Previous PIRG Consumer News Highlights
17 June 2005 Statement of U.S. PIRG on Security Breach at Mastercard Affecting 40 Million Cards
ID Theft17 June 2005: U.S. PIRG, Consumers Union and Consumer Federation of America file report with Department of Justice and FCC urging rejection of SBC/AT&T and Verizon/MCI mega-mergers. Report and News Release. Also, see our Media Reform pages.
16 June 2005 U.S. PIRG has a new "Stronger State Laws" page sumamrizing our work against unfiar preemption of state consumer and health and safety laws -- scroll down and see our Clean Air team's latest report on strong state air pollution laws: "The Power To Protect."
U.S. PIRG has a new drug safety page, where Advocate Lindsey Johnson urges support for FDA reform. (15 June 2005)
PIRG testifies on abusive credit card practices: 17 May 2005: US Senate Bank Committee Hearing on Abusive Credit Card Practices. Link to full hearing, download PIRG's testimony by Ed Mierzwinski, download Credit Card Reform Platform released at hearing by PIRG, Consumer Federation of America, Consumer Action and Credit Card Nation. Like Jim Hightower, we say "Fight back!" Urge Congress to rein in the credit card companies! Sample consumer letter and more information on credit card companies here. Main state PIRG Credit Card site truthaboutcredit.org
May 2005 Detailed information about State PIRG efforts to defeat anti-democratic media concentration, promote fair local cable and community wifi policies and protect the open Internet from corporate assaults is available here at our "Reform Our Media" Page.
Previous Top PIRG Consumer News
21 Apr 05 and May 9 2005 Against Telecom Mergers PIRG joins leading consumer groups (Consumer Federation of America, Consumers Union (publishers of Consumer Reports) and the National Association of State Utility Consumer Advocates) in opposing anti-consumer plans to put Ma Bell back together again. News release.
7 April 05 The state PIRGs have launched a campaign to stop the Bush Administration and its scare plan to fundamentally change one of America's greatest programs-- the Social Security safety net that protects the sick, the elderly and disabled. Privatization helps only Wall Street, while hurting taxpayers and beneficiaries. Where's the good in that?
29 Mar 05 Here is the backgrounder from a PIRG National Press Club briefing held today: Privacy to Pollution to Predatory Lending-- New Federal Threats to Strong State Consumer and Public Health Protections, featuring U.S. PIRG Consumer Program Director Ed Mierzwinski and his statement, Jennifer Bradley, Federalism Project Director at Community Rights Counsel, a public interest environmental law firm and co-author, Redefining Federalism (Environmental Law Institute Press 2004) and Mike Calhoun, General Counsel, Center for Responsible Lending and his statement, Durham, NC. Watch for updates, as the event was covered by C-Span and may appear on its video archives page. The backgrounder highlights a number of the issues, from Choicepoint to clean air to predatory lending, where our organizations and allied groups are fighting to preserve the right of the states to enact stronger consumer and public health protections. More on PIRG's efforts to fight preemption here on our PIRG Preemption Reports page. Also this week, the prestigious Capitol Hill policy wonk magazine, National Journal (subscription only) features a long story on state leadership on energy policy and global warming issues, including an interview with state PIRG energy expert Rob Sargent.
29 Mar 05 Former U.S. PIRG Consumer Advocate Releases Major Report That Payday Lenders Target Military Families: Former PIRGer Chris Peterson, now a law professor at the University of Florida, and a colleague, geography professor Steve Graves at Cal State Northridge, have released a major study downloadable here (2.7 mB pdf) using geographic mapping analysis to document how predatory payday lenders target millitary families. PIRG reports on predatory payday lending here (2001 and 2000).
