Category Archives: Culture

An anarchist takes on Big Pharma

Teaching patients how to make their own meds

Dr. Michael Laufer of Four Thieves Vinegar demonstrates the “Epi-Pencil” in his office in Brawner Hall at Menlo College.

Credit: Biz Herman for STAT News.

by CHARLES PILLER @cpiller

MENLO PARK, Calif. — The anarchist grew animated as he explained his plan to subvert a pillar of global capitalism by teaching the poor to make their own medicines — pharmaceutical industry patents be damned.

Then he took another sip from a flute of Taittinger Champagne.

Swaggering, charismatic, and complex, Michael Laufer has become a fixture in the growing biohacker movement ever since he published plans last year for a do-it-yourself EpiPencil — a $35 alternative to the pricey EpiPen.

It’s not clear whether anyone has actually ever used a homemade EpiPencil to prevent anaphylactic shock. But that seems almost an afterthought to Laufer’s bigger goal — trying to build a DIY movement to attack high pharma pricing and empower patients.

“To deny someone access to a lifesaving medication is murder. And an act of theft to prevent an act of murder is morally acceptable.” —Michael Laufer

The de facto leader behind the leaderless collective Four Thieves Vinegar, Laufer is now on to his next project: He’s developing a desktop lab and a recipe book meant to equip patients to cook up a range of medicines, including a homemade version of the expensive hepatitis C drug Sovaldi, on their kitchen counters.

Health professionals have strenuously warned against DIY pharmaceuticals, but Laufer sees his work as a moral crusade against the patent laws and market forces that let drug companies price vital remedies out of reach for many patients.

“To deny someone access to a lifesaving medication is murder,” he said. And “an act of theft [of intellectual property] to prevent an act of murder is morally acceptable.”

Trump’s anti-immigrant America

In 1927, Massachusetts executed two Italians—Sacco & Vanzetti—to global protests that still resound today

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Bartolomeo Vanzetti (left), handcuffed to Nicola Sacco, 1923. Boston Public Library

 

by Moshik Temkin, Harvard University

Ninety years ago, on Aug. 23, 1927, two Italian immigrants were executed.

The deaths of Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti in the Charlestown Prison in Massachusetts marked the end of a raucous seven-year legal and political battle that captivated people across the United States and the world.

According to many who lived through it, no other event since the outbreak of the Civil War had so starkly divided American opinion. Writer Edmund Wilson believed that it “revealed the whole anatomy of American life, with all its classes, professions, and points of view, and raised every fundamental question of our political and social system.” And arguably, no other event until the Vietnam War evoked as much anti-American sentiment on the global stage.

I wrote a book about how and why the case of Sacco and Vanzetti evolved from an obscure local criminal trial to a national and international scandal. I refer to it in the book as the transition from a “case” to an “affair.”

What can it tell us about our politics today?

The most famous prisoners in the world

At first, Sacco and Vanzetti were two anonymous immigrants on trial for an act of banditry. Sacco was a skilled shoe factory worker and family man with two small children. Vanzetti was a fish monger. But local authorities charged them of being part of a stickup gang that on April 15, 1920 shot and killed a factory paymaster and his guard in Braintree, Massachusetts, stealing approximately $15,700. One reporter sent to cover their trial wrote to his editor, using a derogatory term for Italians, that there was “no story…just a couple of wops in a jam.”

But fairly soon, it emerged that the two men were not anyone’s idea of typical bandits. Rather, they were active in Italian anarchist circles who believed that capitalism and states were oppressive and should be overthrown by revolution—and, if necessary, a violent one. At the time, most Americans lived in horror of anarchists and other “reds,” as left-wing radicals of all sorts were known, and anti-immigration sentiment (especially against Italians) was at its peak. Not surprisingly, their trial took on a decidedly political character.

The evidence against them was mostly circumstantial, relying heavily on what the authorities called “consciousness of guilt.” The prosecution made their political radicalism an issue, as if that helped prove them guilty of robbery and murder. And, given that opening, the defendants were not shy about expressing their radical ideas in court, which did not help them with the jury. Many people who came to Sacco and Vanzetti’s defense argued that they were innocent men being railroaded not for anything they did, but for who they were and what they believed in.

Sacco and Vanzetti forcefully protested their innocence from the moment they were arrested until the minute they were electrocuted. They gradually convinced large numbers of people. As their case dragged on, they gained the advocacy and support of public figures, legal experts, intellectuals, political leaders and ordinary people. Their supporters included law professor Felix Frankfurter, poet Edna St. Vincent Millay, car magnate Henry Ford, British author H.G. Wells and even Italian dictator Benito Mussolini.

The judge in their case, Webster Thayer, was openly biased against them. Among other things, he had originally lobbied to be assigned the case to make sure that Sacco and Vanzetti “got what they deserved.” During the trial, Thayer braggingly asked a member of his social club if he had seen “what I did to those anarchistic bastards the other day?”

After Thayer sentenced them to death in April 1927—but not before the pair made stirring speeches in the courtroom proclaiming their innocence—the case created a genuine diplomatic crisis for the United States. Heads of state in Europe and elsewhere appealed to U.S. President Calvin Coolidge and Massachusetts Gov. Alvan Fuller to try to prevent the executions—in vain. Governments in Argentina, France, Britain, Brazil and elsewhere were forced to deal with angry demonstrations, major riots and attacks on American travelers, companies and embassies.

Why did Sacco and Vanzetti become, as the New Republic magazine put it, “the two most famous prisoners in the world”?

Demonstrators in London protest the conviction of Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, 1921. Public domain

It was partly because of the global and geopolitical context. In the wake of World War I, the United States became a global power for the first time. At the same time, Western European nations suffered crisis and decline, and became indebted to American banks and reliant on American power. In that decade, the United States also closed its doors to immigrants who most desperately needed to migrate, especially those from poverty-stricken areas like Southern and Eastern Europe, as well as Mexico.

