10 Reasons the TPP Is Not a ‘Progressive’ Trade Agreement

By Ralph Nader

“We have an opportunity to set the most progressive trade agreement in our nation’s history,” it states on BarackObama.com, the website of the president’s “Organizing for Action” campaign.

One must seriously question what President Obama and his corporate allies believe to be the definition of “progressive” when it comes to this grandiose statement. History shows the very opposite of progress when it comes to these democratic sovereignty-shredding and job-exporting corporate-driven trade treaties — unless progress is referring to fulfilling the deepest wishes of runaway global corporations.

The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the World Trade Organization (WTO) set our country’s progress back through large job-draining trade deficits, downward pressure on wages, extending Big Pharma’s patent monopolies to raise consumers’ medicine prices, floods of unsafe imported food, and undermining or freezing consumer and environmental rules.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is formally described as a trade and foreign investment agreement between 12 nations — Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States and Vietnam. The White House is now pressuring Congress to Fast Track through the TPP. Fast Track authority, a Congressional procedure to limit time for debate and prohibit amendments to proposed legislation, has already passed in the Senate, although only after an unexpectedly rough ride.

Here are 10 reasons why the TPP is explicitly not a “progressive” trade agreement:

1. Over 2000 progressive groups recently sent a letter to members of Congress opposing fast track. “Fast Track is an abrogation of not only Congress’ constitutional authority, but of its responsibility to the American people. We oppose this bill, and urge you to do so as well,” the letter reads. See it in full here. On the other hand, supporters of the TPP and its autocratic, secret transnational governance, include Wall Street, Big Pharma, Big Ag, oil/gas and mining firms, and the Chamber of Commerce–in short the plutocracy does not tolerate voices and participation by the people adversely affected.

2. Only six out of the 30 total chapters in the TPP have anything to do with trade. So what makes up the bulk of this agreement, which was shaped by 500 U.S. corporate advisors? Jim Hightower writes: “The other two dozen chapters amount to a devilish ‘partnership’ for corporate protectionism. They create sweeping new ‘rights’ and escape hatches to protect multinational corporations from accountability to our governments… and to us.”

3. After six years of secret negotiations, Fast Track legislation would allow President Obama to sign and enter into the TPP before Congress approves its terms. It then requires a vote 90 days after submission of this Fast Track legislation on the TPP itself and changes in existing U.S. laws to comply with its terms. No amendments would be allowed and debate would be limited to a total of only 20 hours in each chamber of Congress. By limiting debate and preventing any amendments to the agreement, Fast Track prevents challenges to any issues about how America conducts business with the countries included in the TPP. Some of the countries in the TPP — Brunei, Malaysia, Mexico and Vietnam, for example — have terrible human and labor rights records. Those conditions attract big companies looking for serf labor and their accommodating governments.

4. Millions of U.S. manufacturing jobs have been lost due to NAFTA and WTO being railroaded through Congress. The TPP would only expand these offshoring incentives. These types of deals ultimately increase the income inequality gap by displacing well-paid middle-class workers, negating any benefit to lower prices of goods. According to a report for the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), the TPP would result in wage cuts for all but the wealthiest Americans.

5. The American people have yet to see the full text of the TPP — it has been negotiated in secret and shown to members of Congress under demeaningly strict secrecy. We only know about some of its terms because of leaks. But Wall Street and industry operatives, who seek to benefit enormously from the TPP, do have access to the text. Why so selectively secretive? Supporters of the deal outright told Senator Elizabeth Warren, “[trade talks] have to be secret, because if the American people knew what was actually in them, they would be opposed.”

6. The TPP allows corporations to directly sue our country if federal, state or local laws, government actions or court rulings are claimed to violate new rights and privileges the TPP would grant to foreign firms. Firms from TPP nations operating here could attack U.S. regulations over cancer-causing chemicals or environmental concerns before tribunals comprised of corporate lawyers that rotate by day and night between acting as “judges” and representing corporations attacking governments. These decisions then cannot be challenged in U.S. courts — and U.S. taxpayers will get stuck with the bill. So much for our precious sovereignty!

7. The proponents of the TPP claim that it will raise labor and environmental standards. However, the labor and environmental standards included in the TPP are equivalent (or less stringent) to modest ones agreed upon by House Democrats and President Bush in May 2007 in trade agreements with Peru, Panama and Colombia. These provisions have not been effective — Peru has since undermined these laws, and the Obama Administration has done nothing to enforce them. Nothing in the TPP suggests the unenforceable rhetoric– cited by President Obama — will be any different now.

8. TPP will further weaken America’s regulatory watchdogs — we can’t use our own government to over-rule TPP tribunal decisions that over-rule our health, safety and economic protections as non-tariff trade barriers. Senator Elizabeth Warren told POLITICO: “This deal would give protections to international corporations that are not available to United States environmental and labor groups. Multinational corporations are increasingly realizing this is an opportunity to gut U.S. regulations they don’t like.” Keeping the United States from being first in health and safety protections is un-American.

9. Prescription drug costs will increase. The TPP includes terms that would limit access to generic drugs and curtail government power to limit the price of drugs. See Public Citizen’s report “The Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP) threatens access to affordable medicines.”

