Archive for the ‘Social Justice’ Category

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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Public Domain image via Wikimedia Commons

Public Domain image via Wikimedia Commons

Queen Victoria commissioned a celebratory painting of Manchester, citadel of the Industrial Revolution, which featured factories billowing sunlit pillows of smoke. Today we might forgive this romantic view of pollution as rooted in the ignorance that the smoke was a regrettable toxic byproduct that poisoned countless people in England.

Yet today, such misplaced celebration of industrial ills persists in the promiscuously large paychecks awarded to energy company executives. That’s according to a report just released by the Institute for Policy Studies.

“Money to Burn,” authored by Sarah Anderson, a veteran CEO compensation observer, critic and reform activist, surveys and analyzes executive pay at the leading fossil fuel companies. She finds that executive pay at the 30 largest firms average $14.7 million, about 10 percent more than average pay for CEOs at the S&P 500. But Anderson exposes a dystopian dynamic. “Our contemporary executive pay incentives . . . directly encouraged the reckless behavior of Wall Street executives that led to the 2008 financial crisis,” she writes. “These same misplaced incentives are today encouraging the recklessness of fossil fuel executives — and deepening our global climate crisis.”

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by Payal Mehta

Yesterday marked the 50th Anniversary of Medicare, the nation’s first national health insurance program. As soon as President Johnson signed it in 1965, 20 million Americans were immediately covered, and today that has grown to over 54 million.

To celebrate, events were held in Washington, D.C., and around the nation. In Washington, the day started with a rally in the Senate Park hosted by National Nurses United (NNU). The rally featured speakers like Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Executive Director of NNU RoseAnn DeMoro, and Representative Donna Edwards (D-Md.). Click here to watch a video of the rally.

Senator Sanders spoke passionately about expanding Medicare to cover everyone as a single-payer national health care program. Not only did he and the other speakers want to expand Medicare, but to improve it too by protecting it from further privatization threats.

Later in the afternoon a panel hosted by Representative John Conyers (D-Mich.) that Public Citizen helped organize honed in on the expansion and improvement of Medicare as well. The panel featured a riveting conversation between members of Congress and advocates for universal health care. To view the panel celebration, click this link. Public Citizen’s own President Robert Weissman eloquently enlightened us about the harsh reality that we are in and what we need to do advance single-payer Medicare for All in the United States.

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By Nicole Arbabzadeh

In 2014, I finally was able to save enough money to landscape my backyard. As a first-time homeowner, what should have been an enjoyable experience that resulted in the increase of my home’s value quickly turned into an ongoing nightmare wrought with loss and a backhand from the legal system.

I had hired a licensed contractor who had earned my trust with his 28 years in business and persuasive promises and reassurances. After agreeing to the pricing and layout of the yard, I was surprised with a contract that contained a forced (or pre-dispute binding mandatory) arbitration clause. He read only parts of the contract and none of the arbitration agreement. When I had inquired about the contents of the agreement, he stated that it was one, mutually beneficial, two, the most economical option, and lastly, did not involve lawyers.

At the time, I was unaware that none of these claims were true. I later discovered through research and inquiry that forced arbitration, in actuality, strongly favors corporations, is oftentimes much more costly than court and the agreements usually contain an attorney’s fees provision, as did mine.

It is hard to overstate the contractor’s recklessness. The contractor’s failure to measure the yard resulted in a significant increase in the prices of each item contracted for by several thousands of dollars. Ultimately, this mistake resulted in him being unable to provide some of the items, and others only at significant additional cost. He charged for a shipment that was never delivered and for an order that was never made. He also denied ever hiring his subcontractor. Having already been charged an excessive downpayment — for services not rendered — I eventually stopped the work. However, by that time, I had already handed over a large sum of money.

To make matters worse, the contractor did not obtain permits and damaged my property with the improper installation of an electrical conduit that violates local fire safety law. I was left with property damages and a few unfinished, improperly installed items — but mostly with a large, expansive field of dirt in my still desolate backyard.

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By Andrew Gibson

More than a quarter of all Americans are considered financially underserved because they lack access to traditional financial institutions. This is often a result of one’s geographic location or low income. In order to access their finances and make bill payments, these underserved Americans are frequently forced to rely upon alternative financial services like money transfers, check cashing services and payday loans. These businesses frequently prey on the financially underserved by including large fees, high interest rates and forced arbitration clauses with their products.

Companies should not have free rein to exploit low-income Americans by trapping them into a vicious cycle of debt. Accordingly, Public Citizen has signed on to the Campaign for Postal Banking with others like the American Postal Workers Union and Americans for Financial Reform to advocate for expanding the non-banking financial services offered by the U.S. Postal Service.

According to a 2014 report from the U.S. Postal Service Office of Inspector General (OIG), an independent oversight agency within the USPS, more than 68 million adults in the United States rely on services like payday loans, check cashing, and prepaid debit cards to access their earnings and pay bills.

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