Category Archives: Government regulation

AG Strange fights for Wall Street

Seemingly awash in funds and enjoying a surplus of lawyers, state Attorney General Luther Strange joined yet another lawsuit against the federal government Wednesday.

This one, Strange assured taxpayers in a press release distributed the same day, was essential to protect Alabamians from arbitrary federal “decisions that will affect Alabama families and businesses.”

The suit attacks the constitutionality of the Dodd-Frank Act, which Strange called “Obamacare for the financial sector.” There is no logical relationship between the two laws, but apparently he hopes to tap into popular resentment of the Affordable Care Act, also signed by President Barack Obama.

While Strange’s press release focuses on the law’s alleged delegation to U.S. finance officials of the ability “to liquidate banks with only 24 hours’ notice and no notice to creditors or shareholders,” one of the main challenges in the lawsuit is against the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

The law is imperfect, but its purpose was to prevent another financial meltdown. A major cause of the recession was deregulation of financial institutions during the administration of former President George W. Bush. In a race for short-term profits and ever-larger bonuses, bank officials took reckless actions that led to a near collapse of the banking system in late 2007 and triggered a recession that cost thousands in Alabama their jobs and their homes.

Before taking office, Strange was a registered Washington lobbyist for clients that included Mortgage Bankers Association of America, Wachovia Bank and Bank of Alabama.

In case Strange is worried, the financial wizards of Wall Street are doing fine. They have recovered nicely from the recession they helped to start. It is the rest of the people — especially in Alabama, with a 18 percent poverty rate and a median per-capita income of $22,711 — who continue to struggle.

Dodd-Frank is an annoyance to banks, including the Texas bank that initiated the suit Strange joined. It requires banks and other financial institutions to be more transparent than they would like. It also takes steps to prevent a domino effect that destroys multiple banks, crippling the economy, when one fails. Many experts believe Dodd-Frank is not nearly stringent enough.

The law also created the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the sole function of which is to protect consumers from unfair financial practices. Some in Congress are frustrated because they want more control over the bureau, and no wonder. The bureau protects consumers from the same financial institutions that lavish campaign contributions on members of Congress.

Strange’s suggestion that his latest lawsuit against the federal government is designed to benefit Alabama families is insulting. Faced with a decision on whether to support the financial institutions that helped cause the economic crisis or the consumers who suffered most, the former lobbyist sided with Wall Street. The greatest irony is that any litigation costs will be borne by the struggling Alabama residents that Dodd-Frank was designed to protect.


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Filed under Alabama politics, Government regulation, Recession

Mass shootings: Solving the problems we can

The classic rebuttal to calls for gun control — repeated by many even in the wake of Friday’s Newtown, Conn., massacre of children — is that “guns don’t kill people; people kill people.”
Americans’ response should be a collective, “Duh.”
Our society is deeply broken. We see it in mass murders. We see it in the less-publicized but daily shootings on the street. We see it in bomb threats and domestic terrorist plots. We see it in broken families. And we saw it in Newtown and Aurora; in Tucson, Blacksburg and Columbine.
No question, guns would be little threat in a society that was not so riddled with evil.
But this is the society we’ve got. If there are solutions to the root problem, they are long-term and complex.
So yes, the best solution would be to fix our society. The fact that we can’t figure out how to do so is not a reason to ignore other problems that contribute to mass murders.
One of those is the ready availability of guns.
Even that solution is not simple. A disturbing percentage of Americans feel their inability to purchase a rifle that shoots 30 rounds as fast as the trigger finger can twitch is an unacceptable abridgment of their liberty.
Gun manufacturers are so determined to profit that they share their proceeds with the National Rifle Association, which uses the money to influence politicians. Honest political debate is impossible in Washington because so many kowtow to NRA voting scorecards.
So it’s a difficult solution, but one we know can work. The United States has the most lenient gun laws among developed nations, as well as the greatest number of mass killings. Australia, in 1996, reacted to a mass shooting that killed 20 by banning semi-automatic rifles, imposing other gun controls and buying back guns. Mass shootings, as frequent there as in America before 1996, immediately dropped to zero.
The people of most developed nations have concluded unrestricted freedom to own guns is less important than the freedom to live without fear of them.
Removing every possible barrier to treatment of the mentally ill is another solution that, while difficult, is doable. The Affordable Care Act would expand treatment of the mentally ill, both through conventional insurance and Medicaid. Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley is trying to block the reforms. He also closed two mental hospitals.
Yes, we live in a broken society. Yes, the fundamental problem is not guns but people who want to kill people.
Given that we can’t solve those problems, it is time we found the political will to tackle the problems we can.


Filed under Government regulation, Gun control

Eagles a symbol of U.S. freedom

Bald eagles, a symbol of American freedom, owe their resurgence in north Alabama to an agency many politicians have branded an enemy of freedom.

The majestic birds had almost disappeared from Alabama in the 1960s. The heavy agricultural use of the pesticide DDT contaminated fish, which in turn contaminated eagles. The chemical caused the birds to lay eggs with shells too thin to survive incubation.

By 1963, only 487 nesting pairs of bald eagles remained in the continental United States.

When former President Richard Nixon successfully pushed for the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency in 1970, he met resistance. The debate became fierce in 1972 when the EPA, in one of its first significant actions, banned most uses of DDT. The agricultural industry in Alabama and elsewhere complained fiercely of governmental overreach. DDT manufacturers sued.

Despite the uproar, courts held that the DDT ban was constitutional.

