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.
Activists opposed to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad posted a startling YouTube video of the aftermath of the Syrian government’s May 25, 2012 massacre of 51 children and nearly as many adults. In the video, a man picks up the bodies of the dead and mangled children one at a time. As he shows them to the camera, a voice says “These are children, for God’s sake! Hey, World, look at Assad’s crimes! God is greater than you, you arrogant murderer!” English subtitles translate voices in the video that urge the international community to intervene to save the Syrian people. United Nations officials report Syrian government artillery and tank fire killed more than 90 people total in the district of Houla in the central province of Homs, which has been under almost constant attack by forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad for months. Syria’s state-run news agency blamed the massacre on non-specific “armed terrorists.” The Syrian government restricts journalists from entering the country, and since several journalists attempting to cover what has been happening in Syria have lost their lives, amateur videos like this one posted on YouTube are the outside world’s main source of information about what is happening inside Syria. WARNING: The video is graphic.
The retail internet behemoth Amazon.com announced it would cut its ties to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) after activist groups delivered a petition signed by over a half million people asking the company to ditch the conservative organization. The petitions were delivered at Amazon’s annual shareholder meeting in Seattle, Washington. They filled seven bankers’ boxes, and were collected by ColorOfChange.org, People for the American Way, the Progressive Change Campaign Committee and other progressive groups. Amazon.com joined ALEC in 2011, and worked with them on tax issues. Amazon spokeswoman Mary Osako stated that “…[W]e’ve decided not to renew our participation in ALEC, in part because of positions that group took on issues unrelated to our business.” She did not say what the issues were. At the meeting, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos also promised to spend $52 million to improve working conditions at its warehouse facilities, including retrofitting them with air conditioning. ALEC is the legislative bill mill implicated in spreading legislation like the “shoot first” law that led to the Trayvon Martin case, voter ID laws that block people’s access to the ballot box, school voucher bills that direct taxpayer money to private and religious schools, and other controversial legislation that has been sweeping the country state by state.
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.
Nurses rally in Chicago to support the Robin Hood Tax
Nurses led a rally in Chicago May 18 ahead the NATO summit to boost the idea of instituting a “Robin Hood Tax,” a tiny tax on financial institutions’ transactions that would be used to offset drastic cuts in education and social services, and provide health care to Americans. Also called a Financial Speculation Tax, the tax has the support of Warren Buffett and Bill Gates, as well as President Hollande of France, Chancellor Merkel of Germany, Prime Minister Zapatero of Spain and other world leaders, as well as Nobel prize winning economists Joseph Stiglitz and Paul Krugman. The Robin Hood Tax on bankers would be less than one-half of one percent on deals over $100, and would apply to transactions like trades in derivatives, stocks, bonds and foreign currency exchanges. The charge would total less than one half on one cent on every $100 worth of transactions. Most ordinary people worldwide would never feel it, but experts estimate it would generate hundreds of billions of dollars each year to fight poverty and support public services like education and health care. National Nurses United teamed with National Peoples’ Action and local community groups to organize the rally. The were joined by veterans, members of the Occupy Movement, unions and others. The rally was part of a “global week of action” in support of the Robin Hood tax, with rallies also happening in Europe, Africa and on Mount Fuji in Japan.
In the wake of the Colorado State Court of Appeals’ unanimous ruling (pdf) May 10 that a state-sanctioned “Day of Prayer” violates the state constitution, the National Day of Prayer (NDP) Task Force has started a petition asking Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper to “prepare a vigorous defense” against the decision. The Freedom From Religion Foundation, which brought the case and won, is fighting back by asking Colorado residents to support the ruling by contacting the governor and state attorney general and asking them not to appeal the Court’s decision. The Court was careful to preface its ruling by saying “Our decision does not affect anyone’s constitutionally protected right to pray, in public or in private, alone or in groups,” but pointed out that religious liberty is “abridged when the State affirmatively sponsors the particular religious practice of prayer.” Despite this clear statement that no one’s right to pray is in danger, the National Day of Prayer Task Force is spinning the ruling as a threat, saying it “undermines the heritage and tradition of the American people.” Similarly, the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) — a Christian organization that tries to encourage prayer in local, state and federal government — portrays efforts to end improper government endorsements of religion as “targeted attacks on religious freedom.” Like the NDP Task Force, the ADF similarly tries to stir up fear by claiming that “those who believe in God are increasingly threatened, punished and silenced.”
