Better World Club

Monday, January 31, 2011

Stop Unlimited Corporate Campaign Donations

Better World Club joins Ben & Jerry's, Seventh Generation, Calvert Investments, and other Companies to Speak Out Against Citizens United

US Supreme Court Says Money Is Speech, Congress Says Talk All You Want As Long As We Get the Money

BWC President Mitch Rofsky joined Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield of Ben & Jerry's Homemade, Wayne Silby of Calvert Investments, Jeff Holender, the founder of Seventh Generation, and a number of other corporate executives in Washington DC on the anniversary of the Supreme Court's Citizens United.

In Citizens United, the Court struck down traditional restrictions on corporate political contributions with a 5-4 vote. Subsequently, legislation requiring "disclosure" of corporate contributions passed the House of Representatives, but Senators in support of the bill fell short of ending a filibuster against it.

Ben and Jerry started the event by declaring: "I'm Ben Cohen and I'm a person." "I'm Jerry Greenfield and I'm a person." "Together, we're Ben & Jerry's, which is not a person." In so doing, they were confronting the Court's ruling that corporations have the same Constitutional rights as individuals.

Mitch referred to his testimony before the House Administration Committee on Campaign Finance Reform in 1979: He proposed that corporations recognize that corporate contributions involve more than "buying influence." "There are two sides to the same coin: there may be bribery, but let's not forget that pressure can run both ways -- which means that extortion can be involved as well." He was recently told that corporations are expected to pay $25,000 for meetings with Senators.

Mitch asked the press to encourage retired Congresspeople to disclose just how much time they spent raising money (purportedly as much as half their time as elections approach) and how they were pressured by businesses. Using former Aetna executive Wendell Potter as an example, he also encouraged the press to identify retired corporate executives that would speak on the role of business on political fundraising. Potter has become an effective advocate for health insurance reform, and Rofsky suggested that there are many retired executives who might be willing to disclose how their corporations used money to influence policy.

Better World Club encourages all business leaders to get involved on this issue. They can start by going to Business for Democracy( If you are not a business executive, check out Public Citizen's "Don't Get Rolled" campaign.)

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Change of Climate in the 112th Congress

House Moves to Limit Regulatory Power of EPA

Urge Your Representative to Publicly Support the EPA and Its Regulations of Greenhouse Gases Under the Clean Air Act

Seemingly no sooner had the Constitution been read at the opening of the new legislative session in the House of Representatives than members of that chamber introduced bills intended to thwart the ability of the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. In particular, HR 97, the so called Free Industry Act, aims, "to amend the Clean Air Act to provide that greenhouse gases are not subject to the Act." Oh yeah, "and for other purposes," too. (We cringe at the thought of what those other purposes might be.) HR 153, the Ensuring Affordable Energy Act, would prohibit EPA funding from being used for implementation or enforcement of a cap and trade program for greenhouse gases.

With Congress having failed to pass a comprehensive climate and energy bill in its last session, the role of the EPA in regulating emissions of greenhouse gases and other pollutants is more important than ever. Taking its cue from an embattled White House, the EPA has already postponed the implementation of regulations to reduce smog and the pollution generated by industrial boilers. It is now imperative that Representatives make a strong stand in support of the EPA and its lawful regulatory power under the Clean Air Act. There should be no further delay in America's fight against climate change and our transition to a healthier and more vibrant clean energy economy.

We urge our readers to Drive Change by contacting their Representatives and insisting that they support the ability of the EPA to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. A sample letter is available here.

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Sample Letter to Representatives on Regulatory Authority of EPA

Dear Representative,

With the failure of the Congress to pass a comprehensive climate and energy bill in 2010, the ability of the EPA to regulate greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act is more important than ever. Unfortunately, that ability is under attack by those who support a dirty and outdated energy system over America’s public health and long term economic viability.

It is imperative that the EPA be free to exercise its authority under the Clean Air Act to implement and enforce limits on greenhouse gas emissions. The choice to regulate greenhouse gases is also the choice to embrace the development of clean energy technologies – technologies that will create jobs and protect the health of the American people, two things that both Republicans and Democrats should support. America can no longer afford to delay in the fight against climate change and our transition to a healthier and more vibrant clean energy economy.

As challenges to the EPA and the Clean Air Act come up for debate, I strongly urge you to stand up to all reactionary attacks on the regulatory power of the EPA and to do everything in your power to encourage your colleagues in the House of Representatives to do so as well.


