Cracking Down on Abusive Debt Collectors

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau must stop this national crisis.
— by

LeeAnn Hall

Have you ever picked up your phone to find an aggressive voice on the other end demanding payments on a debt you know nothing about? You’re far from alone.

Once you’re in the sights of a debt collector, the impact on your life can be devastating: Your wages can be garnished and your credit ruined. You might lose your driver’s license, or even your job.

And it could happen over a debt you don’t even owe.

In a recent analysis of 75,000 complaints about debt collection practices submitted to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) — just a sample of the total number — this was the most common complaint by far. Over 40 percent of people being harassed by collectors said they didn’t owe the debt in the first place.

Other complaints charged that the collectors made false statements or threats to coerce people to pay.

Man_speaking_mobile_phone_debt_collectors
Wikipedia

The government created the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, as part of the Dodd-Frank financial reform to address abusive financial practices after the 2008 financial crash and while the Congress was still in Democratic hands.  Since Republicans have taken over both Houses, they’ve tried to hobble or repealThis year, the bureau is considering strengthening rules to protect consumers from deceptive and aggressive collection practices.

Abusive collection tactics impact people with all kinds of debt — including credit card debt, medical debt, payday loans, student loans, mortgages, and automobile loans. Collectors often strike when people are most vulnerable, such as when they’re recovering from illness or desperately seeking work. They aggressively target the poor, immigrants, and people of color.

About 77 million people — or 35 percent of adults in the United States with a credit file — have a report of debt in collections. That alone makes a compelling case for the bureau to crack down on abusive tactics.

When my organization, the Alliance for a Just Society, analyzed the complaints for our new reportUnfair, Deceptive, & Abusive: Debt Collectors Profit from Aggressive Tactics — we tallied the complaints in the database and built a list of the 15 companies with the most complaints.

The list is topped by heavy-hitting debt buyers like Encore Capital Group and PRA Group, whose business models hinge on buying portfolios of consumer debts for pennies on the dollar and then wringing payments out of alleged debtors. Both of these companies more than doubled their profits from 2010 to 2014.

Major student loan servicer Navient (formerly Sallie Mae) also makes the top 15 list for complaints about its debt collection tactics.

But it’s particularly worth noting that six out of the top 15 offenders on this list are original creditors, not third-party collectors. They include Citibank, JPMorgan Chase, Capital One, Wells Fargo, Bank of America, and Synchrony Financial (the largest issuer of private label credit cards).

This is important, because the primary protection most consumers have against unfair collection tactics — the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act — applies only to third parties, not original creditors. This is a troubling double standard.

The new rules must also to apply to the original creditors — including payday lenders, credit card companies, and big banks — along with third-party collectors and debt buyers.

The rules should limit phone calls to prevent harassment and require collectors to have complete documentation before attempting to collect. The rules should prohibit selling, purchasing, and attempting to collect old, paid, or expired “zombie” debt.

Finally, the bureau should toughen the penalties for collectors breaking the rules.

Living with debt isn’t a personal failing — it’s a national crisis. The bureau needs to stand up for everyday people and put a stop to abusive collection tactics.


LeeAnn Hall is the executive director of Alliance for a Just Society, a national research, policy, and organizing network working for economic, racial, and social justice. AllianceForAJustSociety.org Distributed by OtherWords.org

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“Noble” Bill Is Nothing But Another RW Attempt to Hobble the EPA

LamarSmith
Rep. Lamar Smith, R-TX, one sponsor of the “Secret Science” bill. CREDIT: AP PHOTO/DREW ANGERER

If you can say anything about activities in the U.S. House during the 2014 lame duck session, it would begin with the word “Hobbling.”  First up in the house was HR1422, a bill to stuff “for profit” industry experts on the “scientific” board that advises the EPA and then prohibit the deposed scientific experts from saying ANYTHING regarding the results of their experience and research.  But that wasn’t enough.  Next up was HR4012, the Secret Science Reform Act of 2014.

