Archive for the ‘This Week’ Category

Photo credit: Andre Kelpe, Twitter - @fs111

In light of the extensive protests of the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) which took place Saturday, June 9 all across Europe, Australia, and the U.S., concerns about similarities between ACTA and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) have been surfacing. ACTA was signed by the U.S., Australia, Japan, Canada, Morocco, New Zealand, Singapore and South Korea in October 2011, quickly followed by the European Union (EU) and 22 of its member states in January 2012. Nevertheless, it faced almost immediate push-back from citizens of the EU, most notably in Poland, where crowds came out to protest ACTA in large numbers and members of Parliament wore “Anonymous” masks into the legislative chambers. The public’s outcry showed results. Four committees of the European Parliament, which must ratify ACTA for it to be adopted as EU law, recently opposed the agreement. Resistance to ACTA springs largely from copyright provisions which legal experts and Internet freedom advocates fear would lead to censorship and breaches of privacy rights. A similar treaty, the TPP Agreement, is currently being negotiated in secret by nine Asia-Pacific countries: Brunei, Chile, New Zealand, Singapore, Australia, Malaysia, Peru, the U.S., and Vietnam.

The parallels between the TPPA and ACTA are uncanny. They contain similarly harsh provisions pertaining to intellectual property rights as well as an appalling lack of transparency in the negotiations of the agreements. Many tracking the TPP say its opacity makes the ACTA process look like a pinnacle of open government in comparison. One common theme running through the accords is the United States’ insistence on stringent IP rules, largely at the behest of the entertainment, content, and pharmaceutical industries. Working through lobbying groups like the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), these corporations work to secure draconian IP rules by influencing trade agreements such as the TPP. Other lobbying groups influencing the negotiations are PhRMA and BIO, representing the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries respectively. The Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) is the governmental body responsible for representing the U.S.’s interests in trade discussions. But USTR has been acting as a mouthpiece for these industries throughout the course of the TPP negotiations, advancing the interests of the 1% and ignoring the pleas of the 99%.

The European Parliament scheduled a vote on ACTA for July 3. With the upcoming 13th round of negotiations on the TPPA between member-countries to be held on July 2 – 10 in San Diego, California, there is urgent need to act to protect internet freedom and privacy and access to affordable medicines globally. While ACTA represents a blatant infringement of privacy rights and excessive IP provisions, USTR’s proposals to the TPP go even further. For example, the US-proposed IP chapter aims to lengthen, strengthen, and broaden IP monopolies, and in some areas is more heavy-handed than ACTA. The parallels between these two agreements have not gone unnoticed, and activists are using momentum against ACTA to fight TPP. The grassroots activist group “Internet Freedom Movement” recently began this page opposing the TPP, the website “killacta.org” encourages visitors to write to their legislators to oppose both agreements, and the advocacy group Citizens Trade Campaign has a similar project.

Time is running out to oppose the stringent IP rules and Internet privacy infringement embedded in ACTA. But even if ACTA is vetoed in Europe, the TPP still lurks out there, threatening our due process rights, privacy, and rights on the internet. And while the future of TPP is unclear at this point, one thing is certain: “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over…”

This week, we’ve got our eyes on Congress, Wall Street, the “#1 Corporate Power Tool,” school districts and more!"Public Citizen Lady Liberty"

For better or worse, Washington D.C. is a city of awash with acronyms. And this week, there are a few capital letters that the medical device industry would rather you not pay any attention to: MDUFA. Literally, MDUFA stands for Medical Device User Fee and Modernization Act, but in actuality these letters simply mean danger for consumers.  A lot of the coverage of MDUFA has focused on the prescription drug aspect. However, the story is about more than drugs. Medical device safety is at a crossroads, and Congress could really mess things up. Here is where MDUFA stands now.  We recently wrote a report, which documented the average number of high-risk recalls of medical devices in 2011 was more than double than in recent years. We also documented the keen interest the medical device industry seemed to have in weakening already lax regulations. This week Congress will vote on MDUFA and we urge them to put patient safety ahead of corporate profit.

Today, amid the news coverage of JPMorgan Chase’s $2 billion loss in derivatives bets, Public Citizen published a report, many weeks in the making, that expounds on the historical lessons of derivatives deregulation and the urgency to implement the rules called for in the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010. Read a copy of the press release which links to the report entitled: “Forgotten Lessons of Deregulation: Rolling Back Dodd-Frank’s Derivatives Rules Would Repeat a Mistake that Led to the Financial Crisis.” The report explains how America’s top financial policymakers deregulated the financial derivatives market in the 1990s and provides a detailed account of how deregulation led to the ensuing housing bubble, financial crisis and Great Recession.

The report comes as members of Congress have introduced nine bills that would weaken the derivatives provisions of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010.

All seven bills moving in the U.S. House of Representatives have been approved by committees, and three have passed the full House. Two bills that would exempt overseas transactions from Dodd-Frank’s derivatives provisions may be voted on as soon as Thursday in the House Agriculture Committee. Other bills would exempt trades by supposedly “small” players, reduce transparency requirements and strike down a provision to ban derivatives trading by federally insured banks. At least three other bills would impose impediments for agencies to promulgate rules concerning financial services in general.

