January 16, 2014
LAWT News Service
SAN FRANCISCO – Attorney General Kamala D. Harris today kicked off Tax Identity Theft Awareness Week by issuing tips for Californians to follow to prevent tax-related identity theft as the annual tax compiling and filing process begins.
Tax-related identity theft increases in January and commonly occurs when:
Thieves use stolen personal information to file tax returns in someone else’s name in order to obtain a refund.
Thieves use a stolen Social Security number (SSN) for employment, which may complicate state and federal income tax obligations for the victim.
Thieves send phishing emails that look like they are from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) or the Franchise Tax Board (FTB) that ask for personal information or include links to official-looking web sites.
California consumers are urged to use the following tips to better prevent tax-related identity theft:
Never open an email or a text message that says it is from the IRS or the FTB - they are always fraudulent. State and federal tax agencies never initiate contact with taxpayers by email, text message or social media to request personal or financial information or to send notice regarding audits or refunds.
It’s fine to show your Social Security card to your employer when you start a job or to your financial institution for tax reporting purposes. Do not routinely carry your card or other documents that display your SSN.
While preparing your tax return for electronic filing, make sure to use a strong password. A strong password is at least eight characters and includes a combination of at least three upper and/or lowercase letters, punctuation, symbols and numerals.
Once you have e-filed your return, save it to a flash drive, CD or similar device and then delete the tax information from your hard drive. Store the CD or flash drive in a safe place, such as a lock box or safe. If working with an accountant, ask about what measures they take to protect your information.
Use a locked mailbox and don’t leave your mail in it for long periods of time. Take your mail that contains sensitive information (bills, tax returns) to the post office.
If your SSN is stolen, reference the California Attorney General’s Identity Theft First Aid page for instructions on what to do: www.oag.ca.gov/idtheft/first-aid.
You may have a tax identity theft problem if you receive a letter from the IRS or FTB stating that: you filed more than one tax return, someone has already filed using your information, you have a balance due, refund offset or have had collection actions taken against you for a year in which you did not file a return, or you received wages from an employer for whom you have not worked.
If you receive such a letter (not an email) from the IRS or FTB, immediately contact the agency’s identity theft unit:
IRS Identity Protection Specialized Unit: 1-800-908-4490
California Franchise Tax Board: www.ftb.ca.gov/individuals/id_theft.shtml#ID
ID Theft Resolution Coordinator
Internal Revenue Service
Identity Theft web pages: www.irs.gov/uac/Suspicious-e-Mails-and-Identity-Theft and
Franchise Tax Board
Identity theft web page: www.ftb.ca.gov/individuals/id_theft.shtml#ID
California Attorney General
Identity Theft Protection and First Aid: http://oag.ca.gov/idtheft
Federal Trade Commission
Tax Identity Theft Awareness Week: http://www.consumer.ftc.gov/features/feature-0029-tax-identity-theft-awareness-week
For more information on how to identify and protect yourself from identity theft visit Attorney General Harris’ website.
January 16, 2014
By George E. Curry
WASHINGTON (NNPA) – The U.S. Justice Department and the Tobacco-Free Kids Action Fund have reached an agreement with the four major tobacco companies that requires them to spend more than $30 million advertising with the three major television networks and run full-page ads in 35 White and Hispanic newspapers as well as purchasing space on their respective websites but not make a single purchase from a Black print or broadcast media company.
The 24-page proposed consent agreement, reached Friday, was scheduled to go before U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on Wednesday, Jan. 15, for final approval. The proceeding has been rescheduled for Jan. 22.
“We are shocked and deeply disappointed that the Justice Department, the Tobacco-Free Action Fund and the tobacco industry would all agree to sign off an advertising plan that totally disrespects the Black community,” said Cloves C. Campbell, chairman of the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA), a federation of nearly 200 Black newspapers. “The industry’s past efforts to target African-American consumers have been thoroughly documented. It is sad that an industry that sought to exploit our community with a product that is harmful to our health now seeks to further devalue African-Americans by ignoring the Black media when it is being forced to atone what a federal judge determined was a deliberate effort to deceive the American public.”
