Page 3 - Public Citizen News November-December 2013

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November/December 2013
Public Citizen News
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Editor, Public Citizen News, 1600 20th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20009.
president’s view
Robert weissman
A Few Days, a Series of Wins
Public Citizen’s Health Letter Goes Online
We began publishing our monthly Health Letter in 1985. Through the
years, it has brought valuable health information to thousands of people
across the country and provided insights that could not be found else-
Recently, after evaluating the increasing costs of printing and postage
for a printed publication, we decided to convert our Health Letter to a
free, online-only publication — available to all members and also the
general public. The online publication, including back issues of the news-
letter, is available at Our last printed issue
was the October 2013 Health Letter.
We realize this new arrangement may not be suitable for everyone. Yet
in the long run, the switch will help us to better spread the word about
the health policy issues that affect our readers every day. It also will help
us to better perform our ongoing public service work by applying even
more of our members’ donation dollars to active advocacy rather than
overhead expenses.
Read this column and feel
proud of everything we’re able to
do together as Public Citizen.
It will remind you that, to-
gether, we can make change.
Organizing and mobilizing the
public around our shared val-
ues, we can overcome powerful
corporate lobbies. Investigating
corporate wrongdoing, we can
shine a light on it.
Deftly deploying our
legal and policy ex-
pertise, we can solve
problems and save
Over just a few days
in November, Public
Citizen had a series
of extraordinary wins
and breakthroughs.
Opposition to
Fast Track
On Nov. 13, 151
Democratic members
of the U.S. House of
Representatives is-
sued a letter announc-
ing their opposition
to Fast Track — an extremely
anti-democratic Nixon-era
scheme that transfers Congress’
constitutional trade authority to
the president (see the story on
page 1).
The letter — which followed
similar letters from 27 House Re-
publicans — was signed by three-
fourths of House Democrats,
including a broad collection of
senior leadership. Since it goes
against what President Barack
Obama wants, it wasn’t exactly
easy for them politically.
Public Citizen originated the
strategy that led to this outpour-
ing of opposition to Fast Track,
despite a common view that
such an approach could not suc-
ceed. And, with allies, we made
it happen by organizing count-
less lobby visits and district-by-
district grassroots campaigns.
WikiLeaks TPP release
Earlier on the same day, we
partnered with WikiLeaks on
the release and analysis of the
secret draft intellectual prop-
erty chapter of the Trans-Pacific
Partnership. The text demon-
strates that the U.S. is working
hard on behalf of Big Pharma and
Hollywood studios in the nego-
tiations, seeking to deepen mo-
nopoly protections afforded by
patent and copyright law, includ-
ing by denying poor countries
the right to use patent
flexibilities to address
pressing public health
problems such as
Our Global Access
to Medicines team la-
bored round the clock
with just a few days’
notice to prepare for
this release. They put
out materials that
contextualize and
make everything easy
to understand, as well
as really excellent,
more detailed analy-
sis (available at: www.
The anomalous
Keystone Pipeline
A day earlier, on Nov. 12,
our Texas office issued a report
many months in the making
about a section of the notori-
ous Keystone XL pipeline being
built in Oklahoma and Texas.
We showed that a 250-mile sec-
tion of the Keystone pipeline is
beset with apparent engineering
code violations and around 125
excavations uncovering poten-
tial “anomalies” — that’s one of
the words used by TransCanada,
the dirty oil company that is
building the pipeline, to mark
assorted dents, welds and sags
on the excavated line.
The report was literally the
result of on-the-ground work
— walking along the pipeline,
documenting and photograph-
ing problems — and a series of
flights over the 250-mile stretch
in Texas.
The report shows that Trans-
Canada cannot be trusted to
safely build and operate the
pipeline, and that there is cause
to be gravely concerned about
serious spills and environmental
degradation if the company is
allowed to proceed.
But the stakes are far higher
than even that. With the out-
come of Obama’s decision about
whether to permit construction
of the pipeline’s northern seg-
ment, from Canada to Nebraska,
so uncertain, it’s entirely pos-
sible that our latest report could
help tip the balance.
Protecting against
dangerous drugs
The previous Friday, on Nov.
8, we won a major step forward
for public health. The Food
and Drug Administration (FDA)
granted a petition we had filed in
2011, and has started a rulemak-
ing to fix a serious public health
problem and cure a very bad U.S.
Supreme Court decision.
In 2010, the Supreme Court
heard a case in which a patient
who developed a severe neu-
rological disorder after taking a
generic drug sued the manufac-
turer for failing to warn her of
that danger. Public Citizen filed
an amicus brief in that case on
behalf of the patient.
The court, unfortunately, con-
cluded that FDA rules — which
require generic labeling to mimic
that of brand-name medications
— left the generic company no
choice about its labeling. But
generics account for some
84 percent of all prescriptions.
And they’re vital to keeping
health care affordable for the
majority of Americans. With
the Supreme Court granting
them immunity, though, generic
drugmakers have no incentive
to investigate and report safety
problems related to the drugs
they sell.
Well, even though a Supreme
Court ruling is often the end of
the story, we didn’t quit. In 2011,
we petitioned the FDA to change
its rules and allow generic manu-
facturers to alter drug labeling.
Now the FDA has granted our
petition and proposed a rule that
would enable generic manufac-
turers to change product label-
ing, finally closing the safety
Of course, the generic drug
industry will fight against this
commonsense and potentially
life-saving rule. But we’re close
to getting this problem fixed.
Rather extraordinary
All of this work garnered us
very substantial media atten-
tion — in The New York Times,
The Washington Post, on the
“Today” show, on “CBS Evening
News” and much more. For ob-
vious reasons, however, none of
the stories noted this astounding
range of newsworthy achieve-
ments was connected to a single
Most groups would be thrilled
if they did one of these things in
a year. We did them all in four
And we had tons of other
exciting things going on during
those same four days. Our busi-
ness as usual, if you stop and
think about it, is pretty extraor-
We work on an uncommonly
broad set of issues, but when
you look at these successes,
they are connected by shared
strategies and approaches.
Public Citizen makes great
things happen because we aim
high and refuse to accept the
conventional wisdom of what’s
achievable. And we deploy an
unparalleled diversity of advo-
cacy tools — research, litigation,
grassroots organizing, lobbying,
communications in old and new
media, and more — and operate
in all branches of government to
achieve what we do.
Thank you for everything you
do to strengthen this remarkable