29 Mar 05 P2P Today, the Supreme Court heard argument in a key copyright case pitting the Peer-To-Peer file-sharing company Grokster against MGM (Hollywood and the recording industry all on MGM's side). The Court also heard a key telecommunications case, Brand X Internet vs NCTA (cable association). Last week, PIRG joined Consumer Federation of America, Free Press and Consumers Union to release a new report and announce a new campaign to preserve economic and consumer benefits of peer-to-peer file sharing. We've put up a new web page on Preserving the Free and Open and Innovative Nature of the Internet-- From P2P to Telephone/Cable Monopolies (22 March 05)
16 Mar 05 FDA Nominee needs careful scrutiny: In a letter and news release today, U.S. PIRG Consumer Advocate Lindsey Johnson and her counterparts at Consumers Union and Consumer Federation of America urged the Senate to use confirmation hearings (scheduled for tomorrow Thursday 17 Mar) for FDA Commissioner-nominee Lester Crawford as an opportunity to question Crawford on his plans to improve drug safety and eliminate conflict of interests in the agency that has kept it from acting quickly to protect public safety, especially in the case of the painkiller Vioxx. More on FDA campaign here.
16 Mar 05 Letter to House Judiciary Committee (markup scheduled today) opposing bankruptcy bill. Excerpt: It is particularly egregious that in two weeks of floor deliberations the Senate failed to ameliorate any of this bill’s most grotesque distortions of the bankruptcy safety net requested by powerful financial interests. ... Instead of helping military families, protecting mothers seeking child support or assisting victims of catastrophic medical debt, the Senate reasserted that millionaire deadbeats should continue to have a “get-out-of-debtors-prison-free” card.
16 Mar 05 House Energy and Commerce Committee Rip Into Choicepoint CEO Derek Smith. Privacy champs Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA) and Full Committee Chairman Joe Barton (R-TX) tag teamed an Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearing featuring Choicepoint CEO Derek Smith and the lesser-known Nexis-Lexis CEO Kurt Sanford (maybe he should write a book purportedly endorsing privacy, too, so more Representatives will ask him questions, or then, again, maybe he is one of the 80% of Americans who like privacy!). Anyway, Chairman Barton made it clear that selling Social Security Numbers is "wrong" and that the committee would do a bill to protect SSNs, while Mr. Markey justifiably condemned Choicepoint's modest corporate response to the plight of its victims and called for "ten years" of credit monitoring, not just one. Their written statements (Markey's available) were just a prelude to their spirited questioning of Smith and Sanford. More on Choicepoint archived at the top of this credit reporting and id theft page.
15 Mar 05 State privacy laws under threat from Choicepoint response -- Expect Congress to tell data dealers-- "we will regulate you in some weak way, but don't worry, if you continue to make large campaign contributions, we will certainly take away the threat of future stronger state privacy laws as your consolation prize." On the top of our Credit and Id Theft pages, in the new "Choicepoint response" section, we've posted two new charts (1. Credit Reporting and 2. Other privacy laws) documenting how strong privacy laws come from the states. We've also posted "3 principles for Congress in any Choicepoint response." And see the detailed letter to Rep. Markey and Senator Bill Nelson for more details on the two privacy charts.
8 March 05 Fix the FDA! This week PIRG's Lindsey Johnson and other patient safety advocates launched a campaign to improve drug safety oversight at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The campaign website is fixthefda.org. The campaign includes television and print ads designed to point out flaws in FDA regulation of drugs. In addition, PIRG, Consumers Union and others are also urging Congress to use the nomination of Lester Crawford as FDA commissioner to conduct oversight of the commission's flaws.
8 March 05 PIRG Endorses Choicepoint Reforms In a letter to Senator Bill Nelson (FL) and Rep. Ed Markey (MA), PIRG endorsed their companion bills to establish federal regulation of Choicepoint and other information brokers. We commended the Information Protection and Security Act (S. 500 and HR 1080), as good public policy for three reasons: the bills, are based on Fair Information Practices, the bills allow for citizen enforcement and the bill's preserve state authority to protect their citizens better. More on Choicepoint here.
