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 centered 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.
On Tuesday or Wednesday, Public Citizen regulations expert Amit Narang will be blogging about the administration’s harmful new rollback of workplace safety and food safety protections at poultry processing plants. Under the guise of modernizing the poultry inspection system, there is a proposed rule that would take food inspectors off the beat and subject poultry processors to even more dangerous working conditions.
In other disappointing regulatory news, this week, the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions will be considering industry-backed proposals to speed up the approval of new medical devices and reduce government oversight of devices. This comes as lawmakers consider the Medical Device User Fee Act, which is up for renewal this year. Public Citizen finds it shocking that Senate committee members are even considering weakening the device approval process, especially given the fact that the number of medical device recalls has doubled in the past five years. The good news: Public Citizen is fighting back, calling on lawmakers not only to deny the industry requests but to strengthen oversight of the industry and make devices safer. Check out our report and other background information to catch up on this issue. Stay tuned for more information later this week.
Remember AT&T v. Concepcion? That’s the U.S. Supreme Court case we argued in 2010. This week marks the anniversary of the court’s anti-consumer decision, which said that companies may use forced arbitration clauses in their contracts with consumers and employees to ban class actions. This week, we’ll be taking a look at the fallout from that decision.
On Wednesday, Allison Zieve, director of the Public Citizen Litigation Group, will be speaking on a panel at the Food and Drug Law Institute about notable food and drug cases of 2011 and 2012.
On Thursday, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee may mark up H.R. 4078, the Regulatory FREEZE for Jobs Act, which would arbitrarily halt the regulatory process until unemployment drops to 6 percent. It’s another attempt by Big Business to throw a wrench in the works of every agency that protects the public – think the Food and Drug Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau – yes, everything. The agencies that help ensure our water and food are safe to consume, toys are safe for kids, the financial system is secure and the air is clean. See the congressional testimony of Public Citizen President Robert Weissman earlier this year on this bill and look for Public Citizen and the coalition we are helping to spearhead, the Coalition for Sensible Safeguards, to call on lawmakers to kill this bill.
Also on Thursday, Public Citizen’s Energy Program will be conducting a webinar to explain the cost of gasoline from oil well to pump, expose how Wall Street artificially drives up gas prices, identify the ways American consumers can fight back against Big Oil and financial speculators, and answer your questions about the pressing issues about our dependency on oil. Sign up for our energy email alerts for more on this!
Finally, on Sunday comedians Ray Romano (as seen on Everybody Loves Raymond), Marc Maron (as heard on WTF with Marc Maron), Dana Gould (as enjoyed on The Simpsons), Erik Rivera (as seen on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon), Morgan Murphy (as seen on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon), Rick Overton (as seen on The Office and The Informant) and Wendy Liebman (as seen on The Late Show with David Letterman) come together for STAND UP FOR MAIN STREET, a comedy event to benefit Public Citizen in Los Angeles. Get your tickets now!
And of course, all of this is just a snapshot. Hard work continues on many ongoing campaigns and Public Citizen stays prepared to act in your interests in a moments notice!
Rachel Lewis is @Public_Citizen‘s new media outreach coordinator. She likes her coffee strong and her tweets short.