Category: Ethics

TSA Complaints Reveal Travelers’ Humiliation and Torment

It took four years, but the Transportation Security Administration finally fulfilled a 2008 Freedom-of-Information-Act (FOIA) request by the investigative journalism group ProPublica for documents detailing complaints against the agency. The information ProPublica received revealed some extraordinarily intrusive searches that caused the subjects substantial humiliation, pain, and in some cases physical injury. In one case, a female traveler complained that a TSA screener asked her to remove her prosthetic breast so they could swab her for explosives. Another traveler accompanying her wheelchair-bound mother reported that TSA screeners made her mother get out of the wheelchair and walk during security screening. As a result, the woman fell and was injured. Another traveler reported packing a full bottle of Jack Daniels whiskey in his luggage, only to arrive to find the bottle almost empty. Other travelers complained that after TSA searches they were were missing money, jewelry and laptop computers. When ProPublica asked TSA why it took four years for them to send the documents, they received an apology and were told the agency gets 800 requests a year for similar information. TSA also blamed the volume of records they had to review to fulfill the request, even though their total response turned out to be only 87 pages long.

Source: ProPublica, May 4, 2012

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

 

Congressman Officially Recognizes National Day of Reason

Congressman Pete Stark

Congressman Pete Stark of California gave a statement on the House floor April 27 officially recognizing the National Day of Reason held today, Thursday, May 3, 2012. Rep. Stark said, in part, “Mr. Speaker, I rise today to recognize Thursday, May 3, 2012 as the 2012 National Day of Reason. The National Day of Reason celebrates the application of reason and the positive impact it has had on humanity. It is also an opportunity to reaffirm the Constitutional separation of religion and government.” Stark pointed out that our nation is home to a wide range of people of different backgrounds and beliefs, and “the only way we can solve our problems is through cultivating intelligent, moral and ethical interactions among all people.” Rep. Stark said the National Day of Reason is about helping others and improving communities, and mentioned efforts by secular people across the U.S. to conduct food drives, donate blood and help those in need on this day. Rep. Stark urged everyone to observe the day by focusing on the use of reason, critical thinking, the scientific method and free inquiry to improve the world and our country. May 3 is also the “National Day of Prayer,” and event that was ruled unconstitutional by a U.S. District Court in Wisconsin. On April 15, 2010, Judge Barbara Crabb issued a ruling in which she concluded the National Day of Prayer violates the establishment clause of the First Amendment, saying it “goes beyond mere ‘acknowledgement’ of religion because its sole purpose is to encourage all citizens to engage in prayer, an inherently religious exercise that serves no secular function in this context.” President Obama is holding the National Day of Prayer despite the federal court ruling against it.

Baptist Minister Publicly Admits Disbelief in God

Teresa McBain

After a lifetime in the church, Teresa McBain, pastor of Tallahassee, Florida’s Lake Jackson United Methodist Church, got a standing ovation when she announced that she is an atheist at the American Atheists National Convention. McBain publicly apologized to her neighbors back home for having been a fundamentalist who knocked on peoples’ doors to offer them religious tracts, hoping to convert them and believing they were wrong for having other beliefs. “I didn’t know anything about you. I’d never seen your faces. You were just ‘those people.’ And I was the one on the right track, and you were the ones who were going to burn in hell. And I’m happy to say, as I stand before you right now, I’m going to burn with you,” McBain said at the convention. McBain served as a pastor for ten years. Her coming out as an atheist resulted partly from her  participation in the Clergy Project, a private, invitation-only, safe online community of current and former pastors, priests and rabbis who no longer hold the supernatural beliefs of their religious traditions. The Clergy Project was founded in March, 2011 by Dan Barker, also formerly a minister for 19 years and co-founder of the Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) in Madison, Wisconsin. When the project started, it immediately gained 52 members Since then it has grown to over 200 participants.

British MPs: Media Mogul Rupert Murdoch Unfit to Lead Media Conglomerate

Disgraced media mogul Rupert Murdoch

Members of a British Parliament committee have declared 81 year old media mogul Rupert Murdoch, owner of News Corporation, the Wall Street Journal and Fox News, unfit to lead a major international company. A bipartisan House of Commons parliamentary committee reached the conclusion after issuing a detailed, 125 page report on May 1, 2012, about a phone hacking scandal involving Murdoch’s UK newspaper, the News of the World.  The report accuses Rupert Murdoch, his son James and their media company News International, of purposely misleading the government’s investigative committee, intentionally covering up the truth about their paper’s phone hacking scandal and failing to conduct a proper internal investigation of the matter. The MPs wrote that the Murdochs’ “instinct throughout, until it was too late, was to cover up rather than seek out wrongdoing and discipline the perpetrators, as they also professed they would do after the criminal convictions. In failing to investigate properly, and by ignoring evidence of widespread wrongdoing, News International and its parent News Corporation exhibited wilful blindness, for which the companies’ directors — including Rupert Murdoch and James Murdoch — should ultimately be prepared to take responsibility.” The MPs found James Murdoch’s “lack of curiosity” and “wilful ignorance” about the scandal “astonishing.” Page 70 of the report states, “We conclude, therefore, that Rupert Murdoch is not a fit person to exercise the stewardship of a major international company.”

