Holy of Holies. The "common ground" everyone says they are searching for. That special
twist that will solve every problem...the Holy Grail of politics! However, as I started to write,
doubts arose; so I'll have to leave it up to you to decide whether or not I can legitimately cry
In the last twenty years, one of the most serious failures of government has been its
inability to regulate almost anything. This, of course, might be news to all of you who say
the government must control every aspect of our lives. So, let's take a long view. Both
regressives and progressives should be in favor of clean water, clean air, safe food and drugs,
an honest banking and financial sector, planes and trains and automobiles which don't kill
you, and a communications network open to all and nurturing a representative democracy.
Yet, during this time, the exact opposite has occurred due to deregulation and, in some
instances, outright sabotage.
Toyota has recalled millions of cars and is now prohibited from selling eight of its most
popular models. The company now admits its cars and trucks have gas pedal problems,
floor mat problems, brake problems, and possibly, and most frighteningly, software problems
with the car's computerized acceleration systems. Toyota has known about most of these
problems since at least 2002; yet denied they represented a danger to customers. At one
point, Toyota even blamed drivers (their trusting consumers) for some of their car's problems.
During the last eight years, the National Highway Transportation Agency (NHTSA) has
investigated Toyota at least six times; and come up with zero, zilch, bubkas, squat in terms
of problems that needed fixing. It should be noted that during this period Toyota hired two
key former NHTSA staffers as Washington lobbyists. These advisors were instrumental in
helping Toyota delay and head off all negative rulings from the very agency responsible for
making sure cars and trucks sold in this country are safe. It's a disgrace! Americans were
dying in unsafe cars and the government agency tasked to protect us did nothing.
The NHSTA failed to protect our safety on the road, but how about our economic safety?
Starting in 1997, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) received numerous complaints
about an investment business run by one Bernard Madoff. Madoff was accused of running
a "Ponzi" scheme. The SEC received credible complaints and investigated Madoff at least
five times. Not once did anyone at the SEC make one phone call to check if Mr. Madoff was
actually investing and buying and selling stocks or bonds or mutual funds. One phone call
would have exposed the whole sham enterprise and saved billions of dollars for investors.
Instead, Madoff got away with over $60 billion, not a bad payday for a crook! Could you or I
get away with such an audacious scheme? Hell no! So, the SEC dropped the ball.
If that weren't enough, we now know the Federal Reserve failed miserably to oversee
Wall Street and big banks; and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) failed
to properly protect taxpayers money in small to medium banks. Perhaps two of the biggest
regulatory failures were failures of omission. In 1998, Congress repealed the Glass-Steagall
Act, a relic of the Roosevelt Administration. The repeal allowed investment banks and
commercial banks to perform the same functions. This was risky; but in 2004 Congress went
even further by removing the limits on how much debt these banks and investment houses
could hold. This set the stage for the economic meltdown we are slogging through at the
moment. Not only did Congress unlock the door to a financial catastrophe, they took the
door off its hinges! This was not a simple accounting error; this was intentional malfeasance
and the gross abuse of the public trust.
One of the first acts the Republicans took when they gained control of Congress in 1995
was to repeal the Public Securities Litigation Reform Act (PSLRA). President Clinton vetoed
the act and both the Republican-controlled House and Senate over-rode Clinton's veto. This
was the beginning of the deregulation era that a Republican Congress ushered in. Eliminating
PSLRA allowed Congress to virtually eliminate the ability of stockholders to hold the
corporations they owned stock in to be held accountable.
How about our food and drug safety? The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), allows
drug companies to pay for the tests done to see if a drug is safe or not (conflict of interest?).
This same agency admits it does not put medical devices through rigorous enough tests; and
a number of the devices, which are put inside your body, may not be as safe or effective as
once believed. Americans have died from drugs approved by the FDA over the last twenty
years; and when families tried to sue the companies, their lawyers cited FDA approval as
protection against liability.
I wish I could say something hopeful about our food supply, but it too is a disaster. How
many more outbreaks of E. coli, Salmonella, and other diseases in lettuce or spinach or
tomatoes or meat will we have to endure before something is done? In Japan, every cow led
to slaughter is examined for disease. In the United States, less than 10% of meat is inspected.
Food is coming into this country without adequate inspection; so you tell me, how many
Americans will have to be poisoned by products out of China and elsewhere before our
regulatory system is beefed (pardon the pun) up?
But hold on, I'm not done. In 1996, Congress passed and President Clinton signed the
Telecommunications Act which deregulated TV, radio, and cable communications. By
removing limits on how many TV stations or radio stations a corporation could own, Clinton
ushered in the era of Rush Limbaugh and the rest. Neither Limbaugh nor Hannity would be
where they are today if free market capitalism and competition had not been eliminated.
When the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) stopped regulating the "free" airwaves
which required broadcasters to serve their local communities in the public interest, more
than 50,000 jobs were lost. Monopolies were encouraged in many parts of our nation; and
the biased opinions broadcast to hundreds of millions of Americans has become progressively
both regressive and corporatist. Corporate monopolies always seek profit and control, never
Strange as it may sound to those of you who trust your government to look after the
public welfare, there was not a single regulatory agency which improved in the last ten years.
Budgets were cut, authority curtailed, and in many cases the Bush Administration appointed
people to lead these agencies who came right out of the industry to be regulated. The result
was a fire-sale on safety, health, and participatory democracy unprecedented since the days of
the robber barons.
You may not like Obama and Pelosi. Your blood pressure may go up when you think
about Bush or Cheney. You may be a tea party supporter or belong to Moveon.org. But it
seems to me we should all be able to count on the automobiles we drive to stop when we put
on the brakes and not to unexpectedly, rapidly, and unintentionally accelerate. And shouldn't
we be able to trust the food we eat and the drugs we're prescribed? Shouldn't devices surgeons
put inside us heal us and not kill us? And don't investors have the right to know if the person
they give their money to is a crook or not? What are the chances of our democracy surviving
if only one side of every political debate dominates the airwaves because of a lack of regulation
Is this not common ground? Are these not common expectations and concerns? Are we
divided on this? Isn't this what government is supposed to do whether you are Republican,
Democrat, or Independent? The fact is the regulatory climate in this nation is unquestionably
broken; we're in dire straits and our politicians don't seem to care no matter how loudly we
cry out. No one is fixing anything. It's clear the industries being regulated own the
bureaucracies charged with regulation hook, line, and sinker. How did corporate interests
come to outweigh national health and safety (both monetary and physical), the foundation of
our democracy, and a citizen's right to be informed?
Wondering why we've arrived at this sorry state of national affairs isn't going to correct
anything. We're here! We foolishly trusted our politicians and Congressmen to regulate,
monitor, and make efficient the complex of national bureaucracy. Intentionally or
unintentionally, our representatives have failed us miserably. They lied! They've broken
their oaths of office! As voters, our trust has been violated. And as taxpayers we've been
robbed. We pay our government employees excellent wages to see after our interests, not
corporate or foreign interests. Clearly our government has been hijacked. We have no chance
but to get involved. The good news is we've got firm common ground to work from; and from
this solid foundation all things are possible. Eureka! What do you think? I welcome your
comments and rebuttals. Please send them to email@example.com