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This alert analyses a variety of measures of debt to provide an overall sense of changes in U.S. household debt levels and the impact of those changes on different groups of families.
Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch;
A Special Report By Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch and Critical Mass Energy and Environment Program. A review of U.S. government "system" audits of five nations (Brazil, Mexico, Argentina, Australia and Canada) reveals that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)'s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) deemed "equivalent" systems with sanitary measures that differ from FSIS policy, and in some cases, violate the express language of U.S. laws and regulations. Because FSIS has refused to respond to Public Citizen Freedom of Information Act requests for correspondence and other documentation regarding these equivalency decisions, it is impossible to determine what is the current status of these issues and whether they have been resolved by regulators. - The U.S. law requiring meat to be inspected by independent government officials was violated by Brazil and Mexico and they retained their eligibility to export to the United States. - The USDA's zero tolerance policy for contamination by feces was repeatedly violated by Australia, Canada and Mexico. - U.S. regulations requiring monthly supervisory reviews of plants eligible to export be conducted on behalf of USDA by foreign government officials were violated by Argentina, Brazil, Canada and Mexico, several of whom are seeking to avoid this core requirement of U.S. regulation. Monthly reviews are vitally important to remind the meat industry that the meat inspector who works the line in the plant is backed by the weight of the government and to double-check the work of meat inspectors on a regular basis. - Even though U.S. regulations requiring that a government official -- not a company employee -- sample meat for salmonella microbial contamination, the USDA approved company employees performing this task as part of an equivalency determination with Brazil and Canada. - Even though U.S. regulations require certain microbial testing to be performed at government labs, the U.S. approved testing by private labs as part of the equivalency determination with Brazil, Canada and Mexico. - Unapproved and/or improper testing procedures and sanitation violations have been re-identified by FSIS year after year for Australia, Brazil, Canada and Mexico, but the countries have retained their eligibility to export to the United States. - After its regulatory systems was designated "equivalent," Mexico began using alternative procedures for salmonella and E. coli that had never been evaluated by FSIS, yet the country retained its eligibility to import to the United States. - Australia and Canada were allowed to export to the United States while using their own methods and procedures for such matters as E. coli testing, postmortem inspection, monthly supervisory reviews and pre-shipment reviews while awaiting an equivalency determination from FSIS. - FSIS auditors and Canadian food safety officials continue to disagree about whether particular measures have already been found "equivalent" by FSIS, yet Canadian imports remained uninterrupted. - The regulatory systems of Brazil and Mexico have been rated equivalent even though the countries plead insufficient personnel and monetary resources to explain their inability to carry out all required functions.
Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch;
This fact sheet is part of Public Citizen's "NAFTA at Ten Series" and documents the results of the failed NAFTA model. Before NAFTA, trade agreements dealt with traditional matters such as cutting tariffs and lifting quotas that had set the terms of trade in goods between countries. NAFTA shattered the boundaries of trade agreements; its central focus and most powerful rules concerned investment, and it contained 900 pages of one-size-fits-all "non-trade" rules with significant implications for food safety, drug patents and access to medicines, not to mention jobs, wages and economic security. It also constrained the ability of local government to zone against sprawl or toxic industries. NAFTA was a radical experiment -- never before had a merger of three nations with such different levels of development been attempted. When NAFTA was being debated, proponents and opponents alike predicted its consequences. Now the data are in. What are NAFTA's lessons in Canada, the United States and Mexico? The Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) and Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) are both proposals to expand NAFTA, but NAFTA's record is playing a significant role in both the hesitance of some FTAA target countries to adopt the NAFTA model and the concerns of U.S. lawmakers to approve CAFTA.
Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch;
In November of 1993, the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) released NAFTA We Need It, a collection of anecdotes from more than 250 companies describing how they would create U.S. jobs and face improved business prospects if Congress passed the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
As NAM President Jerry Jasinowski proclaimed in the report's forward: "U.S. companies are publicly sharing information on their market prospects in Mexico -- information normally considered 'company proprietary' and jealously guarded from the competition...They are doing so to convince Congress to approve the pact. These anecdotes...clearly illustrate how important the Mexican and other foreign markets are to U.S. companies and U.S. jobs."(1)
Three years after NAFTA went into effect, Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch examined the specific promises contained in the NAM's report and other pro-NAFTA business and government reports and congressional testimony to determine whether NAFTA has actually created the U.S. jobs that its proponents promised. By tracking the performance outcomes of specific job creation and export expansion promises of businesses and industry organizations, this report documents a broad sample of NAFTAs real life results.
