Archive for the ‘Activism’ Category

Our country is still reeling in the aftermath of the greed-fueled contagion of the 2008 economic collapse and Wall Street getting caught in villainous behavior is daily news. The anger of the American public toward Big Banks that were bailed out while average citizens went under—institutions that continue to get away with mere slaps on the wrist to settle claims of severe wrongdoing— is the foundation of the current populist political surge. It’s not surprising that Hollywood wants to get in on the act, and they should be applauded.

oneheart-invite215The Academy Award-winning  film The Big Short spotlighted for the movie-going public the complex web of financial maneuverings that tumbled down like a house of cards, leaving millions without homes and millions more with empty nest eggs. “A-listers” Julia Roberts, George Clooney, and Jodie Foster have even embraced the “us-versus-Wall Street” theme in the recently-available-for-the-small-screen film, Money Monster. The plot focuses on the problems that cascade from an everyman feeling wronged by a high-speed trading firm, and a “glitch” that bottomed out the value of a stock. Without commenting on the quality of the film, it can be said with all conviction that such glitches are not fiction.

In May of 2010, there was a flash crash that brought the curtain down on a trillion dollars of market value in a matter of minutes. And, in October 2013, in an unexpected twist, the normally very steady U.S. Treasury bond market went on a wild ride that was eventually blamed partially on high-frequency trading, computer programs called algorithms that automatically buy and sell financial instruments in much less than a blink of an eye.

Why should we risk our market stability with such rampant speculation? Spoiler alert: we don’t have to!

Right on cue to tamping-down on undesirable market behavior is an idea associated with Nobel prize-winning economist James Tobin, who called for a corrective tax on speculative trading that would  “throw some sand in the wheels” of the market to slow it down. Dozens of countries already have these taxes in place and the U.S. had a tax on Wall Street taxes from 1914 through 1965. Public Citizen has long advocated for reinstating a tax on Wall Street trades to protect consumers.

Not a Hollywood blockbuster, but another recent film, The Same Heart, also chronicles the rise of the high-speed trading ‘bot. However, the problem toward which the documentary film’s lens is primarily pointed is the horrible injustice of childhood poverty. But, instead of showing only the negative—the unthinkable hurdles of hunger, disease, and violence that billions of children face worldwide—it focuses on a possible solution: taxing Wall Street trades. The Same Heart makes the ethical and economic case for the wealthiest among us, the financial elite who make millions and billions of dollars in profit from financial transactions, to fund programs that invest in the world’s youth.

On September 27, at 1 pm in the Capitol Visitor’s Center, Public Citizen, in coordination with Media Voices for Children, which produced the film, the Child Labor Coalition, and the Congressional Progressive Caucus, is hosting an event called “Investing in our Future, One Transaction at a Time,” a panel discussion and screening of an excerpt of The Same Heart. I will be center stage for a dialogue with U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), filmmaker Len Morris, and experts from the Center for Economic and Policy Research, Communications Workers of America, the Institute for Policy Studies, and the National Consumers League. In addition to speaking about how the tens of billions in estimated yearly revenues from a Wall Street tax could benefit the next generation, I will outline how current legislative proposals to reinstate a tax on Wall Street trades to make markets less volatile and work better for average investors.

A fairer market does not have to be a celluloid dream. If we want to flip today’s script: the robbers being the banks themselves, bad guys costumed in pinstripes, never jail stripes, we need to take on Wall Street. The first step is making Wild West Wall Street stock market gamblers pay their fair share by taxing their trades at a fraction of a percent.

And, even if you’re not in DC to make the movie and panel event, you can still help set the scene for a legislative win. Please tell your U.S. Representative that you want her or him to be a hero and cosponsor the Putting Main Street FIRST (Finishing Irresponsible Reckless Speculative Trading) Act (HR 5745). If you’ve already done that, be a social media superhero and help spread the word about the Take on Wall Street fight by sharing this blog on Twitter with the hashtags #WallStTax or #TakeOnWallSt.

With your help, soon we will reach a critical consensus: no longer will we let the One Percent steal the show.

village-1357192_640At a time when public approval of Congress remains near all-time lows, revisiting campaign finance laws is critical. Party officials have recommended members spend roughly twice as much time fundraising as they do on the floor or in committee. U.S. House members raise on average $2,400 every single day of their term. U.S. Senators will raise roughly twice that.

