Category: Alerts

Second-Hand E-Cigarette Vapor Exposure in a Quarter of U.S. Teens

By Emily Cox
E-Cigarette Vapor
Photo by Peter Remmers

A new study indicates potentially harmful second-hand e-cigarette vapors affect roughly one in four youths in the country.

Researchers published their findings this month in the Jama Pediatrics medical journal.  According to new Center for Disease Control (CDC) data, the number of teens using e-cigarettes has increased significantly since the tobacco products were introduced to the market in 2007. Consequently, an alarming amount of teens are exposed to these devices’ second-hand vapors.

The study indicates e-cigarettes release aerosol. Some of this is also exhaled into the air where nonusers can inhale or ingest it. It can also make skin contact. Researchers warn that the vapor may contain harmful substances like heavy metals, nicotine, and benzene vapors. These are all carcinogens.

The 2015 National Youth Tobacco Survey showed an almost 25 percent rate of exposure for middle and high school students to e-cigarette vapors in an indoor or outdoor location at least once in a 30-day time period. This equates roughly 6.5 million students.

E-cigarette vapor exposure rates were highest among whites and females. Researchers found these rates to be 22 percent for males and 27 percent for females. They also found rates of exposure to be 15 percent for blacks, 25 percent for Hispanics, 27 percent for whites, and 22 percent among other races.

Thanks to manufacturers aggressively marketing appealing sweet flavors to target teens and young adults, the country’s youth most commonly uses E-cigarettes among tobacco products.

E-Cigarette Risks

A 2014 Japanese study indicated that E-cigarettes contain up to 10 times the level of cancer-causing agents as regular tobacco. Another recent study highlighted the e-cigarette vapor risk to teen lungs. Yet another study in 2016 linked e-cigarettes to an increased risk of oral cancer. Furthermore, the Surgeon General issued a warning in late 2016 that e-cigarettes pose a serious health risk to the country’s youth.

Researchers are urging policy-makers to modify tobacco-free policies to include e-cigarettes. They indicate that this is crucial to protecting America’s youth from a preventable health risk.

Judge to Consider Trump U Settlement Objection

By Emily Cox
Trump U Settlement
IoSonoUnaFotoCamera

A San Diego federal judge will decide today whether to let former Trump U student opt out of the $25 million settlement and sue the president individually.

This may put President Donald Trump’s settlement of the class-action lawsuit on hold. The lawsuit claims the president defrauded students of his now-defunct Trump U. While Trump admitted no wrongdoing, lawyers for the plaintiffs said that students would get 80 percent of their enrollment fees back under the terms of the settlement. However, former student, Sherri Simpson, wants a full refund plus interest and an apology.

On Wednesday, Simpson, a bankruptcy and consumer rights attorney, told The Associated Press that she thinks Trump should acknowledge wrongdoing and apologize. According to Simpson, her and a partner paid $35,000 to enroll in Trump University’s “Gold Elite” program in 2010. The program promised to partner them with a mentor who would teach them Trump’s secret real estate investment strategies.

Simpson said they got little for their money – videos that were 5 years old, other materials that covered information that could be found on the internet for free, and her mentor didn’t return her calls or emails.

“I would like an admission that he was wrong, an admission that, ‘Oops, maybe I didn’t handle it as well as I should have, I didn’t set it up as well as I should have, that I didn’t maintain it or oversee it as well as I should have,'” Simpson told the Associated Press.

Trump U Settlement

Plaintiffs claim Trump misled customers. They allege he fraudulently called the unaccredited business a university. He also falsely advertised that he hand-picked instructors. Former Trump students have said that the “university” made the University of Phoenix look like MIT.

Trump vowed never to settle. However, after the election, he claimed he didn’t have time for a trial. But he continues to maintain that he would have won. He reached the settlement 10 days before the trial was set to begin. The deadline to opt out was in November 2015. Thirteen people opted out before the deadline. None of these individuals have pursued separate lawsuits against the president.

Insulin Prices Collusion Alleged in Class-action Lawsuit Against Drug Makers and Pharmacy Benefit Managers

By Emily Cox
Insulin Price Collusion
Photo by derrico_jewelry

A new lawsuit alleges that leading US drug makers and pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) colluded to fix prices for insulin, skyrocketing costs and generating enormous profits.

Four individuals, joined by the Type 1 Diabetes Defense Foundation, filed the lawsuit March 17. The 69-count class action complaint targets some of America’s healthcare industry’s heaviest hitters. The complaint names drug manufacturers Sanofi-Aventis, Novo Nordisk, and Eli Lily. It also names the country’s three largest PBMs – CVS Health, Express Scripts, and OptumRX. Collectively, these PBMs control 80 percent of the PBM industry and manage benefits for 180 million people.

