Sunday, February 19, 2006

L.A. Times exposes consumer protection gutting in budget

As I read the L.A. Times this morning over my meal break at work (I had an early shift), I saw a story that stunned me yet again.

Industries get quiet protection from lawsuits

See, it turns out that hidden in the budget is lawsuit immunity for all sorts of industries if they agree to add government mandated safety features.  This means that if they screw it up, do it on the cheap, or if those measures fail, they cannot be held accountable.

Here's the lede from the story:

Near sunrise on a summer morning in 2001, Patrick Parker of Childress, Texas, swerved to avoid a deer and rolled his pickup truck.

The roof of the Ford F-250 crumpled, and Parker didn't stand a chance. His neck broke and, at 37, he was paralyzed from the chest down. He sued, and Ford Motor Co. settled for an undisclosed amount.

"You can imagine what happens when you're belted in and the roof comes down even with the door," Parker said. "Your options are death or quadriplegia."

Parker's case and hundreds like it are behind a beefed-up roof safety standard proposed in August by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. But safety regulators tucked into the proposed rule something vehicle makers have long desired: protection from future roof-crush lawsuits like the one Parker filed.

The surprise move seeking legal protection for automakers is one in a series of recent steps by federal agencies to shield leading industries from state regulation and civil lawsuits on the grounds that they conflict with federal authority.

Some of these efforts are already facing court challenges. However, through arcane regulatory actions and legal opinions, the Bush administration is providing industries with an unprecedented degree of protection at the expense of an individual's right to sue and a state's right to regulate.

In other moves by the administration:

  •  The highway safety agency, a branch of the Department of Transportation, is backing auto industry efforts to stop California and other states from regulating tailpipe emissions they link to global warming. The agency said last summer that any such rule would be a backdoor attempt by states to encroach on federal authority to set mileage standards, and should be preempted.

  •  The Justice Department helped industry groups overturn a pollution-control rule in Southern California that would have required cleaner-running buses, garbage trucks and other fleet vehicles.

  •  The U.S. Office of the Comptroller of the Currency has repeatedly sided with national banks to fend off enforcement of consumer protection laws passed by California, New York and other states. The agency argued that it had sole authority to regulate national banks, preempting state restrictions.

  •  The Food and Drug Administration issued a legal opinion last month asserting that FDA-approved labels should give pharmaceutical firms broad immunity from most types of lawsuits. The agency previously had filed briefs seeking dismissal of various cases against drug companies and medical-device manufacturers.

This means, for all of my fellow Californians out there, our smoggy asses can't get no relief now because the government is moving to end all smog control regulations, therefore ruining our local ecology as the problem worsens, massively increasing lung cancer and asthma cases (mine has been pretty bad lately), and probably creating our own ozone hole, right above L.A.  All for a buck, right?

Furthermore, states should have the right to regulate these issues.  Montana or Wyoming doesn't have smog issues. L.A. does.  So do other big cities.  Therefore, we have a need to more strictly regulate emissions here than they do in Big Sky country.

Emissions control has nothing to do with mileage standards.  California isn't trying to override CAFE standards.  Californians just want to breathe easier, and I mean that literally.  Smog is awful, and it's killing us, and of course, el president estupido is just checking the wallets of his buddies.

And pharmaceutical companies, already raking in money hand over fist, getting protection because they were FDA-approved?  So, the FDA misses something, and we're just SOL?  What if the FDA is bribed or pressured?  After Abramoff, can we just trust government officials?  These people torpedoed Plan B for OTC use on religious grounds, despite the objections of the scientific (i.e. reality-based) group saying it was a perfectly safe drug to dispense.  It's not like the FDA is truly independent anymore, not under the Bushies.

And states can't regulate banks now either?  If a bank rips you off or uses predatory lending practices, a state can't look out for your interests?  Tell me, what kind of rules do these sound like? Are these conservative rules, or corporate money going in pockets rules?  And no, I don't trust a lot of this Congress to look out for us, because they passed the biggest sham to consumer rights in a long time with the bankruptcy bill last year.  

Conservatives want a smaller federal government, and this isn't it.  This is the federal government stomping all over states, something the 1994 GOP recoiled at.  That GOP is gone, replaced by a bunch of corrupt fools, and it's Democrats in the West and South who picked up the mantle of states' rights, and it's Democrats who can reform this travesty.  Corporations get tax breaks from here to Mars because of offshore havens.  One building in Grand Cayman has over 16,000 corporations registered there to avoid U.S. taxes, and they deserve protection?  No.  The government should first focus on holding these "Benedict Arnolds" (to steal a Kerry phrase </shudder>) responsible for dodging the taxes they owe from money made off of America.  They should not be getting more protection from the government, because they've been ripping it off.

But, wait.  We're in Bush's America, and corporations rule! </snark>

Ladies and gentlemen, if you are not at least irritated by this, then you simply don't care about the quality of your life in twenty years.  I tell you, Republicans either don't know or bury their heads in the sand at the direction their party is taking them.  Our economy is going to tank if we don't fix it, and with corporate giveaways abound, no fix appears imminent on the horizon.  This is just one more reason why Democrats must retake Congress this year.


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