Peter S. Hamm, director of communications for the Tobacco-Free Kids Action, said on Monday that the media outlets were selected by Judge Kessler and disclosed in an order issued Aug. 17, 2006. Hamm said he did not know how she determined what media outlets would be utilized to carry the newspaper ads and television commercials.
A telephone call Monday requesting comment from the Justice Department was not returned.
The story of the agreement was first disclosed by Target Market News, published by Ken Smikle. The Chicago-based publication said an advertising source placed the value of the total buy at $30 million to $45 million.
The advertising campaign, which won’t go into effect until all appeals have been exhausted by the tobacco companies, was agreed to as part of a settlement that found tobacco companies mislead the public about the dangers of smoking. The four defendants are: Altria, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco, Lorillard and Philip Morris USA.
The U.S. Justice Department filed suit against the cigarette manufacturers on Sept. 22, 1999 charging that they had violated the Racketeer Influenced and Corruption Organizations Act (RICO). They were found guilty at the conclusion of a trial that lasted from Dec. 21, 2004 to June 9, 2005.
Judge Kessler wrote a stinging opinion saying, that the case “is about an industry, and in particular these Defendants, that survives, and profits, from selling a highly addictive product which causes diseases that lead to a staggering number of deaths per year, an immeasurable amount of human suffering and economic loss, and a profound burden on our national health care system. Defendants have known these facts for at least 50 years or more. Despite that knowledge, they have consistently, repeatedly, and with enormous skill and sophistication, denied these facts to the public, to the Government, and to the public health community… In short, Defendants have marketed and sold their lethal products with zeal, with deception, with a single-minded focus on their financial success, and without regard for the human tragedy or social costs that success exacted.”
The judge prohibited the companies from committing similar acts going forward and ordered them to make “corrective statements” about the lies they had told about the dangers of smoking.
Kessler’s ruling was unanimously upheld March 22, 2009 by a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. On June 28, 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to accept an appeal.
Carefully-crafted “corrective statements” that include the wording, placement and timing of TV commercials and the content, type and size of fonts to be used in newspaper ads were covered in the agreement reached Friday. The statements will acknowledge that the advertising is being done under court order and that companies had misled the public on the health effects of smoking, the addictiveness of smoking and nicotine and the health effects of secondhand smoke.
The companies will also admit that they falsely sold and advertised low-tar and light cigarettes as less harmful than regular cigarettes and designed cigarettes to enhance the delivery of nicotine.
Under the agreement, each company will decide whether to place commercials on CBS, ABC or NBC.
“The TV spots will run a total of five times per week, subject to the availability of network time and upon approval of the network (s) on which the spots will air,” the agreement stipulates. “The five TV spots to be run each week will be run by each Defendant at its choice between 7:00 p.m. and 10:00 p.m. in the time zone in which the spot airs, between Monday and Thursday for one year.”
In the event the desired time slot is unavailable, the companies must continue to purchase spots until they have run the corrective statements at least 50 times and have aired a total of 260 spots.
For newspapers, the tobacco companies are required to purchase a full-page ad in the first section of the Sunday edition of each newspaper. Each ad will contain one of the five corrective statements in their entirety. The companies are also required to advertise on the newspapers’ web sites. Those same requirements will run in Spanish in Spanish-language newspapers.
The ads and commercials will state, “A Federal Court has ruled that Altria, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco, Lorillard, and Philip Morris USA deliberately deceived the American public and has ordered those companies to make these statements. Here is the truth:” Texts, of the corrective statements will then be provided.
Under Judge Kessler’s 2006 order, ads will be placed in the following newspapers: Atlanta Journal Constitution, Boston Globe, Boston Herald, Charlotte Observer, Chicago Sun Times, Chicago Tribune, Dallas Morning News, Florida Times Union, Fresno Bee, Ft. Worth Star-Telegram, Houston Chronicle, Los Angeles Times, Miami Herald, New York Daily News, New York Post, New York Sun, New York Times, Orlando Sentinel, Palm Beach Post, Philadelphia Inquirer, Richmond Times-Dispatch, Sacramento Bee, San Diego Union-Tribune, San Francisco Chronicle, St. Petersburg Times, Tallahassee Democrat, USA Today, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, LA Eastern Group Publications, San Francisco La Oferta Review/El Vistaz-Combo, NAHP, Chicago Lawndale Group News and NAHP Houston – Que Onda!
