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Consumer Corner

Public Citizen has spent more than 35 years representing you in the halls of power. We fight for openness and democratic accountability in government, for the right of consumers to seek redress in the courts; for clean, safe and sustainable energy sources; for social and economic justice in trade policies; for strong health, safety and environmental protections; and for safe, effective and affordable prescription drugs and health care.

Since our founding in 1971, we have worked in the Congress, the courts and the regulatory agencies to advance the people’s agenda.

Below are our best consumer-related resources to help you make the most informed decisions and seek redress on issues that matter most.

Automobiles

Drug Safety

Energy

Food

Healthcare Delivery

Trade

Democracy

Justice in the Courts

Automobiles

Information for Vehicle Buyers: Looking for general tips and guidelines about how to buy a car, what to look for, what kind of safety features are most important, how the car will affect the environment or whether you are getting a good deal? Read our information for vehicle buyers.

Avoid Scams: Do you know how to protect yourself from being scammed by your auto dealer? Read our comprehensive report and get tips, fact sheets, personal stories and other resources about how the auto dealers of America have being ripping off consumers and how to avoid it.

FAQs: Do you have general questions about the safety of your automobile? Read our answers to frequently asked questions about general vehicle safety and defects, as well as more specific information about safety issues related to children, SUVs and 15-passenger vans. Plus, learn the truth about fuel economy and the auto industry.

Driving Behavior: Do you ever wonder what types of behavior put you at the highest risk for accidents? Get more information about how using your cell phone, wearing a seatbelt and other behaviors affect driving ability.

Take Action: Do you want to effect change on auto-safety issues? Contact your elected officials to improve fuel economy, vehicle safety and buyer protections for consumers.

E-mail us if you have questions or want more information.

Drug Safety

Worst Pills (subscription): Looking for information about drugs, diseases and side effects? Go to WorstPills.org for a searchable, online drug database that provides comprehensive information about more than 500 prescription drugs, including roughly 200 drugs we recommend you do not use. WorstPills is a paid subscription site that provides you with information not only about which drugs might be dangerous to your health but also up-to-date medical news and advice on drug-related issues.

WorstPills.org also contains a variety of free consumer drug guides about different aspects of the health care industry, including ways to be a safer – and more cost-effective – prescription drug user: misprescribing and overprescribing of drugs; diseases caused by drugs; the public health crisis of adverse drug reactions; how to protect your family from adverse drug reactions; cutting your prescription drug bill; facts and myths about generic drugs; and ten rules for safer drug use.

Health Newsletter (subscription): Published monthly since 1985, Public Citizen’s Health Letter brings you critical information about health issues and arms you with up-to-date information so you can make better health care decisions. Topics include quality of care, health insurance, questionable doctors and hospitals, managed care and the recalls of drugs, devices and consumer products, as well as an Outrage of the Month, where Public Citizen describes major public health atrocities. Check out some sample copies!

E-mail us if you have questions or want more information.

Energy

Using and Promoting Renewable Energy: Only by tapping renewable sources of energy can we hope to meet our energy needs in the future while preserving the environment and slowing the pace of global warming. Learn more about why renewable energy is the solution to mounting energy problems and how to promote alternative energy sources in your area. Also find specific alternative energy information for Washington, D.C., Maryland, Virginia and Mississippi.

Climate Change: Concerned about the impact of energy consumption on global warming? Read about the urgency of slowing climate change and how we can do it.

Protecting You From Energy Company Price-Gouging. Sick of record oil company profits while you pay sky high prices at the pump? Shocked at your electric utility or natural gas bill? Public Citizen works hard to hold Big Oil accountable and is routinely urging Congress to take away the billions of dollars in tax breaks that oil companies now enjoy at your expense. Instead, that money should be used to invest in renewable energy so we can break our addiction to oil.

Click here for more information about gasoline price-gouging, and read our report, Hot Profits and Global Warming: How Oil Companies Hurt Consumers and the Environment.

Opposing Nuclear Power: Are you looking for advice about how to fight nuclear power in your local area? See our activist’s guide to fighting nuclear power, with fact sheets on problems of cost, security, safety, waste and proliferation of nuclear power as well as tips about how to give presentations, write letters to the editor and contact your local officials.

Take Action: Do you want to effect change on energy issues? Contact your elected officials to oppose nuclear waste reprocessing, nuclear waste dumping and new oil drilling. Or ask lawmakers to help reform energy company markets, investigate and oversee nuclear power plants more effectively, and increase the amount of money available for alternative energy research and development.

E-mail us if you have questions or want more information.