According to the Summary on Thomas.gov:

Secret Science Reform Act of 2014 – Amends the Environmental Research, Development, and Demonstration Authorization Act of 1978 to prohibit the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from proposing, finalizing, or disseminating a covered action unless all scientific and technical information relied on to support such action is specifically identified and publicly available in a manner sufficient for independent analysis and substantial reproduction of research results. Includes as a covered action a risk, exposure, or hazard assessment, criteria document, standard, limitation, regulation, regulatory impact analysis, or guidance.

If that isn’t a classic definition of “hobbling” the EPA into a state of inability to perform their legislative responsibilities, I don’t know what is.  This bill intentionally prohibits the Environmental Protection Agency from issuing regulations.  This bill mandates that unless they release any and all information they reviewed in arriving at any need for regulation, they are prohibited from issuing said regulations.

You might think that is reasonable, but would you want your medical records published for the world to peruse and discuss publicly?  How about their Corporate master’s records, trade secrets and various other sundry industry data?  We know they’re not going to allow that to become publicly searchable data for anybody and everybody to peruse.  Thus, if they can’t publish the research data, they can’t issue any regulation that just might keep us from getting cancer from some industrial discharge, nor would they be able to ensure the water we bathe in and drink is uncontaminated by industrial toxins.

But if that isn’t enough to prevent the issuance of ANY new regulations, reliance on fewer studies and less data (since they can’t release sensitive medical data, trade secrets, etc.), litigation and Congressional hearing costs will rise, potentially exponentially.

Once again, Republicans are spitting in the wind and looking to breed fear and hatred of a regulatory agency that they themselves created during the Nixon Administration.  Sadly, they’re claiming to fix something, but in reality, they’re disingenuously hobbling EPA’s effectiveness in protecting the environment and the population at large, ALL while they worship at the alter of the almighty dollar beside their corporate masters.

OH, and did I mention they still intend to dismantle all opportunity average Americans can actually purchase affordable health care should any of them just happen to get sick from unregulated pollution and corporate toxic waste they’d be able to dump at will?

I doubt they’d be able to ram it through the Senate during the lame duck session, but if they did,  President Obama will be dusting off another VETO pen upon it’s arrival at his desk

Note: Representative Mark Amodei NV-CD2 proudly stood up and voted AYE for this shame.

Related Posts — 

Can You Hear Us Now?

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler is refusing to participate in any public hearings on Net Neutrality.

By Mary Alice Crim and Candace Clement

Mary-Alice-CrimCandace-Clement

On a recent Monday night in Brooklyn, five empty chairs stood on stage — one for each member of the Federal Communications Commission. A crowd had amassed in the room for a public hearing to send this message to the agency: Don’t hurt the open Internet.

But the commissioners’ absence sent a stronger message: We’re not listening.

The Corporate Fox in the Chicken Coop, an OtherWords cartoon by Khalil Bendib

When Corporate Foxes Mind Internet Coops, an OtherWords cartoon by Khalil Bendib

The FCC — the agency charged with regulating telecommunications — is expected to vote by the end of the year on Chairman Tom Wheeler’s plan to let Internet service providers (ISPs) offer “fast lanes” to companies that can afford to pay for speedier access.

Hundreds of businesses, organizations, and websites that rely on an open Internet have slammed the plan, which would kill Net Neutrality — the principle that requires ISPs to treat all traffic equally. Net Neutrality has made the Internet an unrivaled space for free speech, civic participation, innovation and opportunity. Without it, a few ISPs would become the gatekeepers of everything we do, say, and see online.

During the public comment period, nearly 4 million people— a record-breaking figure — weighed in on Wheeler’s plan. A whopping 99 percent of these comments oppose this proposal, according to one study.

Given the unprecedented public interest in this issue, many groups have urged the FCC to get out of Washington and host public hearings. But so far Wheeler has ignored this call.

In fact, the FCC has gone out of its way to avoid attending public gatherings like the one in Brooklyn. It’s been more than five years since all five FCC commissioners left Washington together to participate in a public hearing where anyone could testify.

These kinds of public hearings used to be commonplace for the agency, regardless of which political party was in control of Washington. But Wheeler’s FCC is different.

Instead of appearing at events with open microphones, Wheeler — a former lobbyist for the cable and wireless industries — has opted to attend industry trade shows. In fact, all five commissioners consistently attend the annual conventions of the cable, wireless, broadcasting, and electronics industries.

