Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper courageously said the time is right to talk about guns and gun violence in the U.S. and what can be done about it.
Last Thursday, ironically just one day before the latest tragic school massacre in Connecticut, Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper became a lone voice of political sanity on gun issues in the U.S. when he said it’s finally time to have an open discussion about guns and gun control in Colorado. Hickenlooper said he wanted to wait until a few months had passed after the Aurora Theater massacre to raise the issue, and no sooner did he mention it than yet another horrific mass shooting took place in an elementary school in Connecticut, killing 20 very young children and seven adults. Today, on the day of that tragic massacre, President Obama backed up Hickenlooper. Obama, reacting at a White House briefing as many of us do to such shootings, with great sadness, uttered a statement that it is finally time for action to be taken to reduce gun violence in the U.S.:
“As a country we have been through this too many times. Whether it is an elementary school in Newtown, or a shopping mall in Oregon, or a temple in Wisconsin, or a movie theater in Aurora, or a street corner in Chicago — these neighborhoods are our neighborhoods, and these children are our children. We’re going to have to come together to meaningful action on this, regardless of the politics,” Obama said.
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Michigan workers, locked out of their state capitol, protest a so-called “right tow work” bill that cuts wages and depresses benefits
The wording of the union-killing bill Michigan Governor Rick Snyder signed this week was taken virtually word for word from “model” legislation crafted by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a stealth lobbying group for corporations. The Natural Resources Defense Council has calls ALEC “Corporate America’s Trojan Horse in the States.” ALEC is essentially an exclusive club for state-level legislators and corporate representatives that masquerades as a charitable, non-profit group. ALEC charges legislators just $50 a year to join, while corporations pay anywhere from $7,000 to $25,000 a year. In return corporations get ongoing opportunities to have their lobbyists hobnob closely with thousands of state legislators. ALEC puts on corporate-sponsored confabs at tony beach and golf resorts where lobbyists get plenty of face time with state legislators and influence them to introduce their favored legislation in state houses back home. Legislators never intentionally reveal that the bills came from ALEC when they introduce them. One of ALEC’s highest legislative priorities has been passing so-called “right to work” (RTW) bills across the country to slash the political power of unions.
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Grover Norquist and his group, Americans for Tax Reform, have long lobbied for tobacco industry interests — earning huge payouts from RJR and Philip Morris
Grover Norquist, who for decades has been the patron saint of anti-tax sentiment for Republicans, is fast losing relevance as Republicans finally start to grasp that the only way America can get out of its fiscal mess is to raise taxes. Legislators are starting to see that their allegiance must be to the United States of America and its people, and not to Grover Norquist. But for GOP legislators, leaving Norquist behind will be one of the best things they can do to help get some credibility back with the American public. By pledging their allegiance to Norquist for so many years, Republicans have put stock in one of the most reliable allies of one of the world’s most reviled industries: the tobacco industry. Previously-secret tobacco industry documents show Norquist and his group Americans for Tax Reform (ATR) have for decades been highly dependable allies to Big Tobacco. Norquist was always at the cigarette makers’ beck and call whenever they needed him. As ATR president, Norquist annually sought and received hundreds of thousands of dollars from Philip Morris and R.J. Reynolds to support the companies’ agenda of low cigarette and corporate taxes. In return for the big bucks, Norquist offered his organization up as a conduit for tobacco industry lobbying. Norquist figured prominently in Philip Morris’ quiet, internal 1995 “Get Government Off Our Back” project, in which the cigarette maker secretly created a phony “grassroots” group, to push to “shift government’s priorities” off regulating business. In 1999, Norquist helped cigarette makers fight President Clinton’s proposal to add a one dollar tax on cigarettes to fund health care. Norquist was cast as a “core ally” in Philip Morris’ efforts to enact “tort reform” to block people’s access to the courts. Norquist helped defend cigarette makers against the Department of Justice’s 1999 Lawsuit in which the industry was found guilty of perpetrating five decades of fraud against the American people. Philip Morris’ law firm of Covington and Burling even secretly took the privilege of drafting letters to government agencies, like FDA, that Norquist could sign so they would appear to be from ATR and not a tobacco company.
