Big Tobacco’s Effort to Exploit Terrorism to Get Legal Cover

Tobacco companies knew in 1953 that cigarettes caused cancer, but have long fought the inclusion of health warning labels on cigarettes, including this updated one.

This three-page document dated November 15, 2001, from Philip Morris’ online corporate document collection, argues that the federal government would be better off diverting funds from the U.S. Department of Justice’s 1999 lawsuit against the tobacco industry to concentrate on the fight against terrorism.  The strategy leverages the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the U.S. as a reason to stop the government’s investigation into the major American tobacco companies’ decades-long conspiracy to defraud the American people about the links between smoking and disease.  On November 29, 2001 (just days after this document was written) the investigative organization Center for Public Integrity revealed that then-House Majority Whip and tobacco industry ally Tom DeLay (R-Texas) had done the bidding of the tobacco companies by quietly inserting a clause into the Financial Anti-Terrorism Act of 2001 (a bill rushed through Congress in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks) shielding U.S. tobacco companies from foreign lawsuits that alleged cigarette smuggling and money laundering.

Romney Fails to Retract Huge, Verfiable Lie

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

A slew of major media outlets including the Los Angeles Times, the Wall Street Journal and CNN reported on a speech that Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney gave on May 31 in front of the shuttered offices of Solyndra, the California-based solar panel manufacturer that went bankrupt after taking a $535 million loan from the U.S. Department of Energy — but they all failed to check on whether what Romney said in his speech was true.  Referring to Solyndra’s government loan, Romney said, “An independent inspector general looked at this investment and concluded that the [Obama] administration had steered money to friends & family, to campaign contributors. This building — the half a billion dollar taxpayer investment — represents a serious conflict of interest on the part of the President and his team. It’s also a symbol of how the President thinks about free enterprise. Free enterprise to the President means taking money form the taxpayers and giving it freely to his friends.” But Romney’s statements are a bald-faced, easily-verifiable lie and it took days for the major media covering the speech to fact-check Romney’s statements after media watchdogs called them out.

Missoula Citizens Rack Up More Progress in Anti-Limbaugh Effort

Rush Limbaugh

Citizens of Missoula, Montana continue to make headway in their effort to push Rush Limbaugh off the air in that town. Dave Chrismon, head of the grassroots effort and website RushOutOfMissoula.com, reports  that seven more businesses have pulled their ads from Limbaugh’s show in the last week, for a total of 27 businesses that have abandoned the show since the group’s effort started in mid-April, 2012. “We’re shaking this bully’s tree!” Chrismon crowed. Remaining advertisers can be seen at this link on RushOutOfMissoula.com, which is tracking advertisers on the show. Local businesses still advertising on Limbuagh’s show include Adair Jewelers, whose owner, Jim Adair, claims he is being “blackmailed” by supporters of RushOutOfMissoula.com and who says the group wants to “take all talk radio off the air.” KGVO, the station that broadcasts Limbaugh in Missoula, has featured Adair on its talk shows as a way to try and defend the station’s keeping Limbaugh on the air amid the firestorm of disapproval of the show. Nationwide businesses that have quit Limbaugh’s show include Home Depot, Sam’s Club, ProActiv, Constant Contact and Legal Zoom.  Some of the national businesses that continue to advertise on the show include Allegiant Airlines, Curves (the health club for women), Habitat for Humanity, Max Muscle, Dish Network, Fram Oil Filters, LifeLock and Match.Com.

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

An NBC investigative team has exposed historical and financial ties between many of the supposedly independent groups actively opposing Proposition 29, a measure to increase California’s tobacco tax by $1.00 per pack, and the tobacco industry. Collectively, groups against the measure have spent $46.7 million so far — over four times more than the amount spent by groups supporting the measure. Much of the money to oppose the measure came from cigarette makers Reynolds American and Philip Morris, laundered through groups that are seemingly independent from the industry, like Americans for Tax Reform, the Small Business Action Committee and the California Taxpayers’ Association. Tobacco industry documents now available on the Internet reveal these groups have historically received significant financial support from Philip Morris, R.J. Reynolds and the Tobacco Institute. Political analyst Larry Gerston commented, “These kinds of transfers of money increasingly take place under a very dark shadow.” The strategy of burying tobacco industry involvement in ballot measure campaigns is revealed in a 1998 proposal by a political consulting group that worked for the Tobacco Institute on another cigarette tax fight.

Wal-Mart Dumps ALEC

The retail giant Wal-Mart is joining other big businesses in ending its membership in the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the conservative corporate bill mill that helps spread “shoot first” laws like the one linked to the killing of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin. In a letter to ALEC, Wal-Mart Vice President Maggi Sans wrote, “Previously, we expressed our concerns about ALEC’s decision to weigh in on issues that stray from its core mission ‘to advance the Jeffersonian principles of free markets’” Sans said. “We feel that the divide between these activities and our purpose as a business has become too wide. To that end, we are suspending our membership in ALEC.” Other large corporations that have already left the organization include Coca Cola, Pepsi, Kraft Foods, Intuit and others.

