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The crackdown he announced two months ago had been the right idea. Mr. Trump pledged to ban flavored vaping liquids, which hold particular appeal to teenagers. Only tobacco-flavored vaping fluids would be legal, allowing former smokers access to nicotine-laced liquids in a flavor to which they are accustomed while repelling young nonsmokers. Companies that wished to sell e-cigarette pods in different flavors, such as mint or menthol, would have to persuade the Food and Drug Administration that allowing their sale would benefit public health on net, which would no doubt require solid plans to ensure they would be marketed and sold only to adults seeking a healthier alternative to smoking. The president’s initial instinct to set a cautious policy, allowing for exceptions only after careful study, was the right one. The federal health data that spurred Mr. Trump two months ago indicated that more than a quarter of high schoolers reported having used an e-cigarette in the past 30 days — and they mostly chose fruit or mint flavors — up from 21 percent last year. Those numbers, rather than the number of adult smokers who will not use the patch or gum to quit, or the number of jobs in the vaping business, should be the overriding factors shaping the vaping debate.
Here’s the cost of not regulating e-cigarettes: more than 2,000 injured and 39 dead, most of them under age 35. Shockingly, these lives and the health of about 5 million middle-school and high-school students now addicted to vaping didn’t matter as much to corporate-captured regulators as keeping vape shops and e-cigarettes profitable. We need a regulatory system that protects the public — especially children — before people get sick and start dying. The vaping crisis is what happens when corporate lobbyists and ideological extremists have too much influence over the regulatory process and when regulators rely too heavily on cost-benefit analysis. Waiting for kids to become lifelong addicts, get sick and die to justify the benefits of regulating is exactly what happens when cost-benefit analysis drives decision making at regulatory agencies. We need our government to prevent public health crises before they start, not react to them after it’s already too late. In order to do that, we need broad, structural reforms to end the corporate capture of our regulatory process, which allows big business undue influence over our watchdogs in government. Health, safety and environmental concerns must come before corporate profits and anti-government ideology — especially when lives are on the line. When regulators listen to corporate interests and the anti-regulatory ideologues on the right instead of doing what’s right, our kids pay the price.
Senators from both parties pressed the Trump administration’s top tobacco official on Wednesday for information about the administration’s efforts to remove e-cigarette flavors from the market. Mitch Zeller, the head of the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Center for Tobacco Products, told members of the Senate Health Committee that the agency is working on an e-cigarette policy, but declined to give more information about when it will be released, what the policy will be, or even if the administration still intends to remove flavors from the marketplace. When asked by the committee’s ranking member, Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), why Zeller did not mention the so-called flavor ban in his opening remarks, Zeller referred her to the White House. “Any questions the committee has about the announcement the White House made ... is best referred to the White House itself,” Zeller said. “I can’t give you a timeline.” Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) asked if the administration still intends to follow through on its initial promise of clearing the market of unapproved flavors. “There is no final answer as of now,” Zeller said. Kaine said Zeller’s answer wasn’t acceptable. “You are the person responsible. You should know the answer to this question,” Kaine said.
Democrats tore into an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) plan Wednesday that would bar the agency from relying on scientific studies that don’t release their underlying data — a controversial proposal resurfacing this week with reports that the agency may expand the reach of the rule. The proposal — which the agency said will not be finalized until next year — was pushed by former Administrator Scott Pruitt as an attempt to battle “secret science.” But it has proven to be one of the EPA’s most widely panned measures, garnering more than 600,000 comments, many of which argue the effort won’t promote transparency but will instead undercut the agency’s ability to rely on the best available science. Many of the nation’s top medical, science and public health groups were among those who have opposed the rule.