There have been many debates over the years over whether Sacco and Vanzetti were indeed guilty of the crime for which they were punished. Numerous authors have forcefully argued both sides. But this debate, which is impossible to resolve decades after the fact, misses the point of why Sacco and Vanzetti attained, after their deaths, totemic status.

As I describe in my book, Sacco and Vanzetti came to be seen as symbols of an America that had turned its back on foreigners, abandoned its principles of justice, and failed to pay heed to what Thomas Jefferson, in the Declaration of Independence, called “a decent respect for the opinions of mankind.” Their trial was so flawed, the politicization of their case so egregious, the executions so horrifying, that it was a travesty of justice irrespective of guilt or innocence.

From Sacco-Vanzetti to the Trump era

Ninety years after the executions of Sacco and Vanzetti, the affair presents us with many connections to the present. For many people in 1927 and after, the two men were victims of a deep-seated fear of immigrants. For others, they were criminals and terrorists who benefited from a worldwide campaign led by people who despised America and its institutions.

Today, the United States is engaged in a bitter struggle between these same two views, with the xenophobic forces currently in political power, especially in the White House.

But it is important to keep in mind that today’s America would be socially, culturally and demographically unrecognizable to Americans in 1927. The United States is a much more multicultural and diverse society nowadays than it was when Sacco and Vanzetti were alive. And it will become even more so.

The ConversationAt the same time, recent events have made life in America frightening for immigrants and minorities. The factors in American society that brought about the executions of Sacco and Vanzetti never completely went away. In the current, toxic political environment, those who care about equality and justice must remain vigilant. §

Moshik Temkin Is Associate Professor of Public Policy at Harvard University. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Ownership & the ‘internet of things’

A step back to the feudalism of the Middle Ages?

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Is this our relationship to tech companies now? Queen Mary Master

 

by Joshua A.T. Fairfield, Washington and Lee University

Internet-enabled devices are so common, and so vulnerable, that hackers recently broke into a casino through its fish tank. The tank had internet-connected sensors measuring its temperature and cleanliness. The hackers got into the fish tank’s sensors and then to the computer used to control them, and from there to other parts of the casino’s network. The intruders were able to copy 10 gigabytes of data to somewhere in Finland.

By gazing into this fish tank, we can see the problem with “internet of things” devices: We don’t really control them. And it’s not always clear who does – though often software designers and advertisers are involved.

In my recent book, “Owned: Property, Privacy and the New Digital Serfdom,” I discuss what it means that our environment is seeded with more sensors than ever before. Our fish tanks, smart televisions, internet-enabled home thermostats, Fitbits and smartphones constantly gather information about us and our environment. That information is valuable not just for us but for people who want to sell us things. They ensure that internet-enabled devices are programmed to be quite eager to share information.

Take, for example, Roomba, the adorable robotic vacuum cleaner. Since 2015, the high-end models have created maps of its users’ homes, to more efficiently navigate through them while cleaning. But as Reuters and Gizmodo reported recently, Roomba’s manufacturer, iRobot, may plan to share those maps of the layouts of people’s private homes with its commercial partners.

Security and privacy breaches are built in

Like the Roomba, other smart devices can be programmed to share our private information with advertisers over back-channels of which we are not aware. In a case even more intimate than the Roomba business plan, a smartphone-controllable erotic massage device, called WeVibe, gathered information about how often, with what settings and at what times of day it was used. The WeVibe app sent that data back to its manufacturer – which agreed to pay a multi-million-dollar legal settlement when customers found out and objected to the invasion of privacy.

Those back-channels are also a serious security weakness. The computer manufacturer Lenovo, for instance, used to sell its computers with a program called “Superfish” preinstalled. The program was intended to allow Lenovo – or companies that paid it – to secretly insert targeted advertisements into the results of users’ web searches. The way it did so was downright dangerous: It hijacked web browsers’ traffic without the user’s knowledge – including web communications users thought were securely encrypted, like connections to banks and online stores for financial transactions.

The underlying problem is ownership

One key reason we don’t control our devices is that the companies that make them seem to think – and definitely act like – they still own them, even after we’ve bought them. A person may purchase a nice-looking box full of electronics that can function as a smartphone, the corporate argument goes, but they buy a license only to use the software inside. The companies say they still own the software, and because they own it, they can control it. It’s as if a car dealer sold a car, but claimed ownership of the motor.

This sort of arrangement is destroying the concept of basic property ownership. John Deere has already told farmers that they don’t really own their tractors but just license the software – so they can’t fix their own farm equipment or even take it to an independent repair shop. The farmers are objecting, but maybe some people are willing to let things slide when it comes to smartphones, which are often bought on a payment installment plan and traded in as soon as possible.

How long will it be before we realize they’re trying to apply the same rules to our smart homes, smart televisions in our living rooms and bedrooms, smart toilets and internet-enabled cars?

A return to feudalism?

The issue of who gets to control property has a long history. In the feudal system of medieval Europe, the king owned almost everything, and everyone else’s property rights depended on their relationship with the king. Peasants lived on land granted by the king to a local lord, and workers didn’t always even own the tools they used for farming or other trades like carpentry and blacksmithing.

Over the centuries, Western economies and legal systems evolved into our modern commercial arrangement: People and private companies often buy and sell items themselves and own land, tools and other objects outright. Apart from a few basic government rules like environmental protection and public health, ownership comes with no trailing strings attached.

This system means that a car company can’t stop me from painting my car a shocking shade of pink or from getting the oil changed at whatever repair shop I choose. I can even try to modify or fix my car myself. The same is true for my television, my farm equipment and my refrigerator.