8 March 05 PIRG opposes Draconian Bankruptcy Bill Today the Senate voted 69-31 (Pro-consumer Vote = Nay) to end debate on the bankrupcty bill, moving closer to final passage and total victory for irresponsible credit card companies over hard-working American families who face financial hardships. The vote showed just how many Senators either fail to understood the bankruptcy safety net, or have bought into the deceptive claims of the credit card companies. Critical amendments still remain, including Dodd amendments on credit card marketing to youth. The correct vote on final passage will however remain NAY. The Senate also today rejected the Schumer amendent, which would have prevented anyone, including abortion clinic protestors, from filing for bankruptcy to avoid paying court-ordered damages to someone who's rights they'd violated. 5 Mar 05 This week, the Senate rejected every pro-consumer , pro-investor, pro-taxpayer amendment to the draconian bankruptcy bill.The bill remains on the floor next week. The Senate demonstrated an ironclad allegiance to the demands of the credit card industry to pass a bill that hurts working families as much as possible. While numerous worthy amendments by consumer champions Ted Kennedy (D-MA) and Dick Durbin (D-IL) and others were shot down, the most telling action was probably on two amendments. First, an amendment by Bill Nelson (D-FL) responding to the Choicepoint debacle was thrashed with no debate. Second, the most telling non-action was withdrawal of a Republican sponsored Enron-related amendment, with no vote. Senator Jon Cornyn (R-TX) was pressured by Majority Leader Frist (R-TN) and bill sponsor Chuck Grassley (R-IA), and probably by other bill supporters, including the Democrats from credit card company bastions (DE and SD), into not offering a very worthy amendment to prevent wrongdoers like Enron from running off to New York to file for bankruptcy. Why would Enron do such a thing? So all its laid-off workers and other creditors in Texas wouldn't be able to easily file claims. As for Senator Bill Nelson's excellent amendment to prevent consumers who are victims of identity theft from being forced into bankruptcy, obviously Senate leadership didn't want a debate on corporate wrongdoer Choicepoint. It turns out Choicepoint just had its second, not first, security breach, and it also turns out, Choicepoint admits it is also under SEC investigation for possible violations of securities laws, where corporate officers may have made money selling stock based on knowledge of the breach.
To see the votes on the bankruptcy bill, go to the Senate roll call page. Votes # 13-18 and # 20-25 (left column vote #s, not the amendment #s) are all pro-consumer amendments that should have passed. Here's our letter to the Senate opposing S 256, now on the Senate floor. For more information, jump down.
4 Mar 05 Can You Hear Us Now? -- MASSPIRG Cell Phone Report The report released this week chronicles how the sorry, under-regulated cell phone industry has failed consumers. It lays out the proliferation of confusing calling plans, billing errors, hidden fees, dropped calls, spotty signal coverage, inadequate customer service and excessive contract termination fees. Watch Congress and the FCC, as they will assuredly try to preempt efforts by Massachusetts and other states to rein in out-of-control cell phone companies.
27 Feb 05 OCC Gets New Boss, Same As The Old Boss This week the President nominated John Dugan, a bank lawyer/lobbyist from Covington and Burling to take over as Comptroller of the Currency. Dugan will certainly be confirmed, he's a K Street lawyer with all the credentials, including the necessary opposition to the right of states to enact stronger laws to protect their citizens from unfair banking practices. Can't work at the OCC if you believe the states are laboratories of democracy. Believe it or not, opposition to stronger state laws is a principle that Bush and the Republican Congressional leadership (and too many Democrats, too) now espouse. Yes, the President long ago threw out any loyalty to the conservative notion of federalism. He's happy to give the states responsibilities, but not rights. We can only hope that the Senate uses Dugan's confirmation hearings as an opportunity to explore the OCC's outrageous 2004 usurpation of state authority to enact or enforce any consumer law over any national bank or even state-licensed operating subsidiary. For more information about the OCC, and about the Bush administration's relentless assaults on state health and safety laws, too, see our website OCC Watch.
