Americans agree on several issues, but 1 is keeping us torn apart. Here are 4 key facts.

The presidential race is underway, so we should expect to hear more about money in politics from the candidates.

It is, after all, a factor that determines how politicians respond to all other issues and ultimately how people's lives will be affected by the policy outcomes.


Photo by Peter Stevens/Flickr.

So far, it hasn't come up as much as you'd think it would. For example, in the first two Republican presidential debates, the topic of money in politics was mostly avoided.

The exceptions were the occasional jab by Donald Trump at competitors he's funded in the past and this rare moment of partial recognition of the problem by Mike Huckabee:

"[W]e have a Wall Street-to-Washington axis of power that has controlled the political climate. The donor class feeds the political class who does the dance that the donor class wants."

Unfortunately, none of the more than a dozen candidates on stage came with an idea to share about how to fix the problem.

Money has become the biggest player in U.S. politics, but it's not always clear why that is and how it works.

Before you demonize any candidate for poisoning the democracy well, let's take stock of what's really happening. Here are the key things you need to know:

1. The early bird gets the loot.

Photo by Sheila Sund/Flickr.

In the early days of American politics, nominees were picked in backroom deals with party bigwigs. Primary elections were supposed to change that. At best, they were a way to make the process more transparent and democratic. They also made the contest a little more accessible to lesser-known "dark horse" candidates.

But the rise in competition stretched out campaign cycles as candidates hustled for position with political donors. Longer campaigns meant candidates needed more money, and so began the cyclical money-grab that defines American politics.

2. It's become an unfair tug-of-war.

Photo by skeeze/Pixabay.

Wealth inequality has reached obscene levels. Today, the top tenth of a percent of U.S. households (those with $20 million or more in assets) owns as much of the country's wealth as the bottom 90% combined.

Knowing that, it shouldn't come as a surprise that nearly half of all first-phase presidential campaign funds were donated by only 158 families and the companies they control. 138 of of those families back exclusively Republican candidates.

3. It's not illegal if you can't see who's doing it.

Photo by -JvL-/Flickr (altered).

There's a cap on what donors can give candidates, but when wealthy influencers want something, they can't be bothered with rules. So they created a shadow market for political donations, where they can dump money into politics through nonprofits — anonymously and without limits, thanks to the Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling.

They call it "dark money," and there's been a five-fold spike in such spending since the last general election. And speaking of rich families, 1 in 4 dollars of dark money spent in 2012 were linked to billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch. The political kingpins are out to set another record by raising nearly $1 billion for the 2016 elections through their network of dark money donors.

While those donations only go to conservative candidates and policies, even Republican leadership has gotten shifty about their growing power over the party — just not shifty enough to actually do something about it.

4. There is no room for agreement. Only domination.

Photo by Spot Us/Flickr (altered).

We know the richest political donors have a thing for conservative candidates, but that doesn't explain the stalemates on issues that most Americans agree on. For example:

So why haven't we celebrated unity and progress on any of those issues? Why aren't we leveraging the country's vast resources to lift people up, save more lives, protect the environment, and be as awesomesauce as politicians love saying we are?

Well, it's not really about "the people," let alone the planet. Donors like the Koch brothers don't drop cash like that to advance common interests — they do it in service of themselves. (I think now's a good time for this refresher.)

If money is the root of all evil, why do we let it rule our lives in such fundamental ways through politics?

Keep that in mind as the spectacle of the presidential race unfolds because there's more to governing than whose team wins. And if it's not already clear, the players aren't just the suits we see going tit for tat on the debate stage.

Everyone deserves a fair say in the electoral process, and the rest of us shouldn't have to stand aside while people who have more than they'll ever need call all the shots.

Can you imagine a future where good ideas and consensus — not just the biggest bank accounts — rule the day? Don't count on it until political leaders start getting honest about what's driving American politics and start showing the will to change it.

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Don't test on animals. That's something we can all agree on, right? No one likes to think of defenseless cats, dogs, hamsters, and birds being exposed to a bunch of things that could make them sick (and the animals aren't happy about it, either). It's no wonder so many people and organizations have fought to stop it. But did you ever think that maybe brands are testing products on us too, they're just not telling us they're doing it?

I know, I know, it sounds like a conspiracy theory, but that's exactly what e-cigarette brands like JUUL (which corners the e-cigarette market) are doing in this country right now, and young people are on the frontlines of the fallout. Most people assume that the government would have looked at devices that allow people to inhale unknown chemicals into their lungs BEFORE they hit the market. You would think that someone in the government would have determined that they are safe. But nope, that hasn't happened. And vape companies are fighting to delay the government's ability to evaluate these products.

So no one really knows the long-term health effects of e-cigarette use, not even JUUL's CEO, nor are they informing the public about the potential risks. On top of that, according to the FDA, there's been a 78% increase in e-cigarette usage among high school and middle school-aged children in just the last two years, prompting the U.S. Surgeon General to officially recognize the trend as an epidemic and urge action against it.