Allegedly, the PBMs leveraged their role as gatekeepers between health plans and drug companies to manipulate plans toward certain drugs like insulin. The drug companies then went ahead and made these drugs’ retail prices higher, sharing the excess profits with PBMs through a “massive slush fund” rebate system. Consequently, this scheme caused rapid and lockstep insulin price increases of more than 150 percent.

“The skyrocketing cost of insulin cannot be explained away with typical drug company rationalizations for high costs,” the lawsuit states. “Instead, the increased list prices are the result of a scheme and enterprise among the three dominant drug manufacturers of insulin … and the three largest Pharmacy Benefit Managers, CVS Health, Express Scripts, and OptumRx.”

Collusion on Insulin Prices

This lawsuit follows Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Elijuah Cummings submitting a letter to the Justice Department and Federal Trade Commission. They asked them to look into the possibility of price increase collusion with Lilly, Novo, and Sanofi.

“Not only have these pharmaceutical companies raised insulin prices significantly—sometimes by double digits overnight—in many instances the prices have apparently increased in tandem,” their letter stated.

This is at least the third lawsuit, alleging prescription drug price fixing, since Sanders called out drug manufacturers and PBMs. Another lawsuit was filed in January against Sanofi, Novo Nordisk, and Eli Lilly. The lawsuit also mentioned PBMs.

 

 

Prominent Screenwriter Accuses Disney of Stealing Idea for Zootopia Movie

By Emily Cox
Zootopia Copyright Infringement
Side-by-Side Comparison of Goldman’s Characters with Disney’s

A writer and producer filed a copyright lawsuit against the Walt Disney Company Tuesday, accusing the studio of stealing his material for its movie Zootopia.

Gary L. Goldman, whose credits include Total Recall and Minority Report, alleges that he pitched Zootopia to Disney twice. Disney told Goldman on both occasions that they were not interested in producing his movie. However, the lawsuit alleges the studio used much of his material in last year’s billion-dollar animated hit, including the movie’s title.

Furthermore, this is nothing new for Disney, Goldman claims.

“Although The Walt Disney Company rigorously enforces its copyrights, it has developed a culture that not only accepts the unauthorized copying of others’ original material, but encourages it,” Goldman said.

He went on to quote a director and credited writer of Zootopia, Byron Howard, actually instructing Disney artists to copy others’ work.

“Don’t worry if you feel like you’re copying something, because if it comes through you, it’s going to filter through you and you’re going to bring your own unique perspective to it,” Byron is quoted as saying in the complaint.

Goldman alleges that this corporate practice has generated tremendous profits. He cited unauthorized and unacknowledged but recognizable source material for many popular Disney movies. These included Disney’s The Lion King, Toy Story, Monsters, Inc., Up, the Frozen trailer, and Inside Out.

Zootopia Copyright Infringements

Goldman claims he pitched his Zootopia franchise, on behalf of Esplanade Productions, Inc., in 2000 and 2009. This franchise included a live-action component called Looney and an animated component called Zootopia. He alleges that he provided a treatment, synopsis, character descriptions, character illustrations, and other materials, including the title. However, Disney claimed disinterest. As a result, Goldman claims, instead of lawfully acquiring his intellectual property, Disney copied it.

“They copied Goldman’s themes, settings, plot, characters, and dialogue – some virtually verbatim. They copied Goldman’s title, “Zootopia,” the lawsuit states. They even copied Goldman’s character designs and artwork…”

Consequently, Esplanade Productions is seeking to hold Disney responsible “for their blatant and unauthorized copying of Goldman’s work.”

 

Critics Say Trump’s Airline Electronics Ban Isn’t About Security

By Emily Cox
Trump's Airline Electronics Ban
Photo by Iowapolitics.com

Critics suggest that Trump’s airline electronics ban on direct inbound flights from eight Muslim majority countries does not serve national security but Trump’s agenda instead.

Citing unspecified threats, the US Department of Homeland Security announced a ban Monday evening on carrying electronic devices larger than a smartphone in the cabins of US-bound airplanes coming from eight Middle Eastern and African countries. Trump’s airline electronics ban applies to nonstop flights originating from 10 airports in Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Egypt, United Arab Emirates, Turkey, Jordan, Kuwait, and Qatar. Passengers will have to place all electronics items larger than a cellphone in their checked luggage. This prevents passengers from accessing these devices in-flight. Notably, no American carriers have direct flights from these airports to the US.

