Archive for the ‘Social Justice’ Category

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In the aftermath of the tragic deaths associated with General Motors’ faulty ignition switches, two questions present themselves:

1. How can we save lives by stopping corporations from ever again suppressing life-saving information about dangerous products?

2. How can we hold corporate bosses accountable for suppressing life-saving information?

Last week, activists tuned in to an online conversation about reforms Public Citizen is advocating that will answer these questions and how to support those reforms by calling your members of Congress.

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

To make sure you’re invited to the next live online discussion, sign up today.

Rick Claypool is the online director for Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division. Follow him on Twitter at @RickClaypool.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce doesn’t want American government to be run by the American people. Year after year, the Chamber is by far the biggest lobbyist in Washington, and this year looks to be no different. The first quarter’s lobbying disclosure reports just came in, and the Chamber together with its Institute for Legal Reform (ILR) spent $25.2 million between the months of January, February and March.

That’s $8.4 million on lobbying per month.

$280,000 per day.

$11,666 per hour (if lobbying 24 hours a day).

The Chamber has spent over $1 billion on lobbying since 1998 – more than the next three biggest lobbyists combined over that time.

Why does this matter? Big companies do a lot of lobbying on their own, but the Chamber allows them to do more lobbying anonymously. They can get all of the political capital without risking any of the consumer backlash that would come with attaching their names to their political lobbying activities.

A glance at the Chamber’s first quarter lobbying report shows it lobbies on such things as genetically modified organisms, the Clean Water Act, Dodd-Frank, the Volcker Rule, the Paycheck Fairness Act, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the “Coal Jobs Protection Act of 2013,” fracking and the Affordable Care Act.

The Chamber isn’t required to disclose its contributors (so it doesn’t), but we analyzed the size of its received contributions and found that just 64 donations made up more than half of the money it raised in 2012.

Big donors lobbying together on a massive scale, behind a veil of secrecy, telling the government what to do about our food, our water, our financial system, our employment laws, huge trade agreements, the fate of our climate, our access to health care and so much more.

As The New York Times wrote, “The next time a lawmaker or a corporate executive tries to persuade you that Washington is an even playing field, responsive to the concerns of all constituents, feel free to point them to the quarterly lobbying report of the United States Chamber of Commerce.”

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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.

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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By Sabrina Morello

“If equity and social solidarity in access to health care and financing health care were fundamental goals of a health care system, the single-payer system provides an ideal platform for achieving these goals” said Tsung-Mei Chen, MA Health Policy Research Analyst at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public Health at Princeton University. Last week, Chen and other experts, including those from Canada, Denmark and Taiwan, provided testimony outlining the benefits of single-payer health care systems in their respective countries to members of the U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee’s Subcommittee on Primary Health and Aging.

Subcommittee chair U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) began the hearing by laying out an array of issues with our current fragmented health care system, with an emphasis on the fact that we are the only major industrialized nation that does not guarantee health care as a fundamental right. Senator Sanders cited 2012 data showing 15 percent of our population (more than 48 million Americans) are left uninsured and even more have high deductibles and co-pays or caps on coverage that end up driving citizens into bankruptcy.

This statistic stands out sharply from countries like Taiwan, which established a single-payer system in 1995, and currently has more than 99.6 percent of its population covered by national health care, according to Dr. Ching-Chuan Yeh, former Minister of Health for Taiwan, Professor at the School of Public Health, College of Medicine at Tzu-chi University. Dr. Yeh’s testimony was a poignant example of a far more equitable system than exists in the U.S.: “[a]ccess to health care is an inalienable right in [Taiwan’s] constitution. Residents living in remote mountainous areas and offshore islands, and the poor, the disabled, the aged get pretty much the same access and health care as anyone else.”

In addition to being inequitable, the care we do provide in America seems to lag behind single-payer nations in regards to health outcomes. Victor Rodwin, PhD, MPH, Professor of Health Policy and Management at the Robert F. Wagner School of Public Service at NYU, notes that among 19 Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development nations, France, a single-payer nation, has the lowest rate of avoidable mortality (an important indicator of quality of care) while the U.S. has the highest rate. Our nation could avoid about 101,000 deaths if we were able to decrease our avoidable mortality levels to those seen in France.

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