Kickstarter, a crowd-source funding platform for creative projects, helped raise $60,000 for a group of atheist shoe makers to start an atheist shoe company in Berlin, Germany. The company, AtheistBerlin.com, also known as AtheistShoes, hand-makes trendy suede lace-up shoes with soles that say, in large, etched lettering, “Ich bin atheist” (“I’m atheist”) or “Loves Darwin.” Presumably, when a person wearing the atheist shoes walks through a puddle or on a dusty road, for example, the shoes will stamp “I’m atheist” or “Loves Darwin” onto the road with every step. Some of the shoe styles have irreverent names like “Naughty Schnitzel Pilz,” and they come in colors like “Candy Testicle” (a limited edition), or “Kitten Testicle Gray.” But after Atheist Berlin started shipping their shoes, they encountered problems with delayed and lost orders for shoes sent to the U.S. To diagnose the problem, AtheistBerlin conducted a study: They shipped two packages to 89 different people in 49 U.S. states using the United States Postal Service for final delivery. One package had the company’s branded packing tape on it that said “ATHEIST,” and the other was shipped with neutral tape. All packages were shipped at the same time. The results? Packages sealed with “ATHEIST” tape took an average of three days longer to arrive, and were ten times more likely to never make it to their destination. One package with the ATHEIST tape sent to Michigan arrived fully 37 days after the neutrally-marked package. The company conducted the same test in Germany and to several other European countries and found no similar bias. The results, they conclude, demonstrate a significant bias in quality of shipping in the U.S. against atheist-branded packages. The company stopped using atheist-branded packing tape on their shipments to the U.S. and have noted improvement in delivery times. Atheist Shoes also says that since they conducted the study, some people have expressed an interest in buying atheist packing tape. The company is looking into getting enough of it manufactured that they can sell it.
Recently City Market grocery stores, a chain owned by Kroger Company, started running billboards in Grand Junction, Colorado that say “Your health matters to us.” The ads boast that City Markets have dietitians, pharmacies, “natural and organic” foods, “health centers” and “NuVal,” a scoring program that ranks the nutritional value of some foods they sell on a scale of 1 to 100. I called a local City Market store to find out how to get in touch with one of their dietitians but was told they didn’t really have any. “It’s misleading,” said Pansy Hubbard, a Grand Junction City Market service counter employee, about the billboard campaign. She said there aren’t any registered dietitians at any of the Grand Junction stores. People with a computer and an Internet connection can find their way to Kroger’s website, where, if you dig a little you can find links to email addresses of dietitians, but the inference that City Markets have dietitians available at their stores is patently false, at least in our area. But the stores’ claim about dietitians isn’t even the most misleading part of the ad. The biggest thing that negates City Market’s claim that “Your health matters to us” is that all their stores knowingly continue to sell a product that is well-known to kill hundreds of thousands of Americans every year: cigarettes. Cigarettes are a known addictive and deadly product, and City Market makes lots of money off them despite what they do to peoples’ health. This makes it very clear that money is what matters to City Market and the Kroger Company, not their customers’ health.
Some other store chains besides Kroger/City Market can now make a more honest case that they care about their customers’ health. Target stores, for example, stopped selling cigarettes chain-wide in 1996, and are still very much in business. Other stores that truly promote healthy lifestyles have quit selling cigarettes and said publicly that selling tobacco products is not conducive to their pro-health mission.
They are absolutely right.