10. The TPP could potentially undermine reforms of Wall Street and threaten U.S. financial stability by providing the institutions that caused the 2008-2009 financial crisis a path to circumvent U.S. regulations, such as limiting capital controls and prohibiting any taxes on Wall Street speculation. See the letter sent by Senators Warren, Markey and Baldwin last year to U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman.

For further comprehensive analysis of the TPP, see Global Trade Watch.

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Auto Safety: Past Is Prologue

By Ralph Nader

It doesn’t take a comprehensive examination of American culture to notice the all-too-commonplace glorification of war. Violent war movies and television shows routinely make big bucks for Hollywood. Video games called Call of Duty and Battlefield sell millions of copies each year. Even history books are filled with stories of “great” battles won and lost. There are even devoted Civil War reenactors!

We are quick to recognize and commemorate wars that took enormous amounts of human lives through acts of intentional violence from opposing sides. It is unfortunately quite rare to see the same public attention dedicated to campaigns where preserving human life was the only true objective.

Michael R. Lemov’s new book is about such a conflict — called “the equivalent of war” by the U.S. Supreme Court — which was fought not with guns or bombs but by concerned citizens, safety advocates, and responsive legislators in Congress. The new book, Car Safety Wars: One Hundred Years of Technology, Politics and Death (Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2015), is a comprehensive history of the movement for safer cars over the course of a century. Lemov knows his stuff: In addition to being a talented author and historian, he served as the general counsel of the National Commission on Product Safety, as the chief counsel of the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee of the House of Representatives, and as a trial attorney with the U.S. Department of Justice.

Car Safety Wars is prime reading for anyone interested in automobiles and their development, the consumer safety movement, or the mechanisms of democratic government, or for those who are simply curious about the origins of the many auto safety features like seatbelts and airbags that now protect countless lives.

Here are some statistics to put the critical importance of auto safety into perspective. Over 3.5 million people have died due to automobile accidents since the first cars took to the roads in the early 1900s. In the 1960s, nearly 50,000 people died each year in car crashes, and millions more were injured; that’s nearly the same number of U.S. military deaths in the entire Vietnam War.

In one noteworthy chapter of his book, Lemov details the background and life’s work of U.S. Rep. Kenneth Roberts of Alabama, who was a true pioneer of safety legislation:

Roberts introduced and pushed to enactment legislation mandating that household refrigerators be manufactured with safety locks on the inside of the door, so that children who might become trapped in them could push the door open. … He introduced legislation requiring the labeling of poisonous household substances, promoting public-educational television, and bills providing for health care for migrant workers and Native Americans. Roberts was a congressman, it seemed, who was instinctively concerned about the well-being of a wide range of people.

(Many of these proposals later became law as part of larger pieces of legislation.)

In 1956, Roberts was the first representative or senator to tackle highway and automobile safety when he introduced a bill to establish a special subcommittee to study the growing crisis of injury and death on America’s roads.

The auto safety movement truly took off in a serious way with the congressional outrage following General Motors’ clumsy attempt to dig up dirt on me before and after publication of my book Unsafe at Any Speed in November 1965. The extensive congressional hearings that followed in the Senate and the House brought to light overwhelming evidence that the auto companies were knowingly suppressing the use of long-available safety devices.

Lemov writes:

During the first six decades of the twentieth century the American automobile industry seemed wedded to the idea that safe design was not its responsibility. There was no public demand, it was said, for safer automobile design. Nor did the industry seem to think it had much responsibility to inform the public about the risks of vehicle design and the omissions such as lap and shoulder belts.

Safety was not deemed a major concern in these early industry days, despite the fact that the knowhow existed: Patents for airbag technology were first issued as early as the 1950s. Instead style and horsepower were favored over things like safety and fuel efficiency. Airbags did not become commonplace until the late 1980s. Some younger readers might actually not recall a time when crash test ratings were not a fiercely highlighted aspect of car advertisements.

The seminal 1966 federal safety law that resulted from the auto safety movement has since saved 600,000 lives. The highway death toll has dropped from roughly 50,000 deaths per year in the 1960s to roughly 30,000 deaths per year today, even though far more vehicles are now traveling far more miles. Together, highway death and injury rates have been lessened by 70 percent.

There are unfortunately few national problems that are less serious today than they were 50 years ago. The fact that our roads are safer is a testament to the power of public sentiment, citizen advocacy and a government that acts to promote the welfare of its people, not the interests of big business. In this sense, the “car safety war” is certainly a war worth studying, reflecting on, and celebrating.

However, the battle still rages on. A record 50 million cars were recalled in 2014 for safety defects. With recent developments regarding defective ignition switches from General Motors, defective airbags from Takada Industries, exploding Jeep Grand Cherokees from Fiat Chrysler, Toyota’s sudden acceleration, and many other dangerous defects that have been uncovered in the past few years, it’s clear that vigilant watchdogs are needed now as much as ever. Fortunately, we presently have some law enforcement tools to make the auto companies correct their deficiencies or face penalties and lawsuits — both good deterrents.

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Stop Corporate Welfare Kings and Tax Escapees From Strip-mining America

“Tax day” comes and goes each year, but unfortunately, the systemic issues that plague American taxpayers linger on without resolution well past the mid-April deadline.

