The mixed results of the 2018 midterm elections open the season for the 2020 election. In the coming months, Corporations and Health Watchwill raise some of the issues that warrant discussion in this election. Today’s focus is on public health regulation of corporations. Two recent reports provide a starting point for the national conversation that is needed.
4 Takeaways from the Trump-Era Plunge in Corporate Penalties
At a time when the Trump administration is loosening rules established in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, writes The New York Times, financial penalties imposed on companies and big banks accused of wrongdoing have fallen precipitously since the Obama administration, according to analyses by The New York Times.
In consultation with outside experts, The Times conducted separate examinations of enforcement activity at the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Justice Department, comparing cases filed during the first 20 months of the Trump presidency with those in the final 20 months of the Obama administration.
The analysis found a 62 percent drop in penalties imposed and illicit profits ordered returned by the S.E.C. At the Justice Department, the analysis found a 72 percent decline in corporate penalties from criminal prosecutions, and a similar percent drop in certain civil penalties against financial institutions. Read the full story “Trump Administration Spares Corporate Wrongdoers Billions in Penalties.”
The War on Regulation: A Guide to the Ongoing Assault on Public Protections to Boost Corporate Profits
The war on regulation – carried out by the Trump administration, conservatives in Congress and private industry – is premised on a great deal of misinformation and misleading claims. A recent report by the Coalition for Sensible Safeguards, a national alliance of more than 160 consumer, labor, scientific, research, public health and other groups, provides readers with what they need to know to understand what’s at stake in the war on regulation and why regulatory safeguards matter. Read the full report.
Once again, new revelations about the illegal and deceptive practices of German car makers Volkswagen, Daimler and BMW attract media and public scrutiny. A few recent highlights:
Fortune reported that “Volkswagen’s CEO said he was ‘stunned’ by reports the carmaker had sponsored tests that exposed monkeys and humans to toxic diesel fumes and two years after an emissions cheating scandal, pledged once again to get to the bottom of the wrongdoing. Europe’s largest automaker has come under fresh scrutiny after the New York Times said last week that Volkswagen and German peers BMW and Daimler funded an organization called European Research Group on Environment and Health in the Transport Sector (EUGT) to commission the tests. The report came more than two years after VW admitted to cheating U.S. diesel emissions tests, sparking the biggest business crisis in its history, and pledged sweeping changes to ensure such misconduct never happened again.
The New York Times reported that in 2014 scientists in an Albuquerque laboratory conducted an unusual experiment: Ten monkeys squatted in airtight chambers, watching cartoons for entertainment as they inhaled fumes from a diesel Volkswagen Beetle. The details of the Albuquerque experiment have been disclosed in a lawsuit brought against Volkswagen in the United States, offering a rare window into the world of industry-backed academic research. The organization that commissioned the study, the European Research Group on Environment and Health in the Transport Sector, received all of its funding from Volkswagen, Daimler and BMW. It shut down last year amid controversy over its work. It also produced a skeptical assessment of data showing that diesel pollution far exceeded permitted levels in cities like Barcelona, Spain.
According to The Washington Post, the study by the European Research Group on Environment and Health in the Transport Sector (EUGT) was never published, and the research institute overseeing it has since been dissolved. All three carmakers involved in the study — Daimler, BMW and Volkswagen — distanced themselves from the research after the studies were disclosed. But the research institute behind the controversial tests on monkeys was founded by Daimler, BMW, Volkswagen and automotive components supplier Bosch, which has raised questions over the extent to which experiments with humans was backed by the three major carmakers, too.
Another account of the VW diesel emissions is featured on a new Netflix series “Dirty Money” an investigative series that exposes “brazen acts of corporate corruption and greed.” The first episode, Hard NOx, examines the VW deception on emissions.
Eleven years ago, writes historian Robert Proctor in The New York Times, a Federal District Court judge in Washington concluded after a nine-month trial that cigarette makers had committed fraud and violated racketeering statutes in a decades-long conspiracy to deceive the public about the dangers of smoking. Judge Gladys Kessler didn’t mince words, ruling that Philip Morris and other tobacco companies had “marketed and sold their lethal product with zeal, with deception, with a single-minded focus on their financial success, and without regard for the human tragedy or social costs that success exacted.” This week, newspapers and television networks will begin carrying five “corrective statements” ordered by the court, shown above as printed in The Times. Altria, R. J. Reynolds, Lorillard and Philip Morris will be required to run statements five times a week on weekdays for one year on CBS, NBC and ABC; the statements will also appear in full-page ads on five Sundays between now and March in more than 50 leading newspapers.