A chemical flavoring used to create that delicious, buttery flavor in microwave popcorn, when heated, can cause a life-threatening, irreversible obstructive lung disease called bronchiolitis obliterates. The chemical, called diacetyl, was first found make popcorn manufacturing workers sick in 1985, after two workers employed in a factory where the flavoring was used developed a rare lung disease. The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), tested the air in the employees’ workplace, found a high concentration of diacetyl, and confirmed a link between workers’ exposure to the chemical and their reduced lung function. Since then, hundreds of workers have reported becoming sick after working around the chemical. According to NIOSH, diacetyl is used extensively in the flavoring and food manufacturing industries. Diacetyl doesn’t just affect factory workers, either. Wayne Watson of Denver, Colorado, ate two bags of microwave popcorn every day for ten years and developed the lung disease now known as “popcorn lung.” In September, 2012, he was awarded $7.2 million in a lawsuit against Gilster-Mary Lee Corporation, which made the popcorn, and the Kroger and Dillon Companies, the grocery store chains that sold it. In his suit, Watson pointed out that neither the manufacturer nor the grocery stores warned customers that diacetyl — also recently linked to Alzheimer’s disease — was dangerous. In December, 2012, Sensient, a flavoring company in Indianapolis, Indiana, agreed to pay a fine for violating Indiana OSHA workplace standards for use of diacetyl. The company also agreed to reduce its use of the chemical. In 2004, a jury awarded another couple, Eric and Cassandra Peoples of Joplin, Missouri, a total of $20 million for health injuries they incurred due to workplace exposure to the chemical. So far, food manufacturers have paid out over $100 million in damages to workers who were exposed to the chemical and got sick. Despite this, FDA still lists the chemical as safe on its website.
The U.S. government has invested billions to determine the causes behind traffic fatalities and used that information to make policies that have markedly reduce traffic deaths in the United States. Government research on traffic safety has led to the widespread use of seat belts, front and side impact air bags, child safety seats and other advances that have greatly advanced road safety and reduced vehicular deaths for Americans. The number of deaths annually from firearms in the U.S. closely approximates the number of traffic fatalities — roughly 30,000 deaths per year from each. Yet there has been little research into, or advances made in reducing gun deaths. Why? Because the National Rifle Association (NRA) has long worked behind the scenes to block laws allowing the collection and dissemination of data about the impact of gun ownership on Americans’ safety. The NRA quietly pushed a provision that was inserted into the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) restricting the data doctors can collect from their patients about their ownership and use of firearms. From 1986 and 1996, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control conducted peer-reviewed research into the impact of the presence of guns in people’s homes. While there is a widespread belief among gun owners that the presence of guns in their homes makes them safer, the CDC found the opposite — that having a gun in the home creates a 2.7 times greater risk of homicide and a 4.8 greater risk of suicide for the occupants. The NRA took action to prevent CDC from publicizing these results, and blocked continued funding of government research into the impact of firearms on citizen safety.
Cardiac patients who experience atrial fibrillation are routinely prescribed anti-clotting drugs to help prevent strokes. For many years, the most popular anti-clotting agent has been warfarin, marketed as Coumadin. Warfarin is the active ingredient in rodenticides like D-Con, which work by causing rats and mice to bleed to death internally. Coumadin works by depleting the body’s level of active Vitamin K, a clotting factor present naturally in many foods. But Coumadin has major drawbacks. Patients taking it require frequent monitoring to assure they have the correct levels of the anticoagulant in their blood, and have to be careful about what they eat, because foods high in Vitamin K can alter Coumadin’s effectiveness. Recently new anti-clotting drugs have come on the market that have been hailed as major improvements over Coumadin because diet not a factor and patients taking them require little or no monitoring for blood levels. With brand names like Pradaxa (dabigatran), Xarelto (rivaroxaban) and Eliquis (apixaban), the new drugs are being hailed by investors in Big Pharma as “blockbuster” drugs, and their manufacturers are, as usual, aggressively marketing them through television ads. But these drugs can be quite costly in several ways. Pradaxa and Xarelto cost around $3,000 a year, while warfarin costs as little as $200. But a much bigger problem for patients is that there is no known antidote to the new drugs for patients who experience bleeding emergencies.
Next time you dine out, take a close look at your check. Restaurants are starting to round the pennies on customers’ bills up or down, usually to the nearest nickel, to avoid having to deal with pennies. Chipoltle restaurants were caught doing this without notifying customers, and when customers noticed the practice and expressed irritation, the chain added a line on the bill titled “rounding” to openly account for the missing change. They also started rounding down in diners’ favor.
Apparently it’s worth it.
Restaurateurs say rounding speeds up finalizing bills and eliminates the hassle and expense of dealing with pennies, which are quickly becoming passe’. After all, pennies are now so worthless that people drop them all the time and don’t even bother to pick them up. Some businesses cope with the penny problem with “take a penny, leave a penny” jars, but many are just throwing up their hands and declaring they are done dealing with pennies altogether.
