Combatting the opioid abuse epidemic – National Consumers League

karinb.jpgIn the midst of a national epidemic of opioid abuse, our healthcare policymakers are trying to figure out how best to combat this intractable problem. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), opioids, (which include the prescription painkillers oxycodone, hydrocodone, morphine, and others) and the illegal drug heroin were involved in 28,647 overdose deaths in 2014. Drug overdose deaths are now the leading cause of injury-related death in the United States, even surpassing car crashes.A certain laxness in prescribing addictive opioids for legitimate purposes has helped to fuel the current crisis. In 2013, almost 2 million Americans, age 12 or older, either abused or were dependent on opioid pain relievers. Once addicted, it’s incredibly difficult to stop using the drug.

This overprescribing of opioids and resulting increase in addiction, has in turn led to a resurgence in the use and abuse of heroin, which is cheaper and easier to find than prescription opioids.

The policy challenge is this: to ensure that prescribers are not creating a new population of addicts who–when they are unable to refill a prescription–turn to street drugs such as heroin to address the craving created by opioids. At the same time, we also need to ensure that people who are in pain get the relief they need. Balancing these two concerns represents a tough challenge.

The National Consumers League (NCL), which has long been concerned with the safe use of medications, welcomes the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) announcement this month of a series of actions designed to combat the opioid abuse epidemic. Among other initiatives, the FDA will:

  • convene an Advisory Committee before approving certain new opioids
  • expand access to abuse-deterrent formulations to discourage abuse (like not allowing drugs to be ground into powder and combined with liquid to be made into possible injectables)
  • strengthen post-marketing study requirements
  • increase access to pain management training for healthcare professionals
  • work to protect appropriate patient access to needed pain medications.

The FDA’s efforts are part of a larger governmental strategy to address this growing problem. On February 2, the Obama Administration announced that it would ask Congress to spend an additional $1.1 billion next year to expand access to treatment, support programs to prevent prescription drug overdoses, and crack down on illegal sales. For its part, the CDC is currently working on new guidelines for prescribing opioids for chronic pain.

We hope that these new initiatives will help lessen the burden of opioid abuse, and we welcome the development of better pain management options and alternative treatments for patients.

If you or someone you know has a substance abuse problem, help is available 24/7 at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

European Union’s scheme for airline passengers’ rights – National Consumers League

SG-headshot.jpgIn September 2015, I arrived at JFK airport in New York at 10:30 am for a quick flight to Washington, DC. I had a full day of meetings and was eager to get to the office. To my unpleasant surprise, I ended up arriving home at 6:00 pm. Weather was not a factor for the lengthy delays because the weather conditions were perfect in both DC and New York. Ultimately, American Airlines (AA) noted that it was their own mechanical and crew problems that caused the full day of delays. But, AA did not offer any passengers a dime of compensation for wasting their entire day. This seemed so wrong to me that it sparked my interest in what other countries provide for airline passengers’ rights.The National Consumers League (NCL) is advocating to expand airline passengers’ rights so that consumers are fairly compensated after they are wronged. So while in Brussels this week attending the Transatlantic Consumer Dialogue (TADCD), I jumped at the chance to meet with the EU’s head of airline passenger rights when a European colleague offered to set up an impromptu meeting.

Alisa Tiganj, a Member of the Cabinet of the Transport Commissioner Violeta Bulc, who is responsible for overseeing airline passenger rights, was kind enough to welcome me and spend a few minutes discussing the EU scheme.[1] In the US, we have few, if any, passenger compensation obligations for flights that are canceled or delayed, even when the airline is at fault.[2]  By the way, a total of 632 million passengers boarded domestic flights in the United States in the year 2010.  This averages to 1.73 million passengers flying per day.[3] 750 million people used EU airports in 2009.[4]

NCL would like to see that changed along the lines of what the EU provides.

