September 20, 2007

Rallying for the Jena Six

I mentioned the Jena Six a little while ago, but the fervor is reaching a crescendo now that the mainstream media is finally focusing its attention on little Jena Louisiana, and the echoes and ghosts of the Old South that have risen to play there.

Today there were rallies, protests, thousands upon thousands of people from all around the country busing into the city to make their voices heard and to stand up and say that the Civil Rights movement lives on in the hearts, minds, and actions of every person – white, black, asian, latino, of all nationalities and ethnicities – who believe in equal justice, equal treatment, and equal protection under the rule of law in our great nation.

And those thousands upon thousands of people converged on Jena, much to the dismay of the old guard who hold the school board, who stood on poor Mychal Bell’s jury and believed the District Attorney (another member of that old guard), who felt it appropriate to punish a young man and his friends most likely because they “didn’t know their place.” So the white folks in little Jena – population 3000 – shuttered their doors and their stores, claiming they wouldn’t sell to “those people,” and are huddled together hoping that, just like the last time, they can wait for the world to pass them by and they can go back to their old ways.

Except this time it’s bigger than they anticipated.

The Human Rights Campaign (of whom I’m a proud member), civil rights activists and leaders from around the country, Elizabeth Edwards, Chris Dodd, even David Bowie, have supported and lifted the rallying cry to set these young men free. We can only hope that someday our children will look back at 2007 and the case of the Jena 6 as an example of how the entire community stood up together for justice, equality, and civil rights, and wonder what on Earth the people on the other side of the line could possibly have been thinking.

[ Jena Six: Thousands to Rally for Justice ]
Source: AlterNet

September 3, 2007

Katrina: “It’s The Blacks”

We’re just two years from the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. Let’s look back on that promise that the President made so shortly after, that we would take this opportunity to examine the racial issues at the heart of the aftermath of the storm. Since then, many people have tried to gloss over it entirely; claim that it was all class and not race at all, all socioeconomic, allowing them to bury the racial inequality and racism under the surface in the old south.

Looking back on the coverage after the storm, we left unresolved those stories of looting and violence that didn’t actually occur; the people who, more often than not were Black, often in the presence of police, broke into stores to get water and food, carrying them over their heads to someplace safe, those people huddled together in boats riding the storm surge, all while the helicopters circled overhead and news anchors discussed the horrible looting and anarchy on the streets of New Orleans:

BATON ROUGE, La. — They locked down the entrance doors Thursday at the Baton Rouge hotel where I’m staying alongside hundreds of New Orleans residents driven from their homes by Hurricane Katrina.

“Because of the riots,” the hotel managers explained. Armed Gunmen from New Orleans were headed this way, they had heard.

“It’s the blacks,” whispered one white woman in the elevator. “We always worried this would happen.”

Perhaps most memorable example of the right wing frenzy was a column by Peggy Noonan in which she stated quite blandly:

As for the tragic piggism that is taking place on the streets of New Orleans, it is not unbelievable but it is unforgivable, and I hope the looters are shot. A hurricane cannot rob a great city of its spirit, but a vicious citizenry can.

The blog Is That Legal quoted AEI fellow Ted Frank writing this:

I think shooting looters is a compassionate way to protect the safety and well-being of law-abiding citizens. Time after time it has been shown that the way to prevent deadly anarchic riots is to take firm decisive action to prevent matters from getting to a tipping point.

It’s important to remember that at this time the “piggish” footage everyone saw featured slow, calm scenes of people inside Big Box stores and Footlockers taking goods, often in the presence of police, and then wading through water holding the bags above their heads. It wasn’t anything like the frenzied scenes of Baghdad after the invasion, (when the right was far less agitated at the sight of massive, unrestrained looting under the noses of the US military. If I recall correctly, they characterized it as “stuff happens.”)

There were rampant rumors of violence, but no pictures of it despite the fact that photographers and film crews were all over the city. Still, the idea took hold and reports of running street battles and armed gangs were rampant.

On August 31st, the world woke up to see a sight that nobody ever expected to see in the United States — hundreds of Americans abandoned at the New Orleans convention center with no water, no food, begging the only person they recognized, entertainer Harry Connick Jr, (who had made his way down there on his own) to please help them. Hour after hour we watched the shocking scenes of mostly elderly and mothers with young children — the most vulnerable residents of the city who hadn’t been able to evacuate abandoned. The sun was shining. The camera crews were everywhere. There were pictures of national guard trucks driving by little old ladies in wheelchairs as people screamed for help. All over the country, people wondered,’where is the government, where is the Red Cross?”

We found out a few days later that the Red Cross was told not to go into the city by the authorities (which ones remains under dispute) because it was too unsafe. The government wanted to quell the violence first — violence we continued to hear a lot about, but never actually saw. Rumors of gang rapes and shoot outs and even necrophilia in the convention center and the Superdome continued to be reported all day in the media as we watched the dehydrated elderly and crying babies waiting for rescue.