Activists Gain Against Limbaugh in Missoula

Rush Limbaugh

Anti-Rush Limbaugh activists racked up another successful week after six more businesses vowed to drop sponsorship of the Rush Limbaugh Show on KGVO Radio in Missoula, Montana. Their success brings the total to 13 businesses that have pulled their support of the show since April 13, 2012, when a grassroots effort to push Limbaugh off Missoula’s airwaves began. The current effort to kick Limbaugh off the air in Missoula started the day after citizens delivered a 1,600-signature petition KGVO Radio asking them to take Rush Limbaugh off the local air. The radio station refused to pull the show, and the next day, on April 13, activists unveiled a website, RushOutOfMissoula.com, that lists the show’s local and national sponsors, with each business’ contact information. Citizens began dialing the business owners to express their displeasure for the businesses’ support of Limbaugh and his persistent, hate-filled rhetoric. Dave Chrismon, organizer of the Missoula anti-Limbaugh effort, posted an upbeat email update in which he reported getting positive feedback from the community for the effort. “This is from an email,” Chrismon wrote, ” ‘I just wanted to inform you that as of today, we requested our ads not be run during the Rush Limbaugh Show. . . Thank you for letting us know that our ads were being run . . . The owner had no idea and was very upset when she found out.’ Shopping yesterday, I met someone who works at one of the past advertisers. She thanked me for the effort and told me, ‘We want to avoid controversy. After we pulled our ad, a longtime supporter called and thanked us on behalf of her daughter.'” Missoula activists aren’t letting up on their effort. Their current goal is to persuade a total of 20 advertisers to drop the show. They are also  thanking the businesses that have withdrawn their ads for “saying no to bullying.”

Burger King Announces It Will Change to Cruelty-Free Foods

Fast-food giant Burger King announced this week that it will no longer buy pork from pig producers that use gestation crates, and will now use only 100 percent cage-free eggs. Gestation crates are confinement cages that commercial pig farmers use that are so small that pigs cannot turn around inside them. Female pigs raised on factory farms spend almost their entire lives in these tiny crates. U.S. egg producers typically cram millions of chickens into cages that offer only about 67 square inches of space per bird — less space than a single sheet of paper — on which the birds spend their entire lives. Burger King’s policy changes came about in large part due to the efforts of the Humane Society of the U.S. (HSUS), which has been tackling cruel practices in commercial agriculture, like the use of veal crates, battery cages and tail-docking of dairy cows. HSUS is forming state Agricultural Councils across the U.S. to promote humane food production practices on farms and ranches. The group’s goal is to move agriculture away from a system that treats living creatures as biological “machines,” keeping them confined in conditions that maximize efficiency but are extremely cruel and inhumane, to a more ethical, humane and sustainable system.

BREAKING: South Carolina State Senator Ted Vick (D) Resigns from ALEC

SC State Rep. Boyd Brown

On Monday, April 23, 2012, State Rep. Boyd Brown of South Carolina sent an email to all SC state legislators in which he urged his fellow legislators to leave the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). Brown called ALEC a Koch-funded special interest group that wields too much power and causes legislators to neglect their constituents. Brown wrote that money continues to “be the cancer on the body politic, and with ALEC it has taken over.” He called “scholarships” through which ALEC funds legislators’ trips to conferences at fancy resorts a “pay-for-play scheme.” Brown’s plea had an effect. Today, April 24, South Carolina State Rep. Ted Vick (D) announced he is resigningfrom ALEC. In a public statement regarding his decision, Vick wrote in part, “Over the years, ALEC has steadily drifted to the right and away from its original purpose . . . I have found myself voting against their legislation more and more . . . Recent revelations concerning ALEC’s funding sources from radical elements

SC State Rep Ted Vick

have proven to be the final straw for me. ALEC has become too partisan and too extreme. . . . ALEC has become part of the problem and I can no longer be a member of this organization.” In press releases on its website, ALEC maintains that it has been the target of an organized intimidation campaign and harassment tactics carried out by “liberal front groups” that are simply attacking ALEC’s free market policies, without addressing any of issues raised by the groups regarding problems with the legislation ALEC has been spreading.