Like any Republican administration, Trump’s is driven by a belief that government should do as little as possible to protect public health, and it doesn’t want the heavy hand of the state limiting the freedom of corporations to do whatever they want, even if what they want is to, say, pour mercury into the air. The scientists who study health risks associated with pollution are an impediment to that project, and so a regulation is crafted to allow the government to ignore it. If the government has its own scientists who persist in assembling data that is at odds with a deregulatory agenda, they have to be driven out of their jobs. But this story provides an important lesson in what “deregulation” really means. Republicans often characterize that agenda as merely one of eliminating “red tape,” attacking useless rules and paperwork that do no one any good, as though they despise cumbersome bureaucracy almost irrespective of what it’s supposed to accomplish. In truth, however, “deregulation” often involves not eliminating regulations but merely altering them so that they benefit a different group of interests. This is a new regulation the EPA is proposing, called Strengthening Transparency in Regulatory Science. It’s a regulation that imposes additional reporting requirements on scientists if their work is to be considered in the policymaking process — in other words, more red tape. The purpose of that red tape is to put in front of them a hurdle that EPA knows it will be difficult to clear, which will in turn give polluters greater freedom to befoul the air and water regardless of what scientific research has found about the consequences. You can see Republicans operating on the same principle in other areas, where the supposed enemies of bureaucracy eagerly weaponize it against people they don’t like by making it as complex and difficult to navigate as possible, doing things like adding elaborate work requirements to Medicaid or imposing complicated registration procedures to voting. So the next time you hear a Republican brag about how the Trump administration is “deregulating,” getting rid of “onerous rules” or “streamlining government,” remember that it is doing nothing of the sort. It is just changing who government is working for.
Google’s project with the country’s second-largest health system to collect detailed health information on 50 million American patients sparked a federal inquiry and criticism from patients and lawmakers. The data on patients of St. Louis-based Ascension were until recently scattered across 40 data centers in more than a dozen states. Google and the Catholic nonprofit are moving that data into Google’s cloud-computing system—with potentially big changes on tap for doctors and patients. At issue for regulators and lawmakers who expressed concern is whether Google and Ascension are adequately protecting patient data in the initiative, which is code-named “Project Nightingale” and is aimed at crunching data to produce better health care, among other goals. Ascension, without notifying patients or doctors, has begun sharing with Google personally identifiable information on millions of patients, such as names and dates of birth; lab tests; doctor diagnoses; medication and hospitalization history; and some billing claims and other clinical records.
t present the government formulates public health regulations, like those concerning clean air and water, based on scientific studies showing links between pollution and disease. For instance, we have rules surrounding mercury because studies conclusively proved that mercury from power plants negatively affects brain development, and rules concerning lead because of the data showing that lead in paint or dust can lead to behavioral disorders in children. The Trump administration, though, doesn’t like science or regulations, because they‘re impediments to Donald Trump’s industry cronies making as much money as possible, human health be damned. And now, his Environmental Protection Agency has found a nifty way to get rid of both in a move that is uniquely evil, even for this uniquely evil administration.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer is likely to recommend nominees to fill key financial regulatory agency slots earmarked for Democrats in the coming weeks. A vacancy is anticipated at the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), and no Democrats have yet been nominated to serve on the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) during the Trump administration. Though Democrats don’t control these agencies, they are, through a mix of de jure and de facto practices, entitled to seats on their governing bodies. For many key federal regulatory bodies that oversee corporate power—the Federal Trade Commission, the Federal Communications Commission, and in the cases before us the SEC and FDIC—several seats are by statute reserved for people not of the president’s party. In practice, the determination of who will fill these seats falls to the Senate leader of the party that is not the president’s—in this case, Schumer. These choices are typically then formalized through nomination by the president and, under most scenarios, eventual confirmation by the Senate. The selection of so-called “minority party commissioners” is usually an under-the-radar affair decided in a back room, perhaps covered by industry-specific publications, but rarely seeping into the mainstream. This is a shame even in normal times, as these agencies wield extraordinary power over the shape of the American economy. These commissioners would all serve terms lasting well beyond 2021, and they are removable only for cause. So as we approach the 2020 election, and a potential Democratic presidency in 2021, these choices take on unusual significance, as they will help define the bounds of what can be accomplished in the first term of a new administration. Multiple candidates have pledged to institute sweeping changes to the ways we regulate corporate power, and installed minority commissioners represent the path to getting that done. If Schumer picks regulators who are anything less than structural reformers, he will also be picking a fight with progressive members of his own Senate caucus who could seek to block his choices. They would do so not just out of principle, but because he would be undercutting their potential presidency before primary voting is even under way.
U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren on Tuesday proposed a new "corporate perjury" law that she would pursue if elected to the White House, inspired by Exxon Mobil Corp's past failure to share accurate climate change research with government regulators. Warren said companies and executives could face criminal liability for false information they knowingly provide to U.S. agencies, leading to up to $250,000 in fines or jail time. "No one would be liable for mistakes, for submitting research in good faith that turns out to be wrong, or for raising honest disagreements," Warren wrote on the website Medium. "But where companies engage in egregious and intentional efforts to mislead agencies in an effort to prevent our government from understanding and acting on facts, they will face criminal liability," she added.
