Archive for December, 2011

This past year we witnessed an unrelenting attack on public safeguards. Since the release of the infamous “Cantor Memo” (which announced House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s attack plan), it seemed like whenever you turned on the TV news or opened your favorite fishwrap (go ahead and google that one kids) all you heard about was the GOP war on regulations.

And even though the Republican echo chamber was loud and livid, the actual truth about regulatory protections got out – a lot. As 2011 winds down, here is a look back on the best coverage on the struggle to preserve our vital safeguards.

One of the best overviews of the fight came from the article Public Citizen President Robert Weissman wrote for the October 31st edition of The Nation magazine, “The GOP’s Deregulation Obsession.”

The Huffington Post followed with interest and a few posts captured the story well:  “Republican Nonsense on Regulation” by Jonathan Weiler, Jeffrey Hollender’s “The Harms of Regulation Phobia” and Marcia G. Yerman’s “National Poll says America Wants the EPA”

The New York Times had several good articles on the year’s regulatory battles, including a highly recommended analysis by Bruce Bartlett, a former senior policy adviser in the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations, “Misrepresentations, Regulations and Jobs.”

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This December, the public’s approval of Congress hit rock bottom. According to a Gallup poll, only 11 percent of American citizens approve of the job Congress is doing. Today, The Washington Post reported that while the median net worth "Public Citizen Lady Liberty"of an American family has declined “from $20,600 to $20,500 between 1984 to 2009, according to the Panel Study of Income Dynamics from the University of Michigan,” the net worth of a member of the U.S. House of Representatives has jumped from $280,000 to $725,000 (and that’s excluding home equity).

As Public Citizen’s Craig Holman has been saying for years and recently talked about on Marketplace, it pays to be a member of Congress, literally. The Washington Post notes that, “Members of Congress have long been wealthier than average Americans, and in recent decades the wealth of the wealthiest Americans has outpaced that of the average.” Take CEO pay in America for example. Everyone knows the gap between executives and the average worker is growing.

And, as our research for a series of financial policy reports documents, Wall Street executives are dead-set on derailing the implementation of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act, particularly the section that calls for CEO pay to be listed as a ratio of the average worker’s salary of their company. So what does $15.6 million in federal political contributions and the work of 712 financial industry lobbyists get you? Turns out, not much yet, which is exactly what officials at Goldman Sachs and J.P.Morgan want. More than a year after its passage, the majority of provisions of Dodd-Frank have yet to be implemented.

Regardless of any new regulations coming down the pike, we have a government full of officials who are far removed from the economic realities that their constituents face. Part of the problem is that it doesn’t help that the barriers to entry for political candidates become higher each year. The Post reports: “Since 1976, the average amount spent by winning House candidates quadrupled in inflation-adjusted dollars, to $1.4 million, according to the Federal Election Commission.”

Who better to afford the financial chore running for office has become than people who already have significant amounts of money? It’s a heck of a lot easier to come up with $1.4 million when you have money you can funnel into your own campaign and/or rich friends ready to work with political bundlers.

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photo: Owen Carey

In lieu of an actual jobs plan, Republicans this year decided to declare war on regulations. They made wild claims about how our public safeguards are a threat to the economy and further job growth, despite having exactly zero evidence to support their position.

And in their furious drive to give Big Business a free hand in polluting in the name of corporate profits, to date they have brought 191 Anti-Environment votes to the House floor in the 112th Congress. By a wide margin, this Congress is the most hostile to public health and safety in the history of the Republic.

A fascinating website has tracked the sorry history of this attack on public protections, and it highlights the unbelievable numbers:

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Mark your calendars for the week of January 21, 2012!

In just one month—approximately two years after the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United v Federal Election Commission opened the floodgates to unprecedented corporate influence over our democracy—the growing grassroots movement to take back the Constitution for We the People is going to make its presence very much known on the national stage. 

Like MSNBC host Dylan Ratigan, we’re “Mad as Hell” that corporations have shamelessly gotten the courts to grant them the rights of natural persons when it can buy them outsized influence and drown out the rest of our voices…while insisting they’re quite different from the rest of us when it suits their interests, like when they’re being sued for human rights violations.

Demonstrators at the U.S. Capitol on the one-year anniversary of the Citizens United ruling. Mark your calendars for bigger and stronger actions nationwide surrounding the two-year anniversary next month!

And we’re far from alone. In a recent Pew poll, 77 percent of Americans agree that too much power is in the hands of the wealthiest among us and large corporations.   As former U.S. Secretary of Labor Robert Reich aptly puts it, the defining issue of this populist moment is not the size of government, but who exactly it stands for.

That’s where this Citizens United anniversary comes in as a “movement moment.”  Citizens will be taking a variety of different approaches to mark this troubling anniversary, but they’ll be unified in rallying their communities behind the need for a constitutional amendment to rein in corporate influence over the political process.

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The EPA today issued new safeguards to reduce mercury and other toxic air pollutants from the smokestacks of the nation’s aging fleet of coal and oil-fired power plants. In addition to lowering mercury emissions, the new rule will reduce other fine particle heavy metals like arsenic, chromium, and lead, saving thousands of lives and billions of dollars each year.  EPA has estimated that the power plant air toxics rule will avoid between 6,800 and 17,000 premature deaths each year, and will result in annual savings of $48 to $140 billion.

Here’s our Texas office director’s take on it:

“For decades, the electric power industry has delayed cleanup and lobbied against public health rules designed to reduce pollution,” said Tom “Smitty” Smith, director of Public Citizen’s Texas office. “They have decided that it was cheaper to invest in politicians than pollution controls and we see the result here in Texas. The technology and pollution control equipment necessary to reduce emissions of mercury and other dangerous air toxics are widely available and are working at some power plants across the country. There is no reason for Americans — and Texans in particular — to continue to live with risks to their health and to the environment.”

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