Action: Public Citizen promotes consumer issues

by Judy Ferro

Note: The location of the United Vision for Idaho’s workshop on volunteer opportunities has been changed to accommodate larger numbers. The workshop will be at the Linen Center, 1402 W Grove Street, from 1:30 to 4 p.m. Saturday.

 

President-elect Donald Trump’s cabinet appointments are dominating the daily news so I was impressed to see the November-December newsletter from Public Citizen only mentions Trump’s choices in an editorial. Nine-four percent of the publication focuses on other political issues.

There really are other issues.

One article examined 37 ballot initiatives in 17 states which pitted citizen groups against corporations. Public Citizen’s findings indicate that corporations spent 33 times as much as citizen groups and won 62% of the issues. Among the 23 defeated issues were a California measure to lower prescription prices and Colorado measures to initiate a single-payer health insurance system and to require a set distance between oil and gas developments and “occupied structures.” South Dakota voters, on the other hand, ignored corporate ads and set an upper limit on lending companies’ interest rates.

A short item noted that, since the ouster of chair Roger Ailes, Rupert Murdock himself is managing FOX news, AND Murdock has stated that global warming is becoming “a fact of life.” His own corporate empire has claimed to be “carbon neutral” since 2011. Just what would climate change deniers do if FOX news belatedly accepts the scientific evidence that human activity is warming the earth?

Public Citizen’s newsletter is an example of the real “left-wing media.” This non-profit, non-partisan advocacy group has a track record extending over 45 years. Separate divisions coordinate citizen and legal actions dealing with Congress, energy, global trade, and health. Its Litigation Group regularly represents citizen interests before the Supreme and appellate courts.

Two articles dealing with issues where citizen input can be effective share this edition’s front page.

One is little-known in states, like Idaho, without a medical school. Last month a task force of the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education recommended that all medical residents be subject to 28-hour shifts. Since 2011 first-year medical residents have been limited to 16-hour work shifts while their second- and third-year counterparts routinely work 28-hour shifts.

A recent poll by Public Citizen this fall found that 80% of those polled would like to see all residents’ shifts limited to 16 hours; 84% felt patients have a right to be informed if the person in charge of their care has worked a longer shift. (The ACGME is taking public comment on that proposal at irc@acgme.org until Dec. 19.)

In a second front-page article, Public Citizen warns that supporters may press for a vote on the Trans-Pacific Partnership during the current lame-duck Congress. Although opposed by both presidential candidates and most Democrats, President Obama and many Congressional Republicans support the trade agreement.

Public Citizen opposes a provision that lets a panel of three corporate lawyers decide lawsuits that businesses bring against the U.S. government if they feel a regulation negatively affects their profits. These decisions are final and not subject to appeal. (Supporters say that similar provisions in current trade agreements are seldom used.)

Public Citizen also opposes other provisions that could protect pharmaceutical companies from competition from generic medicines, override U.S. safety standards on imported foods, and threaten regulations necessary to deal with the climate crisis.

If you are looking to support progressive action, consider Public Citizen. The organization supports a bi-monthly newsletter, a webpage (www.citizens.org), and twitter and Facebook accounts. Members can also sign up for activist alerts via e-mail.

Economy: What we know about TPP

by Judy Ferro

The one thing I’m sure of about the Trans-Pacific Partnership Treaty: the details are secret.

I’ve heard complaints about a “blackout” in major media, but just how many stories can one write when rumors and hearsay are your main sources?

The idea that members of Congress have little more information than leaks that surfaced last year is disturbing. Worse, the treaty is being written by 500 or 600 lobbyists from major corporations without input from any government.

At least that’s what I heard. Another source, however, assures that nearly 2% of the lobbyists represent consumers, workers, and environmentalists.

Steve Dunham writes, “Only five chapters of the 29 deal with trade. The rest are political, dealing with climate change, sustainable development, and military and international courts.”

Who’s Steve Dunham? All I know is that he wrote a letter to the Spokesman Review. Still, no one would just make up a detail like five out of 29, would they?

That’s the kind of thing I’d like to check on-line, but, apparently, none of those hundreds of lobbyists understands how to post on the Internet.

Multiple reputable sources do verify some things about the treaty.

  • TPP includes 11 Pacific-rim countries including Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam, but not China.
  • President Obama has asked for “fast-track” authority which would allow Congress only to accept or reject the treaty without amending. Most Republicans are expected to support “fast-track,” but not all, so Obama must work to get 15-30 Democratic votes for it to pass.
  • One “fast track” bill being considered requires that TPP’s contents be revealed at least 60 days before the President signs it.
  • TPP would allow foreign corporations to sue the U.S. government for reimbursement if any U.S. law threatens their expected future profits.

Yes, TPP turns politics of the past six years on its head with Congressional Republicans supporting the President. And, in a move repugnant to most Idaho legislators, the treaty would subject U.S. laws to review by an international tribunal.

Recently Senator Bernie Sanders pointed out that countries are being sued under existing trade agreements for compensation for laws and regulations that impact their ability to profit from investments. He notes that a French firm is suing Egypt for raising its minimum wage. Uruguay and Australia are both being sued for imposing requirements on packaging of tobacco products. And Eli Lilly is suing Canada for “allowing its courts to invalidate patents for two of its drugs.”

Liberal commentator Amy Goodman points out the implications. “A law prohibiting the sale of goods made in sweatshops in Vietnam could be ruled illegal, for example, as a barrier to trade. Or certification requirements that lumber not be harvested from old-growth forests in Malaysia could be overturned.”

As important as sovereignty is, however, most Americans are more apt to feel the effects on our economy.

According to columnist Jonathan Tasini, government data claims that NAFTA is responsible for the loss of 845,000 out of the five million jobs manufacturing jobs lost since it passed. In NAFTA’s first 20 years, “the U.S. manufactured goods trade balance with Canada and Mexico changed…from a $5 billion surplus in 1993 to a $64.9 billion deficit in 2013.” After just two years of the Korea trade agreement (considered the template for TPP) U.S. exports have dropped, resulting in a loss of 50,000 jobs. Small companies saw their exports fall by 14%; large ones, by 3%.

The irony is that, if this treaty does pass, millions will forget the many Democrats who fought it and remember only that a Democratic president signed it.