Food

Where It’s Coming From: Globalization is heavily impacting your access to safe and healthy food. Today, nearly $65 billion in food goods are imported into the United States annually, yet contrary to what consumers believe, the vast majority of imported foods that end up on the dinner plates of U.S.consumers are unexamined and untested. For information about how pending trade agreements will worsen imported food safety problems, read Public Citizen’s report Trade Deficit In Food Safety, or visit the imported food and product safety section of our Web site. Sign our petition demanding a trade policy solution to the food safety crisis.

Healthcare Delivery

Medicaid: If you were a poor, sick person, in which state would you have the best chance of being eligible for Medicaid and getting comprehensive, quality health care? Public Citizen sought to answer this question by ranking state Medicaid programs. See how your state ranks; view our report Unsettling Scores: A Ranking of State Medicaid Programs (2007).

Doctor Discipline: State medical boards are charged with collecting, organizing and distributing information about doctor discipline. Read Public Citizen’s state by state comparison of the rates of serious doctor disciplinary actions.

State Medical Board Directory: Which states have had the most and least serious disciplinary actions against doctors? Public Citizen conducted an analysis of the states’ medical and osteopathic board Web sites to find out what boards are doing well and what they could do better. For state-by-state medical board contact information, see the Directory of the Federation of State Medical Boards.

Device Safety: Do you wonder whether one of your medical devices is unsafe? Get  detailed safety information about medical devices that concern us at our Medical Device Information Center.

Medical Malpractice: Tens of thousands of people die each year from preventable medical errors. But instead of reforming the medical system to prevent needless deaths and injuries, the health care and insurance industries would rather spend their resources lobbying to make it even more difficult for injured patients to seek full recovery in the courts. Public Citizen is fighting to inform patients and reform the system. Find out more about how corporate and insurance lobbyists are trying to trick you into thinking the problem lies with the patient when in fact the real medical crisis in this country is the lack of attention to patient safety. 

E-mail us here if you have questions or want more information about medical malpractice. For more information about other healthcare delivery issues, send us an e-mail here.

Trade

Peru and Panama Free Trade Agreements (FTAs): In November 2006, Americans loudly rejected the Bush administration’s more-of-the-same NAFTA expansion trade policy and elected a freshman class in Congress who have committed to changing the status quo and paving the way towards a new, fairer global economy. But on May 10, 2007, a handful of Democrats struck a deal with the White House to expand the failed NAFTA model to Peru and Panama. These NAFTA expansion trade deals, even after the May 10 deal, contain all the outrageous NAFTA-style foreign investor, procurement and other provisions that will hurt working people both here and in Peru and Panama. Find out more about the pending Peru and Panama FTAs and take action.

Trade and Immigration: While many pundits and politicians focus on the immigration debate by talking about closing down the U.S.-Mexico border, few care to confront the root cause of the issue: the failure of the NAFTA model to provide sustainable livelihoods for Mexican workers in Mexico. NAFTA-mandated agricultural policy changes in Mexico displaced more than a million Mexican farmers, while nearly everyone with a job in Mexicosaw their real wages decline during the NAFTA-WTO decade. The result? Immigration rates doubled in the years following NAFTA’s implementation. Read more on the linkage between bad trade policy and immigration.

NAFTA: Since it took effect on January 1, 1994, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) between the United States, Canada and Mexico has led to the loss of hundreds of thousands of U.S. jobs, the displacement of millions of Mexican farmers, massive increases in forced migration from Mexico to the U.S., threats to consumer, labor and environmental protections, and more. Learn more about the damage the failed NAFTA experiment has wrought.

The World Trade Organization: Established in 1995, the World Trade Organization (WTO) is a powerful global commerce agency. Under the WTO’s system of corporate-managed trade, economic efficiency, reflected in short-run corporate profits, dominates other values. Decisions affecting the economy are to be confined to the private sector, while social and environmental costs are borne by the public.

Learn more about how the WTO operates at the expense of our economy, environment, working conditions, access to essential services and more, as well as what we’re doing to change it and what you can do to help.  

Take Action: Do you want to effect change on trade policy issues? Click here to contact your elected officials about imported food and product safety issues and urge them to oppose the expansion of NAFTA-style “free trade” agreements.

E-mail us if you have questions or want more information.

Democracy

Internet Free Speech:The Internet provides citizens with a vehicle to have their voices heard. But some of the politicians and corporations whom they criticize are trying curtail this new exchange of ideas and squelch criticism. To find out what Public Citizen has done to support Internet free speech and to learn about your rights, please visit our Internet Free Speech site

Right to Information: Do you need access to information held by a government agency? The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) gives you the right to ask any federal agency to disclose records you request in writing. For assistance with drafting a FOIA request and other information on FOIA, visit the Freedom of Information Clearinghouse.