Bald eagles also enjoyed protection from another controversial law promoted by Nixon, the Endangered Species Act, which is administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Four decades after the EPA’s controversial move, the number of nesting bald eagles in the continental United States exceeds 10,000. The birds were removed from the endangered species list in 1995, and from the threatened species list in 2007.

Sightings have become common along the Tennessee River. There are at least 10 bald eagle nests between Wheeler Dam and the Tennessee line, and many more migrate here every winter.

Calls to abolish the EPA are even more common than eagles in today’s Alabama. Too many of our politicians attack an agency that they see as a symbol of federal excess, but forget that among its many successes is the preservation of a symbol of American freedom.

In the United States, freedom means more than the unrestricted ability to make a buck.

The ban on DDT was a federal intrusion that interfered with Alabama agribusiness. The regulation also returned to the public the freedom to enjoy one of God’s majestic creations.

The bald eagle is an appropriate symbol of U.S. liberty. When the freedom of some impinges on the freedom of others, someone must mediate the competing interests.

In America, we reach these compromises ourselves. We do so through the government we created.

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Filed under Conservatism, Democracy, Environment, Government regulation

Earth Day quickly forgotten

It is Earth Day.
Two years ago on Earth Day, oil was gushing into the Gulf of Mexico at a rate of 53,000 barrels per day after the April 20 explosion of BP’s Deepwater Horizon well.
The precise causes remain in litigation, but the environmental disaster had its roots in the elevation of profit over environment by the corporations involved and by a lack of effective government oversight.
The Earth continues to pay the price of the corporate and governmental misdeeds. Scientists and fishermen are still discovering huge numbers of fish with gashes, ulcers and parasites symptomatic of environmental contamination. Coral reefs are dead and dying. The spill is suspected in mass dolphin deaths.
Americans were horrified. They vilified BP and successfully demanded an overhaul of the regulatory agency charged with overseeing underwater drilling. They were, for a few days, adamant that something had to change, that we had to be better stewards of the Earth.
And then, with no acknowledgement of the inconsistency, Americans returned to their political hobby of bashing the federal government for excessive regulations.
Within weeks of the disaster, Americans were complaining about a short-term moratorium that prevented deep-water drilling until officials could figure out went wrong.
Our elected representatives spent last week trying to push through approval of a 1,700-mile pipeline with inadequate environmental oversight, even as officials were assessing the damage from a pipeline break that poured 1 million gallons of oil into the Kalamazoo River. We don’t learn.
The benefit of capitalism — that it inspires corporations to pursue profit with single-minded resolve — is also its detriment. Asking corporations to police themselves on matters that do not directly affect their bottom line has never worked. Even environmentally concerned CEOs must answer to a board and shareholders for expenditures. The economy developed around the goal of maximizing revenue and minimizing cost. Americans are naive to be surprised that environmental tragedy occasionally results.
If we both desire the benefits of capitalism and value our environment, we must demand effective regulation. Regulations serve as the only fire wall between reckless profiteering and environmental disaster.

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Filed under Conservatism, Environment, Government regulation

Another shackle on public schools

A bill that mandates the start date of public schools goes to a state Senate committee today. The committee, chaired by Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, should reject the bill.
The contentious debate in Montgomery over charter schools has revealed a surprising area of complete agreement: State laws have limited public schools in their ability to offer innovative solutions. Legislators, school boards, teachers and parents recognize that in session after session, the Legislature has shackled teachers and school systems in their ability to tailor education to the needs of the students.
Senate Bill 517 prevents schools from starting classes more than two weeks before Labor Day or ending them after Memorial Day. Many students and parents like this idea, and all elected school boards have the ability to implement such a calendar. Some have and some have not, based on the unique needs and goals of each school district.
SB 517 once again removes flexibility from local school systems. It imposes a top-down solution that prevents those closest to the situation from addressing the needs of their students.

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Filed under Alabama politics, charter schools, education, Government regulation

Broccoli and democracy

Is broccoli like health care? In an important way, yes.
In the legal arguments over the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act, U.S. Supreme Court justices demonstrated an unusual obsession with the fibrous green plant that, for some, passes as food.
The point of the conservative justices was this: If Congress can mandate that people buy health insurance, what keeps them from mandating the purchase of other items?
The answer is obvious, and it points to the reason that the unelected justices should be leery of overturning laws that do not target a minority.
First of all, if Obamacare had required the purchase of broccoli, it would not have passed Congress. That’s because no elected official wants to explain to constituents why he or she voted for such a mandate.
Second, even if our representatives were foolish enough to mandate broccoli, they could count on being voted out of office in the next election by candidates promising repeal. That’s a real threat even for those who voted for the insurance mandate.
Democracy works. Tyranny results not when elected representatives mandate broccoli, but when judges with lifetime appointments lose faith in the democratic process.

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Filed under Government regulation, Health care, Judiciary, Obamacare

Thought-provoking column on BP:

Has US bloodlust for BP gone too far?

As each day goes by, the disastrous oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico becomes more gruesome. Oil-drenched birds and turtles wash up along the shoreline, pristine beaches are polluted by balls of tar and an oily slick laps at Louisiana’s ecologically fragile marshland. Understandably, Americans are livid. But has the bloodlust directed at BP gone too far?

The author’s point is especially powerful in Decatur, where BP employs 300 at a former Amoco plant that has nothing to do with the oil spill beyond using refined petroleum. We all are guilty of that sin every time we fill up our gas tank.

My previous take on a related issue: Attacking BP is not so easy

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Filed under BP spill, Environment, Government regulation