These campaign spending increases are reflected at the state and local level as well. For example, a single local school board race in California resulted in over $3.5 million in inside and outside spending. The tides may be shifting, however.

California is now poised to enact a law which would lift the state’s ban on publicly financed campaigns. SB 1107 passed with bipartisan backing last week. It gives local and state government to option stick with the current system or switch to public financing. The bill requires public financing laws have a dedicated funding source and that funds be “available to all qualified, voluntarily participating candidates for the same office without regard to incumbency or political party preference.”

Public Citizen’s members in California sent over 1,200 letters to their assembly members in the days leading up to the vote. All that’s left is for Gov. Jerry Brown to sign the bill.  You can contact his office at (916) 445-2841 and ask him to sign SB 1107.

Voters in California will have further opportunity to express their frustration with the current system when Proposition 59 appears on their ballots this November. It is a resolution that calls on California legislators to do everything they can to overturn Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. Yesterday, the Sacramento Bee endorsed the measure, which is backed by groups such as California Common Cause, calPIRG, Courage Campaign and others.

Just some of the over 700,000 signature delivered to Mylan

Just some of the over 700,000 signature delivered to Mylan, Photo Credit: Ed Grystar W. PA. Coalition for Single Payer Healthcare

By Sean Grant

Protesters on Tuesday delivered petitions to Mylan’s corporate headquarters just outside of Pittsburgh demanding that the company end price gouging EpiPen users, they did not expect a warm welcome. They knew beforehand that they would not be allowed to approach the building. In front of TV cameras, Mylan accepted the petitions on a wheeled cart.

But Mylan representatives who collected the petition signatures – gathered by Public Citizen, MoveOn.org Civic Action and others – offered no comment to the media, raising the question of whether the company will heed the call of the nearly 700,000 Americans who signed the petitions. The public clearly is outraged at Mylan’s raising the price of EpiPens by more than 500 percent since 2007 for no apparent reason other than greed.

Protesters were not allowed to enter Mylan's visitor entrance at their building

Protesters were not allowed to enter Mylan’s visitor entrance, Photo Credit: Ed Grystar W. PA. Coalition for Single Payer Healthcare

Before the petition delivery, Mylan twice announced new measures to appease the public, but these weak attempts at appearing contrite only further enraged people. As Public Citizen President Robert Weissman stated, “It’s not enough to offer coupons and it’s not enough to offer an overpriced generic version of its own branded product. The company must roll back its unjustified and outrageous price increases.” Read those press releases here and here.

As the petitions were rolled away on dollies to chants of “people over profit,” attention shifted to Mike Laffin, a member of Mylan’s communications team, who was sent out to deal with the reporters clamoring to ask questions. Laffin, however, could provide nothing more substantive than “Any other questions need to be directed to our communications team or customer service.” He repeated the phrase several times, perhaps most forcefully when one reporter asked if Mylan had any plans to lower the price of the EpiPen further.

Considering how ineffective the customer service department has been so far, referring reporters to it – by a live person from the communications department – doesn’t seem like the brightest PR move. But the company keeps making missteps, it seems. It is imperative Mylan finally listen and take substantive action.

View a video of the petition delivery 

 

A couple weeks ago, VICE did some incredible and shocking reporting about an attempt by the predatory payday lending industry to sabotage proposed rules designed to finally rein-in industry practices that have ruined lives by trapping far too many Americans into endless cycles of debt. Payday lenders take advantage of consumers by charging astronomical interest rates and fees, requiring people to take out strings of additional loans that stack up into insurmountable piles of debt.

The staggering amount of debt people are in because of payday loans is shocking, but it’s also shocking how hard industry is fighting these commonsense consumer financial protections. At least it’s shocking to those who are not familiar with corporate America’s all too successful tactic of gaming the process that agencies use to produce new regulations that benefit consumers. Industry does that by turning that very same regulatory process against the rules meant to help people. For those of us at Public Citizen who are constantly trying to defend consumer regulations from being blocked or diluted by industry, this is an all too common theme and very much the rule rather than the exception.

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The resort where payday lenders met at.

