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Note: Today, U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) unveiled a legislative package of reforms endorsed by 45 groups (PDF) to combat corruption.
There is a danger that the spotlight on President Donald Trump's outrageous transgressions of ethics standards and unprecedented, global conflicts of interest will blind us to the more pervasive corporate corruption of our government. Corporate corruption has hit its nadir with the Trump administration, but it is a historical, structural and bipartisan problem. That is why Public Citizen is so enthused to endorse Warren's breakthrough Anti-Corruption and Public Integrity Act, sweeping legislation to root out corporate corruption and return our government to We the People.
Despite partisan gridlock in Washington and an increasing cultural polarization, Americans actually agree by overwhelming numbers on an aggressive policy agenda to make our country fairer, safer, healthier, more sustainable and more equal. Overwhelming majorities, up to 80 percent and above, want to see a steep rise in the minimum wage, Social Security not just protected but expanded, health care for all, pharmaceutical price gouging ended, rogue corporations held accountable and Wall Street banks broken up. Americans favor aggressive measures to protect food safety, strong environmental measures even when pitted (falsely) against jobs, higher corporate taxes and closing corporate tax loopholes. Yet our government is unresponsive to those demands - because, simply, the system is rigged.
No single reform, nor even any single set of reforms, can solve this problem. But Warren's bill would peel away layers of corruption.
Too frequently - indeed, characteristically in the Trump administration - revolving door lobbyists and corporate representatives gain control of regulatory agencies, putting them in charge of setting and enforcing the rules for the very industries they previously represented and, typically, will represent again after leaving government. The Anti-Corruption and Public Integrity Act slams shut the revolving door, significantly through the creation of a new legal category of "corporate lobbyist," for whom revolving door rules are airtight.
Too frequently, even regulatory agencies that seek to fulfill their public interest mission are hamstrung by a rulemaking system that introduces endless delay, puts undue weight on the self-interested claims by regulated business and provides business an opportunity to bottleneck or weaken regulations at the U.S. Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, a small and obscure but super-powerful agency within the U.S. Office of Management and Budget. The Anti-Corruption and Public Integrity Act addresses all of these corporate chokepoints on public interest rulemaking - and, crucially, it creates a new Office of the Public Advocate to make sure the public, not just corporate interests, are meaningfully involved in the development of new rules.
Too frequently, a double standard in place leads to harsh punishment for street criminals - but slap-on-the-wrist penalties for corporate wrongdoers. Government law enforcers - themselves often subject to revolving-door problems - commonly go out of their way to give companies the benefit of the doubt - often forgiving lawbreaking simply for a promise not to break the law again. As one reference point, U.S. Department of Justice penalties on corporations have plummeted 90 percent under the Trump administration. The Anti-Corruption and Public Integrity Act helps make sure the corporate crooks can't get away with it, by empowering citizens to enforce the laws against corporate wrongdoers, if government agents decline.
There is more, much more, in this excellent anti-corruption measure. If adopted and coupled with comprehensive campaign finance reform, the American people would regain faith in their government, which would again start working for the people, not the rich and powerful. That's what's at stake, and it's why this anti-corruption legislation is so desperately needed.
Public Citizen is a nonprofit consumer advocacy organization that champions the public interest in the halls of power. We defend democracy, resist corporate power and work to ensure that government works for the people - not for big corporations. Founded in 1971, we now have 500,000 members and supporters throughout the country.(202) 588-1000
The court found that two bans passed in 2022 conflicted with the Oklahoma Constitution's guarantee of a pregnant person's "inherent right" to life.
The Oklahoma state Supreme Court on Wednesday became the latest state-level court to rebuke Republican legislation passed in recent months to bar residents from accessing abortion care, ruling that two laws signed by GOP Gov. Kevin Stitt are unconstitutional.
The court found that S.B. 1603 and H.B. 4327 both conflict with an earlier ruling in March, when five of the nine justices ruled that the Oklahoma Constitution guarantees the "inherent right of a pregnant woman to terminate a pregnancy when necessary to preserve her life."
Earlier this year, the South Carolina Supreme Court ruled that a six-week abortion ban violated the state's constitutional right to privacy. Republicans in the state ignored that finding this month as they passed another six-week ban, only to have a state judge grant abortion providers and three rights groups a temporary restraining order, blocking the law from taking effect.
The ruling by the Oklahoma court on Wednesday was 6-3, with Justice Richard Darby joining the majority due to the precedent set by the March ruling.
S.B. 1603 banned abortion care after the point at which an ultrasound can detect an electronically induced sound from the tissue that will become a fetus' heart—often erroneously referred to as an actual fetal heartbeat by pro-forced pregnancy groups and lawmakers.