Yet somehow they just can’t find the time to meet with the public.

The FCC seems to fear hearing from everyday people who use the Internet to communicate, connect, learn, and survive. And while some of the commissioners have left Washington on a few occasions since Wheeler proposed his rules (Republican Commissioner Ajit Pai convened an official FCC hearing in College Station, Texas), the chairman himself has been absent from any public events on Net Neutrality.

“This is a real inflection point for us as a society,” says former FCC Commissioner Michael Copps, who attended dozens of public hearings during his decade in office and spoke at the event in Brooklyn. “The decisions they’re going to make between now and the end of the year are probably the most important that the FCC is going to make in a generation.”

The commissioners, Copps concludes, shouldn’t vote “until they get out of the Beltway and listen to the people who have to live with the results of their decisions.”

As the clock ticks down to a final FCC vote — which could happen as soon as December — the question looms large: Where is Tom Wheeler? And why won’t he meet with the people he’s supposed to serve?

Candace Clement is the Internet campaign director for Free Press and Mary Alice Crim is the organization’s field director. FreePress.net
Distributed via OtherWords

If This is What it Means to be “Conservative” — I’m Proudly a Bleeding Heart Liberal

Clearly, members of the GOP in the House are all about looking for ways to handicap ANY organization tasked with performing regulatory actions that might impede their ideological plans for the future of the United States of Republica.  A case in point is this recent  press release from Representative Amodei’s office.  My comments are in blue italics at various points throughout his release.  Some original text has been highlight in RED for emphasis.

Amodei: Appropriations Financial Services bill reins in IRS, ACA and Dodd Frank

Wednesday June 18, 2014

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                 Contact:    Brian Baluta, 202-225-6155

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The House Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Subcommittee today passed its fiscal year 2015 bill, which would provide annual funding for the Treasury Department, the Judiciary, the Small Business Administration, the Securities and Exchange Commission and several other agencies.

The bill totals $21.3 billion in funding for these agencies, which is $566 million below the fiscal year 2014 enacted level and $2.3 billion below the president’s request for these programs.The legislation prioritizes programs critical to enforcing laws, maintaining an effective judiciary system and helping small businesses, while targeting lower-priority or poor-performing programs – such as the Internal Revenue Service – for reductions.

Well now, that makes just a ton of sense.  IRS is tasked with collecting revenue necessary for the operation of various government operations … so let’s under fund them so we can then make a scapegoat of them when they can no longer effectively perform their regulatory and tax-collecting functions.

“Every day, I am asked, ‘Why don’t you do something?’ This bill ‘does something’ by removing funding from executive agencies that have become political tools of the administration,” said Amodei.   

Bill highlights:

Internal Revenue Service (IRS)– Included in the bill is $10.95 billion for the IRS – a cut of $341 million below the fiscal year 2014 enacted level and $1.5 billion below the President’s budget request. This will bring the agency’s budget below the sequester level and below the level that was in place in fiscal year 2008. This funding level is sufficient for the IRS to perform its core duties, including taxpayer services and the proper collection of funds, but will require the agency to streamline and make better use of its budget.

Interesting! They continually carp about the IRS not providing for an EMAIL BACKUP strategy as part of their business plan. Server BACKUPs are NOT FREE!  How much more will they stop BACKING UP because they no longer have sufficient funding to do their tax collection duties, let alone ancillary functions like BACKUPS, SYSTEM UPDATES, SOFTWARE IMPROVEMENTS, etc.?

In addition, due to the inappropriate actions by the IRS in targeting groups that hold certain political beliefs, as well as its previous improper use of taxpayer funds, the bill includes the following provisions:

Here we go again, perpetuating the falsehood that ONLY right-wing political groups were scrutinized, when it was actually liberal groups that were denied with some that had already been given tax-exempt status seeing that status revoked (e.g., EmergeAmerica affiliated groups).  NO politically-focused groups should be receiving TAX-EXEMPT 501(c)(4) status, PERIOD!

A prohibition on a proposed regulation related to political activities and the tax-exempt status of 501(c)(4) organizations. The proposed regulation could jeopardize the tax-exempt status of many non-profit organizations and inhibit citizens from exercising their right to freedom of speech, simply because they may be involved in political activity.