Experts Question Trump’s Airline Electronics Ban

Retired FBI counterterrorism executive and senior fellow at George Washington University’s Center for Cyber and Homeland Security David C. Gomez tweeted that Trump’s airline electronics ban “ignores the realities of terrorist behavior” as passengers could just “fly to London, Paris, Amsterdam and switch carriers” to reach the US.

Andrew Lebovich, a North Africa expert and visiting fellow at the European Council on Foreign relations, mirrored Gomez’s concerns, tweeting, “Does the administration think terrorists can’t take flights on American carriers?”

“Perhaps there’s an unknown or secret logic,” Lebovich tweeted. “But as presented and reported, this electronics ban makes absolutely no sense.”

Tech experts are also questioning the safety implications of Trump’s airline electronics ban. They claim that the same risks of having laptops on board still exist in the cargo hold. Furthermore, many smartphones have the same capabilities as the banned devices.

“It’s weird, because it doesn’t match a conventional threat model,” said Nicholas Weaver, a researcher at the International Computer Science Institute at UC Berkeley. “If you assume the attacker is interested in turning a laptop into a bomb, it would work just as well in the cargo hold. If you’re worried about hacking, a cellphone is a computer.”

Some experts, including those at the Federal Aviation Administration, have also raised concerns that placing lithium battery powered devices in airplane cargo holds could pose a serious fire risk.

However, if Trump’s airline electronics ban doesn’t accomplish greater security, then what is the point? Critics suggest that the ban isn’t about security at all.

Critics Indicate that Economic Motivations Are Behind Trump’s Airline Electronics Ban

President Trump's Airline Electronics Ban
Photo by Gage Skidmore

“Three of the airlines that have been targeted for these measures – Emirates, Etihad Airways and Qatar Airways – have long been accused by their U.S. competitors of receiving massive effective subsidies from their governments,” wrote Washington Post political scientists Henry Farrell and Abraham Newman.  “These airlines have been quietly worried for months that President Trump was going to retaliate. This may be the retaliation.”

They further indicated that this is an example of the Trump weaponizing interdependence. They characterized this as the administration using its leverage to weaken competitors.

Another Washington Post writer, Max Bearak, wrote that this could be part of Trump’s wider protectionist agenda. In February, Trump met with US airline executives. At the meeting, he promised to help them compete against foreign carriers that receive government subsidies.

Furthermore, the expansion of these global carriers has turned Dubai, Doha, and Instanbul airports into international hubs. Experts project that Dubai’s airport will receive nearly 89 million passengers this year. So it should retain its status as the world’s busiest airport for international travel. There are already significant and time-consuming security measures at these airports to screen passengers bound for the US. Trumps airline electronics ban creates yet another reason to consider different routes and carriers.

Advocacy groups claim that this is yet another anti-Muslim measure from the Trump administration.

 

Poisoned Camp Lejeune Veterans to Receive Compensation

By Emily Cox
Camp Lejeune Contaminated Water
Photo by Public Domain Photography

Veterans who served at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina from the 1950s through the 1980s may be eligible to receive compensation payments if they suffered from certain cancers or other select diseases.

The federal Veterans Administration has acknowledged that the water at the camp probably caused many forms of cancer found in veterans who served at Camp Lejeune for 30 days or more. The contamination occurred between August 1, 1953 and December 31, 1987. Consequently, these veterans showered, drank, and ate food cooked in a poisonous stew of benzene, perchloroethylene, trichloroethylene, and vinyl chloride among other harmful chemicals that may cause breast cancer, adult leukemia, bladder cancer, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and Parkinson’s disease. Authorities think the water was contaminated by a nearby dry cleaning business leaking chemicals into the ground water.

Camp Lejeune Veteran Compensation

The U.S. government freed up about $2.2 billion Tuesday to compensate veterans who are struggling with at least one of the eight diseases linked to the toxic water they were exposed to while serving their country.  However, several family members of veterans and civilians said they hope the compensation will grow to include more diseases as well as civilian employees who may have been exposed.

This will be the first time that the government will compensate veterans for harm done at home rather than foreign soil during wartime. Also, there is no requirement to prove a direct link between the water and any of the identified illnesses.

While there are nearly a million people eligible for this compensation, the government isn’t reaching out to them. Consequently, they are responsible for filing their own claims. But many veterans aren’t even aware of the water contamination or the health impacts.