26 Feb 05 Draconian, Anti-Consumer Bankruptcy Bill Now On Senate Floor: This week the Senate begins debate on a horrible bill (PIRG's bankruptcy backgrounder here) to benefit MBNA, Capital One, Citibank, Providian and other credit card companies. The draconian bankruptcy bill is designed to rip the bankruptcy safety net out from under responsible working families at the behest of irresponsible credit card companies. Question: In 2000, did President Bush receive his largest contributions from Halliburton, Lockheed, Exxon Mobil or some other oil company or defense contractor? Actually, his largest contributor was Maryland Bank, National Association. Hunh? Oh, you may know them as MBNA-- they changed their name years ago and moved to Delaware, because Congress allows credit card companies to operate nationwide from states with the worst consumer protections. Find out more about the "Secret History of the Credit Card" from Frontline. More on credit card irrresponsibility at PIRG's truthaboutcredit.org. The budgets of American families have been hit hard in recent years by massive layoffs, outsourcing of jobs, corporate scandals and ravaged pensions. Passage of the bankruptcy bill would make it harder for families hit by financial misfortune to get back on track. It would benefit the very profitable credit card industry at the expense of the modest-income families who represent the great majority of those who declare bankruptcy. Bankruptcies are driven by economic difficulties. The timing of this bill couldn’t be worse. Ninety percent of all bankruptcies are triggered by the loss of a job, high medical bills or divorce. The economic recession has taken its toll on many families. Long-term unemployment continues to be a problem and the number of Americans without health insurance is at its highest level ever and growing. As a new study by the nation's leading expert on bankruptcy, Professor Elizabeth Warren, and one of its leading experts on universal health care, Professor Steffie Woolhandler, MD and their colleagues points out, high co-pays, deductibles and non-covered services are causing even consumers who have health insurance to rack up massive health care costs on their credit cards, leading to involuntary bankruptcy. See their study at the new website GetSickGo Broke.org. For years, the late Paul Wellstone (MN) single-handledly held off final passage of the unfair bankruptcy bill. The last time the bill was considered on the Senate floor, it passed 82-16 (Consumer vote = NAY). We can only hope that Senators like Hillary Clinton (NY), who strongly opposed the bill as First Lady because of its harsh treatment of single mothers but voted for it when she became a Senator, and Patty Murray (WA) and Barbara Mikulski (MD) and many others, will change their votes and fight alongside Dick Durbin (IL), Ted Kennedy (MA), Chris Dodd (CT) and others who will try to kill the bill on the Senate floor. Some Senators claim they support the bill on behalf of their credit unions, and to promote personal responsibility, not as a favor to the irresponsible credit card companies. Well, they should look a little harder at the implications of this manifestly unfair piece of legislation that primarily benefits the credit card companies while punishing working families, without doing anything about unfair credit card practices.
24 Feb 05 PIRG and Other Groups Launch Campaign to Stop Binding Mandatory Arbitration (BMA): Read the press release. Today U.S. PIRG and leading groups held a news conference at the National Press Club to launch a campaign to take back our legal rights from powerful corporations. The Givemebackmyrights.com event was covered live on C-Span (to watch the news conference look for the link "U.S. PIRG on Consumer Rights") and the issue has been featured all week on ABC World News Tonight with Peter Jennings. Coalition website is easily also linked from www.stopbma.org. You all know the story that powerful corporations want to make it harder for consumers to win in court. The President just signed class action legislation forcing victims of corporate wrongdoing into the harsh, unfriendly federal courts. Businesses and insurance companies are seeking, in the states and Congress, to unfairly cap the damages to victims of medical and drug company malpractice. Next week, the U.S. Senate begins debate on a draconian proposal to make it harder for working families to take advantage of the bankruptcy safety net. Yet there is another story you haven’t heard.. One place where corporations haven’t yet successfully peddled their influence is to juries. If a consumer can get over the roadblocks and tell his or her story to a jury, he or she still has a chance for justice. So corporate America said—let’s prevent consumers from even telling their stories to a jury in the first place. Let’s set up our own private legal system. Let’s stack it against consumers and employees and let’s make its results secret. Even better, let’s impose it on consumers with tiny print clauses in one-sided contracts that consumers are forced to accept to do business against us. Let’s make it final and binding with no appeal. If we forget to put the clause in the contract, let’s change the rules with a bill stuffer. So when a credit card company or mortgage company gouges a consumer and she goes to her lawyer, she’s told, you cannot sue. You must go to the private injustice system controlled by the corporations – they call it binding mandatory arbitration, or BMA. Find out more at the website-- tips, strategies, ideas.
