Archive for the ‘Activism’ Category

by David Arkush

Next week, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will hold field hearings in Denver, Atlanta, Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C., on the carbon pollution rule it proposed on June 2. The EPA calls it the Clean Power Plan. We care a lot about the rule, and you’ll be hearing more about it in the coming year. Also, Public Citizen members, activists and staff will be attending and speaking at the hearings. You’ll hear more about that next week.

Right now, I just wanted to note something odd in this story from The Hill: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky.) is complaining about the ID requirements to get into the federal buildings in which the hearings will take place. The ID requirements mean that some of his constituents won’t be able to attend!

Ahem. Voter ID laws, anyone? It’s really rich to hear a Republican leader complaining about ID requirements in a disenfranchisement-y way. Also, the requirements are from the 2005 REAL ID Act, passed by a Republican Congress and signed by a Republican president.

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by Burkely Hermann

Recently, 1305 members and supporters of Public Citizen responded to a survey question asking whether they have personal stories and/or why they care about the work Public Citizen does.

It was enlightening and inspiring to sift through all of the comments. Many harkened back to the 1971 founding of Public Citizen by consumer advocate Ralph Nader. Others raised contemporary concerns on issues such as the increasing amount of money in the political process, so-called “trade” agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), and fighting the power of Big Pharma.

Some told stories of losing their jobs because of their sexuality, taking a pay cut when a state governor believed they were overpaid, having a hard time getting benefits from health insurance companies, and much more.

Others shared more positive stories. One writer said that Public Citizen prompted him to run for an Idaho State Senate Seat and win the Democratic Party’s primary election. Another said that he uses Public Citizen’s materials to teach “medical students and house staff regularly.”

Two commenters praised Public Citizen’s publications: one commenter said that our ‘Health Newsletter’ has been important to them “personally and politically,” while another said that our member newspaper kept them “well informed.” One person from Virginia was even more specific, saying they enjoy “watching the Public Citizen President Mr. Weissman on TV appearances” and the “webcasts and conference calls with Rick [Claypool] and Kelly [Ngo].”

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The U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decisions in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, a corporate victory of “startling breadth,” and in Harris v. Quinn, are only the latest in a trend at the U.S. Supreme Court over the past six years.

A new report by the Constitutional Accountability Center titled “The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Continues its Winning Ways” shows that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has gotten its way in an astonishing 80 percent of the cases it has argued over the past three terms, including 69 percent this term and 70 percent since President George W. Bush appointed Justices John Roberts and Samuel Alito to the court.

The Chamber’s 80 percent success rate over the past three terms comprises 32 wins and just eight losses. That’s a streak like the one enjoyed by Lebron James’ 2013 Miami Heat, which had one of the best seasons in NBA history last year, winning 80 percent of its games on its way to a second straight championship.

The Chamber’s winning streak since Alito succeeded Justice Sandra Day O’Connor in 2006, with a 70 percent win rate over that time period, is a distinct phenomenon: the Chamber won only 43 percent of the time in the Burger court (15 of 35 from 1981-1986) and 56 percent in the Rehnquist court (45 of 80 from 1994-2005).

This suggests that the Chamber’s recent record owes more to the current composition of the court than the Chamber’s lawyering, so it’s important not to overstate the Chamber’s influence on what the court actually decides.

The report also notes how aggressively the Chamber works to overturn long held precedents considered unfriendly to business interests. While the Chamber and its Institute for Legal Reform rail against “activist attorneys general” and lawyers “seeking a big, fat payday” to demonize judicial arguments that would rein in corporate abuses, they routinely recommend that the Supreme Court overrule longstanding and settled precedent.

“For instance,” the report reads, “the Chamber argued that the Court should second-guess two centuries of executive practice in [National Labor Relations Board v.] Canning, overrule a quarter-century’s worth of precedent in Halliburton [Co. v. Erica P. John Fund, Inc.], limit the EPA’s authority to regulate greenhouse gases in [Utility Air Regulatory Group v. EPA], and toss out important interstate air pollution rules in EPA v. EME Homer.”