Yet the expansion of the internet of things seems to be bringing us back to something like that old feudal model, where people didn’t own the items they used every day. In this 21st-century version, companies are using intellectual property law – intended to protect ideas – to control physical objects consumers think they own.

Intellectual property control

My phone is a Samsung Galaxy. Google controls the operating system and the Google Apps that make an Android smartphone work well. Google licenses them to Samsung, which makes its own modification to the Android interface, and sublicenses the right to use my own phone to me – or at least that is the argument that Google and Samsung make. Samsung cuts deals with lots of software providers which want to take my data for their own use.

But this model is flawed, in my view. We need the right to fix our own property. We need the right to kick invasive advertisers out of our devices. We need the ability to shut down the information back-channels to advertisers, not merely because we don’t love being spied on, but because those back doors are security risks, as the stories of Superfish and the hacked fish tank show. If we don’t have the right to control our own property, we don’t really own it. We are just digital peasants, using the things that we have bought and paid for at the whim of our digital lord.

Even though things look grim right now, there is hope. These problems quickly become public relations nightmares for the companies involved. And there is serious bipartisan support for right-to-repair bills that restore some powers of ownership to consumers.

The ConversationRecent years have seen progress in reclaiming ownership from would-be digital barons. What is important is that we recognize and reject what these companies are trying to do, buy accordingly, vigorously exercise our rights to use, repair and modify our smart property, and support efforts to strengthen those rights. The idea of property is still powerful in our cultural imagination, and it won’t die easily. That gives us a window of opportunity. I hope we will take it. §

Joshua A.T. Fairfield is Professor of Law, at Washington and Lee University. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

My First Job

Movie house Usher: Death Wish in Tustin Theater

“Steve, we’ve gotta a problem down here!”

by Stacey Warde

I got my first job as an usher at an independent movie house, the Tustin Theater, in 1974. I was 16, feeling the invincibility of my teenage years, learning to scrap and wrestle with other high schoolers, the rough and tumble of sports play. I thought I was pretty tough but never pretended to be anything more than a high school kid with ambitions of one day getting a “real” job and becoming a man. Having a job, my dad would say, was one way to prove your worth. Protecting and providing for your family, as well as holding down a good job, were about the best a man could hope for, he said. Do those things, and I’d be ok.

My ushering duties entailed taking tickets from moviegoers, checking inside the movie theater to make sure customers found their seats, scooping up cigarette butts out of the sand-filled ashtrays outside the theater doors, and making sure there were no hazardous spills or other troublesome issues like kids throwing popcorn at the screen.

My uniform, like my duties, was simple: black pants, white shirt, skimpy black bow-tie, sports coat and flashlight. My boss, Steve, a good-natured man who loved his job, encouraged me to watch the films we showed. We offered popular titles that year such as Blazing Saddles, Young Frankenstein, Benji, Death Wish, and The Longest Yard. I’d watched them all, sometimes more than once, popping inside the theater to rewatch favorite humorous or dramatic scenes and taking delight in listening to the audience guffaw or gasp. I earned about $1.25 an hour.

Sometimes, depending on which movie was showing, the line outside the box office would go clear around the block. It could get pretty hectic. Whenever the line to get inside wasn’t moving quickly, the crowd would turn restless. My job on these busy nights was to support the box office attendant and make sure the line kept moving, so customers wouldn’t get impatient.

One particular busy night, the line snaked its way to the box office, where a recent hire, a young, quiet Southern gal, Miss Charlotte, “Char” for short, deftly worked the steady flow of moviegoers, taking money and dispensing tickets. Together, we were moving things along. “There’s plenty of room inside folks, not to worry!” I’d shout after taking someone’s ticket, hoping to allay fears of getting turned away.

Char was a bit older, 20-something with fine features, fuller and more womanly than the gals my age. I thought she was pretty in her grown-up Southern blonde poofy hairstyle, makeup and drawl, which some employees teased her for. I wanted to flirt with her but seldom did because she was married to a Marine who had just transferred to the area. I’d met him a few times when he came to get her at the end of her shift. He seemed high-strung and not very friendly. I could tell she was afraid of him. Nonetheless, she would smile, even if she wouldn’t talk to me.

We were showing the movie “Death Wish,” where Charles Bronson plays the role of a vigilante after his daughter is raped and his wife murdered. The movie shocked me, even as a teen curious about the “real” world. The rape scene left an unpleasant imprint on me. I couldn’t shake it, or get it out of my mind. How could anyone be so brutal? Why would anyone ever commit such an atrocious crime? I knew little of these absurdities, growing up in the relative safety of suburban Orange County, where I had been schooled in fair play and treating women with respect, and knew nothing of a death wish. This movie shocked me.

I had never actually witnessed, and knew little of, the type of real violence I’d heard about on rough city streets, or seen in TV coverage of the Vietnam War. Still, if I was to encounter aggression toward myself or any other person, I reasoned, I wanted to be like Paul Kersey, the architect turned vigilante that Bronson portrayed, bold in the face of threats, ready to do justice on the street, and to protect the harmless and innocent from thugs.

I’d been roughed up a few times in fights with kids my own age over the years, bullied by older ruffians, but never faced any real threats to life and limb. Nonetheless, I wanted to give a good accounting of myself if ever such a threat was made. So far, I’d shown promise in my scuffles with friends and bullies but lost at least half as many—if not more—battles than I’d won.

Once, a couple of Marines harassed me on the back side of the local grocery located at the far end of the lot from the theater. I was riding my bicycle home from a high school wrestling workout when a bright yellow muscle-car screeched around the corner of the Market Basket and barely missed hitting me. I automatically threw up my middle finger, out of fear as much as anger at the close call. The car whipped back around and screeched to a stop in front of my bicycle so that I couldn’t pass. Two Marines jumped out and wanted to know, did I have a message for them?