20 Feb 05 Choicepoint Database Source For Potentially Thousands of Identity Thefts The massive data dealer Choicepoint, a spinoff of the credit bureau Equifax that itself sells specialized (insurance, landlord, employment) credit reports as well as numerous under-regulated and less-regulated products, is the new poster child for why we need strong state laws to protect privacy. Choicepoint itself admits that at least 750 consumers have already been hit with identity theft and that 35,000 Californians and 110,000 other Americans have been or will be notified that they may have had their data compromised due to a ring of identity thieves posing as legitimate creditors or other users. U.S. PIRG news release (21 Feb 05)
Even though credit companies subject individual consumers to a veritable third degree to get a copy of their own credit reports, identity thieves routinely exploit such sloppy practices on the credit granting side. Here's a joint news release from PIRG and Consumers Union, which explains the problem and calls for necessary solutions.
Our colleagues at EPIC also point out that under-regulation of many Choicepoint databases hurts privacy, in a letter to Choicepoint. Not all of Choicepoint's files are regulated the same way-- consumers have greater rights to view and correct credit reports than they do other information products, EPIC points out. We agree.
How did this shocking crime happen? Easy money. Identity theft is not rocket science. Criminals spoofed Choicepoint's security procedures to become customers, which gave them access not simply to individual records of specific consumers, as you might think the system works. No, instead, as they probably would have been able to do with most big credit bureaus and database companies, they more likely got hardwired into the mother lode of Choicepoint's databases -- which contain some 19 billion files on American consumers -- and were able to browse for files they wanted. The credit industry argues that the American "miracle of instant credit" requires such access by businesses, and in addition, we're sure, they'll claim that the system worked here, because we caught somebody.
How did we find out? Thank California, which requires companies to notify consumers when their confidential information has been subjected to a security breach. As of Friday last week, 38 state Attorneys General (link to letter signed by first 19 AGs) demanded in an open sign-on letter that Choicepoint warn their citizens, too. Choicepoint seeking to stop the media bleeding, has apparently agreed. What can you do? Well, the best defense against identity theft is to control access to your own credit report. Four states-- California, Texas, Louisiana, and Vermont -- allow consumers to place a security freeze on their reports-- no one can look unless you "unfreeze your report." Find out more about how to enact a model state security freeze law, as well as a model state security breach law (which requires notification after a debacle) and about other state privacy reforms. Go to PIRG's model identity theft law page. Unfortunately, you won't find much about the security freeze rights if you go to the credit bureau websites-- they don't like laws giving consumers control over their own information.
You might ask, "I thought Congress amended the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act in 2003 to fight identity theft?" Actually, Congress had as its primary goal in 2003 one thing, and it wasn't good. Congress, at the behest of the credit industry, actually sought as its primary goal to permanently restrict most state efforts to protect privacy. Unfortunately for industry, that effort came in the midst of an identity theft epidemic. So, Congress had to throw in some modest identity theft and other consumer protections because to do otherwise would have been ludicrous in light of the identity theft epidemic raging across the nation. See the PIRG archive on the 2003 FACT Act.
Fortunately, as the PIRG model law page describes, however, Congress left a narrow window for states to work to prevent identity theft. In response to this Choicepoint fiasco, expect the data dealers to push for passage of weak federal legislation that will prevent more states from enacting California-style security breach notification laws and would limit consumer rights to enforce them. Instead, we need strong laws and we need laws that give consumers the right to protect themselves in court when companies bungle the job of protecting confidential information. We're not against federal security breach legislation, provided it serves as a floor and allows states, the laboratories of democracy, to go further. After all, without California's leadership on the security breach notification law, who knows how this story would have been exposed? You can get information on your identity theft rights at PIRG Credit Bureaus and Identity Theft pages. Find out more about why stronger state laws are critical to consumer and environmental protection here at PIRG's Preemption Reports page.