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Thai cigarette packs, with graphic health warning labels. Cigarette makers have blocked use of such labels in the U.S. through a lawsuit.
A newly-released study of previously secret, internal tobacco industry documents shows the multinational cigarette companies have been working consistently behind the scenes since 1966 to 2012 to block stronger health warning labels on cigarette packs. On-pack health warning labels are an effective and inexpensive way of educating the public about the health hazards of smoking. For decades, countries around the world have been trying to make these labels more effective, for example by using more strongly-worded warnings, or graphic photos of tobacco-related diseases like cancerous lungs, people with tracheotomies or rotting teeth. But cigarette companies view these improved labels as a “global threat” and formed international task forces to block their use.
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Salon.com reports a new “youth” front group has appeared consisting of young people who have ostensibly joined together to fight the federal debt. The group, called “The Can Kicks Back,” issued a press release November 12 announcing its creation and casting itself as a “nationwide grassroots campaign.” The Can Kicks Back gives no physical address on its website, but Salon.com reports the group shares the same address as the New America Foundation, which receives funding from the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, among other foundations and big corporations. Peter Peterson is a Wall Street hedge fund billionaire who, according to Huffington Post, has “has personally contributed at least $458 million to the Peter G. Peterson Foundation to cast Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and government spending as in a state of crisis, in desperate need of dramatic cuts.” Other prominent funders of the New America Foundation include Google, Microsoft, Nike, Merck, and Aetna insurance. Interestingly, Kick the Can’s advisory board consists mostly of older politicians like Alan Simpson, 81, former Republican senator from Wyoming, Erskine Bowles, 67, former Clinton chief of staff, Mickey Edwards, 75, former Republican congressman from Oklahoma. Salon.com reports that this isn’t Pete Peterson’s first attempt to form an astroturf “youth group” to agitate for cutting entitlement programs. In the 1990s Peterson funded two groups, one called “Third Millennium” and another called “Lead…or Leave,” basically to do the same thing. In fact, Jonathan Cowan, who headed up Lead…or Leave, now is on The Can Kicks Back’s advisory board.
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Misleading May, 1971 ad in LIFE magazine ad encouraging sugar intake
The November/December issue of Mother Jones magazine has an explosive new analysis of more than 1,500 pages of internal documents from the archives of now-defunct sugar companies that reveals that for 40 years, the sugar industry engaged in a massive PR campaign to sow doubt about studies linking sugar consumption to disease. After a growing body of independent research started implicating sugar as a significant cause of heart disease, tooth decay, diabetes and other diseases, the sugar industry responded by developing a PR scheme that included secretly funding scientists to perform studies exonerating sugar as a source of disease. The sugar industry also secretly created a front group, the Food and Nutrition Advisory Council, that they stocked with physicians and dentists who were willing to defend sugar’s purported place in a healthy diet. Sugar companies also worked to shift the conversation about diabetes away from sugar and boost the notion that dietary fats, especially saturated fats, were a bigger culprit in causing heart disease than sugar.
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How do corporations influence entire media markets? A 1995 Philip Morris (PM) document shows one way in which corporations work to influence the larger media to manipulate larger public opinion. The previously-secret document shows that PM hired a Denver-based public relations agency to implement an ambitious and comprehensive plan aimed at influencing Colorado media outlets and thus shift public opinion more in the company’s favor.
The document, titled “PM Media Action Network – Media Plan for Colorado,” was written by public relations firm Russell, Karsch & Hagen, based in Denver. It states:
“[We] will begin to reshape public opinion through the media…” and “…[W]e are confident we can continue to shift the media’s view, and, ultimately the view of the general public…toward issues affecting the industry.”
In keeping with PM’s internal adversarial view of public health efforts to reduce smoking, Russel, Karsch planned to develop a “War Book” of “key issues and message points we believe will be effective in Colorado.”
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Guest post by Ken Gordon, former Majority Leader of the Colorado Senate
Former Colorado Senate Majority Leader Ken Gordon
It would take you less than an hour to drive from Columbine High School to the Century 16 movie theater in Aurora. Both venues are in the suburbs of Denver and subject to the laws created by the Colorado Legislature.
