The National Rifle Association has gone dark, shutting down its Facebook page, going silent on Twitter and staying silent on it’s blog as it hunkers down in face of anti-gun protesters marching on its Washington, D.C. headquarters in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre. WalMart, one of the world’s largest sellers of both guns and kids’ toys, announced it is pulling Bushmaster rifles off its shelves nationwide. And another large gun seller, Dick’s Sporting Goods, tastefully removed all guns from view at its store closest to Newtown, Connecticut, where the mass killing took place last Friday, and announced it will stop selling “modern sporting rifles” at stores nationwide. The California state treasurer is considering purging the state’s pension investment funds of stock in companies that manufacture guns, and Cerberus Capital Management, a big investment firm, divested itself of holdings in Freedom Group, which makes Bushmaster rifles like the one the shooter used at Sandy Hook. The California State Teachers’ Retirement Fund is also looking to divest itself of funds invested in Freedom Group. Meanwhile, online petitions demanding legislators move quickly to better regulate guns and gun purchases are gathering signatures at phenomenal rates. One petition we’ve been following on SignOn.org — the biggest one so far — continues to gather hundreds of signatures every hour and is currently up to almost 380,000 signors. Another petition on the White House’s “We the People” petition website that sprang up demanding the Obama administration take immediate action to limit access to guns has gathered 184,202 signatures. It needed just 25,000 signatures to get serious consideration by the Obama administration.
In almost the blink of an eye, an online petition demanding sensible federal-level gun safety laws has gathered more than 230,000 signatures, and is continuing to gather signatures at a rate of almost 2,000 per hour. The response to the petition was so overwhelming that shortly after starting it, the woman who began the petition changed the goal for the number of signers to 250,000. The petition’s impetus was the December 14 bloodbath at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut in which a 20 year-old gunman entered the school and slaughtered 20 six and seven year old pupils and six adult employees who tried to save the children. The petition seeks closure of gun show loopholes that allow people to buy guns without background checks, an end to the online sale of ammunition, mandatory waiting periods for gun purchases during which thorough background checks are conducted, and mandatory psychological and medical evaluations prior to making gun purchases. The petition also requests that character references be provided and evaluated out prior to gun purchases. More accountability should be placed in the hands of retailers, the petition says. When patrons refuse wait periods, authorities should be notified. Gun handling training and testing should be mandatory, as should a renewal process that includes many of the above-mentioned evaluation terms. “Our second amendment rights are long overdue a reevaluation. How many more senseless and entirely PREVENTABLE shootings have to occur before we do something about Gun Control,” asks Staci Sarkin, the petition’s creator. The petition will be send to the House of Representatives. “As a citizen and constituent of this great country, I am asking that you take a firm stand and make a positive change by restricting access to guns and saving lives,” Sarkin’s petition states. Sign the petition here.
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.
A U.S. District Court has ordered American tobacco companies to start running ads in which they must openly admit they lied to the American public about the health hazards of smoking and secondhand smoke. Judge Gladys Kessler, who presides over the case of United States v. Philip Morris, U.S.A., Inc., et al, specified the wording to be used in the corrective ads:
“A Federal Court has ruled that the Defendant tobacco companies deliberately deceived the American public about the addictiveness of smoking and nicotine, and has ordered those companies to make this statement. Here is the truth:”
The subsequent must contain truths about the dangers of tobacco use. Some examples:
* “Defendant tobacco companies intentionally designed cigarettes to make them more addictive.”
* “When you smoke, nicotine actually changes the brain – that’s why quitting is so hard.”
* “Smoking kills, on average, 1200 Americans. Every day.”
* “More people die every year from smoking than from murder, AIDS, suicide, drugs, car crashes, and alcohol, combined.”
People who cringe at the weird-sounding chemical additives in food, like sodium stearoyl-2-lactylate, guar gum or disodium EDTA, are starting to create and share home-made versions of their favorite processed foods that are free of artificial chemicals and additives. On Pinterest, a social media website that facilitates sharing of recipes, a growing number of people are concocting and sharing chemical-free versions of their favorite highly-processed foods. One member shared a recipe for home-made “Condensed Cream of Something Soup,” offered as a chemical-free thickener to use in casseroles instead of expensive and additive-filled canned Campbell’s “Cream of” soups. Another person posted a recipe for home-made Oreos that has gotten raves. Still another person shared a way to make her favorite childhood processed food, Pop Tarts, at home using recognizable ingredients. Someone who claimed to be “disgusted” by processed, bottled Bleu cheese dressing posted a simple recipe for home-made Bleu Cheese dressing. Still someone else shared an easy recipe for do-it-yourself red enchilada sauce, saying “you’ll never go back to the canned, store-bought stuff again.” A substantial portion of our modern food supply is manufactured in factories using chemicals and additives, some of which, according for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, are poorly tested and may not be worth the risk of ingesting them.