The U.S. tax code has long been manipulated by corporate lobbyists and their corporate tax attorneys. (President Jimmy Carter once called the loophole-ridden tax laws “a disgrace to the human race.”) A primary purpose of these perforations is to arrange the law and regulations so that certain categories of profit-rich companies can avoid paying their fair share to Uncle Sam.

In many states, it is a literal race to the bottom for elected officials to offer corporations sweeter tax deals to keep jobs in their locality — see the 2013 Boeing controversy in the state of Washington, in which the aerospace industry, much of which is made up of Boeing, was awarded $8.7 billion in tax breaks over 16 years to produce the 777X jetliner in-state. Notably, Boeing paid zero in federal income tax that year — along with many other major U.S. corporations such as GE and Verizon. Some of these Fortune 500 companies even get a rebate check!

According to Citizens for Tax Justice, “American Fortune 500 corporations are avoiding up to $600 billion in U.S. federal income taxes by holding more than $2.1 trillion” of retained profits offshore, which they designate as “permanently reinvested” to avoid a tax liability.

And of course, millionaires and billionaires often pay less in taxes than middle-class Americans do, taking full advantage of tax loopholes, deductions, deferrals and other forms of creative accounting. The Republican-controlled House of Representatives now intends to pass legislation to repeal the estate tax, which would see that “vast amounts of money that has never been taxed will be passed tax-free to the heirs of today’s billionaires,” according to Scott Klinger of the Center for Effective Government.

The end result is that, through a myriad of tax avoidance schemes, the wealthy 1 percent continue to profit using public resources, subsidies and infrastructure while the 99 percent disproportionately pay the bills for it — all while struggling to pay their own bills, mortgages, student loans, and more. And when Wall Street runs amok, it’s the taxpayers who have paid the bills for the catastrophic damage as a result of regulatory surrender. Millions of these taxpayers also lost their jobs and pensions in the 2008-2009 Wall Street collapse of our economy.

This brings us to the Internal Revenue Service — which has been made into a dirty word to many Americans. Those Americans might be surprised to learn, however, that the current IRS enforcement budget is $10.9 billion, after a cut of $346 million from the previous year. To put that in perspective, Apple Inc. spent $14 billion just to buy back its own stock last year, a move that only serves to provide a meager benefit, if that, to its shareholders, while nourishing executive compensation packages.

The IRS loses an estimated $300 billion a year due to tax evasion. A budget proposal by the Obama administration claimed that the IRS could bring in an additional $6 for every dollar it adds to the enforcement budget. IRS Commissioner John Koskinen said that he pushes this very convincing point in Congress to little reception or reaction. “I say that and everybody shrugs and goes on about their business,” he told the AP in 2014. “I have not figured out either philosophically or psychologically why nobody seems to care whether we collect the revenue or not.”

The effects of these budgetary cuts are already being seen. Current staffing levels at the IRS are at 87,000 — the lowest since the early 1980s. The agency lost 13,000 employees from 2010 to 2014 and expects to lose another 3,000 this year. In the final stretch towards April 15, many taxpayers have experienced excruciatingly long waits on hold and long lines at local IRS offices as a result. Congress doesn’t care. (National Taxpayer Advocate Nina Olson, who operates independently within the IRS, detailed this degradation of service in her annual report to Congress. (See taxpayeradvocate.irs.gov.)

Republican presidential hopeful Ted Cruz has gone so far as to publicly state his intention to abolish the IRS entirely, calling that radical course of action the “simplest and best tax reform.” It’s not clear how Senator Cruz intends the federal government to collect revenue to pay for his presidential salary, the White House budget and expanding his giant military budget if he should be elected and not recover his senses.

It is clear, however, that significant rational tax reform is necessary. What remains unclear is who will benefit the most from such reform. Americans must seriously ask why individual U.S. taxpayers are fronting the money for hugely profitable corporations. These are funds that could potentially be used to repair critical public infrastructure, create decently paying jobs, or simply reduce the tax burden on middle-income individuals.

One solution to ensure that the interests of small taxpayers are accounted for and protected is to establish taxpayer watchdog associations across the country. These organizations would work full-time in each state to make sure that individual taxpayers get the best deal possible. After all, big corporations can afford to support an army of tax accountants and attorneys to continually update the playbook of tactics to avoid having to pay their fair share. Most taxpayers don’t have this luxury. What they do have, however, is sheer force of numbers. Organization of such watchdog organizations could be facilitated by including a notice on the 1040 tax return inviting people to pay a small due and join these advocacy and educational nonprofit groups. These associations would be supported by membership dues and would receive no tax money. The members would elect a board of directors that could hire researchers, organizers, accountants and lawyers.

Such pressure from united citizen bodies would provide the organizational mechanism to enhance the influence of individuals in the tax-collection and policy-making process — something that is much-needed in our current American plutocracy.

A simple motto to consider when asking what we choose to tax is: “Tax what they burn, not what we earn.” Before we place the largest burdens of taxation on workers, we should tax areas that have the greatest potential negative or damaging influence on our economy and our society. Tax the polluters, the Wall Street speculators, the junk-food peddlers, and the corporate criminals. Consider that just a fraction of a 1-percent sales tax on speculation in derivatives and trading in stocks could bring in $300 billion a year! (See robinhoodtax.org.)

