What we know:

* Climate change is happening now and having real consequences on our lives, natural habitats and economies.

Seemingly every week new evidence emerges to reinforce the clear and present danger of climate change.

Just this week, the National Climatic Data Center reported that the Earth as a whole had its fourth-hottest month on record in July and the world’s oceans had the warmest month on record.

It is these types of persistently warmer temperatures that, according to the National Wildlife Federation (NWF), are contributing to disturbing new trends in America’s outdoor experience. A new report issued this week by NWF, which examines the impact of warmer temperatures, stronger storms, and changes in habitat on eight species, literally demonstrates that you can see the impact of climate change in your backyard:

Toxic algae outbreaks like the one that poisoned drinking water in Lake Erie are becoming worse and more frequent; Deer ticks, tiger mosquitoes and fire ants are becoming more widespread as a result of warmer temperatures and milder winters; and More carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is accelerating the growth and increasing the abundance of poison ivy.

  * We have existing and affordable solutions that will enable us to move away from our dependency on climate causing energy sources – we cannot afford the cost of inaction.

In April, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released the third and final report in a series from the United Nations’ climate science body detailing the evidence of man-made climate change, the risks it poses and the range of solutions available to slow it down.

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As a general rule, cost-benefit analyses are suspect.

Such analyses – which federal agencies perform to weigh the health and safety “benefits” of regulations (benefits like lower infant mortality rates and reliably safe and clean drinking water) against the “cost” of lost profits to Corporate America – result in a distorted model of a regulation’s impact. Invariably, the distortion creates a bias that exaggerates the regulation’s “cost,” largely because cost (measured in dollars and cents) is more easily quantified than benefits.

So one might think it’s a good thing that economists at the FDA have started factoring in pleasure – or, more specifically, its loss – when weighing the costs and benefits of new regulations. And one might think that a regulation that is expected to result in lower infant mortality rates, fewer cancer diagnoses, and longer, healthier lives for the American public to be a winner in terms of “pleasure,” right?

Unfortunately, one would be wrong.

Shockingly, the FDA’s cost-benefit analysis for a new tobacco regulation resulted in the rule’s projected health and safety benefits – fewer instances of heart and lung disease and fewer early deaths – being reduced by 70 percent due to the “loss in pleasure” smokers endure when trying to break their addiction.

As an ex-smoker myself (tobacco-free since 2008), I am well aware that the symptoms of nicotine withdrawal certainly constitute a “loss in pleasure.” But the notion that a smoker’s physical discomfort for a relatively brief period of time somehow trumps by 70 percent the health benefits of quitting (not to mention the increase in one’s disposable income and the gradual restoration of one’s senses of taste and smell) is utterly outrageous.

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by Burkely Hermann

Lobbying usually gets a bad rap, and sometimes for good reason: it can be part of corporate special interest money’s current corruption of the political system. But during the first-ever national Single-Payer Lobby Day events in May, real people lobbied for a good cause that benefited the general public, not just a wealthy few.

As Congress’ August recess approaches and activists prepare to make in-district visits with their lawmakers’ offices, now is a good opportunity to recall my experience lobbying for single-payer.

As an undergraduate student who is currently interning with Public Citizen, I participated in the second day of events, which kicked off with a training for participants. I saw many different faces in the room, which was filled with about 75 people, ranging from nurses, who are part of National Nurses United, physicians who are members of PNHP, union leaders fighting for healthcare justice and concerned citizens who want a universal and inclusive healthcare system.

Next was an informational panel featuring single-payer advocates, labor leaders and physicians railing against the unjust lack of coverage, administrative waste caused by billing multiple insurance companies and urging Congress to pass a Medicare-for-all single-payer healthcare system. Representatives Jim McDermott (D-Wash.) and John Conyers (D-Mich.) also spoke to participants about their single-payer bills, H.R. 676 and H.R. 1200. Rep. McDermott focused on building on the existing reforms put in place by the Affordable Care Act, while Conyers advocated directly for single-payer.

Participants in the lobby meetings spoke of single payer as a fair and comprehensive solution to the many shortcomings of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). I joined my fellow Marylander single-payer lobbyists, consisting of physicians, labor leaders, concerned citizens and a dietician. A member of PNHP, which advocates for a national single-payer healthcare system, led our lobbying team, but the group still made decisions collectively.

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The US Chamber of Commerce just published another blog post slamming an Internal Revenue Service (IRS) rulemaking that could clarify the rules for nonprofits and reduce the influence of undisclosed political spending (like the more than $35 million the Chamber spent in 2012). The Chamber points out that vague rules are bad rules, and that the IRS’s first draft of proposed rules was deeply flawed. We agree!

The IRS also agreed that the proposed rules needed revision — that’s why the IRS is revising the rules and planning to reissue a new draft in early 2015.

The Chamber piece points out that unclear rules can have a chilling effect on democratic participation, which is precisely why tax law experts formed the Bright Lines Project five years ago (full disclosure, now housed at Public Citizen). The current rules that define political activity for nonprofits are based on the vague notion that IRS agents will be able to evaluate all the “facts and circumstances” surrounding each case to determine if something is political or not. Better would be bright-line definition for political activity to ensure that nonprofits know what they can and can’t do when it comes to political activity.

We agree with the Chamber that the first draft of the rules didn’t quite get there, and would have prevented nonprofits from participating in our democracy in ways that should be encouraged (like hosting debates and holding get-out-the-vote drives). So we’re glad to see the IRS taking another crack at fixing this important problem with the existing system.

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by Burkely Hermann

Recently, Every Voice came out with a new poll on money in politics, showing how American voters spanning political spectrum in twelve battleground states reject the idea the huge amount of money spent in the political system is “business as usual.”

The poll shows intense dislike of money interfering with elections. The poll shows that while more than 62 percent of voters support plans to reform campaign finance to empower small donors, super PACs are seen negatively. Additionally, 65 percent of voters feel that spending lots of money on elections “is wrong and leads to our elected officials representing the views of the wealthy.”

The results of this poll should be no surprise. After all, Americans have expressed a desire to reform the campaign finance system in the past. For example, in a 2011 Washington-ABC News poll, 69 percent of American voters said that they would like super PACs to be illegal and in a June 2013 Gallup poll, 79 percent of Americans said they would support “limiting the amount of money that U.S. House and Senate candidates can raise and spend for their campaigns.”

A Rasmussen poll shows that a majority of Americans believe that “elections are rigged in favor of incumbents.”

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