Monday, January 10, 2011

Baby It's Cold Outside

So Be Careful When You Drive Out to Get Me That Hot Chocolate

For many of our members (hey, Northeast!), winter means snow and ice, which in turn mean difficult driving conditions. We can't, however, let that stop you from exchanging our Christmas presents.

Better World Club will be there as readily as possible to help you through your winter driving difficulties, but during blizzards and other especially hazardous conditions, we may not be able to dispatch service (and you're probably not the only one calling). Your best options for help in a blizzard are the police or other emergency responders.

For helpful tips on general winter driving, check out this list put together by our friends at Car Talk.

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100% of BWC Staff Surveyed Agree:

Take Our Membership Survey!

Sure, We Only Asked our President -- but Still, Numbers Don't Lie

We love hearing from our members. You know, thank you cards, thank you gifts, award nominations...any token of appreciation, really. We also understand that our members are exciting and busy people who can't always remember to visit the website to send us an email with their feedback. So, we've drawn up a survey to let you get it all out in one place.

In addition to providing our members with an easy opportunity to comment on their experiences with our services, our survey is designed to collect data on how our customers feel about the environmental and social responsibility issues that relate to the Club's operating mission. After all, open communication is essential to maintaining a healthy relationship. We hope you know that we're listening. Your needs are important. Once we have our results, we're excited to use them in planning and developing new membership services and online features.

The survey shouldn't take any more than 15 minutes to complete, and we know that all of our non-businesspeople members still resent not being able to respond to our last survey in November. So what's 15 minutes, right? Now's your chance to let us know what you think!

The current survey is, however, only to be completed by Better World Club members, present or past. If you're not a member and really can't wait to get in on the question answering fun, there's no better time to join! And do it soon, because we won't be collecting data after January 24th, 2011.

Thanks for your help! We're sure you'll like the future even better.

Take our membership survey now!

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Do We Need to Break Up California to Fix Democracy?

This article, by BWC President Mitch Rofsky, originally appeared in the Huffington Post

Many Democrats are recognizing that the federal government is broken and are lining up to "fix" the Senate filibuster. Some want to reduce the cloture requirement to 55 Senators. Others want to do away with the filibuster entirely.

There's only one problem: many Democratic Senators are reluctant to change the rule.

Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), for instance, favors the filibuster, which he used to protect Oregon's "Death With Dignity" law when it was under attack by a Republican Congress.

He is hardly alone. In 1995, 23 Democrats joined every Republican to defeat an effort (which was co-sponsored by Senator Joseph Lieberman) to scrap the filibuster. Will the Dems pick up at least 14 of those votes to eliminate the filibuster today? Very unlikely.

Unfortunately, this reflects an even bigger problem. The fact is the federal government isn't "broken" because of the filibuster rules. It's broken because of its two Senators per State structure, regardless of population, that is built into the U.S. Constitution.

The filibuster aggravates this problem, of course. But, the filibuster just highlights that the Senate that made sense in 1787 no longer does. After all, the impact of the Senate's structure is much different than was anticipated more than two centuries ago.

The Founders were dealing with States which were built on ethnic identities. Many States even had their own religions. Structuring the Senate and the Electoral College to protect State boundaries made some sense in a new, diverse country where tolerance would have to be developed and valued.

Furthermore, each state had essentially operated as a virtual country during the Articles of Confederation. But after the ratification of the Constitution -- and especially after the Civil War -- the independent power of states greatly diminished.

Then, in the 20th Century, emigration between states increased greatly.

Finally, communications technology -- first the movies, then radio and TV, and now the Internet -- encouraged a truly national culture. Times have changed.

And one of those changes is to virtually eliminate the distinctiveness of State populations. Are the people of, say, Pennsylvania, really different than the people of California, the people of Ohio from the people of Oregon? I've lived in all of those places and I can tell you: No! (A bigger cleavage is rural vs. urban within States.)

Today, State identity does little more than define which sports teams you root for. It makes little sense for land to have so much more power than people in the U.S. Senate.

There has been one more significant shift over the past 2+ centuries. In 1790, the most populous state was Virginia. Its population was 12x that of the smallest state, Delaware.

Today, California's population is 70x that of Wyoming.

The United States is the world's oldest democracy, yet we have no problem with each citizen of Wyoming having 70x the power of each Californian in the US Senate?

While the nation requires local administrative structures, i.e. States, the commitment to their original design and power makes little sense today.

Especially since this design has to distort our politics -- in both perception and reality.