We are now seeing the culmination of decades of Chamber work in the courts, dating back to the infamous 1971 memorandum by corporate tobacco attorney Lewis Powell, that said, in part,

“Strength lies in organization, in careful long-range planning and implementation, in consistency of action over an indefinite period of years, in the scale of financing available only through joint effort, and in the political power available only through united action and national organizations. … The role of the National Chamber of Commerce is therefore vital. … Under our constitutional system, especially with an activist-minded Supreme Court, the judiciary may be the most important instrument for social, economic and political change.”

The same year Powell wrote his memorandum, President Richard Nixon nominated him to the Supreme Court, where he wrote the opinion that the Roberts court used to reach its corrosive Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission decision, which allowed corporations to spend unlimited sums to influence political campaigns. The Chamber’s decades of lobbying, campaign spending and aggression in the courts are paying off at accelerating rates.

Powell wrote his memorandum in response to a period of success for progressive issues in the courts, college campuses and other arenas of influence. His paper concluded,

“The first step should be a thorough study. But this would be an exercise in futility unless the Board of Directors of the Chamber accepts the fundamental premise of this paper, namely, that business and the enterprise system are in deep trouble, and the hour is late.”

It seems clear that the tables have turned. The Chamber’s resounding successes in the Supreme Court over the past six years spell trouble for the equality and sustainability of our country. It is long past time for the left, both institutional and non-institutional, to redouble its efforts. The hour is late.

Sam Jewler is the communications and research officer for Public Citizen’s Chamber Watch program.

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Last week, we hosted an online conversation with Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen, and Lisa Gilbert, director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division.

Robert and Lisa discussed the progress we’ve made together so far — and the next steps we need to take — on some of the most pressing issues facing the country.

Miss the webinar? Catch up by watching the video below:

(Note: Unfortunately because of network issues beyond our control, you can’t see Robert or Lisa for most of the presentation. But the audio is there, and the analysis and insights they provide are inspiring and thought-provoking).

Some of our highest priorities include ending corporate money’s domination of our elections, fighting for universal health care, reining in Big Bank recklessness and stopping congressional attacks on consumer protection.

Members of Congress — Democrats, Republicans and independents alike — must hear from We the People that these issues matter to us.

We’re going on the offensive this summer, and we need your help.

To make sure you’re invited to our live online discussion in July, sign up today.

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

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Most people only think about bank runs around the winter holidays when “It’s a Wonderful Life” plays incessantly on television and the protagonist is trying to save his small community bank from going under. Bank runs are an old-fashioned idea, the stuff of black and white movies and not the sort of issue we tend to think of as a problem for this century.

Since the advent of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) in 1933, our deposits are protected and we don’t need to worry about banks running out of money.

Or do we?

When banks are allowed to take bets on toxic debt or enter into complex derivatives transactions – essentially gambling with our taxpayer-insured deposits — we may be setting up our economy for another meltdown. Banks can and do lose huge sums of money on failed bets, as happened with several leading banks in the run up to the 2008 crash. These bad bets were part of what caused many financial institutions to fail; the failures set off the chain reaction of the economic crash. Instead of paying back depositors and simply allowing the banks to go under, the government chose to bail out some of them, leading to trillions in payouts under the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) and other bank supports.

They say hindsight is 20-20, but our country’s leaders should have known better then to allow this gambling. For most of the last century, we had strong, clear protections against just that type of bank activity. President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Congress included a ban on riskier investment banking (read gambling) by FDIC-insured facilities when the system of federally-insured deposits went into effect in 1933. This ban between commercial and investment banking was called the Glass-Steagall Act, and it was rolled in with the Banking Act of 1933, which also created the FDIC.

This safety glass was in place for over 50 years and served the country well as we experienced overall stability in the financial industry. But banks desiring to engage in high-risk, high-profit transactions pressured Congress to break down the wall. The Glass-Steagall Act was repealed in 1999 through President Clinton’s signing of the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act.

After Glass-Steagall’s repeal, commercial banks backed by FDIC guarantees borrowed cheap money and jumped full force into packaging debt, underwriting mortgages and growing their investment strategies. They took bigger risks than ever before, leading us straight to the crisis. Over-leveraged and under-capitalized, the banks’ gambling strategies blew up.

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