The EU is made up of 28 member states with a population of 508 million.  We in the US, have a population of 300 million.  If you are a citizen of the EU flying on a European airline and your flight is delayed for more than three hours—or if it is canceled—you’re entitled to compensation. I should add that there are of course “extraordinary circumstances” where no compensation is guaranteed if the fault lies with weather or other force majeure. The general schedule for passenger compensation for delayed or canceled flights is below:

  • EUR 250 for all flights of 1500 kilometres or less
  • EUR 400 for all intra-Community flights of more than 1500 kilometres and for all other flights between 1500 and 3500 kilometres
  • EUR 600 for all other flights

The rules also state, “Compensation shall be paid in cash, at the passenger’s bank account, by bank transfer or by check…. The right to assistance also applies to passengers who face long delays.” The right to assistance means that the carrier should offer these items below for free:

  • Meals and refreshments in proportion to the waiting time
  • Hotel accommodation for overnight stay if necessary
  • Transport between accommodation and airport
  • Two free telephone calls or to send two telex, fax, or e-mail messages

The latest rules were developed and adopted in 2013. Not surprisingly, the European airlines are fighting passenger claims and challenging the interpretation of the rules in court. But meanwhile, EU consumers are being compensated. All they must do is apply for compensation through an online form. The process is not onerous.

If airlines have to pay serious compensation for delaying and canceling flights, they will try harder to find a way to get passengers to their destination more efficiently. Right now, American carriers know they can do whatever they want—even keep someone waiting all day—and passengers are left without recourse. That’s a dangerous imbalance in rights and protections and NCL believes that needs to change.

TACD TTIP debate in Brussels – National Consumers League

SG-headshot.jpgThe Transatlantic Consumer Dialogue (TACD) conference is in full swing in Brussels today in a robust series of panel discussions about the compatibility of trade agreements and consumer protection. The TACD is made up of European and American consumer advocates and the group is laser-focused on the effort by the EU and the US governments to adopt Transatlantic Trade Investment Partnership (TTIP).So far, we have heard from European Union Trade Commissioner Cecelia Maelstrom who supports the trade agreement, US Federal Trade Commissioner Julie Brill, who takes no position but spoke about the FTC’s enforcement authority and the importance of preserving that authority, and Monique Goyens, head of BEUC, the European consumer organization, who noted that industry sees consumer protection regulations as hindering business.

Consumer groups in the US and Europe have opposed TTIP because consumer protection regulations writ large are subject to being deemed a barrier to trade and therefore subject to repeal or weakening. A recent example demonstrates how this process works. In 2013, the US adopted a rule requiring Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) on beef and pork products, something that 90 percent of American consumers say they want and helps guide them when making purchasing decisions.

The National Consumers League, Consumers Union, Consumer Federation of America, and the National Farmers Union all support COOL. Well, COOL labeling rules were repealed by Congress this past month because an international court deemed them to be a trade violation and the US was threatened with having to pay fines up to $3.6 billion.  Indeed, Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), an opponent of current trade agreements generally, said, “No trade agreement is going to force us to change our laws,” the bill to repeal COOL shows that “trade agreements have a direct effect on our sovereignty.”  Industry makes these claims too about our laws and protections not being under threat. They seem like empty promises since the evidence is pointing in the opposite direction.

On today’s panel in Brussels, Jean Halloran from Consumers Union and Mary Bottari from the Center for Media and Democracy used concrete examples to demonstrate the dumbing down of protections that approval of TTIP would invite. Peter Chase from the US Chamber of Commerce claims that labor and environmental protections would be increased but he offered no concrete examples of how that will work.

So what could help make TTIP acceptable to consumer groups? One suggestion is to take all consumer matters out of the trade agreement; others consumers say we should exclude an international WHO-style court that decides whether countries are in violation of this trade agreement. This debate shows the critical role consumer groups play in raising questions and challenging empty promises that fly in the face of evidence that consumer protections will be maintained in Europe and the US.