“Yeah, fuck you!” I blared. “You almost hit me!”

They moved toward me and I was certain they would pummel me until another car passing slowly our way distracted them, the driver peering over at us, as if to see what was going on, which allowed me to jump on my bike and escape. “You guys better get outta here before the MPs come and take you away,” I yelled. The military police, I’d learned over the years, were quick to respond to reports of misbehaving Marines. I pedaled home as fast as I could, shaken and breathless. It wasn’t my bravest moment; yet my adrenaline had spiked and I felt something like madness or bravery growing inside of me.

Marines were an integral part of life in Orange County then. I grew up under the shadow of war and the military. The Marine Corps Air Station just outside of Tustin was host to helicopter crews and squadrons. Not far down the road, fighter jets flew in and out of Marine Corps Air Station El Toro on the southern skirt of the Irvine Ranch. You could hear the roar of their engines miles away. As a boy, I knew that many of those pilots would soon be flying over the jungles of Vietnam. The war ended miserably for Americans, with 58,000 dead. But that did little to diminish the Marine Corps pride. These were fighting men, not to be messed with. Now, after a humiliating defeat in Southeast Asia, with no one to really fight anymore, they seemed to like taking it out on civilians: mouthy teenagers, barflys, girlfriends, wives….

Char rarely spoke, unless she absolutely needed help. Tonight, she was holding her own, keeping the line moving and the crowd from growing restless.

“Not to worry, folks! There’s plenty of room inside!” I shouted, hoping she’d at least glance over in appreciation of my efforts to help move the line.

Suddenly, there was a commotion. An angry Marine started pushing his way through the line. “Hey, buddy, watch it!” someone shouted.

Char’s husband cut through the line and burst through the door where I was standing and started for the box office. “Sir, you’re gonna have to wait a minute. We’re really busy right now.”

“Stay out of it, buster,” he ordered, staring me down, sizing me up. Just as suddenly he turned and bolted to go inside the box office. No one but staff was allowed in there.

“Sir, you’re not supposed to be in there,” I shouted, taking another ticket. He grabbed Char by her upper arm, spun her around, away from a shocked paying patron, and began pulling her out of the box office, and dragged her toward the door, leaving the line in a lurch at the window, customers staring aghast as he hauled her away.

“Come on!” he ordered, as they passed by me. “You’re going home!” She followed him without protest as he roughly moved her through the crowd, pulling her along by her arm. I hesitated, couldn’t say anything, knew that I had to keep the line moving, wanted to stop the Marine in his tracks and knew I couldn’t, and now the box office was empty and people standing in line were starting to panic and get impatient.

“The movie’s gonna start pretty soon,” someone shouted, “is someone gonna take our money?”

“That’s what ya gotta do with women these days,” said another, a burly older man, also waiting in line to get his ticket. “You gotta show them who’s boss, or they get the wrong ideas.”

“Steve!” I shouted up toward the manager’s office. “Steve, we’ve gotta problem down here!” I wanted to leave my station and do something but feared Char’s husband, duty bound to keep the crowd under control, all while Char was being treated roughly, and dragged across the parking lot, off to who-knows-what. “Steve!”

He came running down to the box office, keys and change jangling in his pants pockets, his eye glasses askew on his head. “What’s going on? Where’s Char?”

“Her husband came and got her,” I said. “He dragged her out of here.”

Steve went inside the box office, picked up the phone and called the MPs; at the same time, he began taking money from moviegoers and dispensing tickets through the window. He gave Char’s address to the MPs and hung up the phone. He looked over my way. “Not the best night for family squabbles,” he complained.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t feel comfortable trying to stop him,” I said, moving the line. “First set of doors to your left sir. Plenty of seats,” I said, waving ticket holders inside.

“You did the right thing. Let’ keep this line moving,” Steve said.

Char’s husband got picked up by the military police. She never came back to work. I never heard what became of them, whether he was charged with assault, whether they stayed together, but realized I wasn’t ready avenge anyone the way Paul Kersey did in the movie, Death Wish. I was better off just doing my job, leaving the death wish to others more brave.

Barely two years later, though, in the spring of my senior year, 1976, the nation’s bicentennial, my father handed me brochures advertising the various branches of the U.S. military: Navy, Coast Guard, Marine Corps, Army, Air Force.

“If you think I’m going to join the military,” I said, “you’re crazy.” I handed the brochures back to him. Yet, despite having a job, my prospects were dim. I had no future as an usher, or even as a movie house manager. I hadn’t excelled academically and wasn’t much interested in going to college. My parents were preparing to move to Illinois and I had no intention of going with them. I’d be graduating soon. My options seemed limited.

Before long, I met with an Army recruiter and talked about job possibilities. I had no interest in being a Marine. I’d seen enough of that. At 17, I was most intrigued with the role of Army Rangers. They were elite, strong, fearless, well-trained, ready to face death for love of country, to protect the harmless and innocent,  just as any Marine would, perhaps better. By April, with my parents required consent because I was not yet 18, I signed with assurances that I’d be getting some of the best training the military had to offer, and was assigned to the 2nd Ranger, 75th Infantry Battalion.

I’d go active, report for duty, two days after my 18th birthday, still not experienced in the world, to begin a more demanding kind of job, facing down threats from international thugs. America had lost its taste for war. Vietnam shattered us all. Still, there was the Soviet Threat, and we had to be prepared to stop it anywhere in the world. As it turned out, President Jimmy Carter didn’t send troops into combat while I was an active soldier. As far as I know, he’s the only modern day president who didn’t have a death wish of his own, needlessly committing troops to battlegrounds where they didn’t belong. §

Stacey Warde is publisher of The Rogue Voice.

