Archive for the ‘Social Justice’ Category

Each day this week we’ll be highlighting some of the anti-regulatory bills that Public Citizen and our allies have been pushing back against this fall.

Image courtesy of Eric Lynch/Flickr under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 license.

Image courtesy of Eric Lynch/Flickr under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 license.

When Congress returned from its longest summer recess in 60 years, and before they ran back to districts to campaign, conservatives in the U.S. House of Representatives were determined to assail our system of public protections. Remember that arcade game staple, whack-a-mole, where players try to hammer down the target as others pop up, more and more quickly?  Essentially playing whack-a-mole in the four weeks of September, Public Citizen and our partners in the Coalition for Sensible Safeguards defended against multiple pieces of legislation aimed at limiting the power of the government to protect the public.

Conservatives attempted to pass four misleading and damaging anti-regulatory bills and were successful in pushing through three of them – the fourth was shelved until Congress’ post-election return.

  • Stop Settlement Slush Funds Act (H.R. 5063) – passed on Sept. 7, 2016
  • Regulatory Integrity Act (H.R. 5226) – passed on Sept. 14, 2016
  • REVIEW Act (H.R. 3438) – passed on Sept. 21, 2016
  • Midnight Rules Relief Act (H.R. 5982) – shelved for the lame duck on Sept. 26, 2016

Regulations protect and safeguard our lives in everything from the food we eat to the water we drink and from the air we breathe to the products we use. These government standards ensure that we can go about our daily lives without much fear of dying at work, eating poisonous food or having our cars go up in flames. The process for producing these vital standards is already glacially slow and exceedingly cumbersome, and if signed into law, these damaging bills would exacerbate the problems in the rulemaking system.

The slow process of our current rulemaking system already has a negative impact on communities of color and low income communities, who it has been shown face the biggest health, safety and economic threats and inequities in public protections.  Further delays to public safeguards would do nothing but increase this disproportionate impact, heightening the injustices and inequities in our society.

These bills that conservatives rushed through would prolong and further delay lifesaving rules from reaching full enforcement and having maximum impact. They aren’t about protecting the public good; they’re about helping industry line their own pockets at the expense of the American people. The bills were cleverly designed to use back door approaches to gut key safeguards. And, since the bill titles were designed to be bland and meaningless, here they are re-named to call them out for what they really are.

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.

Public Citizen’s own healthcare policy advocate Vijay Das co-wrote an Op-Ed for Univision with health insurance industry executive turned consumer advocate Wendell Potter about the need for Medicaid expansion for undocumented adults. Following the narrative of Isabel Sanches, a mother of three living in East Los Angeles, the piece demonstrates that while legislation that would expand the Affordable Care Act to allow undocumented adults to purchase plans on the marketplace does not help the nearly 1.4 million undocumented individuals that earn incomes to qualify for Medicaid in California alone. You can read more from the piece below.

Isabel Sanches and her husband moved from Michoacán, Mexico to East Los Angeles twenty years ago. They crossed the southern border in search for a better life, job, a good neighborhood to raise their three sons free of street violence and poverty. Like many 40 somethings, Isabel is starting to frequent the doctor more. Despite learning English and attending community college, she remains a heart attack, a slip, a fall away from financial ruin.

Isabel is among California’s 2.67 million undocumented residents, the largest share in the nation. She is banned from buying an Obamacare plan.

However unfair, that was written into the Affordable Care Act. Through My Health L.A., Isabel is lucky to live in a county that covers undocumented adults. But this program is overwhelmed with patients. It’s not meant to address her chronic health problems.

In California at least, things are improving.

You can read the rest of the article here.

Lawmakers should not set great store by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s April testimony from attorney John Beisner before the U.S. House of Representatives’ Committee on the Judiciary. In his testimony, Beisner advocated legislation to prevent what he labels “overbroad” or “no-injury” class actions. A new Public Citizen report, “The Fiction of the ‘No-Injury’ Class Action,” counters his argument case by case.

Because class-action lawsuits are often the only feasible way to bring small-dollar claims, class actions are powerful tools for combating corporate wrongdoing and are frequently a target for corporate interests seeking to limit consumers’ access to court remedies.

In one of its many theories about why consumers’ should not be able to hold bad actors accountable, the Chamber’s lobbyists are pushing the idea that consumers who were duped by misrepresentations into buying products or overpaying for products have suffered “no injury.”

Public Citizen’s report has the goods on the real letter of the law: Consumers conned into buying a product that is defective or mislabeled have suffered economic injury. For example, consumers duped into purchasing worthless cold remedies have suffered an obvious injury, but Beisner’s testimony for the Chamber called their lawsuit a “no-injury” class action.

Public Citizen’s report looks past the façade of Beisner’s arguments and reviews each of the class-action lawsuits referenced in his testimony to show that the cases involved real injuries suffered by consumers who bought defective products or made purchases because of misrepresentations.

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By Luana Wang

What do ghosts, political conspiracies, and taxes have in common?

If you answered, “the government secretly used tax dollars to fund paranormal research,” well … some might say you’re right, but that’s not what I was thinking of.

Those three things were also the focus of the latest congressional hearing on the IRS.

Congressional hearings on the IRS are like episodes of reality television: There are way too many of them that are just the same thing over and over again, most people are only watching for the carefully-orchestrated spectacle, and every once in a while you get a celebrity host aiming for a publicity boost.

In other words, they’re kind of a fantastic guilty pleasure. However, as in reality TV, any substantive issues were obscured by the drama and noise of people wanting to make a splash.

Over the course of this particular hearing, we heard:

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