Tag: Grassroots advocacy

Untangling Colorado’s Web of Anti-Fracking Ballot Initiatives

NoFrackingColorado voters who try to figure out all the proposed statewide ballot initiatives to regulate drilling and hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) are in for a real challenge. So far, fully eleven ballot initiatives have been proposed on the subject, with many of them extremely similar to each other.

It’s tempting to think the oil and gas industry filed some of them to confuse voters and try to pass a watered-down measure, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. So far all of the initiatives filed seem to have been brought by people who truly want more serious regulation of the energy industry, or who are trying to gain an advantage over Colorado’s legal and regulatory regimen, which favors corporate dominance over the desires of residents.

Here’s a rundown on what is known so far about Colorado’s slew of proposed anti-fracking ballot measures.

The Activism Behind CVS’s Cigarette Announcement

CVS touts its apparent new-found interest in people's health

CVS touts its apparent new-found interest in people’s health

CVS Drugstores announced this week that they are finally acting on information the rest of us have known for fifty years: they’re going to stop selling cigarettes because they are addictive and deadly. On February 5, 2014 CVS announced that it would end cigarette sales at its 7,600 stores nationwide by October 1. What CVS didn’t mention was the grassroots efforts behind this move, including the relentless driving force of a human being, Dr. Terence A. Gerace, who carried out an almost four year-long, single-focus, one-man campaign to push CVS to stop selling cigarettes. Dr. Gerace started his campaign in earnest on May 20, 2010. Over the years it has included a web site containing a log and description of every single one of the days he personally stood protesting in front of a busy CVS store in a prominent part of Washington, D.C., a “CVS Sells Poison” Facebook page, a “CVS Sells Poison” YouTube song and video, almost 170 days of personal protest in all kinds of weather at the Washington, D.C. store and some imaginative, hand-made iterations of what Terry though CVS ads could look like if the chain finally went cigarette-free. To his credit, though, Dr. Gerace has turned down offers of publicity for himself now that CVS has finally agreed to stop selling cigarettes, saying the focus should be on the change, and for that he deserves a gold medal.

Some communities understand that it is wrong for pharmacies, which market themselves as interested in peoples’ health, to sell cigarettes. A few enlightened U.S. cities, including San Francisco, Richmond, California, Boston and about 80 other cities in Massachusetts now have ordinances banning pharmacies from selling cigarettes. Canada prohibits pharmacies from selling cigarettes and so does the United Kingdom. In Europe, pharmacies do not sell cigarettes.

For decades the tobacco industry has protected the big national chain drug stores against lawsuits brought by people who were sickened by cigarettes bought at their stores through contracts that indemnify the stores against such legal action. After all, the pharmacies know they are selling a deadly product but keep doing it, to the cigarette makers’ great financial advantage. CVS had many such protective contracts with cigarette companies. To see the contracts tobacco companies held with any drug chain, just go to the Legacy Tobacco Documents Library online and enter the search term “indemnify and hold harmless” along with the name of any major drug store chain you like to shop at, like Walgreens, CVS, Rite Aid, etc. They’re all there, demonstrating that these stores know they are selling a deadly product and choose to do it anyway.

Now that CVS has decided to stop selling cigarettes, the only question left in people’s minds is no longer which national chain drug store will be the first to stop selling cigarettes. It’s which one will be the last.

Denver County Fair Adds New Category: Marijuana

Poster advertising the 2014 Denver County Fair

Poster advertising the 2014 Denver County Fair

In November, 2012, by a vote of 55 to 44 percent, Colorado approved Amendment 64, which legalized recreational use of marijuana. As a result, Colorado is now hosting a booming new pot industry, and this year the Denver County Fair will include a new agricultural category: marijuana. Nine newly-added contests will include judging for highest quality pot plants (done on appearance, not on THC content, and through the submission of photos only), best marijuana-infused brownies and savory foods, best handmade bongs and roach clips, and clothing and fabrics made from hemp. There will also be a joint-rolling competition, done with oregano.