Ethics & deregulation under Trump

 

Hires with deep industry ties lead secretive teams to ease regulations

by Robert Faturechi, ProPublica, and Danielle Ivory, The New York Times

President Trump entered office pledging to cut red tape, and within weeks, he ordered his administration to assemble teams to aggressively scale back government regulations.

But the effort — a signature theme in Trump’s populist campaign for the White House — is being conducted in large part out of public view and often by political appointees with deep industry ties and potential conflicts.

Most government agencies have declined to disclose information about their deregulation teams. But ProPublica and The New York Times identified 71 appointees, including 28 with potential conflicts, through interviews, public records and documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.

Some appointees are reviewing rules their previous employers sought to weaken or kill, and at least two may be positioned to profit if certain regulations are undone.

The appointees include lawyers who have represented businesses in cases against government regulators, staff members of political dark money groups, employees of industry-funded organizations opposed to environmental rules and at least three people who were registered to lobby the agencies they now work for.

At the Education Department alone, two members of the deregulation team were most recently employed by pro-charter advocacy groups or operators, and one appointee was an executive handling regulatory issues at a for-profit college operator.

So far, the process has been scattershot. Some agencies have been soliciting public feedback, while others refuse even to disclose who is in charge of the review. In many cases, responses to public records requests have been denied, delayed or severely redacted.

The Interior Department has not disclosed the correspondence and calendars for its team. But a review of more than 1,300 pages of handwritten sign-in sheets for guests visiting the agency’s headquarters in Washington found that appointees had met regularly with industry representatives.

Over a four-month period, from February through May, at least 58 representatives of the oil and gas industry signed their names on the agency’s visitor logs before meeting with appointees.

The EPA also rejected requests to release the appointment calendar of the official leading its team — a former top executive for an industry-funded political group — even as she met privately with industry representatives.

And the Defense Department and the Department of Homeland Security provided the titles for most appointees to their review teams, but not names.

In February, President Trump ordered federal agencies to form task forces charged with finding regulations to weaken or eliminate. While the names of appointees to executive-agency task forces are typically made public, some agencies are refusing to reveal who is on their panels. See who we know about and who we don’t.

When asked for comment about the activities of the deregulation teams, the White House referred reporters to the Office of Management and Budget.

Meghan Burris, a spokeswoman there, said: “As previous administrations have recognized, it’s good government to periodically reassess existing regulations. Past regulatory review efforts, however, have not taken a consistent enough look at regulations on the books.”

With billions of dollars at stake in the push to deregulate, corporations and other industry groups are hiring lawyers, lobbyists and economists to help navigate this new avenue for influence. Getting to the front of the line is crucial, as it can take years to effect regulatory changes.

“Competition will be fierce,” the law firm Clark Hill, which represents businesses pitching the Environmental Protection Agency, said in a marketing memo. “In all likelihood, interested parties will need to develop a multi-pronged strategy to expand support and win pre-eminence over competing regulatory rollback candidates.”

Jane Luxton, a lawyer at the firm, said she advised clients to pay for economic and legal analyses that government agencies, short on staff, could use to expedite changes. She declined to identify the clients.

“You may say this is an agency’s job, but the agencies are totally overloaded,” Luxton said.

“We have begun a historic program to reduce the regulations that are crushing our economy — crushing,” Trump said. “We’re going to put the regulations industry out of work and out of business.”

***

On a cloudy, humid day in March, Laura Peterson, a top lobbyist for Syngenta, arrived at the headquarters for the Interior Department. She looped the letter “L” across the agency’s sign-in sheet.

Her company, a top pesticide maker based in Switzerland, had spent eight years and millions of dollars lobbying the Obama administration on environmental rules, with limited success.

But Peterson had an in with the new administration.

Scott Cameron, newly installed at the Interior Department and a member of its deregulation team, had just left a nonprofit he had founded. He had advocated getting pesticides approved and out to market faster. His group counted Syngenta as a financial partner.

The meeting with Peterson was one of the first Cameron took as a new government official.

Neither side would reveal what was discussed. “I’m not sure that’s reporting information I have to give you,” Peterson said.

But lobbying records offered clues.

Syngenta has been one of several pesticide manufacturers pushing for changes to the Endangered Species Act. When federal agencies take actions that may jeopardize endangered animals or plants, they are generally supposed to consult with the Interior Department, which could raise objections.

For decades, the EPA largely ignored this provision when approving new pesticides. But recently, a legal challenge from environmental groups forced its hand — a change that affected Syngenta.

Pesticide lobbyists have been working behind the scenes at agencies and on Capitol Hill to change the provision. Companies have argued that they should be exempt from consulting with the Interior Department because they already undergo EPA approval.

Along with spending millions of dollars on lobbying, they have funded advocacy groups aligned with their cause. Cameron’s nonprofit, the Reduce Risks From Invasive Species Coalition, was one such group for Syngenta.

The organization says on its website that its goals include reducing “the regulatory burden of the Endangered Species Act on American society by addressing invasive species.” One way to do that is to use pesticides. The nonprofit’s mission includes creating “business opportunities for commercial products and services used to control invasive species.”

Because donations are not publicly reported, it is unclear how much Syngenta has contributed to Cameron’s organization, but his group has called the pesticide company one of its “ generous sponsors.”

Cameron also served on a committee of experts and stakeholders, including Syngenta, that advised the federal government on decisions related to invasive species. At a committee event last July, he said that one of his priorities was “getting biocontrol agents to market faster,” according to meeting minutes.

Paul Minehart, a Syngenta spokesman, said: “Employees regularly engage with those in government that relate to agriculture and our business. Our purpose is to balance serving the public health and environment with enabling farmers’ access to innovation.”

A spokeswoman for the Interior Department did not respond to questions about how Cameron’s relationship with Syngenta might influence his review of regulations.