If taxpayers really want to protect their interests, they must organize and fight for them. The corporations certainly have the money — but they can’t match the manpower or votes of an organized citizenry.

In the meantime, big corporations on welfare like Walmart, Goldman Sachs, Bank of America, Pfizer, General Electric, Weyerhaeuser, and ExxonMobile should declare April 15 to be Taxpayer Appreciation Day. The corporate welfare kings should have the decency to, at least, thank smaller taxpayers who pay for all the freeloading that the corporatists have rammed through Congress. (See goodjobsfirst.org for much more on this issue.)

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Start With Red Corporate Faces On the Golf Course

Should you ever find yourself in the unique situation of being out on a golf course alongside some big time CEOs of major corporations, here’s a fun experiment to try. It’s very simple — just ask the CEOs for their opinion on welfare. Many CEOs — who typically make thousands of dollars an hour — might spout the old “stand on your own two feet instead of relying on government assistance” rhetoric. Should that be the case, you should point out that there are hundreds of programs in existence that directly or indirectly provide billions of dollars of taxpayer money to corporations. The left calls this corporate welfare, the right calls it crony capitalism, but the sentiment is the same.

“Well, my company doesn’t do that,” a CEO or two might protest.

Oftentimes, that denial might be enough to end the conversation. Some information about these subsidies is available to the public… but it is often buried away in dense reports and not easily obtainable, which of course makes it far easier for these corporations and their top executives to squirm away from the uncomfortable truth about how much money they take from American taxpayers.

Here’s something that might make our golf course experiment a little more interesting.

The Subsidy Tracker (subsidytracker.org) is a webtool designed by the nonprofit organization Good Jobs First. An ongoing work-in-progress since 2010, the Subsidy Tracker compiles information on grants, special tax credits, loans, loan guarantees, and bailouts into an easily usable online search engine by company name. The most recent update adds information on federal subsidies, in addition to state and local government subsidy data.

Subsidy Tracker now features data on 441,000 payments from 704 programs across the country. More data is being added regularly. The easy availability of this data means no more hiding inconvenient information for corporations on the dole.

To conclude our little hypothetical experiment, you can use your smartphone to search for those CEO’s companies on the Subsidy Tracker and present to them the hard facts about how much they take from American taxpayers…and see how it affects the rest of their golf score.

In addition to the updated Subsidy Tracker, Good Jobs First has released a new report called Uncle Sam’s Favorite Corporations: Identifying the Large Companies that Dominate Federal Subsidies. This report covers the latest revealing data about federal government subsidies to named big corporations―such as the fact that two-thirds of $68 billion in subsidies and tax credits have gone to big corporations over the past 15 years.

The report states:

“Six parent companies have received $1 billion or more in federal grants and allocated tax credits (those awarded to specific companies) since 2000; 21 have received $500 million or more; and 98 have received $100 million or more. A group of 582 large companies account for 67 percent of the $68 billion total.”

Bigtime freeloaders!

Energy companies are some of the biggest recipients of grants and tax credits. Spanish energy company Iberdrola received $2.2 billion. NextEra Energy, NRG Energy, Southern Company, Summit Power and SCS Energy all received more than $1 billion.

As for government bailouts, Bank of America, Citigroup, Morgan Stanley, and JPMorgan Chase have all received hundreds of billions of dollars in guarantees of their toxic paper. (All of these banks, notably, have had to pay large fines in recent years for misconduct despite being rescued by American taxpayers.) Corporate welfare kings!

Household corporate names like Boeing, General Electric, General Motors and Ford are also prominent on the subsidy lists, receiving substantial amounts of both federal, state and local funds.

If the idea of these companies receiving so much of your taxpayer money isn’t enough to get you steamed, consider this: Some recipients of these subsidies are benefiting while also avoiding paying taxes. Enter Uncle Sam the sucker!

The report states:

“Federal subsidies have gone to several companies that have reincorporated abroad to avoid U.S. taxes. For example, power equipment producer Eaton (reincorporated in Ireland but actually based in Ohio) has received $32 million in grants and allocated tax credits as well as $7 million in loans and loan guarantees from the Export-Import Bank and other agencies. Oilfield services company Ensco (reincorporated in Britain but really based in Texas) has received $1 billion in support from the Export-Import Bank.”

Check out subsidytracker.org for yourself and see how companies are taking advantage of these government subsidies. You might be surprised by the number of corporations that are on corporate welfare. Some may freeload where you live and work.

It’s time for a serious public rebellion to curtail welfare spending on giant, profitable corporations who use our public services and infrastructure, ship American jobs to dictatorial regimes overseas and even brazenly avoid paying their share of taxes to Uncle Sam. This is a clear left/right convergence issue that has been muddied by corporatist rhetoric about free markets and self-reliant capitalism for far too long.

For more on this topic, listen to my 20-minute, agitating conversation with Philip Mattera of Good Jobs First, the courageous creator of the Subsidy Tracker and co-author of the “Uncle Sam’s Favorite Corporations report.”