H.B. 4327 imposed a near-total ban on abortion care with exceptions for medical emergencies in which a pregnant person's life was at risk and for cases of rape or incest that had been reported to law enforcement.
As Common Dreamsreported in April, the life of at least one woman in Oklahoma was put at risk by those so-called "exceptions" when she developed a cancerous molar pregnancy and was told by three different hospitals that she could not obtain an abortion for the condition, which had no chance of ever developing into a fetus.
The woman, Jaci Statton, was eventually advised by one hospital staffer to wait in the facility's parking lot until her heavy bleeding and other symptoms reached the point of "crashing," at which point doctors would be able to treat her without fearing a lawsuit permitted under Oklahoma's laws.
In the state Supreme Court ruling on Wednesday, said Slate journalist Mark Joseph Stern, "the majority found that both the total ban and the 'heartbeat' ban lacked a sufficient exception for medical emergencies."
\u201cThe majority found that both the total ban and the "heartbeat" ban lacked a sufficient exception for medical emergencies, and that the remainder of each bill was not severable from the emergency provision. So it struck down both laws in their entirety. Quite a big deal.\u201d— Mark Joseph Stern (@Mark Joseph Stern) 1685547764
Oklahoma Attorney General Gentner Drummond responded to the ruling by saying a 1910 abortion ban is still in effect due to the U.S. Supreme Court's overturning of Roe v. Wade last year. The law bans abortion care except when it is necessary to preserve the life of the pregnant person.
"Except for certain circumstances outlined in that statute, abortion is still unlawful in the state of Oklahoma," Drummond said.
\u201cThe Oklahoma AG appears to believe that abortion remains illegal in the state under a 1910 criminal ban, which tees up another challenge at the Oklahoma Supreme Court. It strikes me as ... unlikely that this court will allow that law to be enforced.\nhttps://t.co/sH4pG2DM17\u201d— Mark Joseph Stern (@Mark Joseph Stern) 1685547764
The Republican attorney general's claim "tees up another challenge at the Oklahoma Supreme Court," said Stern.
Considering the justices' recent rulings, he said, "it strikes me as... unlikely that this court will allow that law to be enforced."
"We cannot allow generative AI to promote a parasitic economy that diverts financial resources that should benefit the news media," said one advocate.
Warning of the ongoing expansion of artificial intelligence-generated websites that resemble legitimate news outlets and draw ad revenue away from them, Reporters Without Borders on Wednesday implored search engines and advertisers to slow the spread of automated "content farms" by denying them access to "funds that should be reserved for real journalism."
"We cannot allow generative AI to promote a parasitic economy that diverts financial resources that should benefit the news media," Vincent Berthier, head of the Tech Desk at Reporters Without Borders (RSF), said in a statement.
"As well as an overall fall in the quality of online information, there is also a real danger of a further decline in funding essential to online media," said Berthier. "We urge search engines and advertisers not to allow these AI-generated sites to become profitable."
"As well as an overall fall in the quality of online information, there is also a real danger of a further decline in funding essential to online media."
Earlier this month, NewsGuard, which evaluates the reliability of online news and information, published an analysis entitled Rise of the Newsbots: AI-Generated News Websites Proliferating Online.
The report identified at least 49 ostensible news websites "spanning seven languages—Chinese, Czech, English, French, Portuguese, Tagalog, and Thai—that appear to be entirely or mostly generated by artificial intelligence language models designed to mimic human communication."
These automated content farms, which reach millions of internet users, "churn out vast amounts of clickbait articles to optimize advertising revenue," NewsGuard noted, exacerbating the dangerous worldwide spread of misinformation in the process.
As RSF noted Wednesday:
Dressed up to look like media, some of these sites rewrite journalistic content plundered from real news sites. Others produce fake stories or mediocre content designed solely to attract traffic. One reported in April that Joe Biden had died. Another falsely reported that Ukraine had claimed that it killed 3,870 Russian soldiers in a single attack.
Generated by AI and usually run anonymously, some of these sites "publish hundreds of articles a day," according to NewsGuard. There is a real risk that the Internet will soon be flooded by many more of these sites pumping out garbage that will inevitably congest search engines, with the result that reliable news reporting will struggle to make itself visible.
The modus operandi of these sites is very simple—maximize clicks while minimizing effort in order to optimize profit. "Many of the sites are saturated with advertisements," says NewsGuard, "indicating that they were likely designed to generate revenue from programmatic ads—ads that are placed algorithmically across the web."
"Advertisers have a huge responsibility," RSF continued. "These content farms will inevitably proliferate if they can continue to make money from advertising. The ad industry must give a firm undertaking to ensure ads are placed above all with media that are reliable news sources."
