Category: Ethnic/Minority

The City of Grand Junction, Colorado’s Shameful End-Run Around the Constitution

Grand Junction’s Ten Commandments tablet, donated in 1959 by the Fraternal Order of Eagles, which only admits people who believe in God.

Anyone who thinks that electing narrow-minded people to city councils in small American towns doesn’t get expensive, think again. The parochial minds of just five elected city council members in the town of Grand Junction, Colorado cost city taxpayers $64,000 and led to the creation of a big, permanent public reminder on City Hall grounds of how they spent that huge sum to evade the law and collectively thumb their nose at the U.S. Constitution.

It all started in 1959, when the City of Grand Junction accepted a gift from the Fraternal Order of Eagles (FOE), a do-good civic group that restricts its membership only to people who believe in God. The gift was a stone tablet engraved with the Ten Commandments, a religious symbol commanding people to worship God, which City officials installed on City Hall grounds. There it sat, little-noticed, for the next fifty years, its presence often obscured by mature landscaping. All that changed in 2000, when the City put the finishing touches on construction of a new City Hall building and relocated the Ten Commandments to a much more visible location on the grounds.

The tablet’s more prominent location made it more noticeable, and some local citizens also finally happened to notice the Constitutional violation it represented. As a result, in April, 2001 five local citizens and the American Civil Liberties Union sued the City over the monument, asking them to remove it because it made members of minority religious groups, nonbelievers and community political outsiders feel unwelcome. The plaintiffs also contended it represented a government establishment of religion.

West Point Cadet Resigns Citing Widespread Christian Proselytizing, Favoritism

Blake Page

A senior at the United States Military Academy at West Point has publicly resigned from the Academy to protest  pervasive Christian proselytizing that takes place at the school. Blake Page said the academy shows clear favoritism towards Christians and discriminates against atheists and other non-religious students. In an article for the Huffington Post, Page wrote that “Countless officers here and throughout the military are guilty of blatantly violating the oaths they swore to defend the Constitution. These men and women are criminals, complicit in light-of-day defiance of the Uniform Code of Military Justice through unconstitutional proselytism, discrimination against the non-religious and establishing formal policies to reward, encourage and even at time require sectarian religious participation.” Page says West Point leaders regularly let cadets know that, in order to be viewed positively by staff and faculty, they should participate in Christian prayer groups and attend Christian retreats.  Page served two years in the Army as an air defense specialist in Korea prior to entering West Point. His commander saw him as a high performer and recommended he apply to West Point. Admission to West Point is highly competitive. The school gets about 15,000 applicants annually but only accepts 1,500. Candidates (as applicants are known) typically must excel at sports, have passed advanced mathematics courses, and speak two languages. Applicants also typically must be nominated by a legislator or a career member of the armed services. Page is giving up even more than his prestigious spot in the West Point graduating class of 2013, though. In the wake of his resignation, the government could seek reimbursement for the hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of tuition invested in his education.

Former GOP Officials Admit Use of “Voter ID” to Suppress Democratic Turnout

The Palm Beach Post ran a blockbuster story November 25 in which several former high-up GOP officials admitted that “Voter ID” laws and a law cutting back early voting were GOP tactics aimed at suppressing the Democratic vote in Florida. Former Florida Republican Governor Charlie Crist and Jim Greer, former chair of the Florida Republican Party, both admitted that the GOP’s push to enact “Voter ID” laws out of a purported concern for voter fraud was really a ruse to block Democratic voters from the polls. Greer told the Palm Beach Post, “The Republican Party, the strategists, the consultants, they firmly believe that early voting is bad for Republican Party candidates…It’s done for one reason and one reason only.” Greer said Republican staffers and consultants told him ,”We’ve got to cut down on early voting because early voting is not good for us.” Wayne Bertsch, who coordinated campaigns for GOP candidates for local offices, also admitted the reasons GOP officials gave for advancing voter ID laws were bogus. Crist said while he was in office as Florida’s governor, Republican Party leaders contacted him to discuss curtailing early voting hours as a way to suppress turnout among Democratic voters. Crist has since left the GOP and is now an Independent.  Greer has been indicted for using a phony campaign fundraising operation to pocket $200,000. But the Post also found another GOP-affiliated consultant, who asked not to be named who confirmed that the true purpose behind enacting voter ID and a law to cut back on early voting in Florida were meant to suppress Democratic turnout in the general election.

