under Investigation in Minnesota

The Minnesota Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board has agreed to investigate Common Cause’s complaint that the American Legislative Exchange Council engages in false and deceptive practices. Common Cause says ALEC has improperly failed to register as a lobbyist in Minnesota.  Common Cause filed a complaint against ALEC in mid May, 2012 along with documentation the group says points to ALEC’s lobbying activities.  Common Cause received a  letter back from the Campaign Finance Board saying it would look into the group’s charges of improper activity by ALEC. The letter said the Board is unable to disclose information received from either party regarding the complaint, that it will review the status of the investigation in an executive session at its June meeting and will likely delay consideration of the matter until its July meeting. When the investigation is complete, the Board will release its findings publicly by posting them on its website, cfboard.state.mn.us.

Source: Minnesota Public Radio News, May 29, 2012

2nd-Tier Media Struggles to Highlight Romney’s Remarkable Stream of Lies

Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney has gained the distinction of putting forth the most bald-faced lies of any candidate ever while running for office. In March, MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow devoted a entire 14 minute-long segment to Romney’s remarkable string of lies in which she acknowledged that expectations are low for politician’s honesty in general, but said that to win the presidency, “You have to not be a liar.” Maddow said, “The degree to which Mr. Romney lies all the time about all sorts of stuff and doesn’t care when he gets caught, is maybe the single most notable thing about his campaign.” Maddow documented a long list of statements Romney has made during his campaign that are contradicted by easily-verfiable facts, like his claims that the economy has gotten worse since Obama took over the presidency, or that he never called for a national health care law. Now a perennial politician, Romney has been a public figure for so many years, that there is a clear record of things he has said and positions he’s taken on issues, which makes it relatively easy to document whether what he says now about his past positions is true or not. Romney has dished out frank lies on a huge number of topics in this campaign alone: his record on gay rights, Obama’s trade and tax policies, the tax rate he himself pays, his job creation record, his record on abortion rights, his record as governor of Massachusetts, and many other issues. His string of lies is historic, even in the annals of particularly dirty U.S. politics.

ALEC is Using its Political Clout to Silence Dissent, Group Says

A room at the Little America Hotel in Salt Lake City

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.

Source: The Salt Lake Tribune, June 7, 2012

Romney Fails to Retract Huge, Verfiable Lie

Mitt Romney made, and has continued to spew, a totally verifiable lie

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.

Big Tobacco’s Ties to Funding of Prop. 29 Opposition Exposed

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.

Wal-Mart Dumps ALEC

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.

 

Florida GOP Working to Purge Democrats from Voter Rolls

Florida Governor Rick Scott (R)

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.

Main sources: Rolling Stone, May 30, 2012 and ThinkProgress, May 30, 2012

Billboard Companies Poisoning Trees

Poisoned trees in front of a billboard (Photo credit:FairWarning.org/NC DOT)

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.

Source: FairWarning.org, (news of safety, health and corporate conduct), April 26, 2012

CleanSlateNow: Medicine for America’s Broken Democracy

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.

ALEC: Big Tobacco’s “Third-Party” Ally

Tina A. Walls, former Philip Morris VP of State Government Affairs

Tobacco industry documents reveal that the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) has abetted the failure of state legislatures to take meaningful steps to rein in the devastation caused by tobacco use. In a previously-secret, 1993 internal Philip Morris (PM) presentation called Grasstops Government Relations, Tina A. Walls, then Vice President of State Government affairs at PM, describes the company’s strategies to influence legislators, and demonstrates how ALEC works with corporations to bolster that influence. As she shows Philip Morris employees a chart she calls “The Influence Wheel,” Walls describes how PM’s Government Affairs department analyzes every part of a legislator’s world and misses no opportunity to exert influence. Walls tells the audience how PM provides legislators with trips to “promotional and cultural events” in nice places, and as an example cites a trip ALEC facilitated in which a group of American legislators traveled to Brussels, Belgium. Walls wrote,

“We make sure legislators are aware of, and invited to, promotional and cultural events funded by Philip Morris. {CITE ALEC 1992 TRIP TO BRUSSELS AS AN EXAMPLE}”

Walls also discusses PM’s strategy to keep itself out of the media by using third parties to “carry its baggage,” and describes how PM uses third parties allies like ALEC to dodge issues:

“…we try to keep Philip Morris out of the media on issues like taxation, smoking bans and marketing restrictions. Instead, we try to provide the media with statements in support of our positions from third party sources, which carry more credibility than our company and have no apparent vested interest…”

CO House Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg Works to Benefit Drilling Industry

CO Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg (R)

New Republican legislation has been introduced in Colorado that purely benefits the oil and gas industry. House Bill 1356, introduced by Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg (R-Sterling), would punish local governments by withholding their severance tax dollars if they do anything that stands in the way of oil or gas drilling. Citizens in Sonnenber’gs district who are concerned about the negative health and environmental effects of drilling oppose the measure. The city of Sterling, Colorado also opposes Sterling’s bill, which prompted Sonnenberg to call Sterling government officials “greedy.” After Sterling city officials came out against his bill, Sonnenberg posted a Tweet to his Twitter account that read, “City of Sterling just testified they should get oil and gas money even if the city stops the industry from producing. Can you say greed?” Sonnenberg told the Colorado Statesman that opposition from cities doesn’t matter because governments don’t vote.  “Maybe if governments voted, it would matter,” Sonnenberg said. Sonnenberg says his bill is about defending property rights, limiting government spending and encouraging new oil and gas drilling throughout the state.  At a legislative hearing for the bill, no one testified support of the measure, but several people spoke out in opposition. It isn’t the first time Rep. Sonnenberg has worked to benefit the drilling industry at the expense of citizen and environmental health and safety. In 2008, Sonnenberg worked to block the Colorado Oil and Gas Commission from hiring 21 new employees to monitor the drilling industry’s compliance with new environmental rules. When contacted by email and asked if he is a member of the American Legislative Exchange Council, a lobby group that accepts funding from Exxon Mobil and  other energy industry interests, Sonnenberg dodged the question and ultimately refused to answer.

Main source: The Colorado Statesman, May 4, 2012