Big food, candy and chemical companies are pouring tens of millions of dollars into fighting California’s Proposition 37, which would require foods be labeled as to whether they contain genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Genetically-modified foods have their DNA artificially altered in a laboratory, for example Monsanto genetically engineered a type of sweet corn to make it also contain an insecticide. GMOs have been linked to allergies, organ toxicity and other ailments. The problem is, consumers are in the dark about whether the foods they buy contain GMOs because food producers have not been required to identify foods that contain them. Monsanto has paid over $4.3 million to fight Proposition 37, followed by DuPont, ($4 million), Pepsi ($2.1 million), Bayer ($2 million), Dow ($2 million), Coca Cola ($1.69 million), Nestle ($1.46 million) and ConAgra Foods ($1.1 million). Other companies working to defeat the disclosure law include familiar household companies that dominate the grocery stores, like Campbell’s Soup, General Mills, Bumble Bee (tuna), Hershey’s, Heinz, Kellogg, Kraft, Land O’Lakes (butter), McCormick (spices), Nestle (cocoa), Tree Top (apple juice), Smuckers (jam), and Welch’s (grape juice). The big food and chemical companies have hired former tobacco industry operatives to apply big Tobacco’s playbook to fight the initiative. Hiring out professional PR flacks to oppose the measure also distances the companies from the unpopular effort and helps shield their valuable brands from backlash. The “No” campaign is using the tobacco industry tactic of hiding behind a front group made to appear as though it is made up of small businesses, family farmers and the like, to give the public the impression that the anti-37 effort is a “grassroots” campaign by real people. Far from it. The “Yes on 37” campaign points out that many of the wealthy companies secretly bankrolling the fight against Prop. 37 are the same ones that for years assured Americans that cigarettes were safe, and DDT and Agent Orange were harmless.
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.
Guest post by Ken Gordon, former Majority Leader of the Colorado Senate
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.”
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
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.
Yesterday I stopped at a Natural Grocers market to pick up some ginger ale, and the store gave me a free copy of the June issue of a magazine called “Energy Times” with my purchase. As I glanced through it before throwing it out, I noticed it contained big ads for supplements that promised weight loss, “digestive perfection,” better blood circulation, additional energy and sexual enhancement. Page 12 had an article saying the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is “attacking health freedom.” Right next to the article was a prepaid, business-reply tear-out postcard with blazing red lettering screaming, “Don’t Let the FDA Take Your Vitamins Away! …Join the [National Health Alliance] and protect your health care rights.”
I follow much of what the FDA does, and I just didn’t buy the idea that the FDA was out to take away vitamins or infringe on my health care rights. But it got my curiosity up about how I ended up with this crazy magazine.
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.
A guest post by Michele Swensen
The week prior to Senator Morgan Carroll’s May 2 introduction of SB 107 (The Fracking Safety Act) to the Senate Judiciary Committee, an oil drilling site near Windsor, Colorado, operated by Ranchers Exploration Partners based in Greeley, was issued a cease-and-desist order by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC), which declared an environmental emergency. The site, located in unincorporated Larimer County above the Ridge West residential subdivision, the Poudre River and a lake, was declared a public health hazard after the drilling rig became unstable and brought up potentially toxic solid waste from the landfill upon which it was positioned. The COGCC had issued a drilling permit in September 2010, and state health officials were satisfied that the company had moved the drilling site sufficiently away from the landfill, based on a June, 2011 six-foot test drill over the site. Ranchers Exploration plans to move the drilling rig yet again to another site on the same property, ostensibly away from the old landfill.
The COGCC’s field inspection of the drilling site concluded that Ranchers Exploration failed to follow “most best management practices for drilling sites,” e.g., failing to build secondary containment for “storm water runoff, sewage, chemicals and other toxins that might flow off the drilling pad.”
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
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
After residents of DeKalb County, Georgia actively opposed plans by T-Mobile and AT&T to build telecommunications towers on the grounds of eight local public schools, Georgia State Representative Karla Drenner stepped up to the plate to help out. Rep. Drenner introduced HB 1197, “Cell Phone Towers in DeKalb County,” that would ban placing cellphone towers on public school grounds unless the cellular carrier can show that there is an absolute need for the tower, and that the location sought on school grounds is the only location that can adequately provide service to satisfy that need. Sixteen out of 18 DeKalb County representatives signed on to support the local bill. Support for the measure crossed political, racial and geographic lines. Citizens in favor of the bill also got support from all of their county commissioners and collected over 1,200 signatures on petitions supporting the measure — an admirable number considering Chuck Sims’ represents a county of only 380 people. A legislative committee heard three hours of testimony about the bill over three days at three separate state hearings, and not one person showed up to say they were in favor of plans to put the towers on school grounds. With support like that, the bill should have passed easily through the committee and moved to the House floor. But it didn’t. Why?
A six-fold increase in the frequency of Richter-scale 3.0 and greater earthquakes occurring in the middle of the country correlates with increase in hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” occurring in those locations. In a new paper, scientists present a series of examples in which a significant increase in seismic activity occurred in areas where oil and gas producers increased their disposal of wastewater in deep injection wells. Between 1970 and 2000, the central area of the country averaged 21 earthquakes per year. In 2009, that average jumped to 50, in 2010 it increased to 87, and in 2011, the average rose to 134 quakes per year. While most of the earthquakes are fairly small, the 5.6 magnitude earthquake rocked Oklahoma last year and damaged buildings and increased speculation that injection wells in the area might be a cause. It was the largest earthquake ever to strike Oklahoma, an area without a reputation for earthquake activity. The summary of the new earthquake study from the University of Memphis, says, “Based on the previous injection history, proximity of the wells to the earthquakes and the previous seismic activity in the source area, the M5.6 earthquake [in Oklahoma] was possibly triggered by fluid injection at these wells.”
Main source: Colorado Independent, April 16, 2012
Tobacco farmers in Argentina filed a lawsuit (pdf) against Monsanto and Philip Morris for requiring them to use herbicides and pesticides that caused a high rate of severe birth defects among their children. The farmers charge that Philip Morris and the subsidiary companies that bought their crops required the farmers to stop growing their native tobacco grow a new kind of tobacco instead that Philip Morris uses in its cigarette formulation for the North and South American markets. The new tobacco they had to grow required more pesticides, and the farmers had to use excessive amounts of Monsanto’s glyphosate-based herbicide Roundup — but the defendant companies did not warn them about the dangers of the herbicide, or provide the farmers with safety information about the chemical or any protective gear to wear when applying it.