A U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) scientific advisory panel handed FDA the information it needs to add menthol to the list of flavorings banned in cigarettes. After a year of studying the cigarette additive menthol, the FDA's Tobacco Products Scientific Advisory Committee on March 19, 2011 released a long-awaited report (pdf) that concludes menthol is more than just a flavoring agent; it has chemical effects that increase the probability of addiction. The panel wrote, "Menthol cannot be considered merely a flavoring additive to tobacco. Its pharmacological actions reduce the harshness of smoke and the irritation from nicotine, and may increase the likelihood of nicotine addiction in adolescents and young adults who experiment with smoking." The panel specifically cited menthol's effects on youth, saying "the distinct sensory characteristics of menthol may enhance the addictiveness of menthol cigarettes, which appears to be the case among youth." The report concludes that "Removal of menthol cigarettes from the marketplace would benefit public health in the United States." Despite this conclusion, the panel failed to recommend FDA take steps to remove menthol from cigarettes. Tobacco companies brushed off the report, since their political and legal might makes them a bulwark against any government effort to ban menthol. The report was so inconsequential to the industry, in fact, that tobacco company stock prices actually jumped after the report was released.
The world recently discovered that 22 year old, alleged Wikileaker Bradley Manning was subject to inhumane and degrading conditions while being held in military prison. Were his wardens fired? No, the head on the chopping block is State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley, who denounced Manning's treatment in an off-the-cuff remark on a college campus.
Obama's acquiescence over the status of Guantanamo Bay has brought attention back to the detention facility and the controversial information extraction and confinement practices which are carried out behind its walls. While most Americans probably think that these harsh procedures are reserved for violent "enemy combatants," they would be surprised to learn that some of the same techniques are used on American citizens on U.S. soil.
But that is precisely what seems to be happening to Manning, the Army Private accused of supplying WikiLeaks with sensitive information.
Karl Rove's secretly-funded Crossroads GPS is spending $750,000 airing a terribly misleading ad attacking public-sector labor unions. With support declining for the GOP's anti-union stance, Rove's group is looking towards the 2012 elections and aiming to counteract that slide by unfairly demonizing unions.
By devoting just two minutes to health care reform in his State of the Union address -- and not mentioning it until half way through the remarks -- President Obama was signaling Americans that he believes the health reform debate is over, that Republicans would be wasting precious time by "refighting the battles of the last two years."
While noting that "anything can be improved" and that he would welcome ideas to improve the bill he signed into law last March, Obama offered only two subjects that might warrant renewed attention -- and one of those is sure to set off alarms among consumer advocates and trial lawyers, though changes seem unlikely.
The Center for Media and Democracy's Executive Director Lisa Graves appeared at "The People's Summit," a public affairs event held in Washington, D.C. January 21 to discuss the impact of the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. The landmark ruling, which is one year old this month, was achieved on a divided 5-4 vote and overturned a century of previous court rulings that held that corporate political donations can, and should be regulated. The decision effectively equated money with speech, and protects corporate speech the same way the law protects individual speech. Other panelists discussing the impact of the law included Marge Baker, Executive Vice President for Policy and Program Planning for People for the American Way, Douglas Clopp, Deputy Director for Programs for Common Cause, and Craig Holman, Legislative Representative for Public Citizen's Congress Watch. The panel session, which was broadcast on CSPAN, was held to highlight the effects of money in politics and the rise of corporate power in our democracy. Video of the 1 hour, 17 minute panel discussion is available here.
A new report issued by the Office of Special Counsel says George W. Bush's Office of Political Affairs routinely violated the Hatch Act, a federal law that prohibits using federal dollars to pay for political activities and bars federal employees from engaging in partisan political activity. Senior staff members of Bush's Office of Political Affairs, run by Karl Rove and Ken Mehlman, routinely violated the law by organizing political briefings for Republican employees at federal agencies where they sought the employees' help to get Republicans elected to Congress. The report (pdf) says "These briefings created an environment aimed at assisting Republican candidates, constituting political activity within the meaning of the Hatch Act." The briefings discussed the importance of the 'GOP ground game,' the 'Republican Offensive' and the 'Republican Defense.' " The report also found that the Bush White House improperly used federal funds to pay for travel for political purposes, classifying it instead as official government business.
One Year after Citizens United: Lessons from 2010 and Implications for 2012 (Public Forum / Panel Discussion)
Thursday, January 20, 2011, 1:00 PM - 2:00 PM
Capitol Visitors Center, Congressional Meeting Room North (Room 268)
Amy Walter, Political Director, ABC News (moderator)
Lawrence Lessig, Professor of Law, Harvard Law School
Michael Boos, Vice President and General Counsel, Citizens United
Cleta Mitchell, Partner, Foley & Lardner LLP
Spencer Overton, Professor of Law, The George Washington University School of Law
Classified State Department cables published by Wikileaks show high-up U.S. government officials have entertained and obliged special requests from foreign heads of state to help close big deals for Boeing. In 2006, a senior Commerce Department official hand-delivered a personal letter from George W. Bush to the office of Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah, urging the king to complete a deal with Boeing for 43 airliners, including some for the king's family fleet. The cable shows that as part of the deal, the King wanted his personal jet "to have all the technology that his friend, President Bush, had on Air Force One." Once he had his high-tech plane, the King said, "God willing," he would "make a decision that will 'please you very much.' " The U.S. obligingly authorized an upgrade in King Abdullah's plane. In other instances, Bangladesh's prime minister, Sheik Hasina Wazed, sought landing rights at Kennedy International Airport, and the Turkish government asked for assurances that one of their astronauts could join a future NASA space flight. U.S. diplomats served as marketing agents for Boeing by using State Department visits as bargaining chips and offering deals to foreign heads of state and commercial executives with the power to purchase airplanes from Boeing.
(Part two of a two-part series)
In the first part of this series, the Center for Media and Democracy reported how the 2009 coup d'etat that toppled Honduran President Manuel Zelaya was successfully maintained not through the use of force, but through the power of lobbying and spin. That tale, whose details were revealed through Wikileaks' publication of diplomatic cables and research into lobbying activities, had some echoes of the role PR played in an earlier "regime change" in the region. Here is the story of how the Chiquita banana company successfully used PR spin to help topple Guatemala's left-leaning government in 1954, and how they may have done it again in Honduras, 2009.
Last week, the Senate refused to approve the DREAM Act, a bill that would have offered a path to citizenship for children brought into the country illegally if they attend college or serve in the military. Opponents stated that no immigration reform will happen without first "securing" the 1,951 mile U.S. border with Mexico. America's current approach to border security is wasteful and ineffective, and "securing the border" will never be achieved until we redefine our approach to, and definition of, border security. With many in Washington expressing concern about fiscal responsibility, reining in the billions wasted annually on current border security policies should really be a priority. But America's xenophobic preoccupation with an "invasion" by brown-skinned "illegals" may keep us pursuing an expensive and unreasonable approach to border security.