Sorry, but I don’t get to deduct my “freedom of speech” contributions to political endeavors.  Thus, NO politically-focused organizations should be able to have a free of tax right to free speech at the American Taxpayer’s expense!

A prohibition on funds for bonuses or awards unless employee conduct and tax compliance are given consideration.

A prohibition on funds for the IRS to target groups for regulatory scrutiny based on their ideological beliefs.

Congress passed a law that clearly states that to be considered 501(c)(4) organization, your activities must be EXCLUSIVELY-FOCUSED on “Social Welfare” activities.  Politically-focused activities are NOT social-welfare activities and thus, it IS the IRS’s responsibility to scrutinize and deny tax-exempt status to ANY organization (conservative, liberal or otherwise) not meeting that exclusivity provision.

A prohibition on funds for the IRS to target individuals for exercising their First Amendment rights.

More BS related to the previous proviso — the IRS is NOT prohibiting ANYONE from exercising their free speech.  The IRS is merely and rightfully determining whether a group is a group exclusively devoted to providing SOCIAL-WELFARE opportunities/activities and thus, whether that group is entitled to TAX-EXEMPT status!

A prohibition on funding for the production of inappropriate videos and conferences.

Really?  Oh, please, pray tell, what “inappropriate videos” might it be that the IRS is producing?

A prohibition on funding for the White House to order the IRS to determine the tax-exempt status of an organization.

Again, if you want to allow any organization wanting to conduct EXCLUSIVELY politically focused activities to never have to pay taxes, well then, you need to REPEAL the law that PROHIBITS them from being tax exempt!  You cannot have a LAW on the books that says one thing and then prohibit the IRS, which is responsible for administering that section of the law, from enforcing it!

A requirement for extensive reporting on IRS spending.

Affordable Care Act (ACA) –The bill also includes provisions to stop the IRS from further implementing ObamaCare, including a prohibition on any transfers of funding from the Department of Health and Human Services to the IRS for ObamaCare uses, and a prohibition on funding for the IRS to implement an individual insurance mandate on the American people.

Well, let’s see.  We elected President Obama and a Democratic Congress to get health care reform. Then, the Republican propaganda machine bought a Republican House.  Despite their efforts to gerry-rig the system, we still re-elected President Obama. Health care reform is one of the hardest things we’ve ever worked on. But no matter, they just keep trying to either LIE ABOUT REPEAL or DEFUND access to healthcare for the American People despite its need or popularity.

Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC)– Included in the bill is $1.4 billion for the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), which is $50 million above the fiscal year 2014 enacted level and $300 million below the President’s budget request. The increase in funds is targeted specifically toward critical information technology initiatives. The legislation also includes a prohibition on the SEC spending any money out of its “reserve fund” – essentially a slush fund for the SEC to use without any congressional oversight.

In addition, the legislation contains requirements for the Administration to report to Congress on the cost and regulatory burdens of the Dodd-Frank Act, and a prohibition on funding to require political donation information in SEC filings.

My my, lookie here — looks like an increase in funding.  But wait, isn’t this the organization that’s supposed to regulate Wall Street?  It’s a shame that the increase in funding is just for a bit of information technology so they can determine how their GOP-Donor base is affected by any sort of regulation.  It’s also despicable that they’ve included a proviso that PROHIBITS any reporting of information as to Corporate political donations.  If you and I donate, our freedom of speech is broadcast for all to see … but the Republican Donor-base has a special privileged secreted freedom of speech.  Apparently the Republicans believe their Donors are free to speak with their Dollars, but the general American public is underserving of being able to speak with their dollars in response.

Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB)– The bill includes a provision to change the funding source for the CFPB from the Federal Reserve to the congressional appropriations process, starting in fiscal year 2016. Currently, funding for this agency is provided by mandatory spending and is not subject to annual congressional review. This change will allow for increased accountability and transparency of the agency’s activities and use of tax dollars. The legislation also requires extensive reporting on CFPB activities.

The Republicans have done EVERYTHING conceivably possible to handicap, repeal, defund and decapitate the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).  This is yet their latest attempt to defund and cripple any and all Consumer financial protection at the behest of their Donor-base.