The time is now. Government regulation, public pressure, worker action — all these and more are needed to rein in the big tech companies, which have been allowed to operate largely unhindered for too long. That was the view of most participants in the DealBook conference task force last week. The group of eight technology experts in the public and private sectors was moderated by Kara Swisher, a contributing opinion writer on technology at The New York Times and editor at large at Recode. They sought answers to the question: “How Big Should Big Tech Be?” “I think we have lived for decades now with no regulation, so to speak, of tech,” said Chris Hughes, a co-founder of Facebook and now the co-chair of the nonprofit Economic Security Project. “And the time’s come due for regulation, for structural solutions and for a general cultural rethinking of how to ensure that these platforms are working for us rather than us working for the platforms.” The challenges include increasing concerns about how private data is collected and used; the spreading of false information that could influence the 2020 election, by both foreign and domestic actors on social media; and whether behemoths like Facebook, Google and Amazon should be split up.
When the Trump administration announced a new rule to give greater protection to health-care workers who refuse to be involved in certain procedures for religious or moral reasons, it cited a reason: The number of people complaining that they had been pressured to act against their faith had increased dramatically, officials said. For a decade, there had been on average just one complaint a year, so the administration’s assertion of a jump in complaints last year to 343 was startling. And, as it turns out, bogus. Given how President Trump and his administration regularly traffic in deceptions and untruths, maybe this shouldn’t be a surprise. Nonetheless, it remains shocking to see an administration submitting such falsehoods in court. A federal judge called it out this week as he voided a rule set to go into effect later this month. The broadly written rule, challenged by New York and nearly two dozen other, mostly Democratic states and municipalities, would have allowed medical providers to decline to participate in services to which they morally object, such as abortion or assisted death. In a 147-page decision, U.S. District Judge Paul Engelmayer in Manhattan declared the regulation unconstitutional, ruling that the Department of Health and Human Services had exceeded its authority and “acted arbitrarily and capriciously.” “Flatly untrue” is the label he applied to the administration’s central justification of a supposed “significant increase” in complaints related to conscience violations. Nearly 80 percent of the complaints provided to the court were about vaccinations and would not have been affected by the regulation in question. This is not the first time the Trump administration has relied on fiction in judicial proceedings. Since Republicans in Congress refuse to be any kind of check on Mr. Trump and his dishonesty, let’s hope the courts continue to do their job.
It’s no secret that we live in an era of “superstar” firms — the Facebooks, Apples and Microsofts of the world. As monopolies and oligopolies, they dominate their industries and generate enormous profits. Initially hailed for their technological achievements, they’re now accused (amazingly) of creating a drag on U.S. economic growth. Could it be? The notion seems counterintuitive. New industries are supposed to raise economic growth, not retard it. Now comes economist Thomas Philippon of New York University, who makes an astounding claim: The real culprit is the U.S. economy, long considered the most market-oriented major economy, because it suffers from a lack of competition. Over the past two decades, “competition has declined in most sectors of the U.S. economy, ” he writes in his new book, “ The Great Reversal: How America Gave Up on Free Markets.” Companies can afford to be complacent because they face fewer rivals that might steal their sales and profits. Nor, he argues, is the problem confined to the superstar firms that catch all the headlines. It’s widespread. One recent study of 360 manufacturing industries found that, on average, the market share of the eight largest firms had risen from 50 percent to 59 percent since the late 1990s. Increasingly insulated against competition — a phenomenon Philippon attributes to lax American antitrust policies and a general indifference to market structure — U.S. companies have had the freedom to raise profit margins and ship hundreds of billions of dollars in profits to shareholders via higher dividends and buybacks. Still, there is a larger question: Have we gone soft on using competition to regulate the economy? The answer is not obvious, nor are plausible remedies. Philippon favors more competition, while admitting the practical difficulties. “It is not clear how a breakup of Amazon or Google would proceed,” he writes. Being tougher on approving mergers seems a sensible middle ground. But if terms are too tough, the inability to sell might mean fewer start-ups. We are surrounded by messy realities and difficult choices. Situation normal: It’s the fog of economics.