The watchdog also urged the ad industry "to manage programmatic advertising mechanisms responsibly and to acquire the monitoring and control tools needed to ensure that these content farms do not become profitable."
RSF is pushing advertisers to curb the rapid spread of automated clickbait just weeks after it warned in its annual press freedom report that the fast-growing, AI-powered "fake content industry" threatens to undermine fact-based journalism around the globe, which is already at risk due to old-fashioned violence against reporters, who are being jailed and killed at alarming rates.
"Ramping up reuse systems is the most sensible approach to replacing single-use plastics and dramatically cut plastic production," said one advocate. "The plastics treaty discussions this week must lay the groundwork for this transformation."
As world leaders convened in Paris on Tuesday for negotiations regarding a global plastics treaty that the United States and plastic producers are hoping will take a limited approach and center recycling, a new study showed how investing in the "mass adoption of reuse systems" would make a far bigger impact in cutting plastic pollution and reducing carbon emissions that are derived from the making of plastic.
The Break Free From Plastic movement commissioned the study, Making Reuse a Reality, by the Global Plastics Policy Center at the University of Portsmouth in the United Kingdom. Researchers drew from 320 articles and papers as well as dozens of new interviews with experts on reuse systems.
The researchers found that shifting to reuse systems on a mass scale would require a phasing-in process but could ultimately cut plastic pollution by 30% by 2040.
"The scourge of single-use packaging continues to grow at a pace beyond the capacities of existing waste management systems," said Von Hernandez, global coordinator for Break Free From Plastic. "Prevention is key; ramping up reuse systems is the most sensible approach to replacing single-use plastics and dramatically cut plastic production. The plastics treaty discussions this week must lay the groundwork for this transformation."
As Tiza Mafira, executive director of Plastic Bag Diet in Indonesia, explained in a video released by the research team, people around the world have for years turned to reusable materials to replace single-use plastic packaging in their own homes.
A mass transition would require similar efforts by businesses around the world, Mafira said.
"We are drowning in plastic pollution, and almost half of it is just packaging," she said. "Instead of delivering products in disposable plastic, [in a reuse system] businesses create durable and reusable packaging that gets returned to them and used over and over. Instead of throwing away bottles, they get refilled. Instead of trashing food takeaway containers, they get washed and reused."
Making Reuse a Reality - Explainer
Seventy-seven percent of the reuse experts interviewed for the study said standardizing packaging and developing tracking methods would be "key enablers" to shift to a reuse system on a large scale.
The experts suggested using tagging systems including QR codes, Radio Frequency Identification Device tags, or Near Field Communication chips, as well as methods to make returning reusable packaging as easy as possible for consumers.
"Interviewees emphasized the need for easily accessible drop-off points that are relevant to where End-of-Use occurs. The system should acknowledge the return, which can be efficiently done through code or tag readers or by staff," reads the report. "The return points should be clearly identifiable with a reuse logo and instructions and should be located in highly accessible areas."After consumers return their packaging, it would be cleaned and pooled at central "hubs" before being delivered back to stores and factories.
The coalition says a legally binding instrument is needed to end plastic pollution by 2040, but countries including the U.S., China, and Saudi Arabia are joining many plastics and chemical companies in supporting voluntary "national action plans" that would allow individual countries to decide how to reduce their plastic production and use.
The U.S. produces more plastic waste per person than any other country, according to a study published in Science Advances in 2020.
"If we're serious as a global community about averting climate change and about addressing the three planetary crises of biodiversity loss, pollution and climate change, we have to be thinking about reducing plastic production," Jane Patton, campaign manager for plastics and petrochemicals at the Center for International Environmental Law, toldThe Washington Post on Tuesday.
Critics including several members of Congress have warned the Biden administration that its focus on reducing plastic pollution is too narrow, with Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.) telling President Joe Biden in a letter last week that he should recognize the threats to "public health, ecosystems, and our global climate" that are posed by plastic production.
"As one of the leading drivers of this crisis, the United States has a leadership opportunity and an obligation to help move the world responsibly in the right direction," wrote Merkley and Huffman. "The international legally binding instrument is an unprecedented opportunity to address our plastic pollution crisis and our climate crisis in tandem. We urge you to stop thinking of this as just as a pollution problem and to recognize it as the public health, justice, and climate crisis that it poses."
The University of Portsmouth study, said Global Plastics Policy Center director Steve Fletcher, shows that a scaled-up reuse system "has huge untapped potential to end plastic pollution."
"What we need now," he said, "is a clear vision for reuse and the right support to mainstream it."