Cleaning Up Washington: The influence of money in politics is a huge problem. Big corporations and their lobbyists who donate the big bucks to the politicians are seen as the ones with the influence – the ones who have the politician’s ear rather than regular citizens. This must change. You have as much a right to be heard by your representative as a corporate lobbyist and as much a right to run for office as someone with millions of dollars. Learn more about what Public Citizen is doing to clean up Washington and get big money out of politics.

Fair Elections: One of the most important changes needed to fix our democracy is to create a Fair Elections System for voluntary public funding of elections. With this system, citizens will be ensured more and different voices on Capitol Hill. Candidates feel less pressure to cater to corporate interests and don’t feel compelled to spend all their time raising money instead of listening to their constituents. Find out more about the Fair Elections System, which states have successfully implemented it, and what you can do to make fair elections a reality all over America.

To become a citizen co-sponsor of this ground-breaking legislation, sign our petition supporting the Fair Elections Now Act.

White House for Sale: Without public funding, someone can run for president only by raising tens of millions of millions of dollars. Find out how much money it takes to run for president and where this year’s presidential candidates are getting their money from, and follow the money trail of campaign bundlers (people who funnel money to the candidates).

Learn more on how to bird-dog the candidatesand take action on presidential public funding.

Lobbying and Ethics Reform: The widespread corruption in Congress in the past few years reveals just how easily politicians can be swayed by lobbyists working for big corporate interests, such as the infamous Jack Abramoff, who is now in jail. Public Citizen fights to keep the corporate lobbyists from being the only voices heard by your government.

Learn more about the landmark lobbying and ethics reform legislation passed in July 2007 that discloses the financial arrangements lobbyists have with lawmakers, bans gifts from lobbyists, restricts corporate-funded travel for members of Congress and requires the disclosure of earmarks.

To learn more about lobbying and ethics reform in general and what changes Public Citizen thinks must be made to reform lobbying, visit our Lobbying Reform section. 

Under The Influence: Do you ever wonder how much money your senator or representative is receivingfrom corporate lobbyists? Under The Influence: Special Interest Money And Members of Congress ranks members of Congress according to their acceptance of several categories of campaign contributions since the 2000 election cycle through 2006. 

Hall of Shame: Public Citizen established the Ethics Hall of Shame to bring attention to the recent waves of corruption gripping Capitol Hill and to highlight the dire need for lobbying and ethics reform. To be inducted into the Hall of Shame, a member of Congress must have committed illegal acts or engaged in conduct that is highly abusive of the public trust in the service of special interests. Check if your representative is in the Hall of Shame.

Listening to Voters: To find out more about how special interests seek to influence federal legislation, elections and regulatory affairs, as well as to see how your senator or representative has voted on key issues, click here

E-mail us if you have questions or want more information.

Justice in the Courts

Civil Justice for All: It is important that consumers are protected through a fair and accessible court system. Public Citizen’s Civil Justice Program seeks to ensure this by fighting corporate practices such as adding binding mandatory arbitration clauses to consumer contracts and hiding corporate wrongdoing in secrecy agreements, and by opposing legislation thatwould roll back consumer rights. Learn more about the Civil Justice Program.

Protecting Consumers: If you want to know more about how our civil justice system works and how it protects you, visit our brief explanation of the system called How Our Civil Justice System Protects Consumers.

What’s In the Fine Print? Arbitration clauses undermine consumer protection, civil rights and other laws that level the playing field between big businesses and individuals. Today, most Americans are bound by at least one mandatory, pre-dispute arbitration clause. Buried in the fine print of a billing insert, employee handbook, health insurance plan, or dealership or franchise agreement, these clauses waive one’s right to access the courts, diverting cases to a costly private legal system that favors defendants. Find out if you have already signed away your right to hold companies or your employer accountable in court, and what to know to keep it from happening again. 

Justice for the Consumer: Public Citizen’s Consumer Justice Project works with private consumer attorneys and other nonprofit organizations, litigating individual and class action cases that offer a chance to establish important precedents on behalf of consumers. Find out more information on the Consumer Justice Project and what we do. 

Get Justice in the U.S. Supreme Court: When cases go to the U.S. Supreme Court, the deck is often unfairly stacked. A large corporation can easily afford representation before the court by experienced U.S. Supreme Court practitioners, and the Office of the Solicitor General represents the government. On the other side is often the ordinary citizen, represented by a small firm or legal service attorneys – usually with very few resources. The Alan Morrison Supreme Court Assistance Project (SCAP) tries to even the playing field by assisting and advising attorneys representing “public interest” litigants in cases that appear to be heading to the high court. Get more information about the assistance project and see current cases weare working on as well as past cases on which we have worked.

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