Source: Palm Beach Post, November 25, 2012

 

Walmart Workers Tell the Real Stories of Working at Walmart

Walmart employees have embarked on an effort to bring more respect, better pay and improved working conditions to all Walmart workers. Their group,  Organization United for Respect at Walmart, or OURWalmart, has a website,  ForRespect.org, lists exactly what employees want from Walmart. They want every employee to get a company policy manual and assurance that the company will enforce its policies  equally without discrimination. They want full time work and wages and benefits high enough so they won’t have to depend on government assistance to survive. They seek dependable, predictable work schedules, and affordable health insurance.  Walmart workers report that Walmart has been retaliating against workers who speak out about their low wages, unsafe working conditions and other issues they have with the company, and workers want the freedom to speak their mind without retaliation. OURWalmart also started a second website, WalmartAt50.org, to get a jump on the one-sided spin they expect the company to churn out about their anniversary. The site commemorates Walmart’s 50th anniversary by allowing Walmart “associates” to share stories of how they are treated at work, the difficulties they have in trying to advance within the company and what it’s like to try to live on Walmart’s super-low wages. The site also allows community members and owners of small businesses to post stories about how Walmart has impacted their living standards. Walmart workers and customers alike can share their stories on the site, and can upload photos. The site maintains that Walmart’s business model has dragged down the middle class and been bad for America. Their slogan is “Change Walmart to Rebuild America.” The site says that the “America Walmart helped to create isn’t working for most of us.”

Merchandisers try to Capitalize on White Anger Over Election

Racist bumper stickers now being discounted as loser merchandise is on the rise.

Racist bumper stickers on close-out as loser swag is on the rise

In the aftermath of the presidential election, some vendors at outlets like CafePress and Zazzle are starting to shift their marketing strategies to keep capitalizing on bitterness and hatred.  They are starting to discount their racist, anti-Obama bumper stickers and swag denigrating “other” types of people.  The price of a sticker featuring a photo of President Obama that says “Somewhere in Kenya, a village is missing its idiot,” for example, has been cut from $5.00 to $3.75. But merchandise exploiting the battered emotions of the millions of angry, racist and hyper-religious people who lost the election is starting to appear, and it’s not cheap.  A pack of 100 refrigerator magnets that yelp “Obama Won, America Lost!  Nation in Distress — Only God can Save Us” is going for a whopping $200, and a 50-pack of stickers with a graphic that depicts the phrase “No White Guilt” is selling for an insane $140.00.

Six Mormon Beliefs Romney Would Probably Rather You Didn’t Know About

Americans may be on the brink of electing Mitt Romney as their first Mormon president, but so far, Romney has refused to talk about his faith, preferring to leave people in the dark about it. Judging by the popularity of our recent blog about Romney’s Mormon underwear, though, Americans seem to be eager for more information about Mormon beliefs and practices. So what DO Mormons believe? Mr. Romney may not tell you, but we will. To get you started, here are a few Mormon beliefs Mr. Romney might prefer you didn’t know:

1) Mormons believe that the Garden of Eden is in Jackson County, Missouri and that Missouri is destined to have a prominent role in the second coming of Christ. Mormons also believe that “destruction throughout the earth” (Armageddon) will occur prior to the second coming.

2) Mormons believe God has his own planet, called Kolob.  Kolob has its own time. One revolution of Kolob takes one thousand years.

3) The Mormon church bans women from  the priesthood.

4) Mormons baptize dead people. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (the Mormon Church) explains this by saying “The validity of a baptism for the dead depends on the deceased person accepting it and choosing to follow the Savior while residing in the spirit world.” Some famous dead people Mormons have baptized include Anne Frank, Hitler, Lady Diana, Mohandas Ghandi, Pope John Paul II and Barack Obama’s mother, Ann Dunham.

5) Mormons believe that before Armageddon (which, remember, must occur before the second coming of Christ) two countries called “Gog” and “Magog” will battle each other ferciously over the country of Israel. One will be for Israel and the other against it. Mormons believe that God will descend to break up the fight and that afterwards “beasts and fowls” will “eat the flesh and drink the blood of the fallen ones.” Christ will come again after the battle.

6) Black people were banned from the Mormon priesthood until the LDS church reversed that doctrine (pdf) in 1978.

The Air Force Academy’s “Religious Respect” PR Stunt

Crystal Cathedral on the grounds of the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs

The United States Air Force Academy (AFA) is fighting its reputation as an aggressive promoter of fundamentalist Christianity by holding a conference on religious respect this week, but organizers conspicuously excluded representatives of secular belief systems like atheists, agnostics and humanists.  Mikey Weinstein, founder of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), who is Jewish and a 1977 graduate of the academy, believes the  conference is a public relations stunt to try and improve the AFA’s image. An AFA press release promoting the Conference said “attendees will comprise a widely diverse mix of religious affiliations …” and “Attendees will review and discuss the new Religious Respect Training Program for cadets that includes training in both the Establishment and Free Exercise of Religions clauses of the First Amendment of the US Constitution.” But in an October 29, 2012 press release, Weinstein pointed out that “secularists are the most disrespected and proselytized-to group, yet they are not even represented at this so-called ‘Religious Respect’ conference.”  Weinstein says the AFA hosting a religious respect conference is “akin to the KKK hosting an ‘African American Appreciation Conference.'”