Camp Lejeune Veteran Health Benefits

Per the 2012 Camp Lejeune health care law, the VA also provides free health care for certain conditions for vets who served at least 30 days of active duty at Camp Lejeune from January 1, 1957 and December 31, 1987. Qualifying conditions for free health care include:

  • Esophageal cancer
  • Breast cancer

    Camp Lejeune Vets
    Photo by AK Rockefeller
  • Kidney cancer
  • Multiple myeloma
  • Renal toxicity
  • Female infertility
  • Scleroderma
  • Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
  • Bladder cancer
  • Lung cancer
  • Leukemia
  • Myelodyspastic syndromes
  • Hepatic steatosis
  • Miscarriage
  • Neurobehavioral effects

Class Action Restriction Bills Passed by House

By Emily Cox
Class Action
Photo by Joey Gannon

Washington, DC — Despite Democratic objections that class action restrictions would hurt the public’s ability to hold corporations accountable, the House of Representatives passed a pair of bills Thursday to make it harder to bring class actions and keep suits in state courts.

The Fairness in Class Action Litigation Act of 2017 and Innocent Party Protection Act radically limit the scope for class actions, while expanding the scope for finding fraudulent joinder in suits.

Republicans claim these bills will adjust the balance between “abusive plaintiffs” and “innocent defendants.” However, Democrats argue the bills are designed to protect corporate wrongdoers by making it harder for victims to band together. Democrats allege that these bills would make it almost impossible for victims injured by consumer rip-off, fault product design, and pharmaceutical drug mistakes, as well as lead and asbestos poisoning to bring class-action lawsuits.

“I oppose these misguided legislations, because it sends another huge valentine and wet kiss to large corporate polluters and tort-feasors but gives the finger to millions of American citizens who suffer injuries from these defendants,” Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md) said.

Democrats are joined by a large group of legal, environmental, disability, labor, civil rights, and consumer protection organizations in their opposition. They claim the bills would limit the ability to join a class action suit against defendants with exponentially greater resources.

“Christmas has certainly come early for corporate-America,” said Teddy Basham-Witherington, a spokesman for The Impact Fund, a nonprofit public interest law organization.

He went on to that, if passed, the class action restriction bills would “restrict ordinary people from accessing justice, emboldening the worst actors in corporate America.”

Class Action Restriction Bill (H.R. 985)

The class action bill would require plaintiffs to prove potential members have the same type and scope of injury. It also requires asbestos trusts to make details of trust claimants public.

“This doesn’t formally abolish the class-action mechanism,” Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD) said. “It’s not the guillotine, but it’s a straight jacket.”

Opponents also argue that the bill provides easy access to asbestos victims’ personal information for scam artists, employers, potential insurers, and debt collectors to potentially exploit.

The bill’s predecessor, the Fairness in Class Action Litigation Act of 2015 (H.R. 1927), passed the House but was not even considered by the Senate. According to opponents, this bill was far less damaging than the current legislation. Basham-Witherington described the new bill as “H.R. 1927 on steroids.”

Innocent Party Protection Act

This bill would prevent attorneys from adding defendants to a lawsuit to keep the case in state court. Democrats like Jerrold Nadler (NY) feel that it gives corporations another tool to transfer suits to corporate-friendly federal courts.

“The preliminary determination of jurisdiction would become a baseless time-consuming mini-trial before a second trial on the merits,” Nadler said. “While large corporations can accommodate such costs, injured workers, and parents cannot.”

Take Justice Back

The American Association for Justice has established a movement to help individuals take a stand against class action restriction. Take Justice Back has numerous websites to help people act against this unconstitutional legislation.

 

Hospitals Overcharging for Hip and Knee Replacements

By Emily Cox
Hospitals Overcharging
Photo by Contando Estrelas

Researchers indicate that many hospitals are overcharging for hip and knee replacements, often doubling the costs.

The Journal of American Medical Association published this research letter in late February. In it, Boston Children’s Hospital doctors found that many hospitals are often charging private insurance companies twice the cost the hospitals pay for the devices. Some hospitals pay different prices for the same devices due to bulk or bundled manufacturer discounts or negotiating effectiveness.

According to the letter, the average selling price (AVP) for knee implants is $5,023. However, the mean insurance company payment for the implants was $10,604. The AVP for hip implants was $5,620. But insurance companies paid a mean payment of $11,751 for them. Due to this, researchers determined insurance companies may have overpaid $225.3 for knee implants and $199.7 million for hip implants from 2011 to 2015.

“The total payments insurance companies pay for knee and hip implants were twice as high as the average selling prices at which hospitals purchased the implants from manufacturers, resulting in hundreds of millions of dollars in additional insurance claims,” the letter states.

Despite implants being the most expensive aspect of joint replacement injury, the letter indicated that insurance companies are not told how much the implants cost the hospitals. Companies usually do not even know what brand of device was used.

Consequently, researchers recommend that the average prices of these devices should be publicly available.

