What can you do if you want to help stamp money out of politics? Well, Ben Cohen, the Ben from Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream, has an idea: stamp money.

The founder of one of the biggest ice cream brands in the country is teaming up with Public Citizen, Move to Amend and People for the American Way to garner support for a constitutional amendment to overturn the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which allows corporations to spend unlimited money to influence elections, and related cases.

To raise awareness, Ben & Jerry’s are calling on concerned citizens to stamp dollar bills with slogans such as “corporations are not people” and “not to be used for buying elections.” These stamps are being sold at cost at the Stamp Stampede website (http://stampstampede.org/shop/).

“It’s some monetary jujitsu – using money to get money out of politics,” Cohen told the USA Today.

The Stamp Stampede calculates that every bill will be seen by approximately 875 people in its lifetime. If 100 people stamped 10 bills every day, the entire population of the United States would have seen the message at least once within a year. Activists are being encouraged to stamp as many bills as they can to exercise their right to free speech and raise awareness of the dangers of corporate money in politics.

Cohen has consulted with his lawyer and assures activists that stamping dollar bills is legal. The First Amendment protects the stamps because they are political messages that don’t damage the bills or render them unusable.

You can get more involved with Public Citizen’s efforts for a constitutional amendment at www.democracyisforpeople.org.

 

On July 24, the White House faced a massive demonstration of activists protesting one of the most deeply distressing aspects of today’s society—the failure of policy makers, politicians, and businesses throughout the world to join the fight to eradicate HIV/AIDS.  The protest brought together a diverse mix of people against the backdrop of the International AIDS conference that is in town this week.

The march began from five separate areas, each dedicated to a different demand, and converged on the White House where protestors attached red ribbons, condoms, money, and clean syringes (the tools to combat AIDS) to the White House.  All the while hundreds of protestors chanted that the “world is watching,” and “tax the rich,” among other slogans.

Public Citizen’s Global Access to Medicines showed up in force along the People Over PhRma Profits route—advocating for lower costs to generic drugs, dropping the Novartis case in India, and fighting against the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).   Public Citizen, the American Medical Students Association and other activists marched to the headquarters of the United States Trade Representative (USTR), the executive agency responsible for the secret negotiations over the TPP.  Beneath an oversized pharma- fat cat pulling the strings of an actor dressed Ambassador Ron Kirk, Obama’s United States Trade Representative (USTR), activists demanded Kirk’s resignation.

Since Kirk was appointed by President Obama as the United States Trade Representative in 2009, he is currently responsible for negotiating the TPP, a free-trade agreement that threatens to increase the breadth of patentable drugs in the Pacific Rim countries and impose harsh intellectual property regimes. If countries fail to fall in line with Kirk’s draconian IP regime, politicians, individuals and businesses of all sizes will be denied access to the world’s largest market of goods—the U.S.  Facing the strong economic and political pressure of the United States, many countries compromise on the IP portion.  To make matters worse, American businesses are also complicit in efforts outside the TPP to prevent access to medicine.

The protestors next targeted the headquarters of Novartis, a large pharmaceutical company that is suing India on the basis that their patent laws fail to meet international obligations, are unconstitutionally vague, and unfairly let generic drug manufacturers produce cheap drugs.  Although the patent that Novartis is wrangling over in the courts is not an AIDS drug, the fallout from the case will lead to higher prices for 2nd and 3rd line antiretroviral drugs, necessary for AIDS treatment if 1st line treatment prove fail.  Activists cried “shame” and lied down in front of the Novartis office to symbolize the lives Novartis is taking through prohibitive drug prices.

All five branches of the movement united at Lafayette Square, where they marched to the White House together.  Many called on President Obama to fire Kirk, but keep in mind that Kirk is executing a policy the President has put in place.  Obama can easily alleviate the access to medicines issue by endorsing various policy proposals, saving thousands of lives.   Specifically, policies such as federal funding for drug research, government purchase plans, advocating the use of compulsory licenses by emerging countries, or removing the unnecessarily harsh IP provisions in U.S. FTAs would increase access to medicine.  Hopefully, he realizes the prices for these policies are not too expensive.