We mentioned Harvard Law Professor Arthur Miller in our 19 Feb 05 post on the dismal class action bill. Professor Arthur Miller is also a leading expert on privacy and is author of the seminal treatise The Assault on Privacy: Computers, Data Banks and Dossiers (University of Michigan Press, 1971). CIO Magazine archives a 2001 interview with Professor Miller where he discusses legal liability of corporations that do a sloppy job with customer data. Excerpt: "Similarly, a company and its CIO have to be concerned about a safe informational environment for their customers because if calamity strikes and there were things you could have done but didn't, some jury somewhere is going to smack you across the snout with a two-by-four."
19 Feb 05 Consumers locked outside the courthouse doors by Catch-22 : A long post after a long hiatus: In the classic Joseph Heller novel of World War II, “Catch-22,” any pilot who knew that it was insane to fly dangerous missions was paradoxically considered the only pilot sane enough to fly them. "That's some catch, that Catch-22," Heller’s everyman anti-hero Yossarian observed. “It's the best there is," his colleague agreed. Until yesterday, that is, when the President and Congress left consumers locked outside the courthouse doors with a new "best there is" Catch-22.
Yesterday the President signed anti-consumer legislation, the so-called Class Action Fairness Act. Bill # S. 5 rewards the business community for campaign contributions to both parties. It was opposed by labor, civil rights, and consumer groups and by the Administrative Conference of the U.S. Courts, chaired by Chief Justice Rehnquist. Not enough. (Links to Senate and House consumer coalition letters and Senate and House PIRG letters.) The bill supposedly is a modest procedural bill that moves most class action lawsuits out of state courts and into federal court, but it contains a nuclear bomb sized catch-22-- the federal courts often refuse to certify multi-state class actions based on state laws. So most victims of financial ripoffs, unsafe products or environmental contamination will no longer be able to hold corporate wrongdoers accountable. The bill is especially harmful to consumers from smaller states, where classes of victims might be too small to spread the costs of a single-state lawsuit. But then again, that's what the bill's proponents, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, wanted anyway. The Chamber wins the "let's legislate by anecdote and urban legend" award for its campaign against Madison County, Illinois and other so-called "judicial hellholes"-- they reached hard and named 13 supposed anti-business "hellholes" but found data on only 2, according to a detailed report by our colleagues at Public Citizen's Congress Watch. That's out of over 3,000 state court jurisidictions in the country-- and they're both in Illinois, where the state is already changing the rules to favor business. Two alleged problem counties is a call for federal action? We don't think so.
The catch-22 was first identified by Harvard Law Professor Arthur Miller, considered by most to be the nation's preeminent authority on civil procedure. Miller suggested in a letter to Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) a pro-consumer amendment to fix the Catch-22 problem, but even after it was modified to gain support from Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), a longtime supporter of the underlying bill, the Feinstein-Bingaman amendment was defeated 38-61 (Pro-consumer vote = YEA). The unimproved bill then passed the Senate 72-26 (pro-consumer vote=NAY) and sailed through the House the next day 279-149 (Pro-consumer vote = Nay). Find your own favorite legislator who should have voted against this bill and send him or her a letter!
1 Dec 2004 Find out all new credit and id theft rights, with PIRG's new downloadable pdf New Fair Credit Reporting and Identity Theft fact sheet (2 pages pdf). It includes toll-free contact information for many specialty credit bureaus that are required to provide free credit reports nationwide effective immediately. Here's a weblist of the specialty bureaus. Here's our main page on id theft and credit reporting. 24 Nov 2004 Free credit reports rolling out slowly, PIRG announces new model law for states to fight id theft. On 1 December, a number of new identity theft protections take effect nationwide. One new protection, the right to a free credit report on request, rolls out only in about a dozen western states and will take effect across the rest of the country over the next nine months. Find out more at PIRG's revamped identity theft and credit reporting pages. Along with Consumers Union, publishers of Consumer Reports Magazine, the state PIRGs have also rolled out a new model state law that fights identity theft, protects Social Security Numbers and bans the use of credit histories in insurance decisionmaking. See the new state model law page. By the way-- we urge consumers to check up on the credit bureaus by getting their free credit reports, but to reject offers to pay $40-100 or more for over-priced unnecessary credit monitoring products. The shameless credit bureaus, whose sloppy practices have fueled the identity theft epidemic, now claim the best way to fight identity theft is to pay them. Not necessary.