The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines, taken with a “grain of salt” – National Consumers League

ali.jpgEarlier this week, as I rode the metro to work, I overheard a woman describe to her friends the new “clean eating” challenge she was trying. I expect she is one of thousands across the country excitedly exchanging New Year diet strategies with other inspired colleagues and friends. In the U.S., we are bombarded with weight loss advice, especially during the holidays. Often, one diet plan contradicts the next, leaving consumers to choose one randomly and then lose momentum quickly afterwards. The Eighth Edition of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans was released in the first week of January, just in time to bring some clarity to our diet woes! Unfortunately, the 2015-2020 nutrition guidelines are not exactly straightforward.Every five years the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the U.S Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) revise dietary guidelines intended to inform federal, state, and local food policy. A committee of nutrition experts and researchers advise federal agencies on the latest nutrition science and information. Historically, the Guidelines have affected American eating habits, how advertisers promote products, and the way public health professionals respond to health problems.

The first edition of the Guidelines, released in 1980, recommended that Americans greatly reduce their consumption of fat. This became one of the most controversial recommendations in the history of the Guidelines. Nutrition scientists weren’t wrong; certain fats, consumed in large amounts, will cause negative health effects. However, the recommendations were released during the tipping point of the national obesity problem, making it seem that inaccurate recommendations were to blame for the surging epidemic. Linking the obesity problem to one tangible document takes responsibility away from the consumer and industry interventions.

Michael Jacobson, President of the Center for Food Science in the Public Interest, explains, “The nutrition scientists who do the long, hard slog of working out details of official dietary advice might only dream of the life-altering powers now being attributed to them. The public has never eaten the diet they recommend, and still does not today.” But consumers are not totally at fault. Many companies replaced fat with sugar and rebranded their products to proudly announce “fat free.” Over-consumption of refined grains and added sugar ensued. Nonetheless, overall consumption of fat didn’t actually decrease. Instead consumers were eating too much fat, sugar, and carbs, calumniating in a major epidemic. Whether the 1980 Guidelines exacerbated the obesity problem or not, they did stimulate discussion over the accuracy and effectiveness of nutritional recommendations.

Critics of the 2015-2020 Guidelines consistently point to its vague recommendations. Still, the Guidelines do offer some concrete advice:

  1. No more than 10 percent of daily calories should come from added sugar
  2. Eating eggs is acceptable again, as limits on cholesterol have been dropped
  3. No more than 10 percent of daily intake should come from saturated fats
  4. Moderate coffee consumption (3-5  8-oz cups/day or up to 400 mg/day of caffeine) can be incorporated into a healthy diet

While these recommendations seem straightforward, nutrition experts are still concerned about the Guidelines’ inconsistencies. Experts recommended that Americans consume less red meat because it has been linked to clogging arteries and heart disease. However, the final version of the Guidelines replaced an explicit warning on red meat with this generalized suggestion: “Some individuals, especially teen boys and adult men, also need to reduce overall intake of protein foods by decreasing intakes of meats, poultry, and eggs.” This recommendation is far too broad and contradicts other statements promoting low fat proteins like eggs. Nutrition researchers are also disappointed that the Guidelines only include a limit on added sugar and do not single out soda and sweetened beverages, which are responsible for the most concentrated amounts of added sugar in the American diet.

The USDA and HHS’s avoidance of specific language may stem from a fear of aggravating an existing public health problem (like what happened in the “low fat” era). Another theory, promoted by many nutrition experts, is that pressure from the industry ultimately overrode scientific evidence. Frank Hu, professor of nutrition and epidemiology at Harvard’s School of Public Health, speculates in a recent Los Angeles Times article, “there was a lot of pushback or interference by the food industry, Congress and special interest groups …That has certainly influenced the translation of the scientific evidence into the policy document.”

Now that the Guidelines have been published, nutrition and food policy experts are providing the pushback. The Physicians Committee of Responsible Medicine has filed a lawsuit against the USDA and HHS arguing that pressure from the egg industry led to weakened cholesterol recommendations. Esteemed cardiologist Steven E. Nissen, MD and food policy expert and professor of nutrition and food studies Marion Nestle Ph.D, M.P.H (among many others) have both blamed industry influence for deceptive and confusing language.