 

Florida GOP Working to Purge Democrats from Voter Rolls

Florida Governor Rick Scott (R)

Under the guise of preventing voter fraud — a virtually nonexistent problem in Florida — the state of Florida is demanding tens of thousands of American citizens provide proof of citizenship to the state in person or lose their right to vote. Acting on a directive from Governor Rick Scott, Florida’s secretary of state sent letters to 180,000 voters to be stricken from the voter rolls unless they prove to the state that they are, in fact, citizens. Recipients were told they must attend an administrative hearing in person to provide proof of their citizenship. The list includes many people falsely flagged as non-citizens, including 91 year-old Bill Internicola, a World War II veteran who won a Bronze Star for bravery, and Maureen Russo, a 60 year old business owner who has been a registered voter in Florida for 40 years. ThinkProgress estimates that more than 20 percent of the voters flagged as non-citizens in Florida are actually full-fledged citizens. The massive purge of voters by Florida’s Republican administration comes at a time very close to the impending general election this fall, giving falsely-accused voters minimal time to correct the records. The purge also disproportionally affects Democrats. Two thirds of the supposed non-citizens on the purge list live in Miami-Dade County, which leans heavily Democratic. In response to information that legitimate citizens are being targeted for purging from the voter rolls, Gov. Scott defiantly vowed to intensify his efforts to remove voters from the rolls.

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

FDA Rejects Corn Industry’s Request to Rename High Fructose Corn Sugar

After people started avoiding high-fructose corn syrup in the foods they buy, the Corn Refiners Association (CRA) petitioned the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to change the name “high fructose corn syrup” to a more wholesome-sounding name on nutrition labels: “corn sugar.” That was in 2010. Around the same time corn refiners started a widespread TV ad campaign to try and convince people there is no significant difference between their product and regular, granulated white sugar — a claim that prompted refiners of granulated sugar to file a lawsuit against the CRA accusing them of deceiving the public. Now comes more bad news for the corn guys: May 30, 2012, the FDA squashed CRA’s hopes for renaming its much-maligned product when the agency officially rejected their requested change. FDA told CRA that the agency defines sugar as a dried, crystallized solid — not a syrup. In a press release, the CRA said the “vast majority of American consumers are confused” about high-fructose corn syrup and claimed FDA denied its application on “narrow, technical grounds.” Changing names to escape a PR debacle is common. Two examples: Cigarette maker Philip Morris changed its name to “Altria” to relieve its food companies of the taint of tobacco, and the mercenary firm Blackwater changed its name to “Xe” after its agents engaged in the Nisour Square massacre in Iraq in 2007.

Source: U.S. Food and Drug Administration, 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

The Average Soda is 6 Times Bigger Than in the 1950s?

The average fast food restaurant meal today is over four times bigger than it was in the 1950s, according to a new website by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. The site, MakingHealthEasier.org, encourages healthy behaviors to help head off chronic disease. CDC finds that portion creep has resulted in a “new abnormal” for food portions in American society. In the 1950s, the average fountain soda at a fast food restaurant was just 7 ounces. Today it’s 42 ounces. The average hamburger was 3.9 ounces, and today it’s 12 ounces. A portion of french fries in the 1950s was just 2.4 ounces and today it is 6.7 ounces. Since the early 1900s, the average size of a chocolate bar has increased by 1,233 percent. Since the 1960s, the weight of the average American woman has increased by 24.5 pounds and the average weight of a man has increased by 28 pounds. As portions have grown, so have obesity and diabetes, and the problems and medical expense they bring.  In 1958, only about one percent of the country’s population had diabetes. By 2009, that number had risen 22 percent. In 2011, an estimated  25.6 million (11.3%) (pdf) of people age 20 and above were diagnosed with diabetes in the U.S., with an estimated 7 million more undiagnosed. Medical expenses for diabetics are over two times greater than people without diabetes.

Source: U.S. Centers for Disease Control, May 21, 2012

Skip TV Ads, Go to Jail?

The major television networks ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC are arguing that skipping commercials while watching TV shows recorded on a digital video recorder (DVR) is illegal. In a lawsuit against Dish Network, the TV networks are charging that a new feature called “AutoHop” on Dish’s new DVR that allows people to skip TV ads “induces” copyright infringement. The networks claim that skipping ads in effect robs the advertisers who pay good money to the networks with the expectation that viewers will be forced to see them. The problem is that the manufacturer of a technology can’t be held liable for inducing copyright infringement unless customers are actually proven to infringe, so the networks must prove to a court that people who simply record a TV show, watch it at a later time and skip the ads are violating federal copyright law. The networks’ suit mimics a previous lawsuit they filed in 2002 against a company called ReplayTV that made a recording device with an automatic commercial-skip feature. The sheer expense of the lawsuit drove ReplayTV out of business before a court could rule on their theory of copyright infringement. Now the networks are leveling same charges against Dish, but Dish is fighting back. It’s filed its own lawsuit against the networks charging them with attempting to stifle its latest innovation. In its counter-suit, Dish points out that its “Hopper” recorder does not erase or delete any commercials, and they “remain on the recording and can be readily viewed at each customer’s individual option.”

Main source: Electronic Frontier Foundation, May 25, 2012