24 Nov 2004 Frontline and "Secret History of the Credit Card" Following its one-hour expose on credit card industry practices which aired last night, the award-winning public television documentary show PBS Frontline has posted a website on the show, including pages of excellent educational material about credit cards The site includes transcripts of its interviews with several experts on both sides, including interviews with industry critics U.S. Senator Chris Dodd (D-CT), Harvard Law Professor Elizabeth Warren, and U.S. PIRG Consumer Program Director Ed Mierzwinski. For more information about beating the credit card companies in their attempts to mire you in perpetual debt, also see the state PIRG site Truthaboutcredit.org.
23 Nov 2004 Trouble In Toyland-- State PIRGs around the nation, joined by doctors, public health officials and legislators, released the 19th annual PIRG Trouble In Toyland report today (release and PIRG's toysafety.net website.) The reports have resulted in over 120 recalls and other actions by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). In addition to pointing out choking, excessive noise and toxics hazards posed by numerous potentially unsafe toys, U.S. PIRG Consumer Advocate Lindsey Johnson criticized CPSC Chairman Hal Stratton for taking the water yo yo ball -- which poses threats of strangulation and eye injuries -- from his kids, but refusing to ban it. PIRG is working with Lisa Lipin, who created the site http://www.dangersofwateryoyos.com/ on seeking a ban of this toy. More information, plus our short brochure "Toy Tips" downloadable in English or Spanish, is available at our site Toysafety.net.
15 Nov 04 MARYPIRG releases new identity theft guide-- Find out how to download a copy of MaryPIRG's new consumer guide to identity theft here Identity theft is a fast growing crime. The guide is a 24 page full color (1mB pdf) brochure. It includes up-to-date tips based on new rights under 2003 Congressional amendments and also explains how to avoid the scam-du-jour -- phishing.
15 Nov 04 Good anti-preemption opedit in Sunday's Washington Post by Doug Kendall, of Community Rights Counsel. "Given the continuing possibility of bitter partisanship in Congress, where an energized Republican majority faces an unbowed Democratic minority, it is likely that states will continue to be the boldest actors across a range of policy initiatives. The Supreme Court's attitude toward their experimentation is every bit as important in shaping the direction of the country as its views on abortion and other hotly contested issues. " You can read the piece ("Ouch! You're Hurting Us: How the Court Is Stifling Innovation at the State Level" 14 Nov 04) on the Post's site, but if they take it down after a few weeks, it should be available here at Community Rights. PIRG's own anti-preemption resources, articles and opedits, are archived here.
5 Nov 04 CALPIRG launches cable reform campaign CALPIRG has launched a new campaign to ensure that Los Angeles (both the city and its residents) benefits from the cable broadband and Internet revoluntion as it renegotiates monopoly cable television contracts with several powerful cable comapnies. CALPIRG is working with the Center for Digital Democracy, The city is taking on powerful media giants Comcast, Time Warner, Cox, and the bankrupt Adelphia. Historically, cable companies have provided a franchise fee equal to 5% of revenues, plus support for public access (PEG) facilities. We believe the companies can, and should, do more. Consumers deserve better service and the community deserves the benefits offered by the digital broadband future. The cable renewals offer the City Council an historic opportunity.
4 Nov 04 Ballot referenda a mixed bag for consumers. Colorado consumer gain two victories; Californians suffer big loss.: This week, Colorado voters enacted two big COPIRG-backed wins for consumers. First, Amendment 35 quadrupled tobacco taxes from 20 cents, a pathetic level generally only seen in tobacco-growing states, to 84 cents. The new money goes to pay for health care for uninsured kids -- helping to deal with the crisis of 45 million uninsured Americans that Congress and the President have completely ignored. The big tax increase has an added benefit-- it will drastically lower teen smoking rates and save many lives. Colorado's second big win: Amendment 37 requires utilities to get off the polluting fuels and move quickly to renewables by setting a 10% renewable energy requirement by 2015. Recently, COPIRG spun off its environmental work to a new organization, Environment Colorado. Not surprisingly, the new home of COPIRG's environmental work led the landmark renewables campaign for Amendment 35 and here is their release. It includes quotes from Democratic US Rep Mark Udall of Boulder and Republican Colorado State House Speaker Lola Spradley, showing the bi-partisan support for renewable energy at the state level-- again, another issue ignored or opposed by federal leadership. Unfortunately, California voters were convinced to vote against themselves. They enacted a CALPIRG-opposed (here's CALPIRG's webpage opposing 64) but business and Governor Schwarzenegger-backed proposal, Proposition 64, which makes it harder to sue companies when they deceive consumers, pollute, or otherwise break the law. Here's CALPIRG's release condemning the passage of 64.