As leading promoters of NAFTA, the firms surveyed for this report were the most likely to embody the promised benefits of NAFTA. This report reveals how the real life experiences of these pro-NAFTA companies three years into NAFTA now embody a very different story -- one which shows that NAFTA is not working. New U.S. jobs are not being created by NAFTA and NAFTA is causing major U.S. job loss.
Despite NAFTA's three year record, many of NAFTA's original industry and political boosters are now urging an immediate expansion of NAFTA to additional countries in the Americas. Any prudent consideration of NAFTA's future must be based on the real life evidence of NAFTA's actual performance.
With this study, Public Citizen demands: "Show Us the New NAFTA Jobs!" Recently, NAFTA's proponents have made weak attempts to use new statistical models to demonstrate NAFTA job creation. However, repeated inquiries to the Department of Commerce and our own studies have failed to uncover more than a few hundred actual new jobs attributable to NAFTA. These jobs stand in stark contrast to the NAFTA job loss reported by the NAFTA TAA program, which itself is a fraction of the actual NAFTA job loss. This study attempts to get past the phantom jobs NAFTA's defenders claim (using their economic models) and to look for the specific jobs created by NAFTA.
Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch;
Report documents that Mexico's truck safety regulations are virtually non-existent, that Mexican trucks have far more safety deficiencies than U.S. trucks, that a disproportionate number of Mexican trucks crossing the border have been taken out of service for serious safety violations, and that the U.S. lacks enough inspectors to check incoming trucks. Further, Texas border communities within the commercial border zone in which Mexican trucks are permitted have seen a dramatic increase in highway fatalities and serious injuries from crashes involving trucks with Mexican registrations, the report found.
Pew Health Group;
Outlines potentially harmful practices prohibited on consumer credit cards but not on business credit cards, including unpredictable pricing structures and penalty interest rate increases. Recommends applying the Credit CARD Act more broadly.
Public Citizen Foundation, Inc.;
In October 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Shaun McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, a case that challenges federal limits on the grand total an individual can contribute to federal candidates, political parties, and political action committees (PACs). In Part 1 of this two-part series, we examine several options available to the court and how potential outcomes could transform how candidates and parties can raise money.
Public Citizen Foundation, Inc.;
Many believe that U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Roberts will provide the swing vote in the court's decision in Shaun McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission (McCutcheon), a case challenging the constitutionality of caps on the total amount of campaign contributions an individual may make to candidates, political parties, and political action committees. Based on his comments during oral arguments, some have speculated that Roberts will vote to strike down limits on aggregate contributions to candidates but will support maintaining limits on contributions to parties and political action committees (PACs).
We illustrated in Part 1 of this two-part series that eliminating limits on aggregate contributions to candidates while leaving other aggregate limits intact would enable joint fundraising committees (JFCs) operated by party leaders and elected officials to solicit contributions as large as $2.5 million from a single donor. This report shows that a supposed middle ground that permitted unlimited aggregate contributions to candidates but retained caps on contributions to parties would also likely end up eroding the integrity of limits on contributions to parties.
Under a scenario in which only caps on total contributions to candidates were struck down, the party leaders and elected officials who administer joint fundraising committees would likely end up soliciting checks of more than $2.5 million from major donors. The vast majority of these contributions would be distributed to candidates in increments of $5,200 per recipient. However, because candidates could transfer their share of contributions received from JFCs to party committees, leaders of JFCs, would likely pressure candidates, the majority of whom are running in uncompetitive races, to redirect that money to back party committees.
Using conservative estimates about the number of major donors that would contribute $2.5 million to a joint fundraising committee if the court eliminated caps on total contributions to candidates, and data on the number of competitive and non-competitive congressional races in recent election cycles, we estimate that eliminating the aggregate limit on contributions to candidates could enable candidates to transfer more than $74 million to the national party committees combined. Each donor would effectively be contributing the equivalent of more than $1.8 million to party committees, or more than 24 times the legal limit.
Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch;
In the summer of 2001, family farmers and ranchers throughout North America are struggling.
During the 1993 debate over the fate of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), U.S. farmers and ranchers were promised that NAFTA would provide access to new export markets and thus would finally bring a lasting solution to farmers' off-and-on struggles for economic success.Now, seven years later, the evidence shows farm income has declined, consumer prices have risen and some giant agribusinesses have reaped huge profits. These outcomes are defining the growing national debates over President Bush's proposals to establish Fast Track trade authority and to expand NAFTA through the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA).This report reveals the basis for farmers' concern about NAFTA and its model of export-oriented agriculture. For the past seven years, Midwestern and Plains states wheat farmers; ranchers in Montana, Texas and other states; vegetable, flower and fruit growers in California; lumber mill owners in Louisiana, Arkansas and Washington; vegetable growers in Florida; chicken farmers nationwide and others have suffered declining commodity prices and farm income while a flood of NAFTA imports outpaced U.S. exports to Canada and Mexico.