On July 24, the White House faced a massive demonstration of activists protesting one of the most deeply distressing aspects of today’s society—the failure of policy makers, politicians, and businesses throughout the world to join the fight to eradicate HIV/AIDS.  The protest brought together a diverse mix of people against the backdrop of the International AIDS conference that is in town this week.

The march began from five separate areas, each dedicated to a different demand, and converged on the White House where protestors attached red ribbons, condoms, money, and clean syringes (the tools to combat AIDS) to the White House.  All the while hundreds of protestors chanted that the “world is watching,” and “tax the rich,” among other slogans.

Public Citizen’s Global Access to Medicines showed up in force along the People Over PhRma Profits route—advocating for lower costs to generic drugs, dropping the Novartis case in India, and fighting against the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).   Public Citizen, the American Medical Students Association and other activists marched to the headquarters of the United States Trade Representative (USTR), the executive agency responsible for the secret negotiations over the TPP.  Beneath an oversized pharma- fat cat pulling the strings of an actor dressed Ambassador Ron Kirk, Obama’s United States Trade Representative (USTR), activists demanded Kirk’s resignation.

Since Kirk was appointed by President Obama as the United States Trade Representative in 2009, he is currently responsible for negotiating the TPP, a free-trade agreement that threatens to increase the breadth of patentable drugs in the Pacific Rim countries and impose harsh intellectual property regimes. If countries fail to fall in line with Kirk’s draconian IP regime, politicians, individuals and businesses of all sizes will be denied access to the world’s largest market of goods—the U.S.  Facing the strong economic and political pressure of the United States, many countries compromise on the IP portion.  To make matters worse, American businesses are also complicit in efforts outside the TPP to prevent access to medicine.

The protesters next targeted the headquarters of Novartis, a large pharmaceutical company that is suing India on the basis that their patent laws fail to meet international obligations, are unconstitutionally vague, and unfairly let generic drug manufacturers produce cheap drugs.  Although the patent that Novartis is wrangling over in the courts is not an AIDS drug, the fallout from the case will lead to higher prices for 2nd and 3rd line antiretroviral drugs, necessary for AIDS treatment if 1st line treatment prove fail.  Activists cried “shame” and lied down in front of the Novartis office to symbolize the lives Novartis is taking through prohibitive drug prices.

All five branches of the movement united at Lafayette Square, where they marched to the White House together.  Many called on President Obama to fire Kirk, but keep in mind that Kirk is executing a policy the President has put in place.  Obama can easily alleviate the access to medicines issue by endorsing various policy proposals, saving thousands of lives.   Specifically, policies such as federal funding for drug research, government purchase plans, advocating the use of compulsory licenses by emerging countries, or removing the unnecessarily harsh IP provisions in U.S. FTAs would increase access to medicine.  Hopefully, he realizes the prices for these policies are not too expensive.

 

James Cormie is a legal intern at Global Access to Medicine. He blogs on issues of trade, IP, and international law. He is originally from Edmonton, Alberta.

Dear Fellow Canadians:

Welcome to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations! Fresh off a bruising fight getting provisions that protect internet freedom and privacy into Canada’s copyright Bill C-11, I’m sure that you are exhausted with defending your rights. Take heart. With the TPP you will not have much of a say on laws or policies threatening your privacy, rights on the internet and access to affordable medicines. Instead, lobbyists from major American industries and some 600 “corporate trade advisors” have helped lay out some of what the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) expects from you.

These are the same industries that forced major concessions on C-11’s approach to digital locks despite near-universal criticism. Hundreds of pages of new non-trade policy contained in the most sweeping “free trade agreement.”  The USTR proposes intellectual property provisions that cover dramatically more than copyright law. They touch a wide range of IP issues.  And you thought NAFTA was a pill? Sure, Big PhRMA used NAFTA to attack our drug formulary system and all of those compulsory licenses for affordable meds. But back then, our government drew a line.  Despite some considerable hysteria from the U.S. drug industry giants, did not give away all of our policy space. This time, however, TPP gives PM Harper a way to write all of us a real prescription for high drug prices and cement his view of Canada as an extended playground for corporate America.