Perception: the Senate's structure leads journalists to focus on the number of a political party's winners rather than its relative support. So the popularity of the Democratic Party is consistently understated because Democrats generate larger wins in larger states. The 2004 election was portrayed as a huge Republican victory because they won more Senate seats, but the Democrats won millions more votes.

Even if it doesn't matter legislatively -- it does matter politically. Karl Rove is a big believer in the "bandwagon effect" where the perception of impending political victory leads to political victory. Ignoring which party is actually winning most of the votes distorts this effect, political momentum, and, ultimately, the laws we live under.

Reality: the Senate's structure directly distorts results, as we just saw in the maneuvers the Democratic Senate leadership was forced to take to end the Republican medical insurance filibuster.

Let's be clear, a majority of Americans live in how many states? According to 2005 population figures, the number is "9." It would take only 18 Senators to represent a majority of Americans -- 12 Democrats and 6 Republicans.

If the Senate were based on population, it would require just 26 Democrats to represent a majority. Meanwhile, Senate Republicans represent just 37% of the population. (The Census counts non-citizens. Adjusting for the 10% of the population or so that are non-citizens would affect the power of the large states a bit, but not much politically as Texas and Arizona would nearly balance out California.)

This is how the government is really broken: not the gap between the number of Democratic and Republican Senators but the gulf between the 26 Democrats that represent a majority of Americans and the 74 Senators, mostly Republicans, who don't.

The current filibuster rules aggravate the situation, of course. At the time of the Senate health care debate, before Republican Scott Brown was elected in Massachusetts, we were letting just over 1/3 of Americans block the desires of 2/3.

Let's say that in the next election, the Democrats lose Harry Reid's Nevada seat as well as Byron Dorgan's seat in North Dakota. But, at the same time, they pick up the Republican seats in Florida and Ohio. The current party split would not change at all and the Democrats would have picked up no new support for their agenda. But now the Democrats would represent nearly 70% of the US population.

It's likely the Republicans will do better than this in 2010. But, as the Dems dominate the larger States, the next time they have momentum, they could be closing in on representing 75% of the population -- and still need to cripple their agenda in order to obtain the support of smaller state Senators to stop filibusters.

It is this figure that Democrats need to keep in mind as they consider a new cloture rule by shaping it to be the one feature of the Senate that recognizes what is currently missing: Democracy.

The Senate needs to alter the filibuster -- but it doesn't have to eliminate it. It could just say that cloture would be invoked unless Senators representing over 40% of the population voted to continue debate, figured with each of the two State Senators representing half the State's population. Besides shifting the calculation for cloture from States to population, this also shifts the burden to where it belongs: on the minority trying to stop the vote, not the majority that wants to hold it.

If this rule were in force today, it would take only 17 Democratic Senators to block debate. Of course, Republicans couldn't block cloture alone, but they could with just one more large state Democrat.

Unfair? No. More a reflection of how unfair the current rule is. If the Republicans don't like it, they should run candidates who can win in California, Illinois, and other large states.

Or, the rule could be adjusted so that it requires both 41 Senators and 40%+ of the population to block cloture. This would still be a major step toward Democracy from the current status quo.

In the case of the health care debate, the Democrats could have lost Senators Lieberman (Conn.), Nelson (Neb.), Landrieu (La.), and Lincoln (Ark.) and still invoked cloture. The need for the worst compromise/bribery would have been avoided. And the public option could have been retained.

If the Senate isn't interested in recognizing Democracy in even the most minor way, then we are headed for a crisis. And liberals need to make clear that they will call for more radical remedies that ultimately go to the very structure of the Senate. Most people don't realize that the most straightforward way of dealing with the problem -- adjusting the equal suffrage per state requirement in the Senate -- is barred by the US Constitution unless every state consents. It cannot even be the subject of a Constitutional amendment (Article V of the Constitution).

Then, what would more radical alternatives look like? What about adjusting State lines to equalize State population? Our 50 State boundaries could be redrawn into areas of some 6 million people each -- and then adjusted, maybe every 50 or 100 years. Radical? This is the way that State Senates are organized today (only with more frequent boundary adjustments).

Don't like that idea?

Perhaps the Senate should become more like the British House of Lords and be restricted to a limited jurisdiction, say, confirming appointments and ratifying treaties.


Let's be "Originalist" and say that the Founders were correct and no state should be larger than 12x the smallest. So California should break itself into 9 States, Texas into 6, New York into 3, and down the line. There could be more than 20 new States and 40 new Senators. And guess what: Most of them are likely to be liberal. (Or maybe California gets carried away and breaks itself up into 70 Wyoming-sized States? If it works for Wyoming why shouldn't it work for California as well?)