But wait, there’s more:

here were two incidents on bridges that perfectly captured this racist paranoia. (Bridges certainly seem to have a special place in American racial iconography, don’t they?) The first was a shooting at the Danziger bridge on September 4th, which was widely reported as a sniper attack on contractors trying to fix the bridge. Blogger Michele Malkin commented:

It’s outrageous that there are idiots shooting at contractors trying to repair structural damage in New Orleans. Thank God the police are fighting back.

(As it turned out, the police were indicted on murder charges. According to the prosecutors, the men they shot were unarmed and innocent.)

On a different night, at a different bridge, another side of the same story unfolded. Abandoned at the convention center, without water, fed up with promises of imminent rescue, some of the residents decided to try leave the city on foot. They were stopped by men with guns:

The officers fired warning shots into the air and then leveled their weapons at members of the crowd, Bradshaw said. He approached, hands in the air, displaying his paramedic’s badge.

“They told us that there would be no Superdomes in their city,” the couple wrote. “These were code words that if you are poor and black, you are not crossing the Mississippi River — and you weren’t getting out of New Orleans.”

And when exhausted hurricane victims set up temporary shelters on the highway, Gretna police came back a few hours later, fired shots into the air again, told people to “get the f — off the bridge” and used a helicopter to blow down all the makeshift shelters, the paramedics said.

When the officers had pushed the crowd back far enough, one of them took the group’s food and water, dropped it in the trunk of a patrol car and drove away.

The Gretna police chief told the UPI:

“If we had opened the bridge, our city would have looked like New Orleans does now: looted, burned and pillaged.”

The LA Times went back and looked at some of the stories and dryly noted:

Journalists and officials who have reviewed the Katrina disaster blamed the inaccurate reporting in large measure on the breakdown of telephone service, which prevented dissemination of accurate reports to those most in need of the information. Race may have also played a factor.

May have?

That particular story sticks in my mind. The people fleeing from the city, only to be stopped by their neighbors, holding guns, for no reason than the color of their skin, and the underlying ignorant fear that came with it. This isn’t to say there weren’t horror stories from after the storm, there most certainly were. But the fact that the truth and what we were given, the front-line, as-it-happens reports, could have been so wrong is still startling.

So where are we now? Well, billions have been “allocated” for rebuilding the Gulf Coast but haven’t made it yet, and many organizations are stepping in to fill the gap that the federal government has left behind. The fact of the matter is that while the President claims that the obligation of the federal government has been fulfilled by allocating the money, while tying it up with so much red tape that the local and state officials haven’t been able to get to it unless they either only need a fraction or on the President’s political side. So what happens? Two years later, and billions of the recovery dollars are missing.

All this, FEMA’s still a wreck, the hurricanes keep coming, the flooding keeps happening, the people keep needing help, many are still living in trailer parks, and the Administration happily claims success. Success is just a matter of how you define it, not what you’ve actually done, if you listen to the Administration. Sounds like the same formula they apply to all of their other failures.

[ Katrina: “It’s The Blacks” ]
Source: TomPaine.com

Kill Or Convert, Brought To You By the Pentagon

This piece is so shocking that it introduces itself. When you wonder if the religious extremists in the middle east have a valid complaint when they claim that religion plays a significant role in the invasion and occupation of Iraq, that the American occupation is some kind of “crusade,” these are the kinds of stories that come to mind. At the same time, I’m still skeptical of the folks who claim as such. Even so, it’s hard to refute this:

Actor Stephen Baldwin, the youngest member of the famous Baldwin brothers, is no longer playing Pauly Shore’s sidekick in comedy masterpieces like Biodome. He has a much more serious calling these days.

Baldwin became a right-wing, born-again Christian after the 9/11 attacks, and now is the star of Operation Straight Up (OSU), an evangelical entertainment troupe that actively proselytizes among active-duty members of the US military. As an official arm of the Defense Department’s America Supports You program, OSU plans to mail copies of the controversial apocalyptic video game, Left Behind: Eternal Forces to soldiers serving in Iraq. OSU is also scheduled to embark on a “Military Crusade in Iraq” in the near future.

“We feel the forces of heaven have encouraged us to perform multiple crusades that will sweep through this war torn region,” OSU declares on its website about its planned trip to Iraq. “We’ll hold the only religious crusade of its size in the dangerous land of Iraq.”

The Defense Department’s Chaplain’s Office, which oversees OSU’s activities, has not responded to calls seeking comment.

“The constitution has been assaulted and brutalized,” Mikey Weinstein, former Reagan Administration White House counsel, ex-Air Force judge advocate (JAG), and founder of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, told me. “