It is ironic that the tobacco industry is bypassing Black media while complying with a federal order to disclose its deception when in the past it used the Black media to target African-American consumers.
“The tobacco industry has gone to great lengths to target the African-American community over the past 30 years,” the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids stated. “Through market research and aggressive advertising, the industry has successfully penetrated this population. The industry’s ‘investment’ in the African-American community has had a destructive impact: African Americans suffer the greatest burden of tobacco-related mortality of any ethnic or racial group in the United States.”
The anti-smoking group also explained, “…There is compelling evidence that tobacco companies not only advertise disproportionately in communities with large African-American populations, they also create advertising specifically targeted to these communities. Cigarette ads highly prevalent in African-American communities and publications are often characterized by slogans, relevant and specific messages, or images that have a great appeal among those in the black community, or that depict African Americans in an appealing light. Contrary to
How blacks are typically portrayed in the media, cigarette ads portray images of African Americans who are happy, confident, successful and wealthy, in love, attractive, strong and independent.”
The tobacco industry was among the first to make inroads into the Black community by contributing to Black causes and developing close personal relationships with Black leaders.
For example, A. Shaunise Washington, president of executive director of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, was Vice President for Government Affairs, Policy and Outreach for Altria. Prior to joining Altria, she was Director of Washington Relations for Philip Morris. In addition to serving on the CBC Foundation’s Corporate Advisory Council, Washington was chairwoman of the CBC Foundation Board of Directors from March 2012 to February 2013.
Jim Winston, Executive Director of the National Association of Black Owned Broadcasters, told Target Market News: “The health of the African American community has suffered disproportionately from the advertising campaigns of the tobacco companies, and Black owned media has been demonstrated to be the best way to engage the African American community. Yet, now that the tobacco companies are being required to educate the public about the harm that tobacco products have caused, the companies and the DOJ have no plan to direct any educational advertising to our communities.”
Both Winston and Cloves Campbell said they plan to contact the Justice Department and ask it to direct tobacco companies to include Black-owned print and broadcast media in their public education buys. If that fails, Campbell said, NNPA will take stronger action.
He said, “If our newspapers aren’t good enough to advertise in, their products – including the non-tobacco ones – aren’t good enough for us to consume.”
January 09, 2014
By Michael McGee
Special to the NNPA The Dallas Examiner
When history buffs think about the term “Progressive Era reform” they may imagine some of the early 20th century’s biggest milestones; perhaps the Armistice of Compiègne that ended WWI, or the creation of the Pure Food and Drug Act. However, some scholars might be shocked to learn that between 1915 and 1929, the Ku Klux Klan were part of such reforms from time to time.
Dr. Natalie Ring, associate professor of history at the University of Texas at Dallas and author of The Problem South: Region, Empire and the New Liberal State, 1880-1930, held a lecture at the Dallas Holocaust Museum Center for Education and Tolerance on Dec. 12 about the turbulent and often contrary nature of the 20th century KKK and its statewide presence.
Both informative and at times puzzling, given the image of the KKK, Ring presented her lecture with the subtitle The Double-Headed Hydra. The reference to the mythological beast illustrated a major point of the professor’s talk: much of what the KKK did during the Jim Crow era in Dallas, in Texas, and across the U.S., was intended by them to improve society, despite their narrow boundaries of what was proper in society and their tendency toward violence outside of the law.
Ring painted a picture of a religious, political and social organization that was not on the fringe of the community but rather an organization that had major influence within society. This was the resurrection of the original 1800s Klan, she said, a second phase in the history of the group. Ring revealed that Dallas had the largest Klan chapter – Klavern 66 – in America during that period. Members could be found in the police department, the Sheriffs Department, on the City Council, the Chamber of Commerce and a multitude of other civic establishments within the city.
What made the reformed Klan so popular in Texas is something that the professor couldn’t pin down to just one answer, she admitted.
“Why so large in Texas?” Ring pondered to those assembled. “One of the things we were kind of struggling with in my class is why did people join the Klan when a lot of what the Klan believed in was what Americans in general believed in the 1920s, particularly their hostility to immigration, their allegiance to White supremacy, [and] Protestantism in the 1920s.
“The historians are still trying to tease out of that distinction.”