Denver County’s first fair was held in 2011, and with its new-age urban chic culture and little agriculture within its borders, it departs from the typical county fair in notable ways. One of these differences is it’s mission. The Denver County Fair bills itself as 21st century place to share ideas and creativity, celebrate diversity, local culture and intellect. (Yes, intellect at a county fair.) Besides marijuana judging, events include a best tattoo contest, a sopapilla toss, a speed texting competition, a human chicken contest, a Geek Pavilion, speed knitting, the “Corpses and Crowns” Zombie Beauty Pageant, trick pigs, pie on a stick, an X-Treme pancake breakfast with a choice of over 60 different toppings like artichokes and gummy worms. There’s even a drag queen contest.

The National Cannabis Industry Association recently reported that Colorado’s new recreational cannabis industry made “well over $5 million in sales in the first five days” of its operation in January, 2014. The financial boon for the state is leaving marijuana purveyors stuffing their mattresses full of cash, since banks refuse to deal with marijuana-related businesses out of concern that processing money from marijuana sales could put them at risk of incurring federal charges of drug racketeering, since marijuana remains illegal at the federal level.

Seven Year Old Fights GMOs in Girl Scout Cookies

Seven year old Alicia Serratos is trying to get Girl Scouts to take GMO ingredients out of their cookies

YOU GO GIRL! Seven year old Alicia Serratos is trying to get Girl Scouts to take the GMO ingredients out of their cookies

Seven year old Alicia Serratos of Orange County, California has been a Girl Scout for almost three years, so when Girl Scout cookie season rolled around, Alicia got excited about the prospect of selling cookies to help raise money for her troop. But then Alicia and her mom read the ingredients on the cookie box and she found she didn’t recognize a lot of them and couldn’t pronounce some of them, either. Since she was six, Alicia has spent time learning about genetically-modified organisms and their dangers, like infertility and tumors. She knew that over 60 countries have either banned GMOs or forced companies to list GMO ingredients on their labels. Alicia recognized some of the ingredients in Girl Scout cookies as GMOs. She got alarmed that she was being asked to sell cookies made with GMOs, and so she wrote to the Girl Scouts and asked them to take GMO ingredient out of their cookies. Alicia also made a YouTube video asking Girl Scouts to remove GMO ingredients from their cookies, and started a petition on Change.org asking Girl Scouts to stop putting GMO ingredients in their cookies. She made YouTube videos showing how to make healthier, non-GMO versions of Thin Mints and Melty Mints, to prove it can be done. Alicia also created her own cookbook, called “Recipes to Grow,” with over 40 recipes for food kids love, all made from organic and non-GMO ingredients. Alicia will be selling her cookbook instead of Girl Scout cookies this year. She plans to donate proceeds from the book to help schools establish organic gardens on their grounds. So far, over 18,800 people have signed Alicia’s petition, and she’s trying to get 25,000 signatures. For its part, Girl Scouts of the U.S.A. is resisting efforts to get GMOs out of their cookies and towing the GMO-biotech line. In a response to the growing uproar about GMOs in their cookies, Girls Scouts says, in part:

“It is important to note that there is worldwide scientific support for the safety of currently commercialized ingredients derived from genetically modified agricultural crops. The World Health Organization, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, and the American Medical Association all share this assessment. In addition, in the future, GMOs may offer a way to help feed an ever-increasing world population.”

List of Non-Chamber Member Businesses Grows

shop_local.inddMesa County citizens: Have you had enough of the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce’s overbearing political antics, fake programs and bullying and intimidating of citizens? Do you need a pet groomer, mechanic or CPA? Plumber electrician or dentist? Do you want to vote with your wallet and avoid patronizing businesses that belong to the chamber when you do your holiday shopping this year?  Check out the large and growing list of businesses that do not belong to the Chamber now posted at GJChamber.info. It now contains over 500 businesses, the majority of which are truly locally-owned small businesses, so the money you spend at these places will stay in our area, rebound many times over and really help boost our local economy: List of Non-Chamber-Member Businesses

Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce Goes After Protest Website

crosshair-2The Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce hired a Denver law firm to write a letter threatening operators of the GJChamber.info website, which was launched on August 20 to protest the Chamber’s involvement in local politics and other behaviors citizens say are disturbing, like bullying and discrimination. Attorney Sabrina C. Stavish of the Denver law firm Sheridan Ross, P.C., in a letter dated September 16, 2013 wrote, “The Chamber respects your First Amendment right to air your grievances in a public forum. However, we believe that the website, www.gjchamber.info, is misleading and confusing to consumers….[Y]our use of the identical name “gjchamber” in your domain name with no additional wording, and the header “THE GRAND JUNCTION AREA CHAMBER OF COMMERCE” appearing on www.gjchamber.info is misleading and confusing to consumers and is actionable unfair competition under 15 U.S.C.§1125.”

The section of the U.S. Commerce and Trade Code Stavish cites is titled “False designations or origin, false descriptions and dilution forbidden.” It addresses problems like false and misleading promotions, and the misuse of trademarks and service marks for unfair competition. The law also specifies that “any noncommercial use of a mark” is “not actionable.” Commentary and criticism are similarly excluded from the law.  GJChamber.info is a noncommercial protest site and is not used for pecuniary gain, and so is protected under the law. Operators also argue that if someone initially is confused when arriving at the GJChamber.info protest site, once they read it, they will see that it consists of solely of criticism of the Chamber and does not promote the Chamber in any way.

Anne Landman, webmaster of the protest site, said of the letter, “This shows how desperate the Chamber is over protests of its behavior, and provides more evidence backing up claims that the Chamber bullies and tries to intimidate citizens.”

Given they are on safe First Amendment ground with the protest site, GJChamber.info operators declined to act on Ms. Stavish’s requests, but to address concerns about confusion among those visiting the site, they added a colon after the words “Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce” at the top of the home page to help draw visitors to continue reading their criticisms of the organization, and  added a note at the bottom of  their home page stating that it is not the official website of the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce.

 

Grand Junction Citizens Unveil New Anti-Chamber Website

DumpTheChamberMembers of Grand Junction, Colorado’s “Rein in the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce” Facebook group have unveiled a new website to educate business owners and the public about citizens’ grievances against the Chamber. The site, GJChamber.info, asserts that many of the G.J. Chamber’s actions have hurt local citizens and businesses, and are contrary to citizens’ interests. The site’s pages have titles like “What’s Wrong with the Chamber?,” “Misguided Priorities,” “Bigotry and Intimidation,” “Overbearing Political Involvement,” “The Brainard Debacle” and “Chambermades.” The site provides links to published articles and other references to substantiate information on the site. The group created the site as one-stop shopping, a single place that local business owners can go to find out exactly why the Chamber has drawn the wrath of so many people and businesses in town. They hope that after perusing the site, Chamber member businesses will better understand the issues and consider leaving the Chamber, and that people who have less knowledge of the controversies surrounding the Chamber will be better informed. The group will also promote the site to new business owners so they can get up to speed on the political furor surrounding the Chamber before deciding to join. The site also contains a directory of non-Chamber businesses, to make it easier for people to choose where they want to shop. There are already over 100 businesses on the list. If non-chamber businesses want to be listed on the new site, or if a current Chamber member quits and wants to be listed, they can contact the group through the website and ask that their business be added to the list.

Rick Brainard Resigns, Disses Almost Everyone on the Way Out the Door

Grand Junctin City Councilman Rick Brainard

Grand Junctin City Councilman Rick Brainard

Grand Junction citizens breathed a huge sigh of relief yesterday morning after hearing the news that convicted criminal Rick Brainard had formally resigned from the City Council, effective immediately. In his official one-page resignation letter, Brainard said he felt unappreciated, that he is not a violent person, that he became disillusioned with City Council in part because an unnamed Council member had passed an angry note to him filled with underlining and exclamation points, that expressed irritation at how he had voted. Brainard said he has “reconnected” with his former live-in girlfriend, Cindy Franzen, the woman to whom he had given a black eye, that he has “reorganized his priorities around her,” and he speculated that “maybe its time for some new scenery.” TV news cameras showed a large RV parked in the driveway of his home, apparently being loaded up. But Brainard wasn’t done after sending that letter. He also sent a much longer version of his resignation letter to the Grand Junction City Manager, who in turn passed it on to Council. Brainard really spilled his guts in that letter. He named yet another Chamber of Commerce-backed Councilman Marty Chazen as the angry note-writer, and told Mayor Sam Susuras that “Your behavior upset me  so much that I am writing this letter today.” Brainard also castigated the press and media over their coverage of his assault and his subsequent events, which he said “lacked integrity,” and then he wrote the following to the citizens organizing to recall him, a group that, incredibly, he referred to as the “Re-Elect Rick Brainard Crowd”:

