Archive for the ‘Activism’ Category

By Emily Myers

Lisa Gilbert, director of Public Citizen's Congress Watch division, at the rally outside the White House

Lisa Gilbert, director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division, at the rally outside the White House

If you’ve lived in Washington, D.C., for a while, you might not be fazed by thirty people chanting and brandishing a fifteen-foot inflatable flashlight reading “end dark money.” But if you’re new to the city like me, this sort of political protest is exciting and noteworthy. It is also necessary.

Yesterday’s rally at the White House, one of 55 in cities and towns across America, served to raise the voices of citizens above the “voice” of money A March analysis  by Public Citizen found that only 47 percent of federal contractors disclose contributions to 501(c)(4) groups that could influence elections, barely one third fully disclose their donations to 501 (c)(6) groups and only 27 percent of the largest contractors disclose the details of contributions to both types of groups.

Behind closed doors, federal contractors can use taxpayer money to elect politicians who may grant them preferential treatment and work for their interests.

This is unacceptable.

Public Citizen and other public interest organizations delivered a petition with over 550,000 signatures to President Barack Obama urging him to sign an executive order requiring federal contractors divulge their campaign spending.

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In this year’s State of the Union address, President Barack Obama couldn’t have been more transparent. He said, “[A] better politics is one where we spend less time drowning in dark money for ads that pull us into the gutter, and spend more time lifting young people up, with a sense of purpose and possibility, and asking them to join in the great mission of building America.”

With that sentence, he reaffirmed what we all know is the case: Voters deserve to know who is trying to influence their elected officials by contributing money. Without knowing who is behind political spending, we cannot make truly informed decisions and we lose a critical check on corruption in our moneyed political system.

This Sunshine Week (March 15-21), we applaud the president for speaking out against the wave of “dark money” that has overtaken U.S. elections, and our response is: “We agree. Act now.” The president should start by issuing an executive order to require federal government contractors to disclose all of their political spending. He has the power to do so at any time.

Dark money is a problem no matter who it comes from, and according to the Center for Responsive Politics, more than 40 percent of the outside expenditures in the 2014 elections were made by groups that did not fully disclose their donors. But dark money is especially troubling when it comes from government contractors.

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By J. Thomas

This month, Dr. Gerald Friedman, Chair of the Department of Economics at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, released a new study on the potential cost savings if New York state implemented a single-payer, universal health care system. In a single-payer system, every American would be guaranteed a basic level of health care, much like Medicare guarantees health coverage to American seniors.

Among the findings from Friedman’s estimates: 98 percent of New Yorkers would save money; 2 percent of New Yorkers – those making more than $436,000 annually – would pay more via increased taxes; New Yorkers would save an average of $2,200 each year; and business savings would spur the creation of 200,000 jobs. Moreover, Friedman says, “New York’s overall economic savings from a single-payer model reduces health care spending by $45 billion.”

“This detailed economic study gives us clear proof that a universal health care plan is the right move for New York,” said Assembly Health Committee chair and lead sponsor Richard Gottfried.

It’s more urgent than ever for New Yorkers to learn about the benefits of universal health care. In December, Public Citizen Health Care Advocate Vijay Das spoke before New York legislators as part of a series of historic meetings in support of the New York Health Bill, which would extend health coverage to every New Yorker.

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The Seventh Amendment to the United States Constitution states, “In Suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved …”

Even though we are all granted the right to a trial by jury in the U.S. Constitution, Big Banks and corporations regularly use fine print in contracts to trick consumers out of their right to a day in court. Forced arbitration means that if consumers are ripped off or otherwise harmed, they must use private arbitration proceedings to air their grievances.

If you’re already angry about forced arbitration and you want to do something to get these predatory terms out of financial products, skip to the end of this post for ways to get involved.

There’s plenty to be mad about. These expensive arbitration “tribunals” have no judge or jury. They are overseen by paid arbitration providers who are selected by the companies. Arbitration firms have a very good reason to guarantee repeat business for themselves by finding in favor of the corporations over the consumers. The findings of arbitration decisions are not public and the appeals process is very limited. Most likely, you will also be required to go to arbitration in another state!

If consumers were interested in choosing arbitration, they would enter into the decision after some harm has come to them. It would need to be an informed decision where they did so with a full understanding of the consequences of their choice to not go to court.

But that’s not how we’re all roped into signing (or even clicking) away our rights. It has been proven that consumers rarely understand that their contracts contain arbitration clauses and have little idea of the repercussions of having their complaints heard in a non-court venue.

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By Robert Craycraft

Asbestos was once used as a flame-retardant and for electrical insulation in buildings, ships and homes. Before it was discovered to cause cancer, millions of American workers and veterans handled and were otherwise exposed to deadly asbestos fibers.

An unknown amount of the hazardous material is still present in our communities. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that roughly 3,000 people continue to die from mesothelioma and asbestosis every year; some experts estimate the death toll is as high as 10,000 annually when other types of asbestos-linked diseases and cancers are included.

In early February, the U.S. House of Representatives Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on Regulatory Reform, Commercial, and Antitrust Law held a hearing on H.R. 526, the Furthering Asbestos Claim Transparency Act (or FACT Act). Generally speaking, the more transparency the better. However, in this case, the asbestos industry is using the guise of “transparency” to push the FACT Act as a way to delay compensation to asbestos victims and their families. The bill would require the trusts that manage victim compensation to retroactively compile information on all claims they’ve paid and to require the trusts to answer any and all information requests by asbestos company defendants.

These paperwork requirements could have the effect of slowing or even stopping the important work of the trusts to compensate victims that have developed deadly diseases like mesothelioma due to exposure to asbestos. Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) called the FACT Act a “Trojan horse” which “guarantees that the insurance companies pay as little as possible.”

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