The grassroots effort to push Rush Limbaugh off the airwaves in Missoula, Montana reports that as of this week 18 advertisers have pulled their ads off Limbaugh’s local broadcast on KVGO Radio — six more than last week’s total. Dave Chrismon, organizer of RushOutOfMissoula.com, also discovered some advertisers held the mistaken belief that because they purchased packages of ads from KGVO, they had no control over where there ads are placed. This turned out to be untrue. An anonymous KGVO employee told Chrismon the radio station’s computer system can easily keep any business’s ads, or any nonprofit organization’s public service announcements, off Limbaugh’s show while still running them on other shows. Business owners just need to ask KGVO to keep their ads off Limbaugh’s show. On another front, KGVO went into full attack mode last week over what it calls the “Hush Rush” campaign. On Monday, April 30, the station featured a local business owner and Rush supporter on its “Talk Back” program who called RushOutOfMissoula participants “blackmailers” for voicing their opinion about where he should place his ads. The show stimulated a flood of “dittoheads” (Rush Limbaugh supporters) to call the show and verbally abuse business owners who asked that their ads be removed from Limbaugh’s program — but many of those businesses still advertise on KGVO.
National Nurses United support a tiny financial transaction tax to pay for universal healthcare in the U.S.
Over a thousand activists including members of National Nurses United marched in New York City April 26 to demand the government levy a tiny tax — just 0.5 percent — on speculative financial trades to fund universal health care in the United States. The idea is to add a small sales tax to Wall Street transactions of stocks, dividends and other financial deals, just like the tax ordinary consumers pay when they buy goods at a department store. The proposed tax, just one-half of one percent, would amount to just 50 cents on every $100 worth of financial transactions, but it would add up to a huge amount of money: about $350 billion each year. The tax wouldn’t apply to ordinary consumer transactions like ATM use, debit card purchases or home loans, and traders would be barred from passing the costs of the tax on to consumers. The main targets of the a tax are the big financial firms whose risky trading led to the meltdown of the global economy, like Citibank, JP Morgan, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley. These four firms alone account for almost a quarter of the entire global market volume on trades of currency. The tiny tax would take advantage of a huge increase in speculative financial activity over the past decade to benefit Americans’ access to health care. A financial transaction tax isn’t a new idea. The U.S. had such a tax in place from 1914 to 1966. The idea of a financial transaction tax is gaining acceptance has been endorsed by conservative presidents in France and Germany, as well as former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan.
Fast-food giant Burger King announced this week that it will no longer buy pork from pig producers that use gestation crates, and will now use only 100 percent cage-free eggs. Gestation crates are confinement cages that commercial pig farmers use that are so small that pigs cannot turn around inside them. Female pigs raised on factory farms spend almost their entire lives in these tiny crates. U.S. egg producers typically cram millions of chickens into cages that offer only about 67 square inches of space per bird — less space than a single sheet of paper — on which the birds spend their entire lives. Burger King’s policy changes came about in large part due to the efforts of the Humane Society of the U.S. (HSUS), which has been tackling cruel practices in commercial agriculture, like the use of veal crates, battery cages and tail-docking of dairy cows. HSUS is forming state Agricultural Councils across the U.S. to promote humane food production practices on farms and ranches. The group’s goal is to move agriculture away from a system that treats living creatures as biological “machines,” keeping them confined in conditions that maximize efficiency but are extremely cruel and inhumane, to a more ethical, humane and sustainable system.
On Monday, April 23, 2012, State Rep. Boyd Brown of South Carolina sent an email to all SC state legislators in which he urged his fellow legislators to leave the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). Brown called ALEC a Koch-funded special interest group that wields too much power and causes legislators to neglect their constituents. Brown wrote that money continues to “be the cancer on the body politic, and with ALEC it has taken over.” He called “scholarships” through which ALEC funds legislators’ trips to conferences at fancy resorts a “pay-for-play scheme.” Brown’s plea had an effect. Today, April 24, South Carolina State Rep. Ted Vick (D) announced he is resigningfrom ALEC. In a public statement regarding his decision, Vick wrote in part, “Over the years, ALEC has steadily drifted to the right and away from its original purpose . . . I have found myself voting against their legislation more and more . . . Recent revelations concerning ALEC’s funding sources from radical elements
SC State Rep Ted Vick
have proven to be the final straw for me. ALEC has become too partisan and too extreme. . . . ALEC has become part of the problem and I can no longer be a member of this organization.” In press releases on its website, ALEC maintains that it has been the target of an organized intimidation campaign and harassment tactics carried out by “liberal front groups” that are simply attacking ALEC’s free market policies, without addressing any of issues raised by the groups regarding problems with the legislation ALEC has been spreading.