VICE uncovered insider documents at a predatory lending industry conference showing exactly how the industry planned to attack and undermine the critical new predatory lending regulations that the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) has proposed to put in place. The conference was organized by the Consumer Financial Services Association of America, the industry’s trade group, and held at the posh Atlantis resort in the Bahamas.

In multiple sessions, participants in the predatory lending industry learned one of the major strategies to defeat the new CFPB rules: turn the very customers the industry fleeces with high interest loans into the public face of the campaign to defeat restriction on those loans. In truly cynical fashion, predatory lenders were encouraged to “get every customer that comes into your store… to write out a handwritten letter and tell the bureau why they use the product, how they use the product, and why this will be a detriment to their financial stability.” In short, the very borrowers that would be protected from the kinds of debt entrapment loans that the CFPB will potentially prohibit would be used as the key voices arguing against those new rules.

Making matters worse, borrowers might not even know that they had signed up for this campaign to sabotage the predatory lending rules. The article describes previous attempts by the industry to trick customers into submitting comments against restrictions on predatory loans at the state level.

Of course, federal agencies do want to hear from the public about proposed rules in order to improve them before they are finalized. Indeed, the public comment period is an important way for the public to meaningfully participate in giving their opinion, as long as it’s done on a good-faith basis.

The problem here is that the predatory lending industry knows there is significant grassroots support for the new CFPB rules—no one wants loan sharks to take advantage of consumers. So they schemed to find a way to counter that with their own “flood” of comments without making it look like they are all coming from industry groups that will benefit from killing the new rules. That’s why they’re exploiting their customers and pushing them into submitting a comment.

As the article notes, making it look like there’s real grassroots opposition to the CFPB rules is a key tactic in a broader overall goal of trying to delay the new rules as much as possible so the predatory lenders can keep their business model going as long as possible.

The big takeaway is that whenever agencies like the CFPB put out new rules to protect the public by holding Big Business accountable, the response of Big Business is to use every opportunity in the regulatory process to delay rules. And as our chart of the regulatory process shows, there are a lot of opportunities — far too many, in fact.

That’s why this summer Public Citizen released a groundbreaking report showing just how long it takes for our government agencies to put in place the most important new rules that protect the public. The results were shocking. At most agencies, it takes almost an entire presidential term, four years in other words, to get out a major new rule. Even worse, the trend is going in the wrong direction, with rules finished this year holding the record for the longest rulemakings over the last twenty years. So if you’re keeping score at home, it looks like the Big Business delay strategy is working pretty well.

The good thing is there’s a way to take action. You can make sure your voice is heard in support of new proposed rules to limit predatory lending  over the fabricated ones that the industry puts forward, by taking action to support a strong rule to protect consumers from payday loans.

Finally, as some Republicans in Congress continue to try to rig the regulatory system with more opportunities for industry delay, keep a lookout for other ways to engage with your elected members to make sure they know you oppose any legislation that harms the ability of agencies to write rules to better protect the public.

In May, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) announced they wanted feedback on their plan to curb forced arbitration clauses.

binding-contract-948442_640Public Citizen members sent a remarkable 27,890 comments to the CFPB. Once they are added in, our members alone will have tripled the total amount of comments (based on the numbers reported by CFPB’s website around Monday’s closing deadline).

For such a previously under-the-radar issue, this is a huge accomplishment.

Forced arbitration is the latest trick corporations are using to avoid accountability and keep consumer complaints out of public courts. Public Citizen calls them rip-off clauses, because the fine print has crept into contracts everywhere, from Amazon to Chase to Pokémon Go. Consumers are unknowingly signing away their rights to take future complaints to court. Instead, they’re decided by private companies or individuals chosen by the corporation in a kangaroo-court called an arbitration proceeding.

The problem doesn’t end there. Often these rip-off clauses also prevent consumers from joining together in a class action lawsuit. This is critical, because it often doesn’t make sense for consumers to fight companies alone when potential damages are small. Take for example James Pendergast, who was charged $20 by Sprint for “roaming” while he was in his house.  A lawyer told him the case would take six figures to take to trial and there was the possibility he would be on the hook for Sprint’s legal bills. Almost no one would take on such a small dollar case by themselves; which is why class action suits are an important tool for consumers to band together to level the playing field.

We applaud the steps being taken by CFPB Director Richard Cordray and his staff (urged on by our members’ call to action) to ban forced arbitration language from financial services consumer contracts.

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