Sunday, September 13, 2015

Letting readers do the dirty work

This week the Leader Times is 1 for 2 on the Saturday editorials page.  The first editorial urges all other law enforcement agencies to adopt policies similar to  new the Federal Justice Department policy requiring warrants in order to use cellphone-tracking devices.  The editors and I are on the same page here, as are most Americans.  We want all levels of government to obtain warrants before performing mass surveillance.

The second editorial praises the REINS act, which would require Congress review and approve any new regulations issued by Federal agencies that would have a cumulative economic effect greater than $100 million.  This legislation has been approved by the House but is unlikely to pass the Senate and would be vetoed by the President if it did pass.  The editors believe this law will "more than likely expose faults and reduce litigation."  After all, they argue, it is better to have elected representatives review regulations rather than allowing "diktats typically drafted behind closed doors" to be "dumped on the public."

This opinion is misleads the readers about how federal agencies typically introduce new regulations.  First, no regulations get issued in the first place without a law passed by Congress authorizing the executive branch to establish some means to derive details regulations from the law passed by Congress.  In most cases, the law includes an authorization for a new or existing agency to develop regulations that implement in some detail the requirements of the law.   Second, as time passes and circumstances change, federal agencies may need to modify, remove, or add regulations in order to continue administering existing laws as they were intended.  Third, changes to federal regulations are subject to review by Congress via committees.  Typically, federal agencies announce periods for comments on proposed regulatory changes.   During this period interested parties can review and offer suggestions and criticisms of the regulations.  They can also petition their Congressional representatives to press for changes to the proposed regulations.  Finally, Congress has collective options to restrain regulatory agencies whose actions they find unacceptable.  They can use budgets to force agencies to redirect their resources in a way more pleasing to Congress.  They can even change the law so as to remove regulatory authority from an agency or even eliminate it altogether.    Federal regulations are not "diktats typically drafted behind closed doors" and suggesting they are is dishonest.

Congress and the people already have plenty of options available to them to limit the regulatory powers of federal agencies.  People are already generally frustrated with Congress's inability to get anything useful done.  This law will just gum up the works even more. 

My real complaint for this week, however, is with the letters from readers appearing on the Opinion page.  For the third week in a row, only two letters appear, both of them taking hardline right-wing stances on topics not addressed by the editorials.  I am beginning to think that the editors are hand-picking for publication letters whose opinions they approve of.  Are we to believe that the only readers who bother to send letters to the editors of the Leader Times are conservative Republicans?  Sorry, I doubt it.  Therefore, I intend to test their sincerity by sending them a series of letters from a clearly progressive standpoint until they publish one.  To increase the chances that they will publish, I will keep each letter short and restrict it to topics addressed by articles published in the Leader Times during the previous week.  Since they probably have a policy of publishing letters from as many different readers as possible, I will assume that once they have published one of mine I can expect no further letters of mine will be published for at least a few years.   Therefore, once one is published the experiment will end.  Furthermore, the week following that Saturday's Leader Times I will post to this blog the contents of each letter sent.  Let's see what happens. 

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