Archive for the ‘Internet Free Speech’ Category

Congress has just returned from recess and life here for your favorite watchdog continues to be busy!"Public Citizen Lady Liberty"

Last week, we reported on a victory for democracy: The Vermont State Senate approved a resolution calling for a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that has ushered in a corporate political spending free-for-all, the negative effects of which we began seeing in the congressional midterms and we see now in the presidential race. The ball is now in the court of the Vermont House, but the clock is ticking. The House Government Operations Committee has yet to schedule a vote on the resolution — the first step in moving it through that chamber. The state’s legislative session ends next week. If you live in Vermont, please call your state representative and urge him or her to move this bill forward.

If the Vermont House passes the bill — and there is a lot of support for it among Vermont House members — Vermont would be the third state to call for an amendment to overturn the Supreme Court’s 2010 ruling. Public Citizen’s Democracy Is For People Campaign is playing an instrumental role in getting Vermont, California, Maryland and Massachusetts on board with calling for a constitutional amendment to help curb corporate power in elections.

We also are working with activists throughout the country to persuade local councils to support an amendment – and to do so the second week of June as part of, “Resolutions Week.” Resolutions Week and other efforts by other organizations — as well as congressional lawmakers — will be the focus of a congressional Summit on Capitol Hill this Wednesday (Facebook event invite link, here). Public Citizen is pleased to have had the opportunity to help facilitate and witness the growth of an ever-more powerful team of lawmakers, organizational allies and activists that are determined to make sure the voices of everyday people are not drowned out by mega-rich individuals and corporations. This summit is a signal: This movement is the real thing. We are determined. We are growing and together we will ensure that our democracy is for the people and by the people.

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Trade "intellectual property" TPP "Public Citizen"Steven Knievel and Peter Maybarduk

Talks on the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade agreement (TPP), which the U.S. is negotiating with Australia, Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam, are continuing this week (April 9-13) in Santiago, Chile in the form of an “intersessional meeting” on intellectual property (IP).  Leaked documents show that the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) is pressuring developing countries to trade away access to lifesaving medicines in order expand the patent-based monopoly power of the giant U.S. pharmaceutical companies, and designing new rules to expand the invasive power of Hollywood and the recording industry online, threatening users’ Internet freedom.

The last time such a meeting was convened on IP in January in Hollywood, CA a stakeholder event organized by public interest groups in the same hotel as the negotiations was canceled after the hotel received pressure from the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR). Simultaneously, USTR made sure the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) had access to negotiators, as they were given an exclusive tour of 20th Century Fox Studios guided by a representative of the studio’s government relations office.

USTR is clamping down on public participation to minimize the spread of information which challenges their hard-line IP maximalist agenda that seeks to empower corporations at the expense of public health and knowledge. In addition to increasing reliance on intersessionals, like this week’s Santiago meeting, where stakeholders are not given a forum to participate, USTR has now effectively reduced stakeholder participation in the official negotiating rounds by eliminating their opportunity to give presentations to negotiators in an official forum. USTR’s response signals the substantial impact critics of the TPP are having. At the March negotiating round in Melbourne, one stakeholder presentation after another criticized USTR’s aggressive pro-Big Pharma patent proposal, filling most of the afternoon. Now TPP countries are resisting USTR demands that would imperil their access to medicines.

Cozy relationships with government aren’t the only way corporations are influencing these talks. This week, American University and the University of Chile arranged to host an event to present analyses critical of particular proposals in the TPP. These include leaked provisions that would greatly favor Big Pharma, expand drug monopolies and raise medicine prices. The keynote speaker was to be Senator Ricardo Lagos, a major political figure in Chile considered to be a possible candidate for the presidency. Nevertheless, the public University of Chile law school canceled the event with less than two days’ notice, evidently on the advice of a member of the faculty who is a paid advisor of the multinational pharmaceutical companies’ association in Chile (the Cámara de Industria Farmacéutica, or CIF).

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Flickr by Jamie Anderson

Paul Alan Levy

It was disheartening to say the least to hear a Major League Soccer (MLS) team player use abusive language with a ball boy in the middle of a game, but it’s positively shameful that the MLS decided to go after a fan who later posted a small clip of the game on YouTube to further discussion of the widely publicized incident.

There’s no question that the clip was taken from the copyrighted telecast, but there can also be no doubt that the fan is protected by fair use in posting a 20-second clip from a 90-minute game. MLS responded with an abusive DMCA takedown notice that caused the YouTube clip to be removed – an overreaction that boils down to attempting to deny the fan his right to free speech.

Colin Clark, a player for Major League Soccer team Houston Dynamo, made a significant mistake in lashing out at the ball boy at the Seattle Sounders stadium at the March 23 game, using a gay slur because the ball was not delivered directly into the player’s hands, but rather tossed onto the ground for Clark to pick up. Even though Clark issued an apology, the video prompted a widespread discussion among soccer fans, who compared the incident to recent controversies in Europe over racist comments there.

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The U.S. House of Representatives refuses to let up on its quixotic mission to destroy public safeguards. Its latest incarnation is H.R. 4078, the “Regulatory Freeze for Jobs Act of 2012,” a misguided bill that seeks to halt regulatory protections until the unemployment rate is equal or less than six percent.

photo by Derek Keats vis flickr

It was the topic of the hour at a hearing of the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Courts, Commercial and Administrative Law, featuring two professors associated with the Hoover Institute, Allan Meltzler and John Taylor, who were there to bolster a weak argument that by “freezing” regulations, somehow all of our country’s jobs problems would magically disappear.

Fortunately, Public Citizen President Rob Weissman was there to speak on behalf of reality.

Weissman, who also serves as co-chair of the Coalition for Sensible Safeguards,  reminded the subcommittee it was regulatory failures that helped create the current jobs crisis. He said a freeze on public protections not only would fail to create jobs, but would place the economy in serious jeopardy, particularly if newly created financial regulations were weakened or blocked. A little more on that in minute.

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One of the hot topics these days is income inequality and the out-of-sight paychecks that CEOs get, even if the company goes downhill on their watch.

That’s why a Public Citizen is helping organize a conference today about executive compensation and how it should be changed. The conference is hosted by Americans for Financial Reform, a coalition where Public Citizen leads leads the executive compensation task force. The point is to examine how the Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform law was intended to reduce the excessive earnings of senior executives and reduce the risks these pose to the economy. Proposed implementing rules meant to bar compensation schemes that incentivize excessive risk-taking are weak and have been delayed. Speakers include Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO; Robert J. Jackson Jr., a former senior adviser to the Treasury Department on executive compensation and corporate governance; a number of professors and others.

Also today, one of our senior attorneys, Paul Alan Levy, is making an oral argument before the Indiana Court of Appeals in Indianapolis. The case is Miller v. Junior Achievement, and Levy is arguing as amicus curiae. The suit arose from an attempt by the former CEO of Junior Achievement and his wife to unmask online critics who commented about the company’s financial situation. Levy will argue that the Millers have not met the test needed to unmask the identity of the anonymous posters.

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