Ring credited publisher and former U.S. Rep. Thomas Watson as one of those who supported a rebirth of the KKK. She spoke about the Leo Frank case of 1915, an instance that involved the only known lynching of a Jewish man in the United States.
“He became obsessed with the Leo Frank case [and] published many, many scathing anti-Semitic articles on Leo Frank,” she said. After the lynching of Frank in Marietta, Ga., Watson published a piece that was aimed at White Southerners.
“He essentially said to his audience, and speaking to Georgia in particular, that he believed that they should establish another Ku Klux Klan to establish home rule,” Ring stated. “And the phrase ‘home rule’ essentially referred to the belief that White Southerners should assume complete and total control of their own state without any intervention in the federal government.”
January 09, 2014
By HENRY C. JACKSON
An unusual alliance of tea party enthusiasts and liberal leaders in Congress is pursuing major changes in the country’s mandatory sentencing laws.
What's motivating them are growing concerns about both the fairness of the sentences and the expense of running federal prisons.
The congressional push comes as President Barack Obama and his Cabinet draw attention to the issue of mandatory sentences, particularly for nonviolent drug offenders.
Supporters say mandatory minimum sentences are outdated, lump all offenders into one category and rob judges of the ability to use their own discretion.
They also cite the high costs of the policies. The Justice Department spends some $6.4 billion, about one-quarter of its budget, on prisons each year, and that number is growing steadily.
“People are coming here for different reasons, but there is a real opportunity,” said Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., one of the Senate’s leading proponents of sentencing changes.
The push is being led by the Senate, where Durbin has worked with tea party stalwarts such as Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, on legislation that would give judges more flexibility to determine prison sentences in many drug cases. At the same time, a right-left coalition is pressing for changes in the House.
Prison costs have soared in the past 30 years, when laws requiring mandatory prison time for many drug offenses were put in place.
The yearly cost for one federal inmate ranges from $21,000 to $33,000 depending on the prison's level of security. About half of the nation's more than 218,000 federal inmates are serving time for drug crimes – and virtually all of them faced some form of mandatory minimum sentencing.
Tough-on-crime drug policies once united Republicans and Democrats who didn’t want to appear weak on crime. Now reversing or revising many of those policies is having the same effect.
The Fair Sentencing Act, passed in 2010, drew bipartisan support for cutting penalties on crack cocaine offenses. The bill reduced a disparity between crack-related sentences and sentences for other drugs, though it only addressed new cases, not old ones.
Durbin, one of that bill’s chief sponsors, has written a much broader bill with Lee, called the Smarter Sentencing Act. It would expand a provision that gives judges discretion for a limited number of nonviolent drug offenders. The new law would allow judges the same latitude for a larger group of drug offenders facing mandatory sentences.
It’s one of four bills dealing with sentencing that the Senate Judiciary Committee is expected to take up early in the year. The committee chairman, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said he wants one consensus bill to clear the committee.
Leahy is a co-sponsor on the Durbin-Lee bill but has also introduced legislation with Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., that would expand the safety valve even more, to all federal cases with mandatory sentences if certain conditions are met.
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, introduced legislation late in December that is based on changes in Texas’ state prison system.
A separate bill, sponsored by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., and Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, allows inmates to earn credit for completing programs designed to reduce recidivism.
Leahy’s committee delayed writing a sentencing bill several times in 2013. But supporters noted that the last sentencing legislation took months to negotiate and said that the committee has delayed work until early 2014 in large part because behind-the-scenes talks are proving fruitful. Durbin said he and Lee had been lobbying their fellow committee members – Durbin talking to skeptical Democrats, Lee to Republicans.
In the House, Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, a tea party conservative, and Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., are co-sponsors of a companion to Durbin and Lee’s bill.
A number of outside groups have expressed support for the Durbin-Lee bill, too, and they run the ideological spectrum, including the conservative Heritage Action, the American Bar Association, the NAACP and the American Civil Liberties Union.
In August, Attorney General Eric Holder called on Congress to make permanent changes in sentencing laws and instructed federal prosecutors to stop charging nonviolent drug offenders with crimes that carry mandatory minimum sentences.
Just before Christmas, Obama used his presidential powers to press the issue. He commuted the sentences of eight people serving long drug sentences.