The Justice Department’s top antitrust enforcer warned tech giants Friday that amassing vast quantities of consumers’ data could create competition concerns in the eyes of federal regulators, marking the U.S. government’s latest shot across the bow at Silicon Valley. Makan Delrahim, the chief of the department’s antitrust division, told a conference hosted by a tech lobbying group that the Justice Department is “studying the ways market power can manifest in industries where data plays a key role." He stressed people’s private information had become the lucrative “oil” for the digital age — and its misuse could threaten to harm consumers and corporate competitors. While Delrahim did not mention any specific company by name, the comments could have vast implications at a moment when the agency is investigating tech giants including Google.
I don’t want Mark Zuckerberg deciding what speech is legitimate. I want the government to set parameters for him and other technology companies as to their obligations for what they increasingly are: large news platforms. There are many good ideas out there. Invoke something like the “fairness doctrine,” which for decades required broadcast networks to include a range of views in their programs. Ellen L. Weintraub, chair of the Federal Election Commission, has a simple suggestion: Do not allow microtargeting — serving ads to a very specific segment of the population — which stokes division and hostility, and is often cloaked in secrecy. Americans feel overwhelmed in the digital era by the power of the tech giants. But, Weinstein argues, they distrust government even more than they do the tech companies. They want Facebook to regulate American democracy. We need the opposite. American democracy should regulate Facebook.
The number of people who have become sick after vaping has surpassed 2,000, according to data released Thursday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). As of Tuesday, the CDC had confirmed 2,051 probable lung injury cases associated with e-cigarettes since the outbreak started earlier this year. The illnesses have been reported in every state except Alaska, including the District of Columbia. That's an increase of 163 cases from last week as the spread of the illness has slowed from its peak. The CDC also confirmed 39 deaths in 24 states and D.C., an increase of two fatalities from last week. Most of the patients who reported symptoms were male, with ages ranging from 17 to 75.
Two leading House Democrats wrote to the FAA on Thursday demanding to know why the agency appeared to overrule its own engineers’ concerns about safety issues related to the Boeing 737 Max and the 787 Dreamliner, ultimately siding with the manufacturer rather than its own staff. House Transportation Committee Chairman Rep. Peter A. DeFazio (D-Ore.) and Rep. Rick Larsen (D-Wash.), who chairs the committee’s aviation panel, asked FAA Administrator Stephen Dickson to provide answers about how the agency “weighs the validity of safety issues raised by its own experts compared to the objections raised by the aircraft manufacturers the FAA is supposed to oversee.” House committee confronts Boeing CEO with new documents on 737 Max safety. The congressmen wrote: “The two cases … suggest that the opinions and expert advice of the FAA’s safety and technical experts are being circumvented or sidelined while the interests of Boeing are being elevated by FAA senior management.”
The number of tips to—and awards given out by—the Commodity Futures Trading Commission’s whistleblower program have fallen from records set last year, according to the regulator’s annual report to Congress. The U.S. regulator for derivatives and commodities markets issued five whistleblower awards totaling about $15 million during the fiscal year 2019 ending in September, the report said. The total represents a decline from the full-year record total of about $75 million issued by the commission during the previous fiscal year, when five awards went to tipsters, including the largest award of $30 million, according to the commission. The CFTC, meanwhile, received 455 whistleblower tips in 2019—40% less than during 2018, when tips surged in part because of efforts to increase awareness of virtual currency fraud enforcement through the whistleblower program, according to the regulator. The decline in the number of tips could be attributable to waning interest in digital currencies from the public in 2019, according to a CFTC spokeswoman.
When policymakers think about AI these days, they tend to focus on jobs and the economy. They don’t think as much about the risks, particularly for children and young people who will encounter these technologies as they come of age in this new world. In an AI world, government should shoulder a reasonable amount of responsibility, finding a sweet spot of regulation that doesn’t squash individual liberties or innovation. Creating a position of federal Chief Online Safety Officer — to work alongside the U.S. Chief Technology Officer — would help ensure someone at the federal level is focused on this vital issue. Likewise, the Federal Trade Commission should continue updating and enforcing the COPPA Rule — the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act — to protect the privacy of children under the age of thirteen.
A federal judge in New York on Wednesday struck down a Trump administration rule that would make it easier for health care providers to refuse to perform services, such as abortions, that conflict with their religious beliefs. District Judge Paul Engelmayer invalidated the rule on multiple grounds, including a finding that it violated the Constitution’s spending clause by allowing the administration to cut off funds approved by Congress to providers who do not comply with the rule by forcing employees to perform services to which they object. A number of states, including New York, as well as Planned Parenthood and other groups had sued over the rule, which was scheduled to go into effect on Nov. 22.