28 Oct 04 Halloween "gift" to consumers-- Check 21. The Federal Reserve Board toiled for years to get Congress to give banks faster access to the checks we write-- but not to give us faster access to the checks we deposit. A new law, Check 21, takes effect today. It eliminates the return of canceled checks; banks now will convert checks to electronic images and move them through the system more quickly, eliminating float but increasing bounced checks and error rates. Of course, the Fed refused to support giving us faster access to our deposited money, or give us greater consumer rights in the brave new world of electronic "imaged checks." Find out more about the pro-bank, anti-consumer law that takes effect today-- "Check 21." See USPIRG Release. Or, go to Colorado PIRG's Check 21 pages.
21 Oct 04 Paying the Price documents high Rx prices: Nationally, uninsured Americans pay 78% more on average for 12 common prescription drugs than the federal government pays for the same medications. Go to the new 19 state and District of Columbia survey of nearly 500 pharmacies.
16 Oct 04 Save CRA-Stop Divestment USPIRG, several state PIRGs have joined thousands of community groups filing comments in opposition to plan by FDIC to eliminate detailed Community Reinvestment Act examinations for 90% of banks it regulates. Law protects communities from divestment, ensures that rural areas and inner cities have opportunities for loans, adequate service by bank branches, etc. USPIRG comments here. Save CRA website of coalition partners here.
30 Sep 04 Rx: We've added a new Rx page describing the national work by consumer advocate Lindsey Johnson in support of prescription drug reform, with links to the important work of the state PIRGs, such as CALPIRG's new report on drug company influence peddling to doctors (they call it "detailing").
28 Sep 04 New consumer agenda: With consumer protections under unprecedented assault, six of the countrys leading public-interest groups -- including U.S. PIRG -- have joined for the first time to develop an agenda of the top six urgent reforms consumers and journalists should question policymakers about right now. Here's the news release from U.S. PIRG, Public Citizen, Consumers Union (publishers of Consumer Reports), Consumer Federation of America, National Association of Consumer Advocates and the National Consumer Law Center. The new agenda lists our top six urgent priorities-- fighting rising energy prices, protecting legal rights, fighting predatory lending, ensuring universal health care, protecting privacy and making our food safe.
27 Sept 04 State PIRGs/U.S. PIRG back FDA regulation of tobacco industry: Several state PIRGs and U.S. PIRG joined hundreds of groups urging Congress to enact tough FDA authority over the tobacco industry. The letter urges that the House-Senate Conference Report on the FSC/ETI bill include the DeWine-Kennedy FDA language without any weakening changes.
21 July 04 Consumer Groups Express Concern Over Majoras Nomination To Head FTC U.S. PIRG, Consumers Union and Consumer Federation of America send Senate Commerce Chairman John McCain-R-AZ a letter expressing serious concerns over President Bush's nominee, oil industry lawyer Deborah Majoras, to head the FTC.Although Senator Ron Wyden-D-OR successfully held up the nomination in the Senate, Bush made her a recess appointment and she took office 16 August. As we note in our letter, during a short tenure as an assistant attorney general at the Department of Justice, Majoras led DOJ settlement negotiations with Microsoft and exhibited a lack of appreciation for the role of the states in enforcing the anti-trust laws. "The FTC, much more so than DOJ, needs to work with state Attorneys General and other regulators to protect consumers," the letter said. We also expressed grave concerns over whether her views on media monopolies and further oil and gas industry consolidation would enhance or hurt consumer protection.