On the bright side, the Dietary Guidelines do provide plenty of useful information for maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Still, consumers should refer to the Guidelines with a critical lens. The major contention of experts is that recommendations do not go far enough. This puts responsibility back in the hands of the consumer.

Here are some tips to go one step ahead just reading the Dietary Guidelines:

  1. Make sure to read labels and menus ahead of time
  2. Rethink products with too much added sugar, saturated fat, or sodium
  3. Diversify your meals by eating lean proteins and colorful produce
  4. Stay informed and follow nutrition advice that is supported by science, not politics

Demanding change at the Metro – National Consumers League

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Washington, DC is the capital city of the richest, most successful economy in the history of the world. So it stands to reason that Washington should therefore have a world-class subway system, right?Instead, argues NCL Executive Director Sally Greenberg in this week’s Washington Business Journal, our subway system is perennially unreliable, dirty, broken down, expensive, and outmoded–and poses serious safety issues. Washington’s deteriorating and constantly delayed system plagues riders and has a negative impact on businesses in the area. Read more.

The Affordable Care Act is not harming the job market – National Consumers League

karinb.jpgDespite dire predictions to the contrary by Obamacare opponents, three recent studies have found that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) hasn’t hurt the labor market. Critics claimed massive numbers of workers would be moved from full-time to part-time jobs to avoid the cost of the employer mandate on health insurance. Critics also warned that people might choose to work less because they could either get health insurance on the exchanges or qualify under expanded Medicaid coverage.None of those scenarios is playing out. There’s no significant increase in part-time jobs, nor significant shifts in employment patterns in states with expanded Medicaid programs. The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality data shows no increase in the likelihood of working part-time after the employer coverage mandate went into effect in 2015. On Medicaid expansion, while one of the studies published in Health Affairs found that people were about 0.6 percentage points more likely to leave a job in the states that expanded Medicaid eligibility to 138 percent of the Federal Poverty Level, the difference is not statistically significant. Not only that, but we now have Obamacare firmly in place and the economy is booming.

Throughout NCL’s history, our leaders have called for universal health insurance, and we, and many other supporters are vindicated by these findings. Turns out providing health insurance for all may be good for the economy and can even help create jobs. The President noted in his State of the Union on Tuesday: “It’s about filling the gaps in employer based care so that when you lose a job, or you go back to school, or you strike out and launch that new business, you’ll still have coverage. Nearly 18 million people have gained coverage so far, and in the process health care inflation has slowed, our businesses have created jobs every single month since it became law.”

According to the Department of Health and Human Services, there has been “unprecedented demand” for Marketplace coverage with more than 11.3 million people signed up for coverage through January 2, 2016. Open Enrollment ends on January 31.

Sadly, the Affordable Care Act continues to come under attack by the Republican-led Congress. On January 6, yet again, the House of Representatives passed a bill to repeal the ACA. The Senate had passed the same bill last month. Noting the harm the bill “would cause to the health and financial security of millions of Americans,” President Obama vetoed it. The House will vote to override the veto on January 26, but is expected to fall far short of the 2/3 vote necessary for a veto override.

While the fight over the ACA continues, this news should take the wind out of the sails of hardened Obamacare opponents. In the meantime, the National Consumers League will continue to work with its allies in the advocacy arena to preserve this landmark piece of legislation that–at last–ensures essential health coverage for millions of people. This is truly President Obama’s crowning achievement and one that NCL had been working for since our founding in 1899.

Top 10 child labor stories of 2015 – National Consumers League

sg.jpgThis post appeared on the Huffington Post on January 6, 2016

There were plenty of ups and downs in the fight against child labor this year. With an estimated 168 million children still trapped in exploitative labor, including 85 million doing hazardous work, we have an ambitious agenda ahead of us in 2016. Here are 10 highs and lows from 2015…1. The U.S. Department of Labor’s international child labor programs avoided the ax of conservative appropriators in the Congressional budget package released on December 17. During the battle, the child labor advocacy community argued that the International Labor Affairs Bureau (ILAB) plays a vital role in the fight against child labor, which has seen a reduction of nearly 80 million children over the last 15 years. ILAB documents the prevalence of child labor on a country-by-country basis, and then uses that information to fund about $60 million in remediation programs each year. In the end, appropriators shaved off $5 million but kept these valuable programs intact.