Few politicians have mentioned laws when talking about the shooting in Aurora. The following story will help explain this reluctance.
I was the Minority Leader in the Colorado House when the Columbine shooting occurred.
Most of the guns used at Columbine were bought at the Tanner Gun Show in Adams County. Robyn Anderson, a friend of the Columbine shooters, Harris and Klebold, went with them to the show, and helped them buy the guns. She testified in a House hearing that they purposefully bought guns at tables that were not federally licensed dealers, because they did not want to give their names and addresses for a background check.
Following Columbine, I sponsored the legislation to require background checks for any purchase at a gun show. We referred to it as “closing the gun show loophole.”
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RushOutOfMissoula.com, the grassroots effort to push Rush Limbaugh off the air in Missoula, Montana, reports making “fabulous headway” this week in their effort. Six more advertisers have opted to pull their advertising from Limbaugh’s show on KGVO radio in just the last week, bringing the total of businesses shunning his show in Missoula to 41. “They made a good decision, but only because we made our voices heard,” said Dave Chrismon, who organized RushOutOfMissoula.com. Some of the remaining local advertisers include Adair Jewelers, Bagels on Broadway, The BBQ Pit and Big Sky Glass, Montana Republican Party/Denny Rehberg for Senate and Montana Pro Life Coalition. National advertisers include Allegiant Airlines, Blackjack Pizza, and MaxMuscle.
A product for people who have something to say
Now anyone can spread his or her own ideas or point of view around town for cheap. ThoughtOnBoard, a simple product that puts free speech back in the hands of real people, launched a new e-commerce website just in time for the run-up to the 2012 general election. “Average working people can now take back their right to free speech with ThoughtOnBoard,” said Anne Landman, author of AnneLandmanBlog.com and inventor of ThoughtOnBoard. ThoughtOnBoard, a dry-erase sign that sticks to glass facing outward, lets you say whatever you want, whenever you want, and change it fast. Write or draw anything you want on it and post it in a car, home, shop, restaurant, garage or store window. Change it fast. It’s no censorship, no holds-barred free speech — the perfect way to weigh in on today’s quick-moving political campaigns. ThoughtOnBoard has a zillion uses. Use it to promote events, daily specials, say “Wipe your feet,” “Shh…baby sleeping.” The only limit is your imagination. ThoughtOnBoard has been sold locally for 22 years, and just recently launched into the world of e-commerce, making it more widely available. Check out the new ThoughtOnBoard.com website to see some of the fun and innovative ways people are using it.
RushOutOfMissoula.com, the grassroots effort to push Rush Limbaugh off KGVO Radio in Missoula, Montana, announced this week that three more advertisers have walked away from Limbaugh’s show in the last week, bringing the total to advertisers who have ended their sponsorship of Limbaugh’s show on KGVO to 35. Dave Chrismon, organizer of RushOutOfMissoula, thanked supporters for “helping draw attention to this bully and his track record of nasty, personal attacks.” When RushOutOfMissoula first debuted on April 13, 2012, the Limbaugh Show in Missoula aired four public service announcements. By June 29th that number had jumped to 13 as the radio station struggled to fill gaps left by advertisers fleeing the show. Ads for local businesses dropped from 26 in April to 17 on June 29th. KGVO is still filling the same number of ad slots but is repeating many of the same ads frequently and running many more PSAs in place of paid ads. Adair Jewelers, Sunshine Motors, Trader Brothers, and H & H Meats are some of the local advertisers whose ads have run more than once in the same program. Adair Jewelers, whose owner denounced the RushOutOfMissoula effort as “blackmail,” has had as many as eight ads run in the same program. Businesses and nonprofit groups who have removed their advertising from Limbaugh’s show report they have continued to receive harassing phone calls from Rush supporters. To stop this, RushOutOfMissoula stopped listing these businesses on the site’s “Rush’s Advertisers” page, and changed to an “opt-in” policy where businesses will appear if they request it. The group will continue to keep records of advertisers who pull their ads as a result of efforts by RushOutOfMissoula.