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

PA Legislator Outs Voter ID as Strategy to Benefit Mitt Romney

A Republican legislator from Pennsylvania inadvertently confirmed what liberals have long suspected: that so-called “voter I.D.” laws are a political strategy to help Republicans win more elections.  While speaking at a meeting before the Republican State Committee in Hershey, Pennsylvania on June 23, Pennsylvania House Majority Leader Mike Turzai proudly listed the Republican Party’s accomplishments in the state while the party controlled both the governorship and the legislature. His list included enacting a “Castle Doctrine” act (a “shoot first” law like the one George Zimmerman claimed shielded him from prosecution after killing unarmed Florida teen Trayvon Martin earlier this year) and regulations that make it harder for women to obtain abortions. Then Turzia added, “Voter ID, which is going to allow Gov. Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania. Done.” Democrats pounced on Turzia’s statement as evidence showing that co-called “Voter ID” laws are really a strategy to suppress liberal votes and help put Republicans in office. Republicans have long argued that requiring citizens to show photo ID at the polls is necessary to maintain the integrity of elections, but opponents point out that voter fraud is an almost non-existent problem.  In their practical implementation, voter ID laws have had the effect of wrongfully disenfranchising legitimate voters across the country, and making voting more difficult for members of discrete groups that tend to lean more Democratic, like city dwellers, students, minorities and the elderly.

Source: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, June 28, 2012

RJR’s “Project SCUM” Targeted Gays, the Homeless, Immigrants and Youth

 

Front page of RJR’s “Project Scum” document

This post is part of our ongoing series exploring the millions of previously-secret tobacco industry documents now available on the Internet. – Ed.

“Project SCUM” was R.J. Reynolds’ plan to increase sales of Camel cigarettes in the San Francisco area by marketing them to gay people in the Castro district, “rebellious, Generation X” -ers, people of “international influence” and “street people,” by introducing Camel cigarettes into less-traditional retail outlets like “head shops.” SCUM was an acronym that stood for “Sub-Culture Urban Marketing.” RJR’s rationale for the project was a higher incidence of smoking and drug use in these subcultures.  There are several versions of the “Project SCUM” document, ranging in dates from 1995-97.  Each offers revealing marginalia (handwritten markings on the page). For example, in one document, handwritten in next to a bulleted list of consumer subcultures are the words “Gay/Castro” and “Tenderloin,” referring to gay areas of San Francisco.  Next to a list that discusses the rationale for the program, a line says “higher incidents of smoking in subcultures” and has the phrase “and drugs” handwritten in.  On yet another copy, the phrase “and drugs” is crossed out, revealing RJR’s  ambivalence about their exploitation of the drug culture.  A later copy of the document’s title page has the word “SCUM” crossed out and the word “Sourdough” handwritten in, as though RJR  realized too late the derogatory name they had slapped on their customers. See a copy of RJR’s Project Scum document here.

 

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

Cookie-Cutter News Taking Over U.S. Media Market

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

R.J. Reynolds’ “Salem Black Initiative,” 1989

This 1989 R.J. Reynolds marketing report summarizes a company brainstorming session to find ways to increase sales of Salem cigarettes to African Americans. It exemplifies how marketers view a target audience and try to appeal to them, in this case to market an addictive and deadly product. The report concludes that “the best way to reach minority consumers is through their local communities.” It says,

“…the brand’s support must be seen as being backed by other blacks — not as a big white company’s tactic to sell to blacks. If Salem can become a positive contributing factor to blacks’ economic and personal well-being, it could ultimately be ‘unpatriotic to smoke anything else.”

RJR's 2004 Kool Mixx campaign featured images of rappers, DJs and dancers on cigarette packs and in ads.

The marketers say “Salem should be seen as a friend,” and suggest ways to play up the positive aspects of [young adult] black smokers and their lifestyle, listing words and fashion items from the African American community at the time:

“…fresh” “fade” (kill) “bank” (money) “hooked”(together) “chillin'” “def” (cold, funky, hard, it’s happening) “stylin'” “dis” (disrespectful) – lots of bracelets – 2-3 holes in ear (African influence) – nose studs – fades, parts, braids – thrashed jeans – micro spandex shorts – side snap warm-up suits…”