Under the law, members of the Trump administration can seek ethics waivers to work on issues that overlap with their past business careers. They can also formally recuse themselves when potential conflicts arise.

***

Under the law, members of the Trump administration can seek ethics waivers to work on issues that overlap with their past business careers. They can also formally recuse themselves when potential conflicts arise.

In many cases, the administration has refused to say whether appointees to Trump’s deregulation teams have done either.

One such appointee is Samantha Dravis, the chairwoman of the deregulation team at the EPA, who was a top official at the Republican Attorneys General Association. Dravis was also president of the Rule of Law Defense Fund, which brought together energy companies and Republican attorneys general to file lawsuits against the federal government over Obama-era environmental regulations.

The Republican association’s work has been criticized as a vehicle for corporate donors to gain the credibility and expertise of state attorneys general in fighting federal regulations. Donors include the American Petroleum Institute, the energy company ConocoPhillips and the coal giant Alpha Natural Resources.

The Republican association also received funding from Freedom Partners, backed by the conservative billionaires Charles G. and David H. Koch. Dravis worked for that group as well, which recently identified regulations it wants eliminated. Among them are EPA rules relating to clean-water protections and restrictions on greenhouse gas emissions.

Liz Bowman, an EPA spokeswoman, declined to say whether Dravis had recused herself from issues dealing with previous employers or their backers, or had discussed regulations with any of them.

“As you will find when you receive Samantha’s calendar, she has met with a range of stakeholders, including nonprofits, industry groups and others, on a wide range of issues,” Bowman said.

Bowman said the calendar could be obtained through a public records request. ProPublica and The Times had already filed a request for records including calendars, but the agency’s response did not include those documents. (An appeal was filed, but the calendar has not yet been released.)

“We take our ethics responsibilities seriously,” Bowman said. “All political staff have had an ethics briefing and know their obligations.”

Addressing the agency’s regulatory efforts, she said, “We are here to enact a positive environmental agenda that provides real results to the American people, without unnecessarily hamstringing our economy.”

At the Agriculture Department, the only known appointee to the deregulation team is Rebeckah Adcock. She previously lobbied the department as a top executive both at CropLife America, a trade association for pesticide makers, and the American Farm Bureau Federation, a trade group for farmers.

The department deals with many issues involving farmers, including crop insurance and land conservation rules, but it would not disclose whether Adcock had recused herself from discussions affecting her past employers.

At the Energy Department, a member of the deregulation team is Brian McCormack, who formerly handled political and external affairs for Edison Electric Institute, a trade association representing investor-owned electrical utilities.

While there, McCormack worked with the American Legislative Exchange Council, an industry-funded group. Both organizations fought against rooftop solar policies in statehouses across the country. Utility companies lose money when customers generate their own power, even more so when they are required to pay consumers who send surplus energy back into the grid.

Though the Energy Department does not directly regulate electrical utilities, it does help oversee international electricity trade, the promotion of renewable energy and the security of domestic energy production. After joining the department, McCormack helped start a review of the nation’s electrical grid, according to an agency memo.

Clean-energy advocates fear the inquiry will cast solar energy, which can fluctuate, as a threat to grid reliability. Such a finding could scare off state public utility commissions considering solar policies and serve as a boon for electrical utilities, said Matt Kasper, research director at the Energy and Policy Institute, an environmental group.

Disclosure records show that while McCormack was at Edison, the trade group lobbied the federal government, including the Energy Department, on issues including grid reliability.

The department would not answer questions about McCormack’s involvement with those issues.

Across the government, at least two appointees to deregulation teams have been granted waivers from ethics rules related to prior jobs, and at least nine others have pledged to recuse themselves from issues related to former employers or clients.

Some of the recusals involve appointees at the Small Business Administration and the Education Department, including Bob Eitel, who leads the education team and was vice president for regulatory legal services at an operator of for-profit colleges.

Another recusal involves Byron Brown, an EPA appointee who is married to a senior government affairs manager for the Hess Corporation, the oil and gas company.

Hess was fined and ordered to spend more than $45 million on pollution controls by the EPA during the Obama administration because of alleged Clean Air Act violations at its refinery in Port Reading, N.J. Disclosure records show that Brown’s wife, Lesley Schaaff, lobbied the EPA last year on behalf of the company.

An EPA spokeswoman declined to say whether Brown or Schaaff owned Hess stock, though an agency ethics official said Brown had recused himself from evaluating regulations affecting the company.

The agency declined to say whether Brown would also recuse himself from issues affecting the American Petroleum Institute, where his wife’s company is a member. The association has lobbied to ease Obama-era natural gas rules, complaining in a recent letter to Brown’s team about an “unprecedented level of federal regulatory actions targeting our industry.”

Before being selected to lead the deregulation team at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, Maren Kasper was a director at Roofstock, an online marketplace for investors in single-family rental properties. Financial disclosure records show Kasper owned a stake in the company worth up to $50,000.

Changes at HUD could increase investor interest in rental homes, affecting a company like Roofstock. The agency, for example, oversees the federal government’s Section 8 subsidies program for low-income renters.

Ethics officials allowed Kasper to keep her stake, but she pledged not to take actions that would affect it. (A spokesman for HUD said Kasper’s tenure on the deregulation task force has since ended.)

***

One by one, scientists, educators and environmental activists approached the microphone and urged government officials not to weaken regulations intended to protect children from lead.

The forum, run by the EPA in a drab basement meeting room in Washington, was part of the agency’s push to identify regulations that were excessive and burdensome to businesses.

Few businesspeople showed up. As public hearings on regulations have played out in recent weeks, many industry and corporate representatives have instead met with Trump administration officials behind closed doors.

