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Selling Out Regulation

Ralph Nader

The Republican Party has a sense of humor, however inadvertently. Its ardent advocates regularly accuse the Obama administration of heavy handed regulation of business.

Tell that to the hundred federal poultry inspectors who just picketed the Department of Agriculture in opposition to a proposal that would allow those crammed, bacterial poultry slaughterhouses to do their own inspections. The picketers fear that with this license, the poultry bosses will speed up the slaughter rate to 175 birds per minute from the present 70.

Tell that to the Securities Exchange Commission that will have to allow the return of the notorious boiler room practices where “start-ups” with up to $1 billion in annual revenues can sell stock to investors like the old Wild West days with little discourse or regulation. After the recent devastating Wall Street crash and bailout, here they go again—just throw the federal cop off the corporate crime beat.

Tell that to Donald Michaels, the superbly qualified head of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration who can’t get the White House to approve issuance of long-overdue life-saving safeguards for worker health and safety. Fear of Republicans by the Obamaites in an election year super-cedes their oath to enforce laws that save lives in hazardous workplaces. Nearly 60,000 workers lose their lives to workplace-related diseases and trauma every year. That is equivalent to nineteen 9/11 casualty tolls every year.

Tell that to a strapped U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that at long last was trying to reduce the toxic materials in your air and water. President Obama personally intervened on two of their forthcoming regulations to stop them.

Tell that to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that was the subject of a front page New York Times article on April 3, 2012 titled “White House and the F.D.A. Often at Odds.” It seems that President Obama’s Deputy Chief of Staff, Nancy-Ann DeParle, has been leaning on FDA Commissioner, Dr. Margaret A. Hamburg to drop proposed rules requiring labeling of calories for foods served on airplanes and movie theaters, as well as regulation of sunscreen and asthma inhalers.

The Obamabush White House objected to what the Times said was “the enforcement of an agency decision on a drug to prevent premature births.”

The FDA believed that the Obama “hope and change” campaign in 2008 would start a new day from the years of George W. Bush who believed, for example, that the agency should not issue rules preventing contamination of eggs and other produce. Alas, said a top FDA official to the Times: “Employees here waited eight long years for deliverance that didn’t come.”

Mr. Obama, as with his other choices of White House staff, set himself up by choosing the “regulation czar,” Cass R. Sunstein who can give thumbs down on agency safety proposals. Professor Sunstein, who thinks harder than he feels the pain of victims of non-regulation (or law and order) has a philosophy known as “libertarian paternalism." (Google it if you wish to discover its meaning.)

FDA scientists sadly recall Mr. Obama’s White House ceremony to sign a memorandum in 2009 to replace Mr. Bush’s politicization of science in government with scientific integrity and to listen to scientists “even when it’s inconvenient—especially when it is inconvenient.” Once again, words, words, words, succumb to the power of corporatism.

Obama’s regulatory agency officials receive constant pressure from Congressional corporatists on their meager enforcement budgets. They are made to behave as if they should fear the criminals and defrauders they are supposed to be catching to protect the American people.

All of them are envious of the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) created by Congress to shield consumers of credit, mortgages, payday loans and other financial transactions from the Wall Street-driven crime wave. You see, the CFPB resides inside the Federal Reserve and receives its $500 billion budget from the Fed, which gets its budget from bank fees and is free of the Congressional hammers.

Still, the CFPB and its sterling staff (with few exceptions) is an agency waiting to start producing long-needed rules of decent business behavior. It is not clear what is causing the delay, but it couldn’t be Congress now. It may be the high hurdles that the bureau has to overcome vertically with its supervisory council—real or fancied.

Occupy Washington needs to mass in front of these agency buildings soon to highlight the truth about Obama’s weak-kneed regulatory agencies. In a perverse way, the Obamaites would probably welcome such protests as enhancing their corporate fundraising efforts.

Meanwhile the people pay.

For more information, click here.

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Ralph Nader is a consumer advocate, lawyer and author. His most recent books, include Only The Super-Rich Can Save Us, The Seventeen Traditions and Getting Steamed to Overcome Corporatism.

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