2. In June, India’s government provisionally approved a huge loophole in a 2012 ban on child work under the age of 14. Unfortunately, it allows children under that age to work in “family enterprises,” which will make child labor laws harder to enforce. Last year’s Nobel Peace Prize winner Kailash Satyarthi noted that millions of Indian children said to be working in family businesses are actually sold into bonded labor and other forms of slavery. A New York Times editorial weighed in on the proposed policy in June, and the advocacy community continued to fight against the proposal as the year drew to a close.labor-slider.jpg

3. The battle against child labor in U.S. tobacco continued to gather strength in 2015. Altria Group, parent to three tobacco companies, implemented a new policy (announced in late 2014) that prohibits its growers from hiring children under 16. Implementing and monitoring such a policy presents challenges, and it’s difficult to gauge yet how well that policy is working, but it’s good to see a step forward and an acknowledgement that children and teens should not be harvesting this hazardous crop. The members of the Child Labor Coalition, which my organization coordinates, continue to press for a total ban on workers under 18. We organized a House and Senate briefing on child labor in tobacco this year. Legislation in the House, HR 1848, with 19 co-sponsors, and a companion bill in the Senate, S.974, with seven co-sponsors, would both ban child labor in tobacco. More than 40,000 individuals signed an AVAAZ.org petition asking President Obama and Secretary of Labor Perez to ban child labor in the crop.

4. Child Labor in hazardous gold mining received focused attention in 2015. In April, ILAB, the CLC, and Human Rights Watch (HRW) convened a stakeholder meeting to improve child labor interventions in small-scale gold mining communities. In May, a government report from Burkina Faso revealed that nearly 20,000 children were working in small-scale gold mines–part of an upsurge over the last few years. In June, HRW released Precious Metal, Cheap Labor: Child Labor and Corporate Responsibility in Ghana’s Artisanal Gold Mines, documenting the use of child labor in Ghana’s unlicensed mines and the use of highly toxic mercury by children. HRW asked refiners to take immediate steps to eliminate gold from their supply chains. In September, HRW released a report on child labor in small-scale gold mining in the Philippines, exploring the dangerous work of underwater compressor divers. PBS NewsHour won an Emmy for its coverage of this most-dangerous form of child labor.

5. In July, Tulane University researchers estimated that 2.12 million child laborers were still working in cocoa production in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana during the 2014-2014 harvest. The study, commissioned by ILAB, found a 59 percent increase in the number of children in cocoa production since the last survey in 2008/2009–despite a decade-and-half-long multi-stakeholder initiative to reduce child labor in cocoa led by the West African countries and the major chocolate companies. Researchers found a 46 percent increase in hazardous work by children on the cocoa plantations.

6. News out of Panama in 2015 showed an almost 50 percent reduction in child labor over two years. The census by the Panamanian government reported a drop from 50,410 children in child labor (about seven percent of childhood population) to 26,710. Advocates express hope that the country could be largely child labor-free in the next few years.

7. In May, South Sudan ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child, followed by Somalia in October, leaving the United States as the only UN Nation not to ratify the international child rights treaty. HRW’s Jo Becker shares her views on what it means for the United States to be in a “Club of One.”

8. In September, the Department of Labor’s ILAB launched the Sweat and Toil app, putting more than 1,000 pages of country-by-country research on child labor and forced labor in the palm of consumers’ hands. We’ve never had such easy access to supply chain info, nor been able to track individual countries’ progress in removing child labor and slavery. An android version of the app will be available shortly.

9. Mega retailer Target announced a partnership with CLC member GoodWeave to sell child-labor-free certified rugs. We rarely see major corporations making that type of commitment to join the fight against child labor, and we applaud this partnership, which will help reduce the number of children who are chained to the loom.