Still, the EPA has asked for written comments and held about a dozen public meetings. The agency has received more than 467,000 comments, many of them critical of potential rollbacks, but also some from businesses large and small pleading for relief from regulatory costs or confusion.

After a quiet moment at the meeting to discuss lead regulations, the owner of a local painting company, Brian McCracken, moved to the microphone.

McCracken was frustrated by what he described as costly rules that forced him to test for lead-based paint in homes before he could begin painting. Each test kit costs about $2, and he may need six per room. If a family then declines to hire him, those costs come out of his pocket.

“I don’t think anyone is sitting here saying that lead-based dust does not hurt children,” he said. “That’s not what we are talking about. What the contractor needs is a better way to test.”

His voice quavered: “Why do I have to educate the general public about the hazards that generations before me created? It doesn’t make sense at all.”

Trump is not the first president to take on such frustrations.

President Bill Clinton declared the federal government was failing to regulate “without imposing unacceptable or unreasonable costs on society.” He assigned Vice President Al Gore to collect agencies’ suggestions for rules that should go. One rule dictated how to measure the consistency of grits.

President George W. Bush’s regulatory overhaul focused more on how new regulations were created. The administration installed a political appointee inside each agency who generally had to sign off before any significant new rule could be initiated. At the EPA for a time, that official came from an industry-funded think tank.

President Barack Obama ordered regular updates from each agency about the effectiveness of rules already on the books.

“When you raise the profile, when it’s clearly an executive priority, it gets attention,” said Heather Krause, director of strategic issues at the Government Accountability Office, the main auditor of the federal government. According to the auditor’s analysis, the effect under Obama was mostly to clarify and streamline rules, not eliminate them.

Like Bush, Trump has empowered political appointees. Though some agencies have included career staff members on their review teams, an executive order from Trump creating the teams does not require it — nonpolitical employees are generally believed to be more wedded to existing rules. And like Obama, Trump has imposed regular reporting requirements.

But Trump, who spent his business career on the other side of government regulations, has put an emphasis on cutting old rules.

The same day he signed the executive order initiating the review, he addressed a large crowd of conservative activists at a Maryland convention center.

“We have begun a historic program to reduce the regulations that are crushing our economy — crushing,” Trump said. “We’re going to put the regulations industry out of work and out of business.”

Amit Narang, a regulatory expert at the liberal advocacy group Public Citizen, said Trump’s decision to create teams of political appointees — formally known as regulatory reform task forces — should make it easier for the White House to overcome bureaucratic resistance to his rollback plans.

“To the extent there’s a deep state effect in this administration,” Narang said, “the task force will be more effective in trying to get the agenda in place.” §

Robert Faturechi covers campaign finance at Propublica. Email: Robert.Faturechi@propublica.org. Twitter: RobertFaturechi. The New York Times’ Danielle Ivory covers the intersection of business and government, including contracts and regulation. NYT’s Kitty Bennett contributed reporting to this story. This article is displayed with permission from ProPublica, and was co-published with The New York Times.

House Democrats sound alarm

We were able to detect vulnerable networks at Mar-a-Lago — Trump’s “Southern White House” — from a small motorboat about 800 feet from the club on Florida’s Intracoastal Waterway.

Trump properties pose security risk, easy prey to hacks

by Jeff LarsonProPublica

Two dozen House Democrats have sent a letter to White House counsel Donald McGahn, warning that digital security holes at the Trump Organization’s clubs and hotels are risks to national security and the secrecy of classified information.“The White House must act immediately to secure the potentially sensitive information on these systems,” said the letter, which was signed by 24 Congress members and went to McGahn last week.Their concerns were in response to an article published last month by ProPublica and Gizmodo that documented the cybersecurity vulnerabilities at properties the president has frequented since being elected. Our reporting found unencrypted login pages, servers running outdated software, accessible printers, and Wi-Fi networks that were open to anyone close enough to access them.We were able to detect vulnerable networks at Mar-a-Lago — Trump’s “Southern White House” — from a small motorboat about 800 feet from the club on Florida’s Intracoastal Waterway. We also found open Wi-Fi networks at the grounds of the Trump golf courses in Bedminster, New Jersey, and accessible Wi-Fi-enabled printers at Trump’s course in Sterling, Virginia.

“To leave these networks unsecured undermines our national priorities and the trust the American people place in the Office of the President,” the letter warned.

The White House and the Trump Organization did not comment on the letter.

Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., the letter’s author, said the vulnerabilities revealed by our story demand immediate action, but he’s received no response from the administration so far. “It needs to be addressed quickly. Potentially every minute something is leaking,” he said. “It is too late to close the henhouse after the foxes come in.”

Since becoming president, Donald Trump has spent time at his clubs on most weekends and has met with foreign dignitaries like Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Chinese President Xi Jinping at Mar-a-Lago.

In February, members of Mar-a-Lago posted pictures of a dinner meeting between Trump and Abe on the patio of the club. Cybersecurity experts warned that sophisticated hackers could turn guests’ cellphones into clandestine listening devices if they gained access to the networks at the club.

Hackers may not need to travel to each of the Trump Organization’s clubs and hotels in order to gain access. We found that the Trump Hotel in Washington, D.C., was hosting a server running software that is more than a decade old and is still accessible from the internet.

“Any Half-Decent Hacker Could Break Into Mar-a-Lago”

We tested internet security at four Trump properties. It’s not good. Read the story.

After we notified the company that administers the Trump clubs’ websites about our findings, they disabled an insecure login page that leads to a database of sensitive information that we found on Mar-a-Lago’s website. However, the company, called Clubessential, has not locked down its customer documentation website, which includes usernames and passwords to internal accounts and is accessible to anyone with an internet connection.

Clubessential did not respond to a request for comment.

“Cyber-criminals and nation states have both the incentive and the ability to hack these networks to obtain sensitive information critical to our national security and international diplomacy,” the Congress members’ letter said.