The advantage here is that no Constitutional Amendment is required.

Many Americans consider the 2000 Presidential Election and the Senate consideration of health care to be scandals. The loser of the popular vote becomes President? Also caused by the Senate structure. (Drop the Senate votes built into the Electoral College and the odds of the loser of the popular vote taking the Presidency would be greatly reduced -- and Al Gore wins in 2000.) The only way that the Senate can pass health insurance reform is if it is gutted and then subjected to special interest deals?

What's next? As smaller and smaller States control the outcome of elections and Congressional action and as populations in coastal States continue to grow disproportionately, there is bound to be some kind of national political breakdown. The power of tiny minorities is also likely to become an international embarrassment for the world's model of Democracy.

So Democratic Senators need to assert that a cloture rule reflecting Democracy is the least they can accept to fix the Senate -- while respecting the true will of a responsible majority, just as our Founders would have wanted. After all, the Federalist Papers argued against supermajority votes: "Whenever justice or the general good might require new laws or active measures, a quorum of more than a majority would reverse the fundamental principle of free government. The majority would no longer rule. The power would be transferred to the minority."

Or there's always the alternative: Welcome to the State of San Diego!

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CarShare Vermont

There are more than 230 million automobiles in the U.S., and at least 3 parking spaces for each of them...that's an area roughly the size of Connecticut devoted to parking!

CarShare Vermont’s mission is to provide an affordable, convenient, and reliable alternative to private car ownership that enhances the environmental, economic, and social well being of the region and planet.

CarShare Vermont gives you easy access to a network of vehicles that you can use whenever you want (it helps if you're in Vermont) for as long as you like. You pay based on how much you drive, which saves you money and helps the environment. Whether you have errands to run, need a car for work, or want to get out of town for the weekend, CarShare Vermont can get you there (and with the peace of mind of roadside assistance coverage from Better World Club). It’s really that simple!

Simple. Affordable. Fun. CarShare Vermont.

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Weather Underground

You Don't Need Bill Ayers to Know Which Way the Wind Blows

But This Weather Underground Can Help You Prepare for Your Next Trip

All that rain in sunny California and then that huge blizzard in New York? We've been having some strange weather lately. And whether that's the result of global warming (weirding?) or not, it's nice to know what to expect from the weather at your destination before a trip.

Weather Underground is a comprehensive website that combines your run of the mill meteorology with blogs, photos and videos, trip planning, and activity recommendations. Plus, the Weather Underground's interactive, searchable WunderMap provides real time information from radar and weather stations across the world. Rain at your destination? Snowed in at the airport? You could spend your whole vacation playing with the map!

What's more, you can even register for access to select information -- just like in a real underground network! (But without the danger and hassle of all the bombings.) What's the current climate at the Pentagon? Haymarket Square? With the Weather Underground, talking weather isn't just idle chit chat.

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5 Great Ways to Find Roadside Assistance

by Constance Gustke,

"Affinity clubs have a full menu of benefits...

Take the Better World Club. Its basic roadside assistance program costs $56, and includes towing up to five miles. But you also can add on assistance for bicycles, motorcycles and RVs. Members get extra perks like eco-travel services and discounts on hybrid car rentals, says Mitch Rofsky, president of Better World." Link to article at

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It's Not Always Sunny in California

Lapsed Members of AAA SoCal Can't Renew Extended Towing Coverage Without Probation

Like a number of other AAA regional clubs, the Automobile Club of Southern California requires that new members maintain a basic membership without usage for at least 12 months before they're allowed to upgrade to a membership with longer towing coverage.

It's not our policy, but we get it. Tows are expensive, and it's hard to keep membership rates reasonable if you're signing people up just to tow them for dozens of miles right away.

Once you'd done your time, however, we'd have thought that you would have won AAA's trust. Apparently not so: let your Plus membership in the SoCal Automobile Club lapse and you're back on probation, regardless of how long you've been a member.

Existing members can call AAA customer service during their probationary periods to find out how long they've kept their records clean, but as soon they're no longer members, the count starts all over again.

Maybe the Automobile Club of Southern California is just trying to keep its members renewing on time, but its probation policy doesn't seem like it would encourage lapsed members to renew -- especially members of 10 or 20 years that all of a sudden find their coverage downgraded.

Better World Club may not have that long of a history yet, but we'd love to have you with us when we get there, even if you let your membership lapse every once in a while.

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