H.R. 129, the Return to Prudent Banking Act, would prohibit banks from investment advising or brokering (and would prohibit securities firms from banking). This would resemble the system we had before the Gramm-Bliley-Leach Act repealed the Glass-Steagall Act in 1999. Why break up banks this way? Because banks set themselves up (and, more importantly, set you up) for major conflicts of interest if they hold deposits and invest money. H.R. 129 would also prevent most securities firm employees from serving on bank boards, and would require the Executive branch to account to Congress for any exception it makes to the above rules. Opponents of Glass-Steagall like to claim our banks can't compete against other banks unless they're "diversified." But keeping folks' money safe is more important than competition. And if you can't make money doing right by your customers, what good are you? Change.org helps you tell Congress to restore the Glass-Steagall wall.
Meanwhile, the Sierra Club helps you tell the EPA to protect Appalachian mountain streams from mountaintop removal mining. Why? Because quite a few coal mining corporations blow up mountaintops to get at the coal underneath, and they pollute valley streams in the process -- streams that provide drinking water for Appalachian residents. The EPA did write voluntary water quality standards during Mr. Obama's first term, but note the word "voluntary." Opponents of the standards
just want their rich coal donors to get richer ahem tell us that regulations make energy prices go up -- that the coal mining corporations will just pass along the cost to consumers. First off, is that behavior we'd tolerate from children, or from each other? Second off, cheap energy doesn't mean jack if you can't drink the water befouled by the process that made your energy cheaper. If you can't drink the water, you can't be healthy, and if you can't be healthy, you can't be free. End of.
In other news, H.R. 1844/S. 878, the Arbitration Fairness Act, still awaits action in Congress. Here's the meat of it, from Sec. 3(a) of S. 878: "Notwithstanding any other provision of this title, no predispute arbitration agreement shall be valid or enforceable if it requires arbitration of an employment dispute, consumer dispute, antitrust dispute, or civil rights dispute." Your cell phone provider probably put a forced arbitration clause in your contract without you knowing it, meaning you can't settle your dispute with them in a court of law, but in an arbitration hearing they pay for (and the arbitrators know where their bread is buttered). And your employer might have done the same thing. But Congress originally conceived of arbitration as way of resolving disputes between corporations; successive Supreme Court decisions have expanded that concept. So Public Citizen helps you tell your Congressfolk to support the Arbitration Fairness Act. Don't corporations get to avoid accountability enough already?
Finally, as the death toll from the Rana Plaza catastrophe in Bangladesh rises above 800, Avaaz helps you tell the big garment stores to demand better fire and safety standards from their suppliers, or "risk fatal damage to your brand image." That's not a threat, that's a law of physics -- bad PR already does damage corporations would rather not try to repair; social media just brings people together to voice their opposition more quickly than ever before. And our corporations have a lot of power to change things, as Calvin Klein has already recognized. Of course the WalMarts of the world still complain about stronger safety standards not being "financially feasible." But the keep prices low mantra doesn't convince us -- not as long as folks have to get burned and crushed to death so prices can remain low. And aren't our entrepreneurs supposed to be our best and brightest? If so, why are they so unimaginative that they can't bring us safe manufacturing and low prices?