Since our visits to Trump’s properties in early May, the president has spent four weekends at his clubs.

“He’s the president of the United States,” Engel said. “We should make sure he’s secure wherever he is.” §

Jeff Larson is a reporter at ProPublica. Follow him on Twitter @thejefflarson. Like this story? Sign up for ProPublica’s daily newsletter to get more of their best work.

Rep. Tom Price bought drug stocks

Then pushed big pharma’s agenda in Australia and made thousands

Price’s lobbying abroad, which has not previously been reported, is another example of how his work in Congress could have benefitted his investment portfolio. He traded hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of shares in health-related companies while taking action on legislation and regulations affecting the industry.

by Robert FaturechiProPublica

In the spring before the 2016 presidential election, the Obama administration’s 12-nation trade agreement known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP, was still alive. Negotiators worked on details as Congress considered whether to ratify the pact.

The Australian government was getting in the way of one change demanded by U.S. pharmaceutical companies. Makers of cutting-edge biological drugs wanted to have data from their clinical trials protected from competitors for 12 years, as they are under U.S. law 2014 not the roughly five years permitted under the TPP. Australian officials insisted that an extension would deprive consumers of cheaper alternatives for too long.

On April 5, 2016, a bipartisan group of U.S. lawmakers arrived in Canberra, Australia’s capital, for meetings with government officials on a broad range of subjects. Among those on the routine congressional trip was Rep. Tom Price, a Georgia Republican who would go on to become President Trump’s secretary of health and human services. Three weeks before the trip, Price had purchased up to $90,000 worth of pharmaceutical stocks 2014 trades that would come under scrutiny after his nomination to Trump’s cabinet.

In Canberra, Price and another Republican, Rep. John Kline of Minnesota, pressured senior Australian trade officials to modify their position on the 12-year extension, according to a congressional aide who was on the trip. The Australians explained that they had no intention of changing their laws or rules in ways that could increase drug prices. Price and Kline continued pushing, according to the aide, asking for a side letter or other written guidance that the period would be extended in Australia even if it weren’t spelled out in the TPP itself.

Price’s lobbying abroad, which has not previously been reported, is another example of how his work in Congress could have benefitted his investment portfolio. He traded hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of shares in health-related companies while taking action on legislation and regulations affecting the industry. ProPublica previously reported that Price’s stock trades are said to be under investigation by federal prosecutors.

Price, who did not respond to an interview request for this story, has said he did nothing wrong, that his broker generally chose stocks without his knowledge and that all of his trades were publicly disclosed.

Price’s financial disclosures submitted to the House Office of the Clerk show that on March 17, 2016, he purchased shares worth between $1,000 and $15,000 each in Eli Lilly, Amgen, Bristol-Meyers Squibb, McKesson, Pfizer and Biogen. All six companies had an interest in biological drugs, which are grown from live cells and are known for short as biologics. Eli Lilly, for example, is behind Portrazza, the first biologic approved to treat a common type of lung cancer. Amgen makes a top-seller for rheumatoid arthritis and psoriasis. Biogen developed a biologic for people suffering multiple sclerosis relapses.

Kline, who has since retired from Congress, said he could not recall if he or anyone else raised the biologics issue. His financial disclosures do not show direct holdings in pharmaceutical companies.

Australia has played another role in Price’s financial activities. In 2015 the congressman bought about $10,000 worth of shares in Innate Immunotherapeutics, a small biologics firm with an office in Sydney. After the congressional trip, which also made a stop in Sydney, Price purchased a larger stake in the company, about $84,000 worth, in two private placements, the first of which was announced in June. Price was invited to purchase the shares at a discounted rate.

It’s not known if Price had any contact with the firm while in Sydney. Price didn’t respond to questions about when and where he discussed the discounted offering with company officials. The company’s officials also did not respond.

Traveling congressional delegations typically meet with a variety of local officials, and at the time of the visit to Australia it wasn’t unusual for Republican lawmakers to side with the pharmaceutical industry on the trade deal’s protections for biologics. Price’s advocacy stands out because he pushed the cause directly with foreign officials, while at the same time owning stakes in companies that could have benefited.

An itinerary for the trip reviewed by ProPublica mentions TPP in relation to one of the meetings, but does not list the biologics provision. A former Australian trade official, who asked not to be named and attended one of the meetings, confirmed that the 12-year lockup was addressed, but said he could not recall which Congress members were pushing it.

Others on the trip, organized by the House’s Education and the Workforce Committee, were Robert Scott, D-Va., Ruben Hinojosa, D-Texas, Erik Paulsen, R-Minn. and Dan Benishek, R-Mich. Those members who responded to requests for comment said they could not recall whether the provision was discussed.

The data collected during clinical trials of drugs can save competitors time in developing the cheaper alternatives to biologics known as biosimilars. Keeping the data proprietary longer extends the original drugmaker’s monopoly. While some big brand-name pharmaceutical companies also make biosimilars, they and their trade association 2014 the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America 2014 advocated strongly for longer exclusivity.

In the end, the debate over the provision became moot. Trump scrapped the TPP days after taking office. Price divested his drug stocks upon taking the cabinet post. His investment in Innate Immunotherapeutics yielded a profit of at least $150,000. §

Robert Faturechi covers campaign finance for ProPublica, where this article first appeared. Before joining ProPublica, Faturechi was a reporter at The Los Angeles Times, where his work exposed inmate abuse, cronyism, secret cop cliques and wrongful jailings at the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.

Special correspondent Anne Davies in Sydney contributed to this story.

If you have access to information about Tom Price that should be public, please email robert.faturechi@propublica.org or send him encrypted messages on Signal at 213-271-7217. Here’s how to send tips and documents to ProPublica securely. ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for their newsletter