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How We Can Save Sports

“Immersed in sports as a player, coach, marketer, teacher and writer, Ken Reed shares our belief that many of the problems and challenges in sports – at all levels – have been exposed but little has been remedied. How We Can Save Sports reports on the panorama of issues in the sports world that are negatively impacting sports enthusiasts. Unfortunately, these issues are rarely on the table for anything close to a serious discussion. Reed’s book is an invitation to all of us who care about sports, and what they can be at their best, to start that much-needed discussion.”—Ralph Nader, founder, League of Fans

sports

Many sports fans are conflicted—they may love the games, the players, and their communities, but may be alarmed by issues including academic corruption, athlete safety, and the overarching emphasis on winning and profit at all costs. From disturbing new research about the long-term impact of sports concussions to publicly financed stadiums that drive profits to team owners but not communities, author Ken Reed argues that much of our sports culture is broken, driven by ego and greed. How We Can Save Sports, with a foreword by Ralph Nader, is written to inform and empower sports stakeholders who care deeply about the impact of sports today on individuals and society as a whole.

Reed, sports policy director for the League of Fans, introduces readers to nine of the most pressing problems in sports today and shows how they largely derive from the mentalities of profit-at-all-costs and win-at-all-costs. Chapters dig into issues such as concussions, overzealous adults in youth sports, the disappearance of PE from many school curriculums, the focus on profit objectives in college sports, discrimination in sports, and more. Each chapter outlines key challenges and provides concrete steps that readers can take to work for change. The book includes lists of helpful resources for readers interested in change at various levels—from youth and high school sports, to AAU and college athletics, to professional sports.

• Examines nine major sports issues, often from a public policy perspective.
• The book not only analyzes critical sports issues, it also provides a wide-range of recommended solutions. Resources and ideas for budding sports reformers are included.

Ken Reed is sports policy director for the League of Fans, a sports reform project started by Ralph Nader. Reed is a long-time sports marketing consultant, sports studies instructor, sports issues analyst, columnist and author. He holds a doctorate in sports administration and created the Center for the Advancement of Physical Education (CAPE) for the non-profit PE4Life, devoted to cardiovascular-based physical education for all students, K-12. He blogs on sports issues for the Huffington Post.

Purchase via Amazon.

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Tort Law: The Muscle of Justice

The common law of torts, which originated from English common law, has been elaborated in tens of thousands of judicial decisions with one basic message: If a person suffers a wrongful injury or harm, he or she can seek remedy in court with a trial by jury. Through tort law, our civil justice system operates to compensate victims, punish perpetrators and deter future harms. For years this system has been under sustained assault in Congress and state legislatures. Corporations, with their enormous lobbying influence, have few qualms about lobbying to limit Americans’ right to their day in court.

Tort law is one of the major pillars of our legal system. It provides crucial protections for individuals. Tort law has helped people harmed by defective products, medical malpractice, toxic chemical spills and much more. It sees that families are compensated for devastating losses; prevents future injuries, deaths or accidents by deterring dangerous products and practices; and spurs safety innovation and enforceable safety standards. Tort law provides a moral and ethical fiber for our society by defining appropriate norms of conduct and care. The late Peter Lewis, the former chairman of Progressive Insurance, once told me that tort law functions as his industry’s incentive for “quality control.”

The ongoing assault on the civil justice system in our country has resulted in a lessened public appreciation of the law of torts. Now comes the American Museum of Tort Law.

In the planning stages for many years, the museum is set to open in the fall of this year in my hometown of Winsted, Connecticut. The American Museum of Tort Law will be the first law museum in the country. This nonprofit, educational institution will seek to increase citizen understanding of tort law and its pivotal role in the protection of personal freedom and safety of millions of Americans. And it will celebrate the historical and contemporary achievements of the civil justice system.

What one can expect when visiting the museum later this year? Captivating displays will illustrate the history of exemplary cases, incorporating real artifacts and media. The exhibits will tell stories that illuminate the underlying principles of law and appeal to not just members of the legal profession but the many other Americans interested in learning about this important cornerstone of our legal system.

Some notable exhibits are cases that established new precedents for different wrongful injuries, such as the famous T.J. Hooper case. Cases of more contemporary significance range from those harmed by asbestos insulation to those harmed by the tobacco industry and defective motor vehicles.

In addition to housing these and many other physical exhibits, the museum will be an important digital clearinghouse for reports and commentaries on contemporary developments and judicial decisions in tort law. This will be a most valuable resource for students, scholars, the media, and the public.

There are thousands of museums in the United States — ones for every sport, many fruits and vegetables, even 30 timber and lumber museums! But, surprisingly, there are no law museums. The many victories and advancements to health and safety that have come from the law of torts and the constitutional right of trial by jury deserve a serious upswing in public recognition. We hope you will visit this first-of-its-kind institution later this year and be fascinated and enlightened by a unique museum experience.

For more information, visit tortmuseum.org.

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RSVP for The Actual Dance

The Actual Dance

Samuel A. Simon’s autobiographical award-winning play about love and the caregivers journey.

A Performance Sponsored by Ralph Nader and the Center for Study of Responsive Law.

February 27, 2015
2 – 4pm
The Carnegie Institution for Science
1530 P St NW
Washington, DC 20005

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More information at The Actual Dance website.