10. This year has seen progress in cleaning up South Asia’s notorious brick kilns. In February, officials helped free 333 bonded kiln workers, including 75 children, in Pudukuppam, India. Workers were paid $3 a week, if they were paid at all. There were a number of similar raids during the year. An ongoing program, “Better Brick Nepal,” conducted by CLC members Global Fairness Initiative and GoodWeave, is working to ensure that laborers who produce bricks are not exploited and that Nepal’s 60,000 child brick workers are protected.

Hotels increasingly sharing airlines’ fee addiction – National Consumers League

breyault.jpgAsk practically any flier what their biggest gripes are with airlines and the word “fees” will almost certainly come up. From $25 baggage fees, to $200 change fees, to $50 standby fees and more, fees are big business for the U.S. airlines — bringing in a reported $38 billion (with a “b”) in revenue in 2014 alone. Here at NCL, we’ve voiced plenty of gripes about the fee-based profit model at U.S. airlines, but so far little has changed to break the big U.S. airlines of their addiction to fees.Unfortunately, the hotel industry is increasingly taking a page out of the airlines’ playbook when it comes to socking consumers with add-on fees. As Amy Zipkin’s excellent New York Times piece this week lays out, big hotel chains like Marriott International and Hilton and room-sharing apps like Airbnb and HomeAway are joining the fee trend. Things like $40 last-minute booking fees, $50 cancellation penalties, 6-12% “guest service fees” and mandatory resort fees look like they could become the the norm instead of the exception. It’s not hard to see why. According to New York University professor Bjorn Hanson, hotel fees and surcharges are expected to bring in $2.47 billion (again, with a “b”) in revenue in 2015, up from $2.35 billion only a year earlier.

Interestingly, not all experts in the hotel industry think this trend towards more fees is a bad thing. “Hotel reservations have long been way too flexible,” said Christopher K. Anderson, a faculty member at the Cornell University School of Hotel Administration who was quoted in the Times.

We couldn’t agree less with Mr. Anderson. Consumers have long appreciated the flexibility of being able to cancel a hotel reservation without a charge if their plans change at the last minute. The need to make such changes are often outside a consumer’s control (think: death or illness in the family, weather-related flight cancellations, etc.). It is outrageous that a consumer should get socked with a hefty fee through no fault of their own.

While there’s no one single regulator with jurisdiction over hotels, there are steps that consumer protection agencies can take to address the growth in fees. For one, hotel fees should be disclosed more up front both on hotels’ own websites and on online booking websites like Hotels.com, Expedia, Airbnb.com, and others. Ensuring honest advertising is a job for the Federal Trade Commission and state Attorneys General. The Department of Transportation can also play a role by requiring better disclosure when hotels are booked as part of a package with airfare. Earlier this year, NCL testified before the DOT’s Advisory Committee on Aviation Consumer Protection and called on the agency to do just that.

Until that happens, however, consumers themselves need to express their outrage with these new fees directly to the hotels (preferably loudly, frequently, and with their pocketbooks!). If you get hit with a fee that you think is unfair, we want to hear from you!  Drop us an email at info@nclnet.org or drop us a line on our Facebook page or on Twitter at @ncl_tweets.

Support LifeSmarts on #GivingTuesday, Dec. 1 – National Consumers League

hertzberg-1.jpgThis post originally appeared on LifeSmarts.org. LifeSmarts is a program of the National Consumers League. Written by Lisa Hertzberg, LifeSmarts Program Director.

I could not be more proud of NCL’s LifeSmarts program and the difference it makes for high school students. We educate the next generation of students about their worker and consumer rights, helping them learn about important real-world topics such as saving for their futures, nutrition, digital security and privacy, and much more. LifeSmarts is so successful because it provides teens with the skills and knowledge they need to evaluate risks and opportunities in order to make informed decisions for themselves and their families. It pushes students to use critical thinking skills and prepares them to apply these skills to the real world.But LifeSmarts teachers other lessons, too: It provides students with confidence, pride, leadership skills, and teamwork. It enables students to become a voice for their families and their communities – helping others avoid fraud, make better deals, and exercise their rights with conviction. We also hear from educators that LifeSmarts motivates students to improve their grades. For some, it’s even the anchor they need to stay in school.