Here are some of the highlights of the US proposed IP chapter:

• Expand patent evergreening and create new pharmaceutical monopolies, raising medicine costs
• Dramatically increase the life of a copyright term from 50 years in most cases under C-11 to 95 years
• Increase penalties for circumvention and reduce the exceptions for individuals
• Establish an American-style notice-and-take down system for online copyright infringement

This seems like a lot. If you were worried, however, that we had some duty to at least read the proposals for the law and voice our democratic concern—fear not. Negotiators act in secret. The only glimpse of the actual agreement so far has come from leaked copies of the text from the IP, Investment, and other chapters. Remember in the good old days of ACTA when the University of Ottawa filed an access to information request but received a blacked out document with only the title? Expect similar treatment during TPP negotiations. While lobbyists and corporate liaisons are granted electronic access to the agreement, your parliamentary representative might have to walk down to the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade to speak personally with The Honourable David Johnston, Minister of International Trade.

Moreover, if you are distressed by the fact that our respectable Department of Trade will have lots of work reviewing all the work done so far once Canada’s negotiators get hold of these secret drafts, you will be relieved to hear that Canada has a lesser role in the negotiations. By coming late to the table, Canada has achieved a 2nd tier position. This status requires Canada to agree to all the settled chapters, which they have not even read, and Canada cannot veto current provisions. Thus, not even lobbyists or the Trade Minister need concern themselves with settled provisions. The TPP negotiations shut individual citizens and even members of parliament and ministers out of the process.

The public response to C-11 proved that civil engagement has made a difference on intellectual property issues in Canada. The people, frustrated, fearful, and bedraggled, woke up to the oppressive measures of industry groups and fought hard. But this is far from the end. In upcoming years, we might still witness the implementation of a multinational corporations’ wish list, which seeks to criminalize copyright infringement, implement ACTA-plus provisions, and restrict Canadians’ access to affordable medicines. Through the TPP, USTR seeks to achieve all these goals and more—without too much of a voice from us. Will we allow American industry to dictate to the Canadian people our rights – or stand up and demand that Canada step down from these negotiations?

Founders, family, directors and staff gathered at Public Citizen’s headquarters on Tuesday to honor one of their own.  Aileen Walsh, winner of Public Citizen’s ninth annual Phyllis McCarthy Public Interest Award, received praise from speaker after speaker including Ralph Nader, Sydney Wolfe, President Robert Weissman, former President Joan Claybrook, Jackie Gillan and Judy Stone, both of whom are from the organization Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety.

The common theme among the speakers was Aileen’s perpetual
good mood and multitude of roles that she functioned as within the organization
– therapist, social director, event planner (the staff couldn’t keep her away
from setting up for her own event), successful fundraiser, and her and her willingness to do any job – as long as it was done right.

Public Citizen created the award after Phyllis McCarthy passed away in November 2002. McCarthy began her career in 1978 with Public Citizen’s Health Research Group, and helped pioneer the development of every health publication now produced by Public Citizen.  The award recognizes individuals who have worked for a public interest group for many years, performing critical functions as did McCarthy, but who have not received public credit for their contributions.

Aileen Walsh (maiden name Coyne), a Pittsburgh native, is the first award-winner who has worked with McCarthy. She joined Public Citizen in July 1993 as the executive assistant to then-President Joan Claybrook and continues to take on many roles at the organization.

Walsh assists the president, board members and the directors in scheduling conferences calls, making travel arrangements and setting up meetings.  Her success at dialing for dollars is legendary, as nearly every speaker mentioned he ability to get a donation out of anyone she calls.

Around the organization,
her nickname is “queen mother.”

“With her high energy, good spirit, sense of humor, experience, wisdom, commitment, passion, insight, intelligence, wit, common sense and sense of fun, Aileen Walsh keeps a very intense staff functioning, effective and happy,” Weissman said. “There’s no royalty at Public Citizen, but we make an exception for our Queen, Aileen Walsh.”

“It was so great to see such a big turnout – and seeing all my friends from over the years was so nice, and Jackie and Judy showing up was such a wonderful surprise,” said Walsh.  “I didn’t expect this award and I am still in shock from Tuesday night.”

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