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Credit Suisse: Big Crimes Become Big Business

In May 2014 financial firm Credit Suisse AG pled guilty to serious criminal charges. The giant bank aided and assisted approximately 22,000 wealthy U.S. taxpayers (whose names Credit Suisse AG escaped having to send to the Justice Department for law enforcement) for over a decade in filing false income tax returns and other documents with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).The full extent of these crimes, according to a Department of Justice news release, are as follows: “assisting clients in using sham entities to hide undeclared accounts”; “soliciting IRS forms that falsely stated, under penalties of perjury, that the sham entities were the beneficial owners of the assets in the accounts”; “failing to maintain in the United States records related to the accounts”; “destroying account records sent to the United States for client review”; “using Credit Suisse managers and employees as unregistered investment advisors on undeclared accounts”; “facilitating withdrawals of funds from the undeclared accounts by either providing hand-delivered cash in the United States or using Credit Suisse’s correspondent bank accounts in the United States”; “structuring transfers of funds to evade currency transaction reporting requirements”; and “providing offshore credit and debit cards to repatriate funds in the undeclared accounts.”

These elaborate illegal acts over many years are quite revealing. They show a deliberate willingness by Credit Suisse AG officials to knowingly engage in profitable activities that defrauded the United States Treasury and burdened honest taxpayers. Credit Suisse paid a $2.6-billion fine — small compared with the size of the crimes and the company’s large revenues. These crimes were yet another sordid chapter in the ever-burgeoning tax-evading business that makes its waves with wealthy Americans and massive corporate entities. But the Credit Suisse story does not end there.

The Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, or ERISA, was enacted to protect the retirement savings of retirement-plan participants. The law, in theory, automatically disqualifies institutions like Credit Suisse AG who have committed serious crimes or pled guilty to serious crimes from serving as a “qualified professional asset manager” (QPAM) of ERISA assets or pension plans.

Unfortunately, the Department of Labor has not adequately enforced this law or its regulations in this area. Since waivers started being granted in 1997, 23 culpable firms have been granted exemptions from this disqualification rule and been allowed to continue their business of advising pension and other investment funds. Six of these waivers were granted to QPAMs that, like Credit Suisse AG, violated serious laws either in the United States or abroad. Remarkably, no waivers formally demanded by their corporate law firms have been rejected.

The Department of Labor (DOL) already has granted Credit Suisse a temporary waiver to continue conducting their pension-management business. On Jan. 15 the DOL held a public hearing — where I testified — to discuss whether Credit Suisse and its affiliates can continue this troubling trend of avoiding the consequences of their actions indefinitely. Credit Suisse AG is hoping to completely sidestep the mechanisms of justice for their admittedly serious crimes and carry on business as usual — a result that, in itself, is, unfortunately, business as usual. Is it not astounding to think a company that knowingly engaged in such illegal activities would not be deterred from engaging in activities that could be harmful to retirees as well?

Public Citizen’s Bartlett Naylor wrote in a public comment to the Department of Labor:

Firms that engage in criminal activity should face real consequences. Where those consequences are excused, the firm is invited to become a repeat offender; and the deterrence effect for other firms is nullified. Pension fund beneficiaries are especially vulnerable to Wall Street abuse because their savings may be managed by firms they do not even choose, let alone control. As overseer of the nation’s ERISA-governed funds, the Department of Labor bears the heavy responsibility of policing the integrity of the pension fund management industry. The DOL must apply all its tools to achieve this lofty goal. They should be used, not routinely discarded.

This routine ability to evade proper punishment is the root of the issue of so much corporate and Wall Street crime — a slap on the wrist leads to a perpetual cycle of wrongdoing with no end in sight. Their corporate lawyers turn laws into “no-law” laws. Corporate crime pays.

James Henry–former chief economist at McKinsey & Co and former chair of the Global Alliance for Tax Justice, currently Senior Economic Advisor to the Tax Justice Network and Senior Fellow at Columbia’s Center on Sustainable Investment–estimates that the United States loses between $170 billion and $200 billion a year in tax revenue through offshore tax havens. He told the Corporate Crime Reporter in 2013:

The idea that you would actually permit big ticket tax dodgers to walk off of the stage with a slap on the wrist — like the proposed [Credit] Swiss settlement — or that you would let companies like Apple and Microsoft, General Electric and Google — shift their most valuable corporate assets to places where they have almost no activity and evade corporate income taxes at a time when we are slashing aid to kids in schools, money for seniors — this is outrageous.

The Department of Labor, which exists to defend workers, now has a unique opportunity to stand proudly at its post and to send a clear message — a firm signal — to other Qualified Professional Asset Managers that if they commit unthinkable criminal violations, they lose the ability to handle pension funds. On the other hand, allowing these institutions to continue to receive permanent waivers would be a clear signal that the DOL will tolerate cutting corners and criminal wrongdoing by powerful financial institutions at the expense of workers, complying taxpayers, democracy, and the rule of law.

Now is the time for advocates and citizens alike to speak out strongly against this manner of blatantly averting justice and fostering a culture of continual corporate criminality. Contact the Office of Exemption Determinations at the Department of Labor and let them know.

If anyone knows of any other misdeeds from Credit Suisse, please let us know by tweeting @RalphNader.