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We are, literally, throughout the world this week (though we plan to call it a wrap with some laughs in Los Angeles this weekend). “Laughs?” you say? We know. We are policy nerds. How could we possibly be funny?! The answer is: We can’t. Luckily though, we have some ALL-STAR comedians to help us out. But more on that later!

Right now, let’s refocus on Melinda St. Louis of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch. Melinda is currently participating in the 13th Quadrennial Conference of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development in Doha, Qatar. There, St. Louis will be featured on a panel ce"Public Citizen Lady Liberty"ntered on state’s rights. Trade agreements should not undermine trading countries own laws. For example, the U.S. should have the right to pass laws banning clove cigarettes that pose significant health threats and are disproportionately targeting American youth, undermining years of work on curbing teen smoking.

In addition to this, Public Citizen is also sponsoring two symposia at Doha. The title of the first, “Safeguarding development and the public interest from investment provisions in trade and investment agreements,” had this Lady Liberty rushing to find a translation. Turns out, this symposium is focused on investor-state clauses, (shorter but still unclear, right?). Take two: Investor-state clauses in trade deals are troubling aspects of trade pacts that essentially give corporations special rights and their own private judicial system. These “investment provisions” are used by companies to sue governments and challenge all sorts of regulations from environmental, to health and even financial regulations  … and that brings us to symposium No. two: “Safeguarding stability: Ensuring coherence between financial re-regulation and global trade rules.” In essence, you know all the Wall Street reform legislation that was enacted by Congress? Well, it appears that U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) may not be the only barrier we may run into in getting these reforms enacted and working so that we can protect ourselves from the next economic crash. Gretchen Morgenson of the The New York Times writes of the sad reality that Public Citizen’s Lori Wallach has been ringing an alarm about for some time: “According to the W.T.O., 125 of its 153 member countries have made varying degrees of commitments to the financial services agreement. Now, these pledges could easily be used to undermine new rules intended to make financial systems safer.” For more on this issue please see this portal.

Today, Public Citizen sent a letter to lawmakers on Capitol Hill, urging lawmakers to pass the “Democracy Is Strengthened by Casting Light on Spending in Elections” or DISCLOSE Act. The letter was signed by several dozen groups, ranging from campaign finance reform advocates, and transparency organizations to business ethics and investor groups. The need for disclosure of campaign expenditures is more important than ever following the 2010 U.S. Supreme Court Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (FEC) ruling that opened the floodgates to unlimited corporate spending to influence elections. When it comes to campaign finance law, the cardinal rule is that citizens are entitled to know the names of donors who are financing campaigns and trying to influence their votes, and the amounts they give. We are pushing for disclosure both on a legislative level and through the unique work of the Corporate Reform Coalition, which has put a spotlight on the role the Securities and Exchange Commission, as the protectors of shareholder interests, ought to be playing in forcing corporations to disclose their political spending.

Of course, the other half of this story is stopping this outrageous spending! With major victories last week both on Capitol Hill and in the state of Vermont, Public Citizen’s Democracy Is For People campaign is plowing forward on the fight for a constitutional amendment to overturn the Citizens United ruling and get our elections and democracy taken off the auction block. In this week’s California Progress Report, Jonah Minkoff-Zern, senior organizer with our Democracy Is For People campaign writes, “Vermont Was Third. Will California Be Next?” Thanks to Jonah’s work alongside Public Citizen activists and allies the answer is likely, yes! Stay tuned to CitizenVox for more in the coming weeks on California.

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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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This week starts off with a bang. Once again, a Public Citizen expert will be participating in a discussion with notorious ex-superlobbyist Jack Abramoff. This time, we’ll be at the National Press Club. Lisa Gilbert, deputy director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division, will be on a panel with Abramoff and United Republic President Nick Penniman. Our communications director, Angela Bradbery, will be live tweeting from the event, which starts at 7 p.m. You can follow her tweets at @citizenangela.

This week also may prove to be pivotal in moving the STOCK Act forward. Right now, two versions of legislation to ban insider trading by members of Congress and staffers are sitting in Congress. As Public Citizen’s government affairs lobbyist Craig Holman explains, the ball is in Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s court. Sen. Reid just launched a new Facebook page this weekend and we are urging folks to leave him a message to stand up for Main Street, not Wall Street, and make sure a strong version of the STOCK Act passes!

Also today, we will be blogging about something that is not happening – that is the BP trial that was supposed to be starting today in New Orleans. BP has agreed to settle. But that’s not the end of the matter; the settlement related to private claims for losses from people in the Gulf Coast states. BP still has to deal with the government. We’ll weigh in on what we think the government should do. Stay tuned here and to Energy Vox for more on that.

And we’ll be getting the word out this week about our great new animated video highlighting our petition to break up Bank of America. Want to see Timothy Geithner dance? Here’s your chance.

Tomorrow in Vermont, more than 50 towns will vote on a resolution calling for a constitutional amendment to say money is not speech and corporations are not people. The town meeting effort was coordinated by Public Citizen with a coalition of partners and State Sen. Ginny Lyons. Kudos to all involved for making such a strong statement about the need to overturn Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the U.S. Supreme Court decision that said corporations can spend unlimited sums to influence elections.

No kudos to all the big spenders making this Super Tuesday worthy of the hashtag, #SuperPACTuesday. Follow @RuleByUs for more on our campaign to put a light on Super PAC spending!

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