News of the Good
I think I need a little good news, so here goes:
• A Senate Judiciary Subcommittee heard debate yesterday on a bill to cap credit card fees for people in bankruptcy.
Under current law, people filing for chapters 7 and 13 bankruptcy protection are obligated to pay credit card balances along with secured debts, such as house and auto loans. The measure is aimed at punishing credit card companies that raise their interest rates to a high level and at giving consumers who may be on the verge of bankruptcy greater leverage to negotiate better deals with those lenders.
The bill, introduced in January by Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.), is another weapon the government is wielding against exorbitant rates charged by credit card companies. New regulations issued by the Federal Reserve targeting predatory lending practices are scheduled to go into effect next year.
Tom Geoghegan has a great article on how unlimited interest rates destroyed the economy at Harper's; unfortunately it's not online and only in the magazine. He correctly labels what the credit card industry is doing as usury, which used to be a crime for, oh, 5,000 years, but which is now accepted. This money suck from debtors to creditors fattens the financial services industry and causes bubbles and speculation. It's high time we did something about it. This is good.
• The Obama Administration's Justice Department will release Bush-era torture memos, over CIA objection.
Over objections from the U.S. intelligence community, the White House is moving to declassify—and publicly release—three internal memos that will lay out, for the first time, details of the "enhanced" interrogation techniques approved by the Bush administration for use against "high value" Qaeda detainees. The memos, written by Justice Department lawyers in May 2005, provide the legal rationale for waterboarding, head slapping and other rough tactics used by the CIA. One senior Obama official, who like others interviewed for this story requested anonymity because of the issue's sensitivity, said the memos were "ugly" and could embarrass the CIA. Other officials predicted they would fuel demands for a "truth commission" on torture.
While Obama's record on civil liberties is mixed thus far, on transparency and disclosure he has done quite a good job. The argument between Obama and Dick Cheney over the weekend was not an argument about detention, necessarily; it was an argument about torture. And the truth will come out. This is good.
• The EPA will review mountaintop mining projects which do great harm to the environment.
Dozens of mountaintop coal-mining permits will be reviewed for their potential impacts on streams and wetlands, the Environmental Protection Agency said Tuesday in breaking with Bush administration policy.
Announced by EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, the move targets a controversial practice by coal mining companies that blasts away whole peaks and sends mining waste into streams and wetlands. It does not apply to existing mines, but to requests for new permits, a number estimated to be as high as 200.
I wish it were retroactive, but I'll take it. Mountaintop mining is a horrific practice and steps should be taken to stop it. This is good.
• Sen. Dick Durbin is introducing his public financing bill once again.
After the most expensive campaign cycle in U.S. history, a bipartisan group of lawmakers will introduce legislation this week to create an ambitious voluntary public campaign financing system that would ban contributions from lobbyists and place strict limits on other sources of campaign cash.
Under the proposed overhaul of campaign finance law, candidates would be prohibited from accepting donations from registered federal lobbyists but would receive public matching money for contributions from people in their communities. Advocates of the "Fair Elections Now" measure said the system would weaken the predominance of special interests in politics.
A lot of times, politicians offer "reform" that would do little or nothing to reform anything. This is an exception. Public financing is a proven technique, in Arizona, in Maine, in various municipal elections, to reduce the influence of money in politics. This is good (though I'm not hopeful, despite it being sponsored by members of both parties, that it will be successful).
• A federal judge paved the way for the dispensation of the morning-after pill to girls younger than 18.
U.S. District Judge Edward R. Korman in New York instructed the agency to make Plan B available to 17-year-olds within 30 days and to review whether to make the emergency contraceptive available to all ages without a doctor's order.
In his 52-page decision, Korman repeatedly criticized the FDA's handling of the issue, agreeing with allegations in a lawsuit that the decision was "arbitrary and capricious" and influenced by "political and ideological" considerations imposed by the Bush administration.
"These political considerations, delays and implausible justifications for decision-making are not the only evidence of a lack of good faith and reasoned agency decision-making," he wrote. "Indeed, the record is clear that the FDA's course of conduct regarding Plan B departed in significant ways from the agency's normal procedures regarding similar applications to switch a drug from prescription to non-prescription use."
The common argument from the right is that the ability to obtain Plan B will cause promiscuity. Plan B causes nausea and temporary bodily harm, which nobody seek out, and besides nobody on earth thinks that way. What will happen is a decrease in the unwanted teenage pregnancy rate, which is desired by most, and an enhancement of free choice for women. This is good.
Now, some may say that none of this matters, and Obama's taxpayer giveaway to the banks will destroy the country, and overall he's a very bad person. But tell that to the 17 year-old who now can rectify her bad situation, or the residents who get sick from living next to the mountaintop removal mine, etc.