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Americans Are Greater Together

6:27 am in Uncategorized by Leo W. Gerard

Teddy (photo: davetron5000/flickr)

Teddy (photo: davetron5000/flickr)

It wasn’t so much a vote as a proclamation of ideology last Thursday when Republicans filibustered Obama’s nominee to lead the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

The rebuff had nothing to do with the person, Richard Cordary, who even Republican Senator Orrin Hatch said appeared well qualified. Rather, it was part of the GOP campaign to hobble the agency created to safeguard borrowers from dodgy payday lenders and predatory mortgage salesmen.

The GOP thwarts regulatory agencies in order to enforce its “you’re on your own” philosophy. That is, each citizen, like an island, fends for himself in a world where the invisible hand of the market serves as regulator. Democrats believe something very different. They espouse the principles set out by President Teddy Roosevelt in his 1910 speech in Osawatomie, Kan., and echoed by President Obama in his address there last week. That is America and Americans are better when citizens work together and watch out for each other, that cooperating invigorates the individual, the economy and the nation, and that primacy is in people and profit is subordinate.

The late Senator Paul Wellstone expressed the essential sentiment most succinctly:

“We all do better when we all do better.”

Republicans don’t ascribe to that. They want to set up a country where every person is responsible for every aspect of daily life, from ensuring drinking water is safe to reducing workplace hazards. The GOP wants to shred regulations that protect citizens, even eliminate the federal agencies that enforce them. Congressional Republicans have worked to defund the Environmental Protection Agency, a move that would “empower” each citizen to persuade big industrial polluters to limit the particulates, mercury, arsenic, cadmium and lead belching from smokestacks.

Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich said he’d reverse laws forbidding child labor –the same regulations Teddy Roosevelt endorsed to keep youngsters in classrooms and out of factories. In a nation deeply concerned about the quality of schools and the quantity of imported oil, GOP candidate Rick Perry plans to close the Education and Energy departments. Republican candidate Ron Paul would abolish the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the organization citizens created to aid fellow Americans who fall victim to natural disasters like hurricanes, tornadoes and floods.

But that’s just the point: Republicans don’t believe Americans should help each other – they should only help themselves. In the GOP view, greed and selfishness aren’t sins. They’re virtues. Read the rest of this entry →

Sacrilege: Wall Street Worship

5:42 am in Uncategorized by Leo W. Gerard

The Wall Street Bull (Photo: herval, flickr)

The Wall Street Bull (Photo: herval, flickr)

Americans have been worshiping a bull. Too many citizens, and particularly politicians, prostrate themselves to Wall Street’s bronze idol.

They revere financial titans who pay themselves and their minions millions to manipulate money and gamble recklessly. Politicians gave tribute to the financiers with tax breaks and bailouts when the bankers’ bad bets threatened to bankrupt their institutions.

This false idolatry produced a nation gripped by massive unemployment, a nation in which destructive income inequality has risen beyond robber baron levels, a nation where greed has been perverted from sin to good, a nation where politicians genuflect to money changers, not majority citizens.

Salvation for the majority is not more failed trickle-down economics or more deregulation so that Wall Street can resume committing unfettered wagering. Redemption is political and economic systems devoted to serving the common good, not the affluent few.

These concepts — that governments should protect majorities and that the international financial collapse is an opportunity to transform the system into one supporting a more fraternal and just human family — are contained in a report released last week by the Pope’s Council for Justice and Peace. It says: Read the rest of this entry →

More Regulation the Solution, Not the Problem

8:10 am in Uncategorized by Leo W. Gerard

The governors of the Gulf Coast states, all Republicans, asked the federal government for help dealing with the BP oil spill — yeah, the government, the very organization that their hero and mentor Ronald Reagan described as “the problem,” not the solution. “The problem” must deal with our oil problem, those Republicans told President Obama.

The President sent the help they requested, but at the same time, Republican mouthpieces like House GOP Conference Chairman Mike Pence accused the administration of responding too slowly to the spill. Republicans believe government should be shrunk so small it can be downed in a bathtub, that government should get out of the way and allow private enterprise to work. But, simultaneously, they want government to clean up a catastrophe created by private industry.