Moving to Cleaner Energy — Letting the Sun Shine In

Why would the ALEC network of state-level lobbyists want to make solar energy cost-prohibitive for homeowners and businesses?

By Isaiah J. Poole

Isaiah_Poole

Now the Koch brothers are coming after my solar panels.

I had solar panels installed on the roof of our Washington, D.C. home this year. My household took advantage of a generous tax incentive from the District government and a creative leasing deal offered by the solar panel seller.

 

Our electric bills fell by at least a third. When people make this choice, the regional electric company grows less pressured to spend money to expand generating capacity and the installation business creates good local jobs. Customers who use solar energy also reduce carbon emissions.

caf-alec-Brookhaven National LaboratoryWhat’s not to love?

According to the American Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative network better known as ALEC, our solar panels make us “free riders.” What?

Yes, according to ALEC, an organization that specializes in getting the right-wing agenda written into state laws, people like me who invest in energy-efficiency and shrinking our carbon footprints ought to be penalized.

Why does ALEC want us punished? Since it’s bankrolled by, among others, the billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch, it’s hard not to surmise that they’re worried about a threat to fossil fuels businesses. Koch Industries’ operations include refineries, oil and natural gas pipelines, and petrochemicals

That’s no conspiracy theory. Recently the British newspaper The Guardian wrote about the assault on solar panels as part of a broader exposé on ALEC.

John Eick, the legislative analyst for ALEC’s energy, environment and agriculture program, confirmed to The Guardian that the organization would support making solar panel users pay extra for the electricity they generate. That’s already about to happen in Arizona, where homeowners who use solar panels will pay an average of about $5 extra a month for the privilege, starting in January.

The solar power industry called the new rule a victory only because power companies in the state were demanding assessments of as much as $100 a month — more than high enough to deter families from considering switching to solar.

Making solar energy cost-prohibitive for homeowners and businesses is part of a larger ALEC objective, affirmed at its recent annual meeting, to continue its effort to eliminate state renewable energy mandates.

According to meeting minutes, ALEC has already succeeded in getting legislation introduced in 15 states to “reform, freeze, or repeal their state’s renewable mandate.” ALEC lobbyists are pushing policies through states that will speed up climate change and increase pollution. They’re threatening the renewable energy industry, which is already creating new jobs and saving money for homeowners and businesses.

Without the current policy paralysis in Washington and a lack of bold, creative thinking about how to build a new, green economy at the national level, they wouldn’t be making so much headway.

My organization, Institute for America’s Future — together with the Center for American Progress and the BlueGreen Alliance — recently published a report that shows what’s at stake with ALEC’s destructive agenda.

Our “green industrial revolution” report recommends tying together a series of regional solutions that take advantage of the unique assets of each part of the country, such as the abundance of sun in the West and the wind off the Atlantic coast, into a cohesive whole.

These regional strategies would be supported by smart federal policies, such as establishing a price for carbon emissions and a national clean energy standard, creating certainty and stability in the alternative energy tax credit market, and providing strong support for advanced energy manufacturing.

This is the way to unleash the kind of innovation and job creation our economy — and our rapidly warming planet — desperately needs.

My solar panels are the envy of my block and I wish more of my neighbors will be able to make the same choice I did. But they won’t if fossil-fuel dinosaurs like the Koch brothers and right-wing organizations like the American Legislative Exchange Council keep casting their dark clouds on efforts to build a clean energy future.

It’s time for them to step aside and let the sun shine in.


Isaiah J. Poole is the editor of OurFuture.org, the website of the Campaign for America’s Future. OurFuture.org.  Photo credit to:  Brookhaven National Laboratory/Flickr,  Distributed via OtherWords. OtherWords.org

Cleaning Up Campaign Finance to Save the Environment

The assault on our democracy is a bigger problem than the temporary closure of national parks.

By Michael Brune

Michael Brune

America’s best idea is in trouble, and I don’t mean our national parks. Yes, our parks were closed, which was a crushing disappointment for millions of would-be visitors and an economic gut-punch for neighboring communities — to the tune of $76 million dollars a day.

But what’s really under attack is something even older than our national park system: our democracy.