Yet it was not farmers in Mexico or Canada who benefitted from U.S. farmers' woes. Millions of campesinos throughout Mexico have lost a significant source of income and left their small corn farms. Some became farm laborers working in squalid conditions for poverty wages on large plantations growing produce for export to the U.S. Others moved to Mexico's cities where unemployment is high. Canadian grain and dairy farmers also face steeply rising debt during the NAFTA era. This report also documents the rise in Mexican staple food prices, such as in tortilla prices, even as the price paid to Mexican corn farmers dropped 48%.
However, NAFTA has brought seven years of good fortune to many of the agribusinesses that pressured Washington, Ottawa and Mexico City to negotiate and ratify NAFTA's corporate- managed trade terms. Since NAFTA stripped away many safeguards for the folks who produce raw agricultural products, relative power and leverage has grown for large agribusiness conglomerates to exert pressure on both farmers and consumers.
In Washington D.C., the Bush Administration is pushing forward with an ambitious plan to expand the NAFTA model throughout the hemisphere through FTAA. President George W. Bush and his principal trade policy advisors have stated that they intend to make the debate about NAFTA expansion and Fast Track (which they want to rename "Presidential Trade Promotion Authority") a referendum on NAFTA.
Public Citizen agrees that the debate over NAFTA expansion indeed, the national conversation about the premises and direction of U.S. trade policy should be decided on the basis of the real-life results of NAFTA and the model on which it is based.
In this report, we show how independent farmers in the U.S., Mexico and Canada have seen agricultural prices plummet, farm incomes collapse and critical domestic agriculture safety net programs dismantled. International free trade agreements and the domestic policies which furthered implementation of the export-oriented model, such as the U.S. "Freedom to Farm Act," have proved to benefit only the largest agribusinesses while the majority of farmers and consumers have lost.
Public Citizen's Congress Watch;
This report examines two recent papers on binding mandatory arbitration that were published or financially supported by the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform. Public Citizen analyzes the empirical evidence that these "Chamber Papers" cite, finding that they paint a grossly inaccurate picture of the evidence on binding mandatory arbitration. Significantly, not a single study cited in the Chamber papers showed individuals receiving higher average awards in arbitration than court. Individuals also fared worse in most other measures comparing the two forums. Finally, even the author of the papers, Catholic University law professor Peter Rutledge, has contradicted many of the papers' claims in his past writings.
Since the imposition of surcharges for the use of automatic teller machines became widespread in 1996, the number of ATMs has increased significantly. That increase has benefited consumers greatly by making bank transactions more easily accessible.
Critics of surcharges claim that banks are not passing cost savings generated by large ATM networks on to consumers. Such claims are false; operating ATMs is expensive and forces banks to use their own resources to meet consumer demand for ATMs. And surcharges are not anti-competitive; the banking industry remains competitive. Surcharges have created a new area of competition among banks as they try to meet consumer needs for fast and easy access to banks.
Consumers who do not want to pay surcharges have plenty of options for accessing their bank accounts without paying a fee. A ban on ATM surcharges, as proposed by Sen. Alfonse D'Amato (R-N.Y.), would serve only to deny an important timesaving option to consumers who are willing to pay for the convenience of ATMs.
Many states have automobile franchise laws that impede or prohibit newcomers from entering the business of selling cars within certain local markets. The laws protect licensed local automobile dealers from certain types of competition; moreover, in many states those laws have the effect of prohibiting anyone except a licensed dealer from selling cars over the Internet.
Defenders of the laws assert that they are necessary to protect consumers and dealers themselves. However, those laws harm consumers by impeding competition among sellers of cars. Several economic studies, including a study by the Federal Trade Commission, support that conclusion.
In addition, state regulation of Internet commerce threatens to impede interstate commerce. The Constitution's commerce clause was intended to prevent states from erecting trade barriers that protect local businesses at the expense of national trade. The courts, therefore, will frown on states' trying to protect local dealers at the expense of consumers nationwide.
The Internet is changing the traditional relationship among manufacturers, middlemen, and consumers. The middleman will not become extinct, but consumers will interact more with manufacturers, as often manufacturers are the best source of information about a product.
Protectionist laws that make it harder to compete with traditional dealers harm consumers and will simply lead to stagnation. States should repeal laws that restrict online automobile sales before the Internet economy leaves their citizens behind.