More than 2 million pounds of poultry products have been recalled in eight states over fears of contamination with foreign matter such as metal, federal health officials said. Arkansas-based Simmons Prepared Foods, Inc. recalled the items produced from October 21 through November 4 this year. They are 2,071,397 pounds of poultry products, including ready to cook chicken whole legs, boneless skinless chicken, halal chicken leg quarters and chicken tenderloins, the US Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service said Wednesday. The products subject to recall have an establishment number "P-1949," "P- 486" or "P-5837" inside the USDA mark of inspection, and were shipped to Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Georgia, Minnesota, Oklahoma and Pennsylvania. Those who've purchased the products are urged to throw them away or return them to the store.
Back in August, the influential Business Roundtable, a collection of top CEOs, announced that it would no longer view corporations as solely existing to maximize shareholder value, and would take the interests of other stakeholders into account. At the time I was skeptical whether this signaled a true change in direction, or a pretext for CEOs to centralize management control and silence the carping from pesky activist shareholders. New regulations proposed by the Securities and Exchange Commission on Tuesday seems designed to push forward the latter, with the regulatory apparatus helping CEOs build a metal fortress around their companies. Instead of breaking from the tyranny of corporate decision making fueled by short-term stock movements, this proposal just reflects CEOs telling everyone who might have a stake in their companies to shut up.
Eleven thousand scientists from across the globe wrote a letter Tuesday warning that “untold human suffering” will happen if the governments of the world don't act immediately to combat climate change. The letter, which was published in BioScience Tuesday, says that "climate change has arrived and is accelerating faster than many scientists expected.” “Despite 40 years of major global negotiations, we have continued to conduct business as usual and have failed to address this crisis," Oregon State University ecology professor William Ripple, one of the main authors of the letter, told The Independent. According to the publication, the letter focuses on six major objectives that scientists believe are crucial: replacing fossil fuels, cutting pollutants, restoring and protecting ecosystems, eating less meat and making the world economy carbon-free.
A government agency is recommending that all 50 states enact laws requiring bicyclists to wear helmets to stem an increase in bicycle deaths on U.S. roadways. The recommendation was among several issued by the National Transportation Safety Board after a hearing Tuesday on bicycle safety. The agency says 857 bicyclists died in crashes with motor vehicles in the U.S. last year, a 6.3% increase over 2017. Bicycle deaths rose even though total road deaths fell 2.4%. The NTSB also found that improved road designs to separate bicycle and vehicle traffic, and making bicyclists more visible through clothing, lights and technology would reduce the number of cyclist deaths. The agency wrote in its report that head injuries are the leading cause of bicycle fatalities, and that use of a helmet is the most effective way for riders to reduce their chance of getting a serious head injury. Research shows fewer than half of bicyclists wear helmets, according to the NTSB.
Open up Instagram, and there's a big chance you'll come across a post about an influencer's experience with a new lotion or a fancy restaurant. At the very bottom of the post, there's a hashtag, #ad, to divulge that you just read a paid endorsement. That's not enough, the Federal Trade Commission says, in a publication released Tuesday. "Disclosures 101 for Social Media Influencers" offers guidance for when and how influencers should disclose ads. According to the document, it is the responsibility of influencers to be transparent. The FTC says these rules are needed to protect consumers from deceptive ads. "Many consumers rely upon influencer recommendations in making purchasing decisions, and they should know when a brand paid an influencer for an endorsement, because it affects the weight and credibility the consumers may give to that endorsement," says Michael Atleson, a staff attorney for the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection. Atleson says the new guide does not hold the force of law but can help influencers stay within the law.
False news reports that attack U.S. politicians have been viewed more than 150 million times on Facebook since the beginning of 2019, according to an analysis published Wednesday that points to a growing threat of deception swamping next year's elections. The analysis, from the activist group Avaaz, highlights how misinformation — often targeting political figures like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and President Donald Trump — is still widely accessible on the world’s largest social network despite pledges by Mark Zuckerberg, the company's chief executive, to combat misinformation and other false reports on the global network. The study also notes a growing sophistication in how people are being targeted on Facebook: Political actors are moving away from a strategy that focuses solely on bombarding individuals with paid-for partisan messages, toward more complex tactics that rely on presenting would-be voters with traditional shared content that does not face the same scrutiny as political ads. Avaaz could not say if the sharing of these false reports was part of a wider online deception campaign or merely Facebook users sharing material that aligned with their political beliefs.