Image courtesy of Oil Change International

How did we reach a point where one fraction of one party that controls one chamber of Congress would drive our government into the ground if it doesn’t get everything its members want? ‘This shutdown is like a firefighter standing on the hose to stop the rest of the company from putting out a blaze until he gets a million-dollar raise — all while the building burns.

We didn’t get here by accident. It’s the result of a systematic attack on basic democratic principles by a handful of people who have no interest in a functioning democracy. While there is no excuse, there is an explanation.

It starts with big money. The Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision opened the floodgates for a tidal wave of corrupting corporate money into our system. But where is the money coming from and where is it going?

Huge amounts are from polluter-backed groups, which spent more than $270 million on television ads in just two months of the 2012 election — and that explains why Congress has taken more than 300 votes attacking clean air and water. The same people who are poisoning our democracy are also determined to poison our environment. It’s no surprise that 80 percent of Americans agree that political money is preventing our most important challenges from being addressed.

At the same time, special interest groups are spending millions to keep anyone who disagrees with them away from the polls and out of office. No sooner did the Supreme Court gut a key part of the Voting Rights Act, that state houses with Republican majorities pushed through suppressive legislation to keep young people, seniors, students, and people of color away from the polls. It’s no coincidence that those are the same citizens who have voted against them.

These challenges have led the Sierra Club to team up with the NAACP, Communications Workers of America, and Greenpeace to form the Democracy Initiative. Our goal is to build a movement to halt the corrupting influence of corporate money in politics, prevent the manipulation and suppression of voters, and address other obstacles to significant reform.

Challenges to our democracy might get even worse. We’re fighting a frightening Supreme Court challenge to campaign finance limits that would allow individuals to write million dollar checks to buy influence, brought to the court by Shaun McCutcheon — a coal company CEO.

Only about 1,200 people came close to reaching the spending limits McCutcheon wants overturned — and a good number of them are oil, gas, and coal executives, from the sectors that directly contributed $40 million in 2012. Give them free rein to write whatever size of a check they want, and we’ll see that number skyrocket.

The faster that money pours in, the quicker the voices of ordinary Americans are drowned out. We can’t let that happen. And we won’t. They may have millions of dollars, but we have millions of people. And, thanks to efforts like the Democracy Initiative, we are organizing and coming together to make sure our voices are heard.

If we want to see more shutdowns and debt crises, then we should maintain the status quo. If we want more attacks on our air, water, and climate, then all we need to do is turn away in disgust at the political posturing. But if we want to restore a democracy that works for Americans and will preserve a healthy planet for future generations, it’s time to stand up and fight back.


Michael Brune is the executive director of the Sierra Club, the largest grassroots environmental organization in the United States. SierraClub.org. Image courtesy of Oil Change International. Distributed via OtherWords (OtherWords.org)

A License to Kill

Without environmental regulations, many companies would gladly poison you to earn bigger profits.

David ReingoldRegulations stink, right? Lots of politicians run on promises that they’ll get rid of them to make way for an economic boom.

Well, have you ever considered what our world would look like without regulations?

In the early 20th century, almost all paint contained lead. Despite many reports documenting the dangers of lead exposure, especially on children, the lead industry did nothing about it. Indeed, it responded by establishing an organization that countered bad publicity with campaigns like an ad depicting Santa Claus encouraging children to paint toys with lead paint. The companies also refused to put labels on their products warning parents not to paint toys and cribs with that toxic product.

matthileo/Flickr

In the 1950s, it took local and state health officials to make the case that lead paint should be banned for interior use. The lead industry fought vigorously against that ban, which we now take for granted. Without regulation, paint would still have lead in it, and our kids would still be dying and suffering from brain damage because of it.

Historians Gerald Markowitz and David Rosner teamed up to document this shameful tale in Deceit and Denial: The Deadly Politics of Industrial PollutionTheir book also tracks a second case of industrial foot-dragging, which involved vinyl chloride. That’s the ever-present stuff that PVC pipes, vinyl siding, and many toys are made from. The plastics industry first learned of animal studies in Italy suggesting that vinyl chloride caused cancer in 1970, but manufacturers hid this information from the public, the government, and their own workers for several years.

