Saving America from itself

The federal government must rein in corporate criminals
By EDITORIAL  |  May 5, 2010


The nation’s inability to regulate the corporate class is bringing death, destruction, and economic ruin.

It has been painfully clear for a number of years that the federal government needs to protect citizens and communities from the reckless conduct and destructive behavior of profit-crazed big business.

Massey Energy Company is a poster child for such corporate indifference to life. Massey owns the Upper Big Branch mine in Montcoal, West Virginia, where 29 miners died last month.

Regulators cited Upper Big Branch 1342 times since 2005. In March alone, Upper Big Branch was cited more than 50 times, 12 of which were for ventilation inadequacies of the sort that led to the recent deaths.

The 29 dead West Virginia miners have been superseded in the public’s consciousness by the oil spill off the coast of Louisiana, which BP officials yesterday told Congress could increase tenfold, potentially spilling up to 60,000 barrels of oil each day into the Gulf of Mexico and threatening an ever-expanding area that may extend to the Florida Keys. Before the spill is cleaned up, it will undermine — maybe even destroy — the economies of at least five states, some of which still are trying to shake off the effects of Hurricane Katrina.

Drilling for offshore oil is a risky business, which is why most nations require responsible safety measures. The United State does not. That is reportedly thanks to former vice-president Dick Cheney. Cheney’s top-secret energy task force is said to have decided that $500,000 remote-control cut-off switches that minimize the damage of spills — such as the one now polluting the Gulf — were just too expensive.

There is a sick and perverse sort of justice in this. The Gulf States are rock-ribbed in their support of Republican candidates, so their man Cheney may have given them just what they deserve. The shame of it is that so many who did not support Cheney must suffer as well.

The needless death of miners in the name of greed is heartbreaking. The despoilment of the majestic Gulf of Mexico as a side product of minimizing the overhead costs of oil exploration provokes nausea. But they are hardly the only examples of corporate malfeasance affecting America.

It is simply mind-boggling that there has been no reform to the banking, investment, and trading systems that collapsed more than 18 months ago, spawning the most severe economic crisis in a lifetime.

Early signs suggest attempts to rein in the banks, insurance companies, and various sorts of hedge funds will meet with limited success. Protecting consumers from monopoly hucksters, however, will be more difficult.

Too many Democrats have taken too much Wall Street money to be as aggressive as they ought to be. And too many Republicans, who have taken even more Wall Street lucre, are willing to sell out their constituents. Even liberal investment icon Warren Buffett does not get it. Buffett’s statements in defense of Goldman Sachs are no more than self-serving justifications by a man who has billions invested in Goldman, as well as in other financial institutions engaged in the same predatory financial shenanigans. He may be the financial world’s Wizard of Oz, but his defense of those transactions reveals him to be a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

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