Here is one moving story a LifeSmarts coach shared with me about the difference she had seen LifeSmarts make for one of her students, Joey.

Joey was a junior when he took one of my classes. He was a middle child — with an older sister, who was in the top ten in her class, and a younger brother, who made top grades as well. Joey, on the other hand, struggled to maintain passing grades. When we took the test to qualify for the LifeSmarts state competition, he was not in the top five or even the top 15. But I needed another boy on the team, and since Joey had been helping the other students practice, I decided to give him a chance and put him on the team.

At the state competition, the team won the first round and got a fever to win. They kept winning until the semi-final round, when they lost by five points on the final buzzer question.

Their competition was over for the year, but the three junior members of the team came to me when we got home. They wanted to keep the team together and try to win the state LifeSmarts title their senior year.

The next year, when they took their quizzes to qualify online, Joey and Lucy had a tie score. This was the third year Lucy had been on a LifeSmarts team and she had always had the top score. Joey, on the other hand, had more than doubled his score from the year before.

As a junior, he had one area of expertise: automobiles. As a senior, it was obvious that he had spent a lot of time studying. He answered questions in all areas and was fast and confident on the buzzer. I am proud to say that the team finished first at state and traveled to nationals to represent Texas at the National LifeSmarts Championship!

Joey said that this was the first time he had achieved anything academically that his brother and sister had not done first and better. His counselor commented about how far his class rank went up his senior year. Other teachers told me his grades dramatically improved his senior year. I cannot guarantee that it was all due to LifeSmarts, but I know that it was a big factor.

You can help us reach more students like Joey. We are asking for contributions in support of LifeSmarts this #GivingTuesday. This global initiative takes place December 1, 2015, and is a day devoted to giving back to nonprofit organizations via social media. You may donate anytime, and don’t have to wait for December 1!

We are excited to announce that we have received a pledge from BuckleySandler, LLP, and Jonice Gray Tucker, a member of the LifeSmarts Advisory Board, to match individual donations made on #GivingTuesday! Their generosity will help double the contributions we get—so please keep that in mind and give whatever you can this year!

Consumers International’s World Congress 2015: Unlocking Consumer Power – National Consumers League

sg.jpgEvery four years, Consumers International organizes a World Congress event, which convenes 240 consumer groups to meet in an appointed country where it has organizational members. I am fortunate enough to be attending this year’s World Congress in Brasilia, the capital of Brazil.IMG_1879(1).jpgThis morning, as the Congress kicked off, we were honored to hear inspiring opening remarks from Brazil’s President, Dilma Rousseff. Under her administration, Brazil has created a Secretariat for the Defense of Consumers, raising consumer issues to a high level. I was told in my travels in Rio de Janiero that businesses are worried about running afoul of consumers lest they get reported to the federal consumer agency. Now that’s a good thing!

The Brazilian government has also created a website for resolving conflicts between consumers and companies. Apparently, this site operates like a mediation process, and according to the presentations given today, 80 percent of the complaints are solved in 7 days.

President Rousseff also informed us that 40 million citizens were lifted into the middle class from below within last generation. She made the interesting connection between raising living standards and ensuring that the expanded middle class has access to consumer protections when they buy goods and services. She noted that consumer protection is a state policy and stressed her interest in telecommunications and financial services in particular. Additionally, President Rousseff said she is committed to protecting the most vulnerable consumers and consumer rights to privacy, two values that we as the National Consumers League also hold.

It’s been a day of interesting speakers from Africa, South and Central America, Eastern and Western Europe, the Caribbean, the U.S., Australia, and New Zealand recommending action plans for consumers. Above all, I found President Rousseff’s remarks a great endorsement of putting consumer protections front and center as the people of this country enjoy greater wealth and prosperity.