(To) The Re-Elect Rick Brainard Crowd: You are welcome. But be perfectly clear on this, my
stepping away has NOTHING to do with you. My comments here should be taken to
heart and you should seriously reflect on them as you move forward. You may want to
consider getting some counseling of your own. I have learned a lot about a topic from my
councilors that I knew nothing about previously, I think my counselors Dr. Saul
Tompkins and Patrick Mills for their advice and direction. You guys are wonderful. But
for this group that couches their behavior in the support of Domestic Violence victims.
Yet, when they produce a web site two thing ring very true. First, there is not a single
reference or link to a domestic violence resource. Does that seem odd? It does to me. It
suggests that you have gotten so caught up in being the bully that you forgot your
mission. Second, clearly you have become the bully, just flip through the pages and you
will see that. Again, I suggest you take a little of your own medicine and learn about your
own behaviors and how to best deal with them. Patrick Mills can certainly help if you
need a resource, he is amazing. The bottom line is this, I have reached out to you using
every means I know to do so engaging you to talk to me, actually get to know me and
learn that I agree with your Domestic Violence mission and wanted to use my position on
City Council to be your advocate. But you were not interested, because it diminished the
fun of being the bully. I’m sorry, but the best way for me to take the wind out of your
now poorly directed sails is to take myself away from you and point out to everybody
else how you have lost your way.

It is unclear what Brainard will do next.

Sentinel Exposes G.J. Chamber of Commerce’s Hubris

Chart from the Daily Sentinel showing GJ Chamber President Diane Schwenke's compensation far outstrips the compensation earned by other comparable chamber presidents around the region

Chart from the Daily Sentinel showing GJ Chamber President Diane Schwenke’s compensation far outstrips the compensation earned by comparable chamber presidents around the region. The same goes for the G.J. Chamber’s lobbying expense.

The Grand Junction, Colorado Daily Sentinel on July 21 published a scathing expose’ of the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce’s recent activities that have citizens in an uproar.  The Chamber, once seen locally as a respected and helpful institution, in recent years has started engaging in hard-core political activity, and spending plenty on it. In 2011, the G.J. Chamber spent a whopping $74,000 of members’ money on lobbying expense. The next closest comparable Colorado Chamber of Commerce that spent anything at all on lobbying was the Montrose Chamber, which spent just $2,000. The Sentinel also revealed that G.J. Chamber president Diane Schwenke’s compensation far exceeds that of her counterparts at comparable Colorado chambers. In 2011, Schwenke made $133,930 in salary and benefits. Her next closest counterpart made just $112,477. Most of the other presidents of comparable chambers made well under $100,000/year in combined salary and benefits. The G.J. Chamber’s headlong dive into hyper-political activity has led to a backlash among citizens, who have started boycotting Chamber-member businesses. In many citizens’ eyes, the G.J. Chamber stepped out of bounds after it formed a secretive political group, the Western Colorado Business Alliance, that takes in unlimited money and spends unlimited funds to get Chamber-backed candidates elected to local office. The Chamber did exactly that in the last City-wide election, only to have one of their winning candidates, Rick Brainard, get thrown in jail four days after the election for beating up a woman. Brainard pled guilty to assault on May 17.  Throughout his legal travails, Brainard has refused pressure from citizens to resign from Council, and will soon cost City taxpayers $50,000 for a recall effort. Making matters worse, the Chamber continues to back Brainard, making Grand Junction the first city in Colorado to allow a freshly-convicted criminal sit on its Council. Former G.J. Chamber member Harry Griff of the law firm Griff, Larson Laiche & Wright, told the Sentinel he quit the Chamber after being a member for 25 years, calling it “a very, very exclusionary group.” Another business owner, Marilyn Charlesworth, also quit the Chamber over it’s unwelcome political activity, calling it a “little boy’s club.” Other businesses to quit include the CandyTime Shoppe, Pablo’s Pizza and the Hot Tomato in Fruita. New businesses in town are also opting not to join the Chamber due to the firestorm of controversy surrounding the organization. Citizens who are outraged at Chamber activities are boycotting Chamber-member businesses and using Facebook to organize, share strategies and share names of businesses that belong to the Chamber and those that do not, or to name who recently dropped their membership. For its part, the Chamber’s leadership remains completely unapologetic. In response to a question Sentinel reporter Charles Ashby posed about whether the local backlash is having any impact on the Chamber’s decision to get more political in the future, Chamber president Diane Schwenke responded that yes, it’s had an impact, but only to the extent that it will make the Chamber try to become even more effective at its political involvement in the future.

