By J. Thomas

November 15 marked the start of the open enrollment period for the nation’s health law which means millions of Americans once again have the opportunity to purchase private health plans on the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) health insurance marketplaces.

An op-ed in Salon by Public Citizen’s health care advocate, Vijay Das, reveals a glitch in the ACA that adds barriers to coverage for working families. The ACA’s “family glitch” is a drafting error with big effects. As it stands, employers must offer affordable coverage to their employees – but not their employees’ families. So, if an individual plan is “affordable” (i.e., it costs less than 9.5% of what the employee earns), the employee is ineligible for subsidies, even if the cost of family coverage is exorbitant and unaffordable.

Even worse, the ones who are most affected tend to be children from low income households– 460,000 of them, according to the nonpartisan U.S. Government Accountability Office. Meanwhile, parents are faced with a difficult choice – maintain their own too costly family insurance or drop it and enroll their kids in Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). One more hitch during this post-election “lame-duck” Congress: CHIP expires next October. Nobody knows if Congress will reauthorize it by the end of year, and, if so, at what level the program will be funded.

The family glitch points to a larger problem in American health care. The U.S. stands as the only wealthy nation in the world with uninsured kids and no universal health care. The civil rights movement expanded rights on many fronts: for LGBT individuals, environmental protections and international human rights, to name a few. But when it comes to children’s health, our nation remains far behind the curve. The concept of “American exceptionalism” was meant to symbolize hopes and dreams, not sick kids.

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pnc-deliveryToday I delivered a petition signed by more than 67,000 consumers and activists to PNC Financial’s headquarters in Pittsburgh, Pa.

The petition calls on PNC to remove the forced arbitration clause from its customer terms. A member of PNC’s senior legal staff accepted the petition on behalf of the bank.

Forced arbitration clauses, buried in the fine print, prevent consumers who have been harmed or ripped off from holding their banks accountable in court and instead force them to plead their cases to private arbitration providers, picked by the banks. The result is that consumers cannot practically or fairly resolve disputes with these powerful financial institutions.

The petition, organized by national consumer and citizen groups including Public Citizen, Consumer Action, The Other 98%, Alliance for Justice, American Association for Justice, Americans for Financial Reform and National Association of Consumer Advocates, targeted the five biggest banks that use forced arbitration clauses: PNC, Wells Fargo, JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup and US Bancorp. (Read the press release.)

Joining me in Pittsburgh for the petition delivery were local activists Kristen Hochreiter, a student at the University of Pittsburgh, and Dawn Marie Smith, a student at Carlow University.

Meanwhile in San Francisco, Consumer Action delivered the same list of petition signers to the Wells Fargo bank headquarters. And coincidentally, 16 state attorneys general urged the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to restrict bank use of forced arbitration.

These deliveries were the first of several actions planned to target these five big banks and urge them to remove the fine print that prevents customers from having their day in court if the banks rip them off.

To join this ongoing effort, add your name to the petition to make sure it’s included in the next round of deliveries.

Rick Claypool is the online director for Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division.

Bankers committed massive fraud leading to the financial crash of 2008, which then caused cataclysmic job loss, foreclosures and more than a $12 trillion drain on the economy. Where were the law enforcers? Bankers captured them, metaphorically.

More than 10,000 member of Public Citizen petitioned Congress to hold hearings on regulatory capture following the September release of tapes made by a regulator named Carmen Segarra. She resisted following the instructions of apparently captured regulators who were her supervisors, and was fired for it. On Nov. 21, a Senate banking subcommittee will open those hearings. New York Federal Reserve Bank President William Dudley will testify. Segarra worked as an examiner for his agency.

Here are a few questions

Q. According to Carmen Segarra, she was fired for trying to do her job. She was told to tone down her criticism of banks, but declined. How many examiners are terminated each year by the New York Fed? Former counsel to the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission Bart Dzivi said Dianne Dobbeck, one of the most senior supervisors at the New York Fed, is “completely the wrong type” of person for the job. Is an examiner ever terminated for failing to detect a problem with a bank early enough? Does the New York Fed have a system to reward diligent examiners?

