Archive for the ‘Activism’ Category

The tide is turning in the nationwide movement to end junk food commercialism in schools. That’s thanks in part to a campaign to address childhood obesity initiated by First Lady Michelle Obama. Last month, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) proposed a new rule which will limit unhealthy food marketing on school property during the school day, and the agency is seeking public comments on it.  The rule is part of the Local School Wellness Policy Implementation under the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010.

On Friday, April 25, Public Citizen will submit detailed comments, and summary comments endorsed by thousands of supporters, urging the USDA to provide the strongest and broadest possible protections for students. We anticipate that our comments will be taken seriously since our School Commercialism: High Costs, Low Revenue report was cited directly in the proposed rule.

In 2009, junk food companies spent $149 million on marketing in our schools — with ads for sugary drinks like Coke and Pepsi accounting for 90 percent. And the marketing seems to be having some effect: In 2012, more than one- third of children and adolescents struggled with the health effects of being overweight or obese.

While the proposed rule is an important step forward, it has some potential loopholes. For example, the USDA should include a provision that urges schools to eliminate advertising of all brands that market unhealthy food, not just specific unhealthy products. Schools should also be provided the freedom to eliminate all food marketing, in order to streamline the process of monitoring brand and product compliance with the USDA’s Smart Snacks guidelines.

The USDA should also include a more expansive definition of food marketing to cover the range of tactics used by food and beverage companies.  Public Citizen and allies are encouraging the USDA to provide guidance to schools on the various types of marketing including, but not limited to posters, curricula, websites promoted for educational purposes or recommended by the school (ex. coolmathgames.com), vending machine exteriors, food or beverage cups or containers, equipment, uniforms, school supplies, in-school television (such as Channel One) and on computer screen savers and/or school-sponsored Internet sites. Additionally, branded fundraisers and corporate-sponsored programs (ex. McTeacher’s night), corporate incentive programs that provide children with free or discounted foods or beverages (ex. Pizza Hut Book It! Program), free samples and naming rights to school property.

Research suggests that commercialism in schools generally poses a threat to children’s psychological health, in addition to threats to physical health.  Children exposed to advertising suffer displacement of values and activities other than those consistent with materialism  and heightened insecurity about themselves and their place in the social world among other issues.  Commercial messaging in education compounds the overall effects of children’s exposure to ubiquitous commercialism while undermining students’ capacities to think creatively, critically and independently in school.

Public Citizen maintains that no commercial marketing or advertising should be present in the education context given its demonstrated harms to children’s physical and psychological health. But since the USDA can address only unhealthy food marketing in this proposed rule, Public Citizen will urge the agency to make its rule on food marketing as strong as possible.

We encourage citizens to endorse our summary comments to the USDA by Friday, April 25. Supporters should also sign our petition to keep commercialism out schools entirely.

Eva Seidelman is a researcher for Public Citizen’s Commercial Alert.

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Finally, we can strike one off our list. We can remove big corporate food manufacturer General Mills from Public Citizen’s Forced Arbitration Rogues Gallery, an unofficial catalogue of some of the many corporations that use their fine-print contracts to deprive consumers of the right to sue, forcing them instead to resolve disputes in individual, secret arbitration.

Removing General Mills from the “Rogues Gallery” is the least we can do now that the cereal and snack maker has itself deleted the hideous “you can’t sue us for harm we cause” language from the legal terms of its website.

General Mills recently had added a forced arbitration clause to its “legal terms” on its website and prohibited class actions in its terms of service for the same reasons as most other corporations – to unilaterally deprive its customers from filing lawsuits against it and escape responsibility for causing injury.  The reason behind General Mills’ move to reverse its ill-fated decision is awe-inspiring: it’s the people!

Lesson Number One for corporate lawyers and public relations spokespersons – American consumers would like to retain their legal rights, thank you very much.

After an article in The New York Times exposed General Mills offensive terms, the people reacted, and quickly.

@Slate (Apr 19): “Why people are freaking out over General Mills’ new legal policy: http://slate.me/1haFUIo  pic.twitter.com/hcDvkNm6JN

‏@Wonkette‬ (Apr 17‬): “You Can No Longer Sue General Mills Even If They Serve You A Big Bowl Of E Coli http://bit.ly/1iud62l” ‬

Three days after The New York Times piece was published, General Mills recanted.

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Want to start your week out with some fun?

How about watching a short movie with “The Walking Dead” star, and zombie hunter, Andrew Lincoln, taking on “The City,” London’s version of Wall Street:

Directed by David Yates of Harry Potter movie series fame, the YouTube film packs quite a punch in its short three-plus minutes by satirically highlighting the many positive benefits that could be realized by European nations should a Financial Transactions Tax be finalized. Lincoln is joined by several famous European actors who play bankers in the future looking back on the passage of the Financial Transaction Tax as a triumph.

Though this short film is designed to pressure Britain to join its EU neighbors in signing on to the European version of the tax on financial transactions, we need this important reform just as much stateside.

While Wall Street’s profits continue to rise, the American people deal with the reality of cuts to key programs due to ongoing government budget downgrades. A small tax on financial transactions would both raise revenue for our nation and have the worthwhile benefit of curbing the type of dangerous speculation by investment firms that led to the 2008 financial crisis.

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Last night, Public Citizen, along with our allies at Free Speech for People, hosted an online conversation featuring Ben Cohen, co-founder of Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream and superstar activist for a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (the 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision that opened the floodgates to secret corporate money in elections). The court is likely to hand down another decision soon that could further increase corruption of our democratic election system.

During yesterday’s webinar, Ben Cohen, Public Citizen’s Robert Weissman and Jonah Minkoff-Zern, and Free Speech For People’s John Bonifaz discussed how a bad ruling in the case McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission could fundamentally reshape how candidates and political parties raise money.

These leaders of the movement for a constitutional amendment to prevent corporations and the 1% from dominating our elections also called on activists to join our campaign to fight back on the day the court hands down what’s likely to be a harmful decision in the McCutcheon case. We hope you and your friends and neighbors can get involved in the events planned across the country!

Did you miss the webinar? If so, you can watch a replay here:

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After months of delay, financial regulators presented a final version of the Volcker rule last week. The rule is a key provision in the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act that is supposed to prohibit banks from engaging in the kind of risky trading that brought down financial markets in 2008.

The final rule is a huge victory for Public Citizen’s activists.

“Public Citizen’s members and supporters have sent more than 15,000 of the approximately 18,000 total comments that regulators have received. They should be pleased that the final rule is considerably stronger than what regulators initially proposed,” said Micah Hauptman, financial policy counsel for Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division.

Public Citizen’s activists broke the record for the number of comments submitted for rule-makings related to Dodd-Frank, helping to keep regulators’ feet to the fire during the rulemaking process.

Many activists weighed in by bringing financial industry expertise to bear, while many others urged regulators to stand strong against an onslaught of banking industry lobbyists working to weaken the rule.

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