Source: Grand Junction, CO Daily Sentinel, Politics and Business, by Charles Ashby, July 21, 2013 (NOT behind a paywall!)

Grand Junction’s Bad Rap and What to Do About it

Op-ed

The arrest of G.J. Chamber-backed city council candidate Rick Brainard in April, 2013 shocked Grand Junction citizens and embarrassed the entire City, but could serve as a catalyst for beneficial change, if we want it to

The arrest of G.J. Chamber-backed city council candidate Rick Brainard in April, 2013 shocked Grand Junction citizens and embarrassed the entire City, but could serve as a catalyst for beneficial change, if we want it to

The dilemma of Rick Brainard, the Grand Junction, Colorado city councilman who pled guilty to criminally assaulting a woman just days after he was elected, has deeply embarrassed our City, but it’s not unique. It’s just the latest in a long string of political embarrassments and economic miscalculations that collectively have tarnished the City’s reputation and made us a laughing stock of the state.

Brainard isn’t the first or the only episode that’s dragged down our City’s reputation. His election is just the latest in a long line of bad decisions that have contributed to our town’s inability to be taken seriously.  Grand Junction is known for chasing prosperity in grandiose, short-sighted ways, and getting into big trouble because of it. We earned a place on the list of the biggest nuclear mining disasters in the U.S. after embracing uranium mining in the 1950s and 60s. Grand Junction required a decade-long, $746 million Superfund cleanup (pdf) to remediate the radioactive mess left behind. Then we pursued oil shale development and got slapped for that with the massive, 1982 Black Sunday Exxon Oil Shale bust that devastated town. Now there’s a big push do oil shale all over again, making it look as though people in this area either have an incredibly short collective memory, or aren’t smart enough to learn from previous mistakes.

We have plenty of things to be proud of in Grand Junction: our beautiful Main Street, great walking and biking paths along the river, sunshine and our wide variety of outdoor recreation, a wonderful canal system (that would be a fantastic built- in walking and biking trail system if we could just get out of the last century and bring ourselves to utilize it that way), the Colorado National Monument, the historic Avalon Theater, the Botanical Gardens, lots of wonderful people and thousands of acres of nearby BLM land where you can get away with doing almost anything. But what’s to draw people off the Interstate and get them enjoy it all?

Not our name. 

Saga Drags On as Brainard Assumes Seat on Council

Two views of citizens  turning their backs on Brainard at his swearing in ceremony May 6, 2013.

Two views of citizens turning their backs on Brainard at his swearing in ceremony May 6, 2013. Ruth Ehlers is seen in the hot pink jacket in the top photo. (Photo Credit: Demand Rick Brainard Resign Grand Junction Facebook page)

Rick Brainard was elevated to Grand Junction City Council this week amid an unprecedented citizen protest at his swearing in ceremony. As City Clerk Stephanie Tuin read Mr. Brainard his oath of office, 60 percent of the audience stood and turned their backs on him in silent protest — a remarkable showing for a municipal ceremony on a weekday morning in this small, conservative town. Brainard claimed to the media that he was unaware of the protest, but was sweating after the ceremony. In response to a question about the protest from a KKCO Channel 11 news reporter, Brainard responded “You know, it is what it is …My supporters have been steadfast, and I’m grateful for that.” An unidentified Brainard supporter was overheard saying, “All they did was turn their backs. They have a right to do that. I thought they were very civil. Not nearly as obnoxious as I thought they were going to be.”