Three more businesses have pulled their ads from Rush Limbaugh’s radio show in Missoula, Montana in response to a grassroots effort by Missoula citizens to let KGVO Radio, broadcaster of the show, know they have had enough of Limbaugh. The latest advertisers to drop their sponsorship brings the total number of advertisers who have dumped Limbaugh’s show in Missoula to 33. Supporters of the effort to push Limbaugh off the air in Missoula, have been called “radicals” for contacting businesses to let them know they disapprove of their sponsorship of Limbaugh’s show. “Fighting bullies and speaking our minds doesn’t make us radicals. It makes us good, patriotic Americans,” responds Dave Chrismon, organizer of RushOutOfMissoula.com. Chrismon has instructed people contacting businesses over their ads to be polite and respectful when they call. “Be an anti-bully,” he says, urging people to “Drive your point home by being respectful.” RushOutOfMissoula.com says it is the voice of the free market and of a “new, bully-free community standard.” KGVO Radio has not yet responded to the news about the most recent three businesses to pull their ads off the show. The station’s last web post about the fracas is dated May 1, 2012. It thanks Limbaugh supporters for their passionate defense of his show.
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
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
Pete Meersman, of the Colorado Restaurant Association
Citizens of Lakewood, Colorado, this spring pushed to enact a stricter smoking ordinance in their city, but met resistance from the Colorado Restaurant Association (CRA), a longtime ally of the tobacco industry. Citizens wanted to make outdoor dining areas, all parks and recreation areas and sidewalks around hospitals smoke free. They also recommended prohibiting smoking inside tobacco retail businesses, to protect employees from exposure to secondhand smoke. In 2001 (pdf), Philip Morris created a front group called the “Colorado Indoor Air Coalition” (CIAC) to promote the notion that providing adequate ventilation in restaurants was the only solution to the problem of secondhand smoke — a tobacco industry strategy to block workplaces from going 100 percent smoke-free. One of the organizations helping Philip Morris head up the CIAC was the Colorado Restaurant Association. So it was no surprise that in 2012, Pete Meersman of the Colorado Restaurant Association appeared at Lakewood City Council meetings to lobby against the changes citizens sought, saying “The anti-smoking people will not be satisfied until no one smokes.” Opponents argued that the new, stricter smoking rules would be unfair to businesses that made capital outlays to meet the older smoking law, like installing more powerful ventilation systems or creating separate patios for non-smokers. But an ever-increasing amount of data now show that heart attacks fall precipitously when effective smoking restrictions are enacted. In Greeley, Colorado, one study (pdf) showed that heart attacks fell 27 percent after a tough new smoking ordinance was passed in 2003. A similar study in Pueblo, Colorado found approximately the same reduction in heart attack admissions to hospitals after a smoking ban went into effect. In the end, though, the City of Lakewood caved to tobacco industry arguments and enacted a watered-down ordinance that failed to include many of the new provisions citizens sought, showing Big Tobacco is still a powerful force on the local level in Colorado, aided by its ally, the Colorado Restaurant Association.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) based in Madison, Wisconsin is pushing back against a new coalition, “Stand up for Religious Freedom,” led by the Pro-Life Action League and Citizens for a Pro-Life Society, that is leading a nationwide rally June 8 to “stop the HHS mandate.” The religious groups oppose a provision in the Obama administration’s new health insurance law that requires most private health insurers cover FDA-approved prescription contraceptive drugs and devices, including the “morning after pill.” The Department of Health and Human Services’ so-called mandate includes an exemption for religious employers who object to contraception, and the rule does not apply to any churches, but that doesn’t go far enough for these organizations, which are trying to block all financial assistance with contraceptives. Moreover, the Catholic Bishops have introduced into Congress the so-called “Respect for Rights of Conscience Act,” which goes even further than banning financial help with contraceptives. The Bishops’ bill would allow any private employer with a “religious or moral objection” to veto coverage for specific treatments for employees. For example, an employer who is a Jehovah’s Witnesses could bar coverage of emergency blood transfusions for its employees, and a Southern Baptist or Mormon employer could deny prescription birth control to its single, female employees.
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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.
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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.