When the government found out, regulators proposed that the plastics industry lower the allowed level of exposure to vinyl chloride in its factories. The industry fought that logical measure, claiming that to lower exposure to the suggested levels would cost $90 billion and result in plant closings, job losses, price increases and massive economic dislocation, Markowitz and Rosner wrote. Government regulators overrode those concerns and lowered the permissible exposure level in 1975. The industry quickly found ways to comply with this new standard for less than $300 million, and none of those dire predictions came true. Those plastics manufacturers would never have done it on their own.

The stages of industrial denial are always the same:

  1. X is perfectly safe.
  2. Well, there’s evidence that X might cause some problems, but there’s no proof, and it could be something else.
  3. OK, X is harmful, but it’s irreplaceable.
  4. Well, there’s something else we could use instead, but it would be soooo expensive to change, and it would ruin our business and everyone associated with it.
  5. A new product comes out that’s better and cheaper than the old one.

Whenever you hear of someone making those claims, whether it’s about fossil-fueled climate change, illness-causing fireproofing additives in furniture, pesticides suspected of making bees die off, the potentially hormone-disrupting antibacterial agents in your soap, or anything else, get skeptical.

Although there certainly are cases where chemicals suspected of being harmful ultimately prove harmless, companies almost always deny the claim that their product is dangerous.

Just remember, in a truly free market, many companies would gladly poison you to earn bigger profits. Predictions of dire consequences if we impose regulations, or benefits if we remove them, rarely come true. And anyone advocating the outright elimination of the Environmental Protection Agency, as several Republican presidential candidates did in our last election, is essentially saying they want to grant corporate America a license to kill.


David Reingold, a retired chemistry professor at Juniata College in Huntingdon, Pennsylvania, now lives in Portland, Oregon. Distributed via OtherWords (OtherWords.org) Photo credit to matthileo/Flickr

No Progress on Gun Control to Report

Gun lobbies have our legislature of cowardly lions in their teeth.

Donald Kaul— by Donald Kaul

Yes, I know I said I wasn’t going to write any more columns on gun control, largely because the exercise is (a) futile, (b) a waste of time, and (c) unproductive.

  • But with Congress taking up the issue again and Washington awash with hypocrisy amid rumors of progress, it is a time that cries out for comment.

Progress? Seriously? The Senate has agreed to debate the issue. That’s the progress?

That’s pathetic!

The gun lobbies have our legislature of cowardly lions in their teeth and are shaking them like ragdolls. God, it must be awful to be a politician, particularly a Republican, these days — afraid of your own shadow, being forced by bullying lobbyists to stand there and smile while they shove beans up your nose.

Our government has reached a stage of dysfunction not seen since the 1850s, when Congress was guiding us toward civil war.

image

When the Berlin Wall fell in 1989 and the Soviet Union followed suit, we became the most powerful nation on earth, virtually unchallenged in our supremacy.

And how did we use that power? To become stupid. We gave ourselves over to greed, jingoistic militarism, and anti-intellectualism. Now, far from being the most powerful nation on earth, we’re unable to do anything.

We can’t regulate gun sales, we can’t do anything about unemployment, we can’t even decide whether to pay our bills. And as far as building roads and bridges, investing in our kids, providing people with health care…fuhgeddaboudit.

There was a time, not so long ago, when you could say “People shouldn’t be allowed to own machine guns” and not start a riot over what constitutes a machine gun. You could say “People should be required to obtain licenses in order to own a gun” and get nods of encouragement rather than abusive mail.

No more. We’re paralyzed by the ersatz arguments you’re hearing from the Senate right now.

My least favorite among them is the “Cars kill a lot more people than guns. Are you going to ban those too?”

No, we’ll simply continue to license them and make people pass a test before they can use them — as we should be doing with guns.

My second-least favorite argument: The mythical little old lady who would be left defenseless before an intruder climbing in through her bedroom window. Do we want to leave her to her fate?

No, but she’s an unusual little old lady indeed if she shoots the miscreant with an AK-47. Say “assault weapons ban” to a gun nut and he or she immediately switches the debate to handguns.

Not that handguns are all they’re cracked up to be.

Joe Nocera of The New York Times publishes a “gun report” on his blog, each day listing the previous day’s shootings throughout the nation.