These facts have elicited others to take action, as well.

Truth Initiative, the nonprofit best known for dropping the real facts about smoking and vaping since 2000 through its truth campaign. We don't do PSAs. We also need to update so to explain truth – the nonprofit behind the truth youth smoking prevention campaign – you could also say this in a funny way – best known for sharing the facts about smoking and vaping or pull from some old campaigns. Just layer in a description of truth and who the campaign is., is now on a mission to confront e-cigarette brands like JUUL about the lack of care they've taken to inform consumers of the potential adverse side effects of their products. And they're doing it with the help of animal protesters who are tired of seeing humans treated like test subjects.

The March Against JUUL | Tested On Humans | truth www.youtube.com

"No one knows the long-term effects of JUULing so any human who uses one is being used as a lab rat," says, appropriately, Mario the Sewer Rat.

"I will never stop fighting JUUL. Or the mailman," notes Doug the Pug, the Instagram-famous dog star.

Truth, the national counter-marketing campaign for youth smoking prevention, hopes this fuzzy, squeaky, snorty animal movement arms humans with the facts about vaping and inspires them to demand transparency from JUUL and other e-cigarette companies. You can get your own fur babies involved too by sharing photos of them wearing protest gear with the hashtag #DontTestOnHumans. Here's some adorable inspo for you:

The dangerous stuff is already out there, but with knowledge on their side, young people will hopefully make the right choices and fight companies making the wrong ones. If you need more convincing, here are the serious facts.

Over the last decade, 127 e-cigarette-related seizures were reported, which prompted the FDA to launch an official investigation in April 2019. Since then, over 215 cases of a new, severe lung illness have sprung up all over the country, with six deaths to date. While scientists aren't yet sure of the root cause, the majority of victims were young adults who regularly vaped and used e-cigarettes. As such, the CDC has launched an official investigation into the potential link.

Sixteen-year-old Luka Kinard, a former frequent e-cigarette-user, is one of the many teens who experienced severe side effects. "Vaping was my biggest addiction," he told NowThis. "It lasted for about 15 months of my high school career." In 2018, Kinard was hospitalized after having a seizure. He also had severe nausea, chest pains, and difficulty breathing.

After the harrowing experience, he quit vaping, and began speaking out about his experience to help inform others and hopefully inspire them to quit and/or take action. "It shouldn't take having a seizure as a result of nicotine addiction like I had for teens to realize that these companies are taking advantage of what we don't know," Kinard said.

Teens are 16 times more likely to use e-cigarettes than adults, and four times more likely to take up traditional smoking as a result, according to truth, and yet the e-cigarette market remains virtually unregulated and untested. In fact, companies like JUUL continue to block and prevent FDA regulations, investing more than $1 million in lawyers and lobbying efforts in the last quarter alone.

Photo by Lindsay Fox/Pixabay

Consumers have a right to know what they're putting in their bodies. If everyone (and their pets) speaks up, the e-cigarette industry will have to make a change. Young people are already taking action across the country. They're hosting rallies nationwide and on October 9 as part of a National Day of Action, young people are urging their friends and classmates to "Ditch JUUL." Will you join them?

For help with quitting e-cigarettes, visit thetruth.com/quit or text DITCHJUUL to 88709 for free, anonymous resources.

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Handmade cosmetics company Lush is putting its money where its mouth is and taking a bold step for climate change action.

On September 20 in the U.S. and September 27 in Canada, Lush will shut the doors of its 250 shops, e-commerce sites, manufacturing facilities, and headquarters for a day, in solidarity with the Global Climate Strike taking place around the world. Lush is encouraging its 5000+ employees "to join this critical movement and take a stand until global leaders are forced to face the climate crisis and enact change."

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Cadbury has removed the words from its Dairy Milk chocolate bars in the U.K. to draw attention to a serious issue, senior loneliness.

On September 4, Cadbury released the limited-edition candy bars in supermarkets and for every one sold, the candy giant will donate 30p (37 cents) to Age UK, an organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for the elderly.

Cadbury was prompted to help the organization after it was revealed that 225,000 elderly people in the UK often go an entire week without speaking to another person.

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The fine folks at Forbes are currently falling all over themselves trying to clean up the mess they created by publishing their 2019 list of 100 Most Innovative Leaders.

The problem: The list included 99 men and one woman. For those not so good with the math, that means according to Forbes, only 1% of the country's most innovative leaders are female.

Have you ever watched a movie that's so abysmally bad that you wonder how it ever even got made? Where you think, "Hundreds and hundreds of people had to have been directly involved in the production of this film. Did any of them ever think to say, 'Hey, maybe we should just scrap this idea altogether?"

That's how it feels to see a list like this. So how did Forbes come up with these results?

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