In December, 2010, President Obama signed the Commercial Advertising Loudness Mitigation (CALM) Act, which required television broadcasters to turn down the volume on those annoyingly loud commercials that suddenly blast your ears out during your favorite TV shows. The new law ordered broadcasters to air commercials at the same average volume as the TV shows during which they appear. But now, almost two years later, TV commercials are still annoyingly loud. So what happened to the law?
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.
Insurance companies are hot targets in the national discussion of skyrocketing medical costs and health care reform. But there is another, little-noticed factor could also be sucking untold health care dollars out of our pockets. It’s one we are also loathe to address: the part that doctors play in pushing up the costs of medical care. This is an area that is begs for closer scrutiny, and in which patients need more help.
An Examination Day Surprise
My interest in this topic was piqued by a personal experience that brought home the problem of runaway medical costs in a truly shocking way.
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
Skechers, the maker of those roly-poly “toning shoes” that were a big craze back in 2010, will shell out $40 million to settle charges that it deceived consumers with phony claims the shoes conferred health benefits like weight loss, muscle strengthening and butt toning. Back in 2010, fitness footwear companies like Skechers, Nike and Reebok raked in about $1.1 billion from the “toning shoe” market by charging between $100 and $200 a pair for the shoes. Skechers controlled about 60 percent of the market, and Reebok had about a 33 percent share. The companies created demand for the shoes by running ads that falsely claimed they would help wearers “shape up while you walk” or “get in shape without setting foot in a gym.” The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) alleged that the shoe manufacturers fudged studies and statistics to make claims about the shoes that they could not support. Last September, Reebok agreed to pay $25 million to settle charges that it deceptively advertised roly-poly shoes with names like TrainTone, RunTone and EasyTone. The companies are paying the millions of dollars into a fund to which shoe purchasers can apply for a refund. If you bought Reebok toning shoes, you can click here to apply for a refund. People who fell for Skechers “butt toning” shoe ads and bought them can keep an eye on this website to get refunds when the account it set up.
Main source: Advertising Age, May 16, 2012
Twenty advertisers have now officially pulled their ads from Rush Limbaugh’s show on KGVO talk radio in Missoula, Montana, and the airwaves went dead during his show not once, but twice — and for more than a minute each time — on Friday, May 20th. Another sign Limbaugh could be in trouble in Missoula: KGVO has started broadcasting brief comedy bits during what would normally be blocks of advertising time on Limbaugh’s show, according to listeners from RushOutOfMissoula.com, the effort to push Limbaugh off the radio in Missoula. RushOutOfMissoula.com posts a frequently-updated list of current advertisers on Limbaugh’s show on their web page, along with the businesses’ contact information, and asks people to contact the businesses and ask them to “stop putting money in that bully’s pocket” by pulling their ads. The web page urges callers to remain polite and respectful. Many advertisers have pulled their ads as a way to remain neutral in the conflict. Businesses still advertising on Limbuagh’s show on KGVO include Allegiant Airlines, Adair Jewelers, Air Quality Mechanical, Bagels on Broadway, Edward Jones, Furniture Row, Hoagieville, Lithis Chrysler, The Montana Club, the Ravalli Family of Banks and Time Rental. Jim Adair, owner of Adair Jewelers — one of the remaining local advertisers on Limbaugh’s show in Missoula — is fighting back by increasing his ads on the show, and running ads saying he is being blackmailed by people who want to take all talk radio off the air. RushOutOfMissoula.com reports that 1,751 people have now signed their petition asking KGVO to take Limbaugh off the radio in their town. RushOutOfMissoula.com was organized after Limbaugh carried on a three day tirade against Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke late last February in which he called her a “slut” and repeatedly derided and insulted her for testifying before Congress about the need to fund women’s health care.
Throughout his 16 years in the Colorado state legislature, former Colorado Senate Majority Leader Ken Gordon saw first-hand how corporate money is killing government, and it alarmed him. Gordon saw legislators failing to represent the people who elected them, and instead represent the big money donors who kept them in office. Now Gordon is on a mission to change our broken system.
