Sunday, February 26, 2006

Even the NRA Supports Speech Regulation

Those who oppose regulation often forget (or ignore) the fact that a large amount of regulation is supported by (often requested by) business groups and other groups generally "anti-regulation".

The National Rifle Association usually opposes regulations concerning firearms. The NRA claims to support free speech, opposing campaign finance regulations that would limit their advertising and support for politicians that take their views.

But how strong is the NRA's opposition to statutory limits on speech? The NRA supports a Virginia bill that would prevent a doctor or other health professional from asking a patient about firearms except in the case of a gun injury or if the patient asks the professional about gun safety. For example, a pediatrician might want to remind parents to keep firearms locked up around children. A mental health professional interviewing a young person who had shown signs of possible violent behavior if the young person had access to guns or used guns.

If you don’t like for your doctor to ask about gun safety, why can’t you just either refuse to answer or find another doctor. Isn’t a “speech code” for health professionals just as much a restriction on freedom of speech as campaign finance regulations”

Is this restriction on doctor-patient communications necessary for the public health and safety?

The Volokh Conspiracy has more.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Does Competition Prevent the Need for Regulation?

One of the objections to regulation is that free market competition prevents the need for regulation. In some cases, this may be true. In a monopoly market, such as electric, gas, cable, and telephone service when there is only one provider for a service, the government not only selects the company that is allowed to provide the service but sets the rates for the service. For example, only one company strings power lines down the street in any particular area. We don’t want multiple power lines in our neighborhoods. Because this is a monopoly, the government (in most cases, states) set the rates that can be charged.

But what about regulations concerning consumer protection when there is competition. The Federal Communications Commission is now proposing regulations that, among other things, would protect certain consumer information that broadband internet services (such as cable companies) obtain from customers. In opposing the regulations, Time Warner, owner of AOL and provider of Road Runner broadband access in many areas, claims that privacy protection regulation is unnecessary due to competition.

According to Time Warner, in their comments to the FCC:
Broadband service providers currently operate in a marketplace in which consumers expect providers to make their privacy policies available on their websites. In fact, some ISPs compete on the basis of their privacy policies, and experience has shown that ISPs that fail to protect their customers’ privacy risk incurring their wrath and driving them to an alternative provider that takes privacy more seriously.

Time Warner seems to be saying that when we select a broadband internet service (usually a choice between the cable company and the phone company’s DSL service) we look at the privacy policy and decide which service we want based, in part, on those privacy statements.

I looked for Time Warner’s privacy statement. It is found at a small link on the bottom of their home page (, linking to that leads to a statement of approximately 3000 words. By scrolling more than half way down the page you find the statement "Unless you object, the Cable Act also permits Cable Operators to disclose personally identifiable information to others, such as advertisers and direct mail or telemarketers, for non-cable related purposes." (emphasis added).

Is this an example of competition making regulation unnecessary?

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Bush Appoints Foxes to Guard Hen House

Two of the most important agencies that protect worker safety and health are the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA). President Bush has appointed industry insiders to head both.

Richard Stickler, with 30 years of work in the mine industry but little experience in mine health and safety.

As stated in an editorial in the Charleston (W.Va) Gazette, "Despite widespread belief that more communication equipment and better safety enforcement might have saved at least 11 of those men, Stickler told U.S. senators that current mine safety laws are 'adequate'. A day later, two more miners died in separate incidents in Boone County."

According to AFL-CIO President John Sweeney "His only experience with public enforcement of health and safety standards was marked by repeated attempts to limit regulations and reduce health and safety for miners in Pennsylvania".

Edwin Foulke is Bush's nominee to head OSHA. Foulke has been the Workplace Safety practice area coordinator at the law firm Jackson Lewis. This group, according to its web site, has "the expertise to contest citations before the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission".

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Bush Fighting Regulations in the Public Interest

There are many people, particularly conservatives and business interests, who seem to abhor all regulation (but conveniently ignoring regulations that benefit them). Regulations that protect consumers, workers, and the environment are high on the hit lists of businesses and conservative politicians.

Examples are common today. The president suspended, until opposition arose, worker wage protection regulations for the Katrina recovery work on the Gulf coast, as if it would be easier to hire workers if companies paid a lower wage. The administration weakened mine safety enforcement, and recent stories from West Virginia tell of the results.

The Office of Advocacy of the Small Business Administration lobbies Federal agencies on behalf of businesses against consumer and worker interest, using our tax dollars to argue against our interests.

OMB Watch is one non-profit watch dog group that is watching government regulation and how it helps the public.

In future articles on this site I will provide more news on government regulation, how it can help protect workers, consumers, and the public against the actions of businesses.