A six-year-old boy is shot to death by his four-year-old neighbor in New Jersey, a three-year-old in South Carolina finds a gun in his home and manages to kill himself, a 20-year-old shoots and kills his sister’s boyfriend while showing him a gun, a 44-year-old man is fatally shot by his son while sitting on his front porch in Texas, a 21-year-old shoots his five-month-old son with a rifle in Utah, a 13-year-old is executed gangland style by a bullet in the back of the head in Texas. On and on it goes, children shooting their parents, parents their children, innocent bystanders cut down by crossfire, suicides, murders, accidents…all in the name of the right to bear arms.

Very, very, very few anybodies who shoot intruders coming through their windows are mentioned. And none of those intruders use assault rifles.


OtherWords columnist Donald Kaul lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan. OtherWords.org

Related Post:

Joe Nocera’s Daily “Gun Report”

Close the Gun Show Loophole

Some weapons are too dangerous for civilian use.

— by Elizabeth Rose, Communications Director, Campaign for America’s Future

Elizabeth Rose

Dozens of Americans will be murdered, hundreds of others will be shot, and nearly 1,000 will be robbed or assaulted with a gunTODAY.

The United States has some of the weakest gun laws in the world. To make us, our families, and our communities safer, we need to beef up a few of those laws — now.

As President Barack Obama has urged, Congress should vote soon on common-sense gun laws that will keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people. Sensible steps include requiring a criminal background check for every gun sale, making gun trafficking a federal crime, and banning the military-style assault weapon that killed so many people in Newtown on December 14.

It’s madness to allow guns to be sold to felons with a history of gun violence or to the mentally ill. That’s why current law requires that no gun can be sold by a licensed gun dealer without a criminal background check. But millions of guns are sold by unlicensed sellers at gun shows and through websites with no background checks. We need to strengthen current law to cover all gun sales. The few minutes it takes to complete a computerized check would save lives.

NRA-education-cartoon

NRA Lesson Plan, an OtherWords cartoon by Khalil Bendib

The federal background check law has blocked more than 1.5 million illegal gun sales over the past 14 years. It works. The problem is that the law doesn’t apply to private sales, so the bad guys (and gals) can avoid a background check and get any kind of gun, no questions asked.

Both the International Association of Chiefs of Police and the national Fraternal Order of Police have endorsed mandatory, universal background checks because they know they will save lives. It’s time to close the gun show loophole.

I support the Second Amendment. Even gun owners overwhelmingly favor requiring a criminal background check of anyone purchasing a gun. It will lead to fewer firearm deaths.

Some weapons are too dangerous for civilian use. That’s why the federal government imposed taxes and strict regulations on the manufacturing and distribution of sawed-off shotguns, silencers, very high-caliber firearms, grenades, and bombs nearly 80 years ago. Military-style assault weapons — like the one used to murder defenseless children and educators in Newtown — are versions of military weapons that are designed for rapid fire. They’re weapons of war, and like machine guns, extremely dangerous. We’d be safer without them.

And hunters and sportspeople don’t use these weapons to kill game. Rapid fire is contrary to the whole point of the sport. In the decade that the federal ban on assault weapons was in effect, the percentage of assault weapons traced to crime fell by 66 percent. The ban worked.

Some gun accessories should be outlawed. High-capacity ammunition magazines are designed to shoot a lot of people, quickly. There is no hunting or sporting purpose for these magazines — and that was a major reason for the ban on them between 1994 and 2004. Just like silencers, high-capacity magazines are simply too dangerous for sale to civilians.

The Tucson massacre is a good example. Rep. Gabby Giffords’ shooter had an ammunition magazine with 31 bullets. He was tackled after he shot out his clip and was trying to reload. If the magazine had only 10 rounds, a lot of lives could have been saved.

Let’s work together. Let’s ask our leaders to prevent the next mentally ill person from going to a gun show and buying an automatic weapon with a huge magazine without getting a background check. The police chiefs are asking for this.

What is Washington waiting for?


Elizabeth Rose is the communications director for the Campaign for America’s Future, an organization that promotes progressive policies. Distributed via OtherWords. OtherWords.org