Ken Gordon came of age in Michigan during the U.S. war in Vietnam. The experience of the war impressed upon him the need to become active when you see something terrible going on around you. “Clearly government was doing something awful,” he says of the Vietnam war, noting that between one and two million people lost their lives because of America’s military involvement in Vietnam. Gordon did everything he could to help end the war: he marched in anti-war rallies in Washington and in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The wave of anti-war protests that swept the country eventually pushed the American government to end the war, and the experience showed Gordon the power people wield when enough of them get behind a cause.
People who buy bottled water pay up to 1,900 times what tap water costs, but get less access to key information about the pricey water than they do for tap water. Big companies that sell bottled water, like Pepsi (Aquafina) and Coke (Crystal Geyser), want you to think their water is special, but refuse to reveal where their water comes from, the methods used to purify it or whether their own testing revealed any contaminants in the water. According to the Environmental Working Group (pdf), the makers of the top ten best-selling brands of bottled water refuse to answer at least one of those questions. Only one — Nestle, maker of Pure Life Purified water — willingly discloses the specific source of its water, treatment method and gives consumers access to a water quality test report. Digging for information reveals that at at least one brand of bottled water, Aquafina, is bottled from a public water source. California passed a law in 2007 ordering bottle water manufacturers to publicly disclose quality information about their bottled water, but as of 2011 only 34 percent of companies were complying with the law. When asked to supply water quality information, the makers of Aquafina claimed it was “proprietary information” that was “not for the public.” Bottled water companies make claims like their water is purely from rainfall, purified by “equatorial winds” (Fiji Water) or can help you live longer, but cannot and do not substantiate these claims. In the mean time, every 27 hours, Americans drink enough bottled water to circle the Earth with plastic bottles stacked end to end. EWG recommends drinking filtered tap water instead of bottled water. Municipalities issue annual tap water quality reports that are always available to the public.
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.
Corporate Accountability International (CAI), a group that challenges corporate abuses, posted an open letter on its website asking hospitals that house McDonalds restaurants to end their contracts with the fast food chain to “stop fostering a food environment that promotes harm, not health.” The letter points out that the rates at which children suffer from diet-related illnesses like diabetes are “staggering,” and the problem is related in part to the consumption of junk food. Locating McDonalds stores in hospitals is part of a marketing strategy, CAI says, that is aimed at imparting an aura of healthfulness to the food — a goal that is inconsistent with the goals of a health institution. “Health professionals are devoted to caring for sick children and adults and to preventing illness. But these efforts cannot compete with the profit-driven mechanisms by which McDonalds and the fast food industry operate their business, and the toll that McDonalds’ practices have had on children’s health,” the letter states. CAI’s petition to get McDonalds out of hospitals is here.
Thinking of subscribing to DirecTV? Think again. DirecTV pulls a fast one on subscribers to push them into more expensive packages after they sign up. Here’s how it works: Like all cable and satellite TV providers, DirecTV offers different levels of programming that include specific channels. New subscribers select the package with the channels they want — or so they think. A few months after you subscribe to their service, DirecTV pulls some of the channels originally included in your package. All of a sudden when you try to watch those channels, you get a “Channel Not Purchased” message on your screen. When you call DirecTV to tell them about the suddenly-missing channels, they say they’ve taken them out of your package and you’ll need to upgrade to a pricier package to get them back. DirecTV makes little effort to notify subscribers in advance of this change. They don’t announce the changes, for example, in any of the regular emails they send customers announcing special deals and “free” weekends of premium channels. They don’t add any more channels to your package to make up for the ones they’ve removed, and they don’t compensate customers financially for the loss by adjusting your bill for the channels you no longer get. On their website, they explain the loss by saying they took the channels away to help “manage rising programming costs.” Their website also says, “At DIRECTV, we strive to bring you the best entertainment experience available.” All you have to do is subscribe, or peruse the comments at CustomerServiceScoreboard.com/DIRECTV to find out that DirecTV pulls this scam with relative frequency. DirecTV also charges you $10.00/month extra to get a high-definition receiver, where most other pay TV services provide HD to all customers as part of the deal.