The grassroots effort to push Rush Limbaugh off KGVO radio in Missoula, Montana saw major success this week after seven local advertisers pulled their ads off the show. Dave Chrismon, organizer of the effort get Limbaugh off KGVO, started RushOutOfMissoula.com, a website that lists businesses that sponsor Limbaugh’s show. RushOutOfMissoula supporters started contacting the listed businesses and telling the owners how they feel about their support “for this bully.” In response, seven businesses pulled their ads quickly, in under a week. Chrismon updates the list regularly to reflect which businesses have quit advertising on the show. The grassroots success is not coming without difficulty, though. Some Limbaugh sponsors are digging in their heels and adopting a bully approach themselves. Chrismon reports receiving a number of heavy-handed emails from some local business owners. One wrote, “You’re a coward and a liar. You are dangerous to a free society. A gas chamber mentality. You want to silence those you do not agree with. You bad-mouth and bully those who are not even a part of your emotional tantrum of passion (didn’t you accuse rush of those very tactics).” Another advertiser threatened, “ . . . your blackmail approach is going to get you in court starting now. I am inquiring about a class action suit to show you just how wrong you can be. . . If (our business) is not taken off your site and a letter of apology to follow by noon, April 19th, 2012, legal council will be put into place. Blackmail is still illegal as you will find out.” Chrismon also says KGVO is comparing the total number of signatures on the anti-Limbaugh petition citizens delivered earlier this month to the total of pro-Limbaugh emails they are getting through their website’s feedback form, and they say petition supporters are losing. But citizens aren’t giving up. They are redoubling their efforts to call the remaining sponsors and tell them how they feel about Limbaugh, and urge them to drop their support for the show.
The corporate exodus out of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) continued today as insurer Blue Cross Blue Shield and the Arizona-based traffic services company American Traffic Solutions (ATS) both announced that they would not renew their membership in ALEC this year. ThinkProgress created an internet-based bulletin board listing the companies that have left ALEC so far. In addition to Blue Cross and ATS, the bulletin board lists Reed-Elsevier, Mars, Wendy’s, McDonalds, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Pepsi, Kraft, Intuit and Coca Cola. The bulletin board site has quickly gained hundreds of followers. ALEC is the controversial “Stand Your Ground” group that helps corporations gain direct contact with predominantly conservative Republican legislators for the purpose of spreading pro-corporate legislation around the country.
The American Legislative Exchange Council, the group that has come under attack recently for its proliferation of “Stand Your Ground” gun laws, announced today that it is eliminating its Public Safety and Elections Task force, the subcommittee responsible for creating and pushing voter suppression laws, liberal or “Shoot First” gun laws and other controversial legislation that has drawn more scrutiny to the organization. ALEC’s move to dump the task force comes shortly after ten major corporations fled the group. ALEC has been at the heart of the spread not only of controversial “Shoot First” gun laws, but also of laws that attack unions, divert taxpayer funds to private schools, “papers, please” immigration laws and other controversial laws. ALEC explained the dumping of its Public Safety and Elections Task Force by saying it was eliminating the group to focus more strongly on economic issues that “spur competitiveness and innovation and put more Americans back to work.” An ALEC spokeswoman said the organization would no longer work on issues pertaining to elections or guns. The elimination of ALEC’s Public Safety and Elections Task Force is a victory for grassroots groups like ColorOfChange.org that have been campaigning to highlight ALEC’s role in spreading legislation drafted by corporations.
The Vermont Senate voted to ask the U.S. Congress to introduce a constitutional amendment to undo the Citizens United ruling, the 2010 Supreme Court ruling in which the Court declared that corporations are the equivalent of people with First Amendment free speech rights. The Citizens United ruling opened the floodgates for corporations and billionaires to start pouring huge sums of money into influencing elections at every level of government — and they have, largely anonymously. On December 8, 2011, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders introduced the “Saving American Democracy Amendment”, which would restore the ability of lawmakers to enact campaign spending limits like those that fell in the wake of Citizens United. In early March of this year, 64 Vermont towns approved resolutions calling on Congress to amend the U.S. Constitution to counter the Citizens United ruling. The national Move to Amend campaign is also mobilizing a grassroots campaign from coast to coast calling for a constitutional amendment to establish that corporations are not people and that the First Amendment does not protect unlimited political spending as free speech.
Kraft Foods announced that it will not renew its membership in the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the right-wing corporate bill mill responsible for spreading the “stand your ground” gun laws that led to the high-profile killing of Trayvon Martin in Florida. Kraft is one of three large companies that have dropped their sponsorship of ALEC just this week as a result of a grassroots push by the group Color of Change to pressure sponsors to sever their relationships with the ALEC. Coca Cola and Pepsi Cola both announced this week that they plan to end their membership in ALEC. Reynolds American, manufacturer of Camel cigarettes, has said it will remain a member of the ALEC, as did Koch Industries. Color of Change plans to continue targeting additional companies to end their relationships with ALEC. ALEC declined to comment on the companies that have decided to leave the group.