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Toys from Abusive Chinese Factories Bring No Holiday Cheer

Here’s a question to ponder this Holiday season — what do toy brands like Barbie, Mickey Mouse and Thomas the Tank Engine have in common? What about the companies that produce these toys — Mattel, Disney, Fisher Price and other major toy companies such as Crayola and Hasbro? Many parents might say that the shared commonality of these toys and their corporate manufacturers is their young children’s affinity for them, especially around the holiday season when corporate advertising and marketing launches into overdrive. Many parents may be planning or have already purchased these and other toys as holiday gifts for their youngsters.

Here’s one common factor that many parents will likely not consider about the toys they purchase as gifts. According to a recently released 66-page report from the nonprofit organization China Labor Watch (CLW), these aforementioned popular toy brands and many others are manufactured in Chinese factories that have been found to have repeatedly committed a vast number of worker rights violations. This most recent CLW investigation was a follow-up to one conducted and reported on in 2007. Disturbingly, many of the same abuses reported then were discovered once more, seven years later. Despite efforts to bring attention to these harmful labor conditions, the conditions in Chinese factories persist, and Americans continue to buy up these products by the millions. As for the American companies that sell them, finding ways to shirk any responsibility for deplorable factory conditions is their primary public relations concern.

The CLW report states:

Many toy companies divide their toy orders among dozens or hundreds of factories in order to ensure that their orders in any given factory only consists of a small proportion of that factory’s total orders usually no more than 20 percent. Toy companies will also use this as a basis for avoiding responsibility for poor labor conditions. For example, if CLW uncovers labor rights violations at a Disney supplier factory in China, Disney might respond that it only maintains a small number of orders in the plant and is unable to influence the factory’s behavior.

Parents should consider the following harsh realities uncovered by CLW:

Workers who create these toy products often make just over a dollar an hour, nowhere near a living wage. Many live in cramped company dormitories with inadequate bathroom facilities for the number of people who occupy them. Many receive inadequate or no safety training. Many are forced to work excessive overtime hours in violation of Chinese labor laws. Many are provided inadequate safety equipment or work on poorly maintained and potentially dangerous equipment. None of the factories investigated by CLW conducted fire safety training, and one even locked emergency escape doors and had fire escape routes obstructed. Unfortunately, the grievance procedures for factory workers to file complaints or report incidents are ineffective or nonexistent.

Here’s one that might strike a chord with the smartphone generation — a 2013 CLW report on Mattel factories reported that in one factory, “A worker who checks his cell phone will have that day’s working hours reset to zero, effectively not paying the worker for the actual work that he did.”

These are only some of the numerous issues reported. Taken as a whole, the report describes a truly nightmarish and inhumane work environment that would appall many in the Western world. Behind the friendly plastic smiles of Mickey Mouse and Thomas the Tank engine lays immense human suffering and worker abuse.

Eighty-five percent of all children’s toys that are sold in the United States come from China. Furthermore, these toys often come with too many hazards — burning, choking risks for small children, or toxics in or on the toys. It can be difficult for parents to know what toys are safe for their youngsters. Some are recalled by the Consumer Product Safety Commission. (See cpsc.gov for the latest recalls.)

A few examples of recent recalls: A singing monkey toy, sold in Cracker Barrel restaurants, has a battery compartment that can overheat and cause burns. Another is a “Dream on Me” playhouse that reportedly can collapse and pose a strangulation risk to young children. Yet another is a “Hello Kitty” whistle, distributed by McDonald’s, in which a small internal piece can come detached and be swallowed or choked on by young users. The proposed remedy from McDonald’s: “Consumers should immediately take the whistle away from children and return it to any McDonald’s for a free replacement toy and either a yogurt tube or a bag of apple slices.” All of these dangerous products were manufactured in China.

The Business Supply Chain Transparency on Trafficking and Slavery Act (H.R. 4842) was introduced earlier this year by Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) It would require U.S. companies to disclose its contracting practices in annual reports that find instances of “child labor, forced labor, slavery, and human trafficking.” It would also require the Secretary of Labor “to develop and publish annually on the Internet website of the Department of Labor a list of top 100 companies adhering to supply chain labor standards, as established under federal and international guidelines.” This would be an important step in holding toy companies accountable for the inhumane conditions they permit by doing business with abusive factories in China.

In the meantime, being a socially-conscious shopper is one way to let these corporations know that Americans do not approve of products built on the backs of Chinese serf-labor. One easy method is to check the country-of-origin label on products to see where they came from. Parents should know about the products their children request and not give into demands or nagging because the youngster wanted the products to fit in with their friends. These toy companies want their young consumers to be compliant, vulnerable and ever-hooked on fashionable fads.

Is such crass commercialism worth the cost of human suffering?

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Unsafe and Unnecessary Oil Trains Threaten 25 Million Americans

Back in 1991 the National Transportation Safety Board first identified oil trains as unsafe — the tank cars, specifically ones called DOT-111s, were too thin and punctured too easily, making transport of flammable liquids like oil unreasonably dangerous. As bad as this might sound, at the very least there was not a lot of oil being carried on the rails in 1991.