Despite the corrective statements, tobacco companies still spend far more money persuading people to smoke than warning of the dangers. And, as Wall Street Journal columnist Jo Craven McGinty noted, “the nation’s 92 million millennials and teenagers may not get the message because the ads will run primarily on network television and newspapers. ‘That’s not where young people’s eyeballs are’, said Robin Koval, CEO and President of Truth Initiative, a nonprofit organization that campaigns against youth smoking.”
An ad for beer on the New York City subway
Last month, reported The New York Times, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority board voted to ban advertising of alcoholic beverages on New York City buses, subway cars and stations, contending that the social benefits of deterring underage drinking outweighed the loss of revenue. After years of pressure from grass-roots organizations, the board voted unanimously in favor of the ban, which will go into effect in January. Advocates have long said that alcohol advertising is a public health issue and that the proliferation of such advertising increases the likelihood of underage drinking. “Alcohol advertisements on the M.T.A. are disproportionally targeting communities of color, lower-income communities and also young people,” said Jazmin Rivera, a spokeswoman for Building Alcohol Ad-Free Transit.
In a letter to the editor responding to the article, David Jernigan, director of the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, wrote “subways are the way many New York City young people get to school every day. The M.T.A.’s decision will help reduce their exposure to alcohol advertising, and is a significant step in the right direction.”
Nestlé candies from Brazil. Credit.
A New York Times examination of corporate records, epidemiological studies and government reports — as well as interviews with scores of nutritionists and health experts around the world — reveals a sea change in the way food is produced, distributed and advertised across much of the globe. The shift is contributing to a new epidemic of diabetes and heart disease, chronic illnesses that are fed by soaring rates of obesity in places that struggled with hunger and malnutrition just a generation ago. “What we have is a war between two food systems, a traditional diet of real food once produced by the farmers around you and the producers of ultra-processed food designed to be over-consumed and which in some cases are addictive,” said Carlos A. Monteiro, a professor of nutrition and public health at the University of São Paulo. “It’s a war,” he said, “but one food system has disproportionately more power than the other.” Watch a Times video of the story.
A cloud of suspicion hanging over Volkswagen thickened, reports The New York Times, after a lawyer for a jailed former engineer said his client implicated top managers of the German carmaker’s Audi luxury brand in a continuing diesel cheating scandal. Statements and evidence provided to German investigators by the former head of thermodynamics in Audi’s engine development department suggest that knowledge of emissions fraud reached higher in the ranks of management than Volkswagen has admitted. No members of the company’s management board have been charged, although investigations are continuing.
Faced with competition, some pharmaceutical companies are cutting deals with insurance companies to favor their brand-name products over cheaper generics, reports Pro Publica and The New York Times. Insurers pay less, but sometimes consumers pay more. Out of public view, corporations are cutting deals that give consumers little choice but to buy brand-name drugs — and sometimes pay more at the pharmacy counter than they would for generics. The practice is not easy to track, and has been going on sporadically for years. But several clues suggest it is becoming more common.
A review of the scientific basis of dietary guidelines for sugar intake supported by the sugar and soda industries and published in Annals of Internal Medicine concluded that these “Guidelines on dietary sugar do not meet criteria for trustworthy recommendations and are based on low-quality evidence. Public health officials (when promulgating these recommendations) and their public audience (when considering dietary behavior) should be aware of these limitations.” An editorial on the review criticized its methodology and conclusions. An author of the editorial told the New York Times that the writers of the review were “hijacking the scientific process in a disingenuous way to sow doubt and jeopardize public health.”
Even though the cultural conversation around food and agriculture seems to grow louder every day, the American food system was on the sidelines at the Republican Convention in Cleveland last week, and at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia this week, writes Kim Severson in The New York Times. Even among those most likely to push for it, food isn’t getting much attention as a political issue. “What people think is cool about food and what people think is cool about politics are different,” said Matt Birong, a Democratic delegate from Vermont who continues to support Senator Bernie Sanders.
The New York Times reports that the Supreme Court sided with the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company earlier this week in a lawsuit filed by European countries accusing it of complicity in an international money laundering scheme. The court, by a 4-to-3 vote, found that the company could not be sued under the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, or RICO, over its conduct abroad. The case was brought by the European Union and 26 of its member states. They accused RJR Nabisco and several associated companies of being part of a sprawling cigarette smuggling enterprise that deprived them of billions of dollars in customs and tax revenues.