Brainard Issue Sparks Fireworks at Council Meeting

Grand Junction City Councilman Sam Susuras, whom citizens  reprimanded for backing Rick Brainard. Rumors have emerged that the Chamber's four newly-elected candidates have met in secret and plan on making Susuras mayor as soon as they are sworn in.

Grand Junction City Councilman Sam Susuras, who may be subject to recall along with Rick Brainard, who was arrested for assault four days after being elected to Council.

As the first civil union in Mesa County was taking place across town in Grand Junction, Colorado, verbal fireworks flew at the last meeting of the sitting Grand Junction City Council.   In a surprise move, Council voted 4-2 to drop the City’s membership in the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce, which has continued to support embattled councilman-elect Rick Brainard. Brainard was arrested on charges of third degree assault and harassment after allegedly pushing and hitting his live-in girlfriend in the face just four days after he was elected to office April 2. The arrest has outraged the community and galvanized a  grassroots effort to keep Brainard from taking his seat on Council. In a recent TV interview in his own defense, Mr. Brainard called citizens who oppose him “an uninformed lynch mob,” and insisted he will take his seat despite the charges. His statements further inflamed citizens, who have vowed to recall him as soon as the law permits it. The City has said a recall effort will cost taxpayers $45,000. Citizens against Brainard have conducted rallies and marched outside the Chamber of Commerce building and City Hall wearing black and white “No Brainard” T-shirts and “wife beater” undershirts that say “Domestic Violence is a No-Brainard.” Several businesses vowed to quit the Chamber if Mr. Brainard is sworn in and the Chamber continues to back him. The City of Grand Junction for many years was a “Chairman’s Circle” level member of the Chamber — the most expensive membership the Chamber offers, at a cost to taxpayers of $6,000 per year. Councilman Jim Doody noted that the Chamber has also created a 501-c-4 (lobbying) group specifically for the purpose of influencing local elections, but did not disclose how much it spent influencing the last election.

Grand Junction Citizens Continue to Pressure Brainard to Resign

Photo credit: KREX-TV, Grand Junction

Photo credit: KREX-TV, Grand Junction

The saga of embattled city councilman-elect Rick Brainard continues to unfold in Grand Junction, Colorado as citizens continue to pressure Brainard to resign his seat on City Council. Brainard, 51, won election to the Grand Junction City Council on April 2, but on April 6 was arrested on charges of third degree assault and harassment after admitting to hitting his live-in girlfriend in the face in a domestic dispute. Brainard said in a police affidavit that he struck his girlfriend because she “needed to shut her mouth.” His remarks have drawn the ire of the community. Most of the sitting city council members signed a resolution calling on Mr. Brainard to resign his seat. The local paper, the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel, endorsed Brainard prior to his election, but rescinded its endorsement and published an editorial calling on him to reject his seat on Council. The Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce also endorsed Brainard for office, but has so far refused to pull their support for him, saying he is “entitled to due process.” Brainard served on the Chamber’s board. Mr. Brainard so far has vowed to take his seat on Council despite the furor.  He is scheduled to be sworn into office on May 6, coincidentally the same day that he is supposed to make his first court appearance in his assault case.