BP Ads Say Everything’s Great in the Gulf; Fisherman Report Sicknesses, Deformed Sea Life

Tumors on Gulf shrimp

Two years after the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico, BP is running ads on TV promoting tourism in the Gulf of Mexico. The ads say the seafood is great, the beaches are inviting and times have never been better down in the Gulf. But reports from people who live and fish in the Gulf aren’t so great. In fact, they’re scary. Fishermen report seeing wide-scale deformities in sea life, like shrimp without eyes, tumors on their heads, crabs with rotting shells and fish with sores on their bodies. One fisherman reported catching 400 pounds of eyeless shrimp. The harvest of brown shrimp has  decreased by two thirds and the white shrimp have been wiped out. Gulf families report that their children, who were well prior to the BP spill, now chronically suffer from diffuse illnesses, like inflamed sinuses, upset stomachs, rashes and allergies. Fishermen complain of  headaches, chronic cough, skin rashes, vomiting and diarrhea, and bleeding from ears and nose — and they have no money to pay for medical care. Some are seeking enough money from BP to enable them to leave the Gulf coast for good.

Procter & Gamble is 13th Company to Dump ALEC

Procter and Gamble products

Procter and Gamble, makers of Tide clothing detergent, Dawn dish detergent, Bounty paper towels and other well-known products, has become the 13th company to flee the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) amid growing controversy over the group’s political operations. Procter and Gamble is the largest packaged goods company and advertiser in the U.S., and it joins twelve other major companies, including Kraft Foods, Intuit, Blue Cross, Coca Cola and Pepsi Cola in opting not to renew its membership in ALEC for 2012. ALEC has been identified as a source spreading “Shoot First” laws, like the one that Trayvon Martin’s death in Florida brought into the spotlight, as well as school voucher bills, anti-immigrant bills like Arizona’s SB1070, and voter suppression laws that are sweeping across the country. A New York Times article reported that the good-government group Common Cause has filed an IRS complaint  about ALEC, saying ALEC functions as a lobby group despite its IRS designation as a charity. Federally-designated charitable groups are subject to sharp restrictions against lobbying under IRS rules.

Source: Talking Points Memo, April 23, 2012

Dow-Funded PBS TV Series Promotes Dow and Its Product Lines

A new, four-part PBS television show airing this month called “America Revealed” is sponsored by the Dow Chemical company, whose products and commercial interests the program showcases. The arrangement leaves PBS open to charges that it is serving as a cheerleader for big industry in exchange for cash. The first episode aired on April 11, and was about large-scale agriculture — an area in which Dow is a leading business. The show examined the corn industry and portrayed controversial genetically-modified organisms (GMOs) in a positive light. Dow manufactures genetically-modified seeds. Similar, self-serving segments follow in other areas in which Dow also has commercial interests: Infrastructure/Transportation, Energy and Consumer/lifestyle.

ALEC Fingered for Lobbying

A front page article in the New York Times on April 21, 2012 exposes the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) as a stealth business lobbyist that pushes pro-business, anti-public interest legislation in state capitols from coast to coast. ALEC is a little-known, non-profit organization that brings state legislators together with corporations to draft model legislation favoring businesses. The group has a sophisticated system for shaping state-level legislation. Legislators pay a nominal $50  fee annually to join ALEC, but corporations pay dues ranging from $7,000 to $25,000 per year, which affords them guaranteed access to legislators at upscale events like cigar receptions, conferences and pigeon shoots. Businesses use these opportunities to promote new laws to legislators benefiting the companies’ bottom lines. ALEC claims to be bipartisan, but of 104 leadership positions in the organization, Republicans fill all but one, and the policies ALEC promotes are almost exclusively right-wing. ALEC’s role as a driving force behind the wave of “Stand Your Ground” or “Shoot First” laws sweeping the country has made the group a target of public anger.

Marine Corps Air Squadron Adopts Religious Name and Symbol

American Hornet jet painted with red Christian cross

The U.S. Marine Corps Fighter Attack Squadron 122 based out of Beaufort, South Carolina used to be called the “Werewolves,” but they recently adopted a new nickname: they are now called the “Crusaders,” and the symbol painted on their jets is a red, Christian-style cross. The “Crusaders” was a historic nickname used by the squadron from 1958 to 2008, but as they prepared to deploy to Iraq in 2008, the unit’s commander, Lt. Col. William Lieblein, wisely changed the name because “The notion of being a crusader in that part of the world doesn’t float.” The term “Crusader” is derived from the historic European military crusades that took the lives of millions in the middle east in the name of Christianity. Insurgents in the middle east pejoratively call American military personnel “Crusaders.” In March 2012, Al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri referred to International Security Assistance Force troops stationed in Afghanistan as “Crusader Swine.” But the unit’s new commander, Lt. Colonel Wade Wiegel, doesn’t see any problem with changing the squadron’s name back to the “Crusaders.” Mikey Weinstein, who heads the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), blasted the change.  Almost a hundred concerned U.S. Marines contacted Weinstein about the change, mostly moderate Protestants and Christians who asked to remain anonymous due to fear of reprisal.

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.

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.