Ralph welcomes Samuel Levine who heads the Bureau of Consumer Protection at the Federal Trade Commission to give you tips on how to use this government agency to protect yourself from corporate fraud and abuse. Plus, director of Public Citizen’s Health Research Group, Dr. Michael Carome stops by to give us the latest warnings about harmful medical devices and his take on the safety of the mRNA Covid vaccine.
Samuel Levine serves as Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. Before assuming this role, he served as an attorney advisor to Commissioner Rohit Chopra and as a staff attorney in the Midwest Regional Office. Prior to joining the FTC, Mr. Levine worked for the Illinois Attorney General, where he prosecuted predatory for-profit colleges and participated in rulemaking and other policy initiatives to promote affordability and accountability in higher education.
We announced what we call a “click to cancel” rule. And this is a rule about subscription plans. What the proposed rule says is that companies – vendors – should make it no more difficult to cancel a subscription than it is to sign up… It’s very easy for consumers to sign up for these services. We want to make it just as easy for consumers to exit these services.
Samuel Levine Director of the Bureau of Consumer Protection at the FTC
Earlier this year, we announced a market study sending subpoenas to major social media platforms to ask them what they’re doing to stop the huge proliferation of fraudulent ads over social media. We’re also doing a study now on the franchise relationship and the potential power asymmetries between franchisee and franchisers. We’re looking at the cloud computing market. We have a whole host of initiatives right now that are not geared around law enforcement but are geared around shining a light on often opaque industries to help shape public policy and eventually shape FTC law enforcement as well.
Samuel Levine, Director of the Bureau of Consumer Protection at the FTC
In 2002, Congress passed for the first time what’s called the Medical Device User Fee Act… So, the companies now pay the FDA for the review and oversight of their products. Those user fees fundamentally changed the relationship between the FDA, the regulatory agency, and the medical device companies that are regulated by the agency. And that relationship which should be in part an adversarial relationship now is viewed as a partnership by both the agency and the medical device industry. The agency even in some of their documents refers to these companies as “partners,” as “customers.”… Customer satisfaction is key for the FDA and their customers in their eyes - rather than patients and the public - are the companies.
Dr. Michael Carome, Director of Public Citizen’s Health Research Group
The FDA in our view had a very rigorous process for requiring the testing of those (Covid 19) vaccines… And we ourselves looked independently at the clinical trial data… We quickly concluded that independent of the FDA and any corporations that these vaccines were highly effective and very safe… Since then, there have been hundreds of millions of doses received by hundreds of millions of people across the world and they really have prevented serious complications and probably prevented millions of deaths with some very limited and rare adverse effects.
Dr. Michael Carome, Director of Public Citizen’s Health Research Group
Squishing the federal cop on the corporate crime beat is a prime priority for lobbyists in Congress.
In Case You Haven’t Heard w/ Francesco DeSantis
1. In Arlington, Amazon has halted construction of their much-vaunted second headquarters – or “HQ2” according to the Washington Post. Some may remember the race to the bottom in terms of corporate tax cuts and subsidies that ensued across much of the country in 2017 and ‘18 when Amazon suggested cities and states could compete for this development. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez famously opposed these giveaways to Amazon and was pilloried for that in the mainstream press. Turns out, she was right on the money. Despite the fact that Amazon is postponing the construction of this facility, they are still poised to reap over $150 million in taxpayer subsidies from the state of Virginia.
2. Harvard University has accepted a $300 million donation from hedge fund manager and right wing billionaire donor Ken Griffin, according to the New York Daily News. In exchange, Harvard will rename their Graduate School of Arts and Sciences to the Kenneth C. Griffin Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.
3. In Palestine, trade unions have issued an open letter calling for global solidarity. This letter urged global publics to eliminate procurement from companies complicit in Israeli apartheid and the occupation, divest pension funds from State of Israel Bonds, and specifically called on “port workers and their unions to refrain from loading/offloading Israeli ships, as was done in Oakland, California,” noting that many port workers and unions did the same when combating apartheid in South Africa.
4. The American Prospect reports that in Florida, nursing home interests are dumping money into the campaign coffers of Republican state leadership to grease the wheels for a bill which would immunize themselves from lawsuits related to wrongful death in their facilities. As David Dayen tweeted, “Ron DeSantis's War on Woke masks his actual War on Lawsuits.”
5. NorthJersey.com reports that a new law in New Jersey has gone into effect, guaranteeing workers a week of severance for every year of service when large employers issue mass layoffs. This law was enacted following the Toys R Us bankruptcy, wherein longtime workers were only granted severance after a massive public pressure campaign.
6. Dashcam videos obtained by WIRED show how self-driving cars – currently being recklessly tested in San Francisco – are clogging streets, delaying public transportation, and creating dangerous conditions on the roads. “Autonomous cars in San Francisco made 92 unplanned stops between May and December 2022—88 percent of them on streets with transit service, according to city transportation authorities, who collected the data from social media reports, 911 calls, and other sources, because companies aren’t required to report all the breakdowns.”
7. In a novel approach, CODEPINK is using digital tools to crowdfund an ad in a major newspaper. This ad urges President Biden to play peacemaker and “End the War in Ukraine.” Supporters can view and donate to the ad at CODEPINK.org.
8. A recent article in the climate-focused magazine Grist covers the choices facing the Biden administration regarding the Colorado River. The administration has put forward two bleak plans: “One …would dry up Arizona to preserve California's strong water rights; the other would spread cuts among the states and risk litigation from California.”
9. Ben Jacobs reports that, in a speech to the NRA convention, former President Trump appeared to endorse ending home rule in Washington, DC. In typical Trump prose, he said “I think we have to take it over, take over management of our capital." This is a continuation of the assault on DC’s sovereignty which recently came to a head when President Biden chose to join with Republicans to block DC’s revised criminal code.
10. UNITE HERE, the hospitality workers union, grew 18% in 2022, per Bloomberg Law. This stunning growth is second only to the Teamsters, which we covered on this segment last week. As the reinvigorated labor movement continues to expand, we might expect to see this kind of growth among other major unions, such as the United Auto Workers.
11. Checking in on out of control police practices, two stories stand out: In New York, Ars Technica reports that the city has begun rolling out “hulking, 400 lb” police robots after being forced to withdraw the project over civil liberties concerns in 2021. Mayor Eric Adams recently slashed budgets for city services like libraries, yet each of these robots will cost around $75,000. In Memphis, the MPD is facing backlash after unveiling a new unit which will “arrest unaccompanied minors that sell food, play loud music, are 'inappropriately dressed' or dancing in the street in Downtown Memphis" per Commercial Appeal. Cardell Orrin, the executive director of the nonprofit advocacy group Stand for Children, compared this to the “Pre-Crime Unit from [the movie] 'Minority Report,'” and added that “targeting minors for a subjective concept like ‘inappropriate clothing’ is a coded criminalization of Black culture and Black youth.”
12. A bombshell new report from the Corporate Research Project at Good Jobs First reveals that since the year 2000, large companies in the United States have paid “$96 billion in fines and settlements to resolve allegations of covert price-fixing and related anti-competitive practices in violation of antitrust laws.” The companies that have been forced to pay the most include Visa Inc. – at a whopping $6.2 billion – along with Deutsche Bank, Barclays, MasterCard and Citigroup, though the report makes clear that price fixing occurs in many sectors ranging from automotive parts to power generation to healthcare services. Philip Mattera, who authored the report, is quoted saying “Large corporations which are supposed to be competing with one another are often secretly conspiring to set prices…In doing so, they cause economic harm to consumers and contribute to inflation.”