Twenty-nine dead coal miners in West Virginia, seven dead workers at an oil refinery in Washington State, and 11 dead on a Gulf of Mexico oil rig followed by an ecological calamity all in the span of a month illustrate in blood the need for more regulation and stiffer enforcement. That is more government, not less. And it is government performing an essential basic role – protecting its citizens and preserving the environment in which they live.

Improving regulation and enforcement may cost money. But then, what is the value of the lives of those 47 workers killed in three workplace explosions in one month? What is the value of the oil-polluted Gulf waters and coastline? What is the value of untold oil-suffocated marine animals?

As the oil slick sloshed closer to the Florida coast, Sunshine State Republican Marco Rubio, a candidate for the U.S. Senate, said of the clean-up by BP, which owns the oil-gushing underwater well, “I would prefer BP pay all of it, but ultimately I don’t even know if they have the resources to do that. . . they’re going to have to pay a significant chunk of this.”

Who does Tea-Party-darling Rubio suggest pay the remaining chunk? Taxpayers, of course. He is saying taxpayers should bail out BP, just as they did the too-big-to-fail banks when they got themselves in trouble.

Too many taxpayers bought the Republican mantra that regulation is excessively costly for both business and government. Congress repealed banking regulations, then Wall Street gambling imploded the U.S. economy. Now, after that painful fact, Congress is trying to re-regulate banking.

It is so much cheaper to regulate and enforce than to pay for clean ups. Just like banking, that’s true for industry, which has repeatedly shown it can’t or won’t regulate itself. And clearly the free market fails to regulate business behavior, or Republican Rubio wouldn’t need to propose taxpayers bear costs of a corporate-caused catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico.

BP is a perfect example. In March of 2005, an explosion at the BP refinery in Texas City, Texas killed 15 workers and injured 170 more. Afterwards, a study showed that one of the best ways to prevent catastrophes such as fires and explosions is a method called “process safety management.” Rather than counting slips and falls, process safety uses engineering and management techniques to constantly ensure that machinery and piping are in good condition, to meticulously record changes on refinery units, to properly train workers and to carefully schedule work to prevent fatigue. It also refers to an Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) standard governing refineries.

OSHA launched a program in June of 2007 to emphasize process safety, and in the first year completed 20 inspections and issued 456 citations to refiners. “We were pretty shocked and dismayed by what we found,” said OSHA enforcement director Richard Fairfax.

These refineries knew about this program. Still they violated the regulations. Then an explosion at the Tesoro refinery in Anacortes, Wash. killed 7 workers on April 2. Eighteen days later, an explosion in the Gulf of Mexico killed 11 workers at a well owned by BP.

There was BP again, five years after the catastrophe at the Texas City refinery. This corporation didn’t regulate itself. The “invisible hand of the market” didn’t do it either.

And let’s get something straight. These were not natural disasters, not earthquakes like in Haiti or hurricanes like Katrina. These are man-made disasters. And just as important, God didn’t have a hand in these catastrophes. Don Blankenship, the CEO of Massey Energy which owns the West Virginia mine that exploded, and Texas Governor Rick Perry, a Republican, both suggested the Lord’s wrath was at work. Perry said both the oil rig and coal mine explosions were “an act of God.” That would mean Massey and BP are not responsible. In the corporations-are-good and government-is-bad fantasy world where Blankenship and Perry live, society can’t hold corporations accountable because God is to blame.

Just like these Republicans, the American Petroleum Institute (API), which represents both drillers and refiners, does not believe in regulation. Ron Chittim, API senior policy advisor, told the San Antonio Express-News that no new regulation is necessary because the industry already must obey too many rules.

After the explosion at BP in Texas City, the United Steelworkers union, which represents oil and refinery workers, met with API and the oil industry in an attempt to write new safety guidelines. USW Vice President Gary Beevers abandoned the effort because he felt the industry was more concerned about image than safety.

Now, the USW is pressing Congress for stronger safety regulations and fines high enough to actually affect corporate behavior. As this year of fatal explosions has tragically illustrated, less government is a problem. More regulation is the solution.