Come in Hot with What We’ve Got: Enforce the Laws

Citizen Wealth Financial Justice

New Delhi. Hundreds of Indian activists protested in New Delhi on Monday against a challenge to the country's patent law by Swiss pharmaceutical giant Novartis. India produces affordable medicines that are vital to many people living in developing countries. Over half the medicines currently used for AIDS treatment in developing countries come from India and such medicines are used to treat over 80% of the 80,000 AIDS patients in MSF projects. If Novartis is successful in its challenge against the Indian government and its patent law, more medicines are likely to be patented in India, making it very difficult for generic producers to make affordable versions of them. This could affect millions of people around the world who depend on medicines produced in India.

Little Rock    Elizabeth Warren, Senator from Massachusetts, and probably the most popular candidate who did not run for president – in fact can you just imagine the even greater amount of excitement and drama we would see on the Democratic side of the ledger if it were Warren versus Clinton, given how well Sanders has done? – argued in a recent report that the President could do more than issue executive orders and new agency rules, he could step up enforcement of existing laws. She’s right!

Given the dysfunctional Congressional stalemate, we need to put aside some of our pipe dreams about new laws, and see if we can squeeze the lemons we have into lemonade. Warren’s argument is that the President has too often appointed, or left in the chair, weak administrators who have not used the full power and authority they have as regulators to police financial misdealing, environmental outrages, and general corporate arrogance by handing out cheap tickets and hand slaps for flaunting one law after another. She wants the whip cracked and heads to roll. Hear, hear!

Of course it’s not quite as easy as that, which she also undoubtedly realizes without bothering to dwell on it. In many cases the ground troops required to inspect, enforce, and administer accountability have been severely cut back given reductions in inspectors, auditors, and the boots on the ground in America that do the grinding, boring grunt work of enforcing the law. Without being able to deliver the facts on the ground lawyers and courts are invariably going to cut deals with weaker cases and, as Warren argues implicitly, chicken out when trying to impound the big dogs because of their armies of lawyers, spin masters, and unlimited resources.

Maybe some would say, Senator Warren is just singing her same old song, but when she talks about some new targets like the sanctioned healthcare drug pushers, it’s worth remembering this is not just about Wall Street a thousand miles away from most Americans, it’s personal and as near as the neighborhood clinic. She comes in hot on Novartis saying,

“When Novartis, a major drug company that was already effectively on federal probation for misconduct, paid kickbacks to pharmacies to push certain drugs, it cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars and undermined patient health. Under the law, the government can boot companies that defraud Medicare and Medicaid out of those programs, but when Novartis got caught, it just paid a penalty — one so laughably small that its C.E.O. said afterward that it “remains to be seen” whether his company would actually consider changing its behavior.”

A judge pulls someone back in front of the bench if they agree to plead but are still maintaining their innocence, telling the accused, you can’t have it both ways, either say you’re sorry, shut up, and carry the weight or go to trial and take your chances with the verdict one way or another. If the government is going to enforce the law, how can they pretend the job was done if they accept a fine and hear the guilty thinking about whether or not they’ll change their behavior?

Warren is right. Big corporations are out of control. We’re living in a time of impunity. Government needs to do its job. We have to work with what we’ve got and hold them accountable. We start doing that and we might end up with something better as well.