Grassroots Group Succeeds in Peeling Away Heartland Institute’s Funding

Screen shot 2013-01-20 at 11.48.55 AMA group called Forecast the Facts is leading a campaign to peel away corporate funders who give money the Heartland Institute, a prominent think tank that has been a leader in the effort to deny climate science. Heartland is known for its harsh and divisive anti-climate change PR tactics, like running cringe-inducing billboards along major highways that liken people who believe in climate change to mass murderers like Charles Manson and the Unabomber, Ted Kaczyinski.  The Heartland Institute has flourished through funding from large corporations and industries that have a stake in climate change denial, including ExxonMobil, The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Murray Energy Corporation, Altria/Philip Morris, Microsoft, General Motors and biotech companies like Amgen and Bayer. Forecast the Facts’ grassroots effort to peel away funders looks like it’s paying off, too. The group calculated Heartland’s corporate and trade association funding for 2012 based on the amounts Heartland projected they would take in in their 2012 fundraising plan. Of $2.3 million in projected funding, Forecast the Facts has succeeded in getting corporations to withdraw $1.3 million, leaving about $990,000 remaining. More than 150,000 people have weighed in with various corporations through the project and urged them to pull their funding from Heartland. On its website, Forecast the Facts lists Heartland’s remaining corporate funders, the approximate amount the companies donate to the think tank, and phone numbers at each corporation that people can call to ask the company to stop funding Heartland.

They Said It Couldn’t Be Done: NY State Passes Comprehensive Gun Safety Bill

Sandy Hook victims

Sandy Hook victims

With lightening speed for a state legislature, New York became the first state to pass a comprehensive gun safety bill since the massacre December 14, 2012 at Newtown, Connecticut. New York’s gun control bill, passed and signed today, is the toughest in the nation. It expands the definition of “assault weapon” to include semiautomatic weapons to include those with just one feature commonly associated with military weapons, like a bayonet mount, flash suppressor or pistol grip. Previously the definition required two features. New York’s bill also revokes or suspends gun licenses held by people whom mental health experts determine to be a danger to society. The new law limits magazines to just seven rounds of ammunition instead of ten, and provides for enhanced monitoring of ammunition purchases to flag high-volume buyers. Gun licenses must be re-certified every five years. (They used to never expire.)  The law increases penalties for illegal gun possession and for using a gun against emergency responders. “Common sense can win,” said New York Governor Andrew Cuomo as he signed the bill, less than an hour the New York State Assembly passed it by a vote of 104 to 43 . “You can overpower extremists with intelligence and with reason and common sense,” Cuomo said. The National Rifle Association called the law “draconian,” and said it was passed “under a veil of secrecy in the dark of night.” The bill passed on the second day of New York state’s 2013 legislative session.

Main source: Los Angeles Times, August 15, 2012

Expedia Uses its Clout to Crush Small, Independent Hotels

The owners of the Luna Blue Hotel on Mexico's Caribbean coast reveal their experience with Expedia's strong-arm tactics to try and ruin their business and push travelers to book at more bigger, more lucrative properties that have a more favorable relationship with the site.

The owners of the Luna Blue Hotel on Mexico’s Caribbean coast reveal their experience with Expedia’s strong-arm tactics to try and ruin their business and push travelers to book at more bigger, more lucrative properties that have a more favorable relationship with the site.

Years ago, Tony and Cheri quit their jobs, left their lives in the U.S. and risked their entire life savings to pursue their dream of operating a small hotel on Mexico’s Caribbean coast. Their quaint, 18-room place, the Luna Blue Hotel, took some hits from the swine flu scare and state-side reports of central Mexico’s drug wars, but the couple vowed to hold on and get through it somehow. During that lean time, a representative of the powerhouse travel website Expedia approached the couple and offered to help them recover some of their lost business by listing their place on Expedia. The couple agreed it might be a good idea to list with the site, and signed on as an Expedia “partner.”

But almost immediately the relationship turned sour.

Gun Backlash Gathers Steam

Protesters mass in Washington, D.C. to demand action against  gun slaughter (Credit:Fox News, D.C.)

Protesters mass in Washington, D.C. to demand action against gun slaughter (Credit:Fox News, D.C.)

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.

Petition Demanding Common Sense Federal Gun Safety Laws Gathers Quick Support

A Bushmaster .233 semiautomatic rifle, the kind that was used to slaughter 20 children in Newton, CT. The National Rifle Association has campaigned to keep the gun legal.

A Bushmaster .233 semiautomatic rifle, the kind that was used to slaughter 20 children in Newtown, CT. The National Rifle Association has campaigned to keep the gun legal.

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.