These findings may not apply to publicly insured patients, and the study excluded those more than 65 years old. These patients are often in Medicare and Medicaid programs, which have their own pricing and reimbursement structures.

Hospitals Research Data

Researchers used data from a nationwide, private health insurance plan. They looked at medical claims from 2011 to 2015 for patients younger than 65 who had at least one claim involving payment for at least one implant. The data included more than 40,300 knee implant patients and more than 23,500 artificial hip recipients.

Constitutional Rights Under Siege

By Emily Cox
Constitutional Rights
Photo by Washington State House Republicans

Congress is pushing legislation that is an affront to American constitutional rights and will make lawsuits nearly impossible to pursue.

Politicians, working with large corporations and insurance companies, have devised a plan aimed at destroying the right to hold those in power accountable for their actions. They plan to enact laws that will all but destroy constitutional rights to use the judicial system to protect oneself. Consequently, they have introduced bills which, if passed, will enact arbitrary changes to courts across the country, including:

  • Limiting compensation for injuries caused by medical professionals, including doctors, hospitals, nursing homes, and medical device manufacturers to $250,000.00, regardless of the devastation of the injury or the extent of misconduct by the medical professional or company
  • Eliminating class-action law suits, which would essentially destroy the ability to bring the kinds of cases that keep Americans safe
  • Eliminating individual states’ laws regarding lawsuits and forcing all cases to Federal Court
  • Allowing insurance companies to make “payments” rather than paying full compensation

Responsibility and accountability are rooted in the core of the American legal system. This country’s founders knew that a democracy needs a court system that empowers people to protect themselves by holding the powerful to account. Consequently, the Constitution guarantees each person the right to a trial by jury. The founders feared unaccountable power in the form of the King of England against his “subjects.” America may not have a king, but it does have billion dollar corporations touching every part of every person’s life. However, these corporations now seek the kind of unaccountable power America’s founders sought to protect against, and they’re seeking that power by destroying the constitutional right to a trial by jury.

Taking America’s Constitutional Rights Back

People across the country are calling for the government to put people first and stop trampling on their rights. Arentz Law Group has been protecting individuals across the country, demanding that everyone is treated fairly. The American Association for Justice has established a movement to help individuals take a stand. Take Justice Back has numerous websites to help people take action against this unconstitutional legislation.

Former Trump University Student Wants to Take the President to Trial

By Emily Cox
Student Wants to Take Trump University to Trial
Image by DonkeyHotey

A Florida woman wants to drop out of the recent $25 million Trump University class action settlement and take President Trump to trial.

Sherri Simpson filed an objection to the November settlement Monday. Consequently, attorneys are saying that this could delay or endanger the entire settlement.

In April 2010, Simpson attended a three-day Trump University seminar. However, the follow-up Gold Elite course she bought was allegedly completely fraudulent.

“The Gold Elite program was a scam,” Simpson alleged in her statement filed with the U.S. District Court in San Diego. “None of the promised resources were made available. The ‘mentor’ assigned to me disappeared and never returned my calls or emails.”

Simpson paid $1,495 for the seminar. But high-pressure sales tactics pressured her to sign up for the $35,000 Gold Elite program under the premise that she would have access the resources of Trump and his real estate organization. However, she split the cost with another student. As a result, Simpson paid approximately $19,000 that her lawyers claim she could ill-afford.

While the settlement would only reimburse students approximately 50 percent of their tuition, lawyers representing the class-action plaintiffs say it is a “terrific settlement.” They also suggested that the objection could result in delays for students who have waited years to get their money back.

“She could have excluded herself and pursued her own litigation,” Patrick Coughlin, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said. “That time has passed.”

Simpson’s lawyers argue that a notice sent to students in 2015 implied they could request exclusion from the settlement later. However, the final settlement did not afford this opportunity.

Trump Never Admitted Fault for Trump University Scandal

While Trump agreed to pay $21 million for the two California class action suits and $4 million to the New York Attorney General, he never admitted fault of liability for the now defunct educational institute that former students claim made University of Phoenix look like M.I.T.

In fact, in a tweet posted back in November, Trump indicated he only agreed to the deal to avoid a trial as he prepared to take office.

“The ONLY bad thing about winning the Presidency is that I did not have the time to go through a long but winning trial on Trump U,” Trump wrote. “Too bad!”

“This is absolutely unsatisfactory to her, “ Gary Friendman, Simpson’s lawyer, said. “She wants to take him to trial.”

Friedman went on to say that Simpson would not accept any settlement without an admission of guilt.

“It’s not opportunistic,” he added. “It’s not a hold up. It’s not an attempt to embarrass anyone. My client just deserves her day in court.”

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