Now, in the midst of a North American oil boom, oil companies are using fracking and tar sands mining to produce crude in remote areas of the U.S. and Canada. To get the crude to refineries on the coasts the oil industry is ramping up transport by oil trains. In 2008, 9,500 crude oil tank cars moved on US rails. In 2013 the number was more than 400,000! With this rapid growth comes a looming threat to public safety and the environment. No one — not federal regulators or local firefighters — are prepared for oil train derailments, spills and explosions.

Unfortunately, the rapid increase in oil trains has already meant many more oil train disasters. Railroads spilled more oil in 2013 than in the previous 40 years combined.

Trains are the most efficient way to move freight and people. This is why train tracks run through our cities and towns. Our rail system was never designed to move hazardous materials, however; if it was, train tracks would not run next to schools and under football stadiums.

Last summer, environmental watchdog group ForestEthics released a map of North America that shows probable oil train routes. Using Google, anyone can check to see if their home or office is near an oil train route. (Try it out here.)

ForestEthics used census data to calculate that more than 25 million Americans live in the oil train blast zone (that being the one-mile evacuation area in the case of a derailment and fire.) This is clearly a risk not worth taking — oil trains are the Pintos of the rails. Most of these trains are a mile long, pulling 100-plus tank cars carrying more than 3 million gallons of explosive crude. Two-thirds of the tank cars used to carry crude oil today were considered a “substantial danger to life, property, and the environment” by federal rail safety officials back in 1991.

The remaining one-third of the tank cars are not much better — these more “modern” cars are tested at 14 to 15 mph, but the average derailment speed for heavy freight trains is 24 mph. And it was the most “modern” tank cars that infamously derailed, caught fire, exploded and poisoned the river in Lynchburg, Virginia last May. Other derailments and explosions in North Dakota and Alabama made national news in 2014.

The most alarming demonstration of the threat posed by these trains happened in Quebec in July 2013 — an oil train derailed and exploded in the City of Lac Megantic, killing 47 people and burning a quarter of the city to the ground. The fire burned uncontrollably, flowing through the city, into and then out of sewers, and into the nearby river. Firefighters from across the region responded, but an oil fire cannot be fought with water, and exceptionally few fire departments have enough foam flame retardant to control a fire from even a single 30,000 gallon tank car, much less the millions of gallons on an oil train.

Given the damage already done and the threat presented, Canada immediately banned the oldest of these rail cars and mandated a three-year phase-out of the DOT-111s. More needs to be done, but this is a solid first step. Of course, we share the North American rail network — right now those banned trains from Canada may very well be transporting oil through your home town while the Department of Transportation dallies.

The immense public risk these oil trains pose is starting to gain the attention it deserves, but not yet the response. Last summer, the U.S. federal government began the process of writing new safety regulations. Industry has weighed in heavily to protect its interest in keeping these trains rolling. The Department of Transportation, disturbingly, seems to be catering to industry’s needs.

The current draft rules are deeply flawed and would have little positive impact on safety. They leave the most dangerous cars in service for years. Worse yet, the oil industry would get to more than double its tank car fleet before being required to decommission any of the older, more dangerous DOT-111s.

We need an immediate ban on the most dangerous tank cars. We also need to slow these trains down; slower trains mean fewer accidents, and fewer spills and explosions when they do derail. The public and local fire fighters must be notified about train routes and schedules, and every oil train needs a comprehensive emergency response plan for accidents involving explosive Bakken crude and toxic tar sands. In addition, regulations must require adequate insurance. This is the least we could expect from Secretary Anthony Foxx, who travels a lot around the country, and the Department of Transportation.

So far, Secretary Foxx is protecting the oil industry, not ordinary Americans. In fact, Secretary Foxx is meeting with Canadian officials this Thursday, December 18, to discuss oil-by-rail. It is doubtful, considering Canada’s strong first step, that he will be trying to persuade them to adopt even stronger regulations. Will Secretary Foxx ask them to weaken what they have done and put more lives at risk? Time will tell. He has the power, and the mandate, to remove the most dangerous rail cars to protect public safety but he appears to be heading in the opposite direction. Earlier this month ForestEthics and the Sierra Club, represented by EarthJustice, filed a lawsuit against the DOT to require them to fulfill this duty.

Secretary Foxx no doubt has a parade of corporate executives wooing him for lax or no oversight. But he certainly doesn’t want to have a Lac Megantic-type disaster in the U.S. on his watch. It is more possible now than ever before, given the massive increase in oil-by-rail traffic.

Pipelines, such as the Keystone XL, are not the answer either. (Keystone oil would be routed for export to other countries from Gulf ports.) Pipelines can also leak and result in massive damage to the environment as we have seen in the Kalamazoo, MI spill by the Enbridge Corporation. Three years later, $1.2 billion spent, and the “clean up” is still ongoing.

Here’s the reality — we don’t need new pipelines and we don’t need oil by rail. This is “extreme oil,” and if we can’t transport it safely, we can and must say no. Secretary Foxx needs to help make sure 25 million people living in the blastzone are safe and that means significant regulations and restrictions on potentially catastrophic oil rail cars.

Rather than choosing either of these destructive options, we are fortunate to be able to choose safe, affordable cleaner energy and more efficient energy products, such as vehicles and furnaces, instead. That is the future and it is not a distant future — it’s happening right now.

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