Q. The Segarra tapes cover an 8 month period three years after the crisis. If the crisis itself constituted a “teachable moment,” then must we assume that the problem of regulatory capture is only getting worse?

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Most of us use Google products on a daily basis and are familiar with the company’s powerful email and Internet search services. But these days, there is a lot more to Google’s technological operations — and they come with myriad new ways to collect our information. Now the company that used Street View cars to collect unsuspecting people’s information, and received the Federal Trade Commission’s largest civil penalty ever for misleadingly tracking Safari users, is reaching new levels of political power.

A new Public Citizen report, “Mission Creep-y,” explores Google’s accruing power, both in terms of personal data collection, and federal and state government influence, raising the question of whether it could become too powerful to be held accountable.

Key findings about Google’s growing political power:

  • Over the first three quarters of 2014, Google ranked first among all corporations in lobbying spending, according to OpenSecrets.org, and is on pace to spend $18.2 million on federal lobbying this year. In fact, it has spent $1 million more on lobbying than PhRMA, the powerful trade association of the pharmaceutical industry.
  • Since 2012, no company has spent more money on federal lobbying than Google.
  • Of 102 lobbyists the company has hired or retained in 2014, 81 previously held government jobs. Meanwhile, a steady stream of Google employees has been appointed to high-ranking government jobs – an indication of the company’s growing influence in national affairs.
  • Google’s political action committee (PAC) spent $1.61 million this year, according to Federal Election Commission records. That surpasses, for the first time, PAC expenditures by Wall Street bank Goldman Sachs.
  • Google funds about 140 trade associations and other nonprofits across the ideological spectrum – including some working in issue areas relevant to Google’s practices on privacy, political spending, antitrust and more.

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Statement of Robert Weissman, President of Public Citizen

Today, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) is penalizing five of the world’s largest banks for concerted efforts to manipulate global foreign exchange markets – yet another reminder of the rampant criminality and wrongdoing on Wall Street.

Strikingly, as the CFTC notes in understated fashion in its release, “[S]ome of this [improper attempted manipulation of foreign exchange markets] conduct occurred during the same period that the Banks were on notice that the CFTC and other regulators were investigating attempts by certain banks to manipulate the London Interbank Offered Rate (LIBOR) and other interest rate benchmarks.”

In other words, the banks were on notice that they were under investigation for similar wrongdoing in another global financial market – and still continued with the attempted manipulation of the foreign exchange market!

For too long, U.S. law enforcement agencies have been far too soft on Wall Street lawbreakers. In recent years, the U.S. Department of Justice has entered into deferred prosecution or non-prosecution agreements with RBS, JPMorgan Chase, UBS and HSBC, choosing not to prosecute these firms for large-scale wrongdoing. The department has also agreed to high-profile civil settlements with JPMorgan and Citigroup.

Completely absent has been serious criminal enforcement against the Wall Street firms and Wall Street executives.

It’s past time to say: Enough is enough. It’s past time for the Justice Department to enforce the law and hold the powerful to account.

Numerous published reports indicate that the Department of Justice is considering criminal prosecutions of individuals responsible for the attempted foreign exchange manipulation schemes. It is vital that the department pursue these prosecutions, holding both top-level executives – not just lower-level functionaries – and the firms themselves criminally liable.

And, if bank regulators tell the department that criminal prosecution of large financial institutions would endanger the global financial system, then those same regulators should act immediately to break up firms whose size affords them immunity from criminal sanction.

Wall Street managed to escape criminal sanctions for wrongdoing that crashed the global economy, and threw millions of out of their homes and tens of millions out of work. If there is no criminal enforcement against Wall Street firms and executives for wrongdoing, there is no justice for Main Street, and we’re virtually certain to see epic-scale misdeeds and epic-scale devastation yet again.

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