Wandering Eye: Support for liberalizing the Maryland Public Information Act, recession reforms haven't taken hold, and more

Journalists, good-government advocates, and lawyers are perhaps the most prolific pliers of the Maryland Public Information Act, which sets the ground rules for public access to government data and information, but Marylanders as a whole support liberalizing the law's restrictive elements this year, according to a poll conducted for the non-profit Marylanders for Open Government. The poll shows a strong majority of all types of voters—89 percent of independents, 87 percent of Democrats, and 75 percent of Republicans—support reforming the law, which the Maryland General Assembly is considering this year with a bill (Senate Bill 695/House Bill 75) that would ease access to records and enhance oversight of the law's implementation by state agencies. (Van Smith)

 

City Paper contributor Rachel Cohen takes on the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) in the labor-centric monthly In These Times. The story contrasts Baltimore's Inner Harbor development model with efforts underway in Buffalo, New York, with special emphasis on Community Benefit Agreements (CBAs). Those are the things that happen when the ministers tell the big developers that they'll oppose their tax breaks unless they get some high-paying jobs for "the community." Or sometimes it's a cash payment. ALEC, which is a tool of large corporate interests, now has a model bill in Michigan that would prohibit CBAs, which are seen as a shakedown in right-wing circles. But of course the developers who believe they are being shaken down are themselves shaking down the taxpayers—usually for tens of millions of dollars, at least. And CBAs, Cohen writes, "shift the dynamics of urban power and set the stage for further demands" by the people who the mega-developments impact the hardest. What they also do, arguably, is create parallel power structures outside the local government. CBAs are predicated on the notion that the local government does not act in the interest of the local residents, a presumption that is as sad as it is true. (Edward Ericson Jr.)

 

William K. Black is the smartest bureaucrat you probably never heard of and, in the wake of yet another bankers-as-money-launderers scandal (HSBC now), it is time to listen to him. Black was sent in to clean up the S&L scandal of the late 1980s. After going through that and paying attention to patterns, he's got the big picture. And it's not even original. It came out in a 1970s paper by economist George Akerloff: "The concept is that when you gain a competitive advantage by cheating, then markets will become perverse and bad ethics will drive good ethics out of the marketplace," he said. "We can block those dynamics. That's what our function is as competent regulators. We can recreate the rule of law so that honest bankers can prevail." HSBC has already been caught (and fined) for laundering money for the Sinaloa dug cartel in Mexico. Didn't even make a dent. Anyone who believes that reforms following the great crash of 2008 have made things difficult for cheaters needs to read this piece or listen to the podcast. (Edward Ericson Jr.)

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