Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Goin’ Mobil

Damn those “job killin’ regulations” is one of the mainstays of the GOP platform. They’ve proposed an abolition of the Environmental Protection Administration – or at least a powerful curtailment of their power to regulate – the dilution of the Federal Communications Commission, a huge step-back from the already-watered-down Dodd Frank law intended to control an out-of-control financial sector, a limitation on OSHA rules over worker safety and a general mantra of eliminating regulation.
In balancing the health and welfare of Americans, Democrats typically weigh in on controlling business abuses –rejecting any notion of business “self-regulating” – while Republicans think that reigning in companies slams jobs and global competition. It is one of the clearest lines of demarcation between the parties. Basically, it comes down to Flint, Michigan/the Great Recession vs. a strange notion that unregulated businesses create more jobs.
Coal miners are absolutely convinced that if environmental and worker safety regulations were seriously relaxed, they would get their old, high-paying jobs back. Despite the fact that those jobs have been vaporizing since the 1920s, that job safety has been so seriously ignored that criminal laws have been applied to convict uncaring mine owners and that natural gas is both cheaper and cleaner, these miners cling to their “it’s never going to happen no matter what regulations are killed” dream. After all, they’ve been told by many of their pastors and by the GOP that global climate change is a “hoax.”
This notion of self-regulation is worthy of exploration. It clearly did not work in preventing Lehman Bros. or Bear Stearns from absurd and irresponsible borrowing (they had borrowed more than thirty times their equity when the system collapsed in 2007/8), and even the new Dodd-Frank statute has failed to prevent Wells Fargo from forcing expensive financial services on unwary consumers or to stop banks from foreclosing on homes by ignoring the rules or even from attempting to fix LIBOR interest rates. Butt weight, there’s more.
We have an explosion of diabetes in this country, with rates skyrocketing. Just under 10% of all Americans have the disease and almost 30% of those over 65. It is one of the most expensive segments of our entire healthcare system. And yet the food/medical community has spent decades looking at and attempting to curtail the pervasive nature of saturated fat in our diets with only recent focus on the bigger culprit, sugar. Why? The September 12th New York Times explains:
“The sugar industry paid scientists in the 1960s to play down the link between sugar and heart disease and promote saturated fat as the culprit instead, newly released historical documents show… The internal sugar industry documents, recently discovered by a researcher at the University of California, San Francisco, and published Monday [9/12/16] in JAMA Internal Medicine, suggest that five decades of research into the role of nutrition and heart disease, including many of today’s dietary recommendations, may have been largely shaped by the sugar industry.
“‘They were able to derail the discussion about sugar for decades,’ said Stanton Glantz, a professor of medicine at U.C.S.F. and an author of the JAMA Internal Medicine paper.
“The documents show that a trade group called the Sugar Research Foundation, known today as the Sugar Association, paid three Harvard scientists the equivalent of about $50,000 in today’s dollars to publish a 1967 review of research on sugar, fat and heart disease. The studies used in the review were handpicked by the sugar group, and the article, which was published in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine, minimized the link between sugar and heart health and cast aspersions on the role of saturated fat.” Yup, letting the industries set their own priorities, their own rules, without government intervention seems like a terrible idea.
In the arena of environmental regulation, what company is going to install expensive environmental equipment when their competitors will be able to undercut prices by not installing that same equipment? Unless the government creates an enforced level playing field, self-policing is never going to work. And as the above example of the sugar industry proves, industries will often go out of their way to obfuscate and hide embarrassing truths for as long as they can. The tobacco sector argued for decades that cigarettes did not cause cancer even as they were sitting on self-generated reports that cancer was directly linked.
Today, large producers of fossil fuels claim that they were not remotely aware of any negative consequences – the greenhouse effect that created global climate change – until relatively recently. Really? The October 26th Washington Post notes the unraveling of a very long-standing mythology within the petroleum industry. Did Big Oil know… and when?
“In a loss for ExxonMobil, the New York State Supreme Court has ordered the oil giant and its accounting firm to produce documents subpoenaed in a highly charged investigation of whether the company concealed from investors and the public what it knew about climate change as long as four decades ago.
“The New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who issued a subpoena in August, sought on Oct. 14 to force PricewaterhouseCoopers to provide the documents after ExxonMobil said it would not permit PwC to provide certain documents based on a Texas statute that Exxon said provided “accountant-client privilege.”
“The New York Court ruled that Exxon’s interpretation of the Texas statute was ‘flawed,’ and said the Texas statute does not preclude PwC from producing the documents requested by the New York attorney general’s office. The court also stated that New York law, rather than Texas law, governed the dispute.
 “‘We are pleased with the Court’s order and look forward to moving full-steam ahead with our fraud investigation of Exxon,’ Schneiderman said in a statement. ‘Exxon had no legal basis to interfere with PwC’s production, and I hope that today’s order serves as a wake up call to Exxon that the best thing they can do is cooperate with, rather than resist, our investigation.’”
No one is going to say that regulations shouldn’t be updated, that compliance requirements need to be streamlined or that small business needs should be addressed in simplified and easy-to-understand/follow guidelines and rules. Overlapping regulations need to be combined and modernized. But those pretty clear paths that need to be implemented do not remotely support the notion that big business can be trusted to self-regulate at the expensive of clear and accountable government oversight.
Let me leave you will this little story, reflecting how unregulated human growth, has impacted all of us: “More than two thirds of the world's wildlife could be gone by the end of the decade if action isn't taken soon, a new report from the World Wildlife Fund revealed on Thursday [October 27th].
“Since 1970, there has already been a 58% overall decline in the numbers of fish, mammals, birds and reptiles worldwide, according to the WWF's latest bi-annual Living Planet Index… If accurate, that means wildlife across the globe is vanishing at a rate of 2% a year.
“‘This is definitely human impact, we're in the sixth mass extinction. There's only been five before this and we're definitely in the sixth,’ WWF conservation scientist Martin Taylor told CNN.” CNN. October 27th. How do you want to leave the planet when you are gone?
I’m Peter Dekom, and I have yet to hear a cogent and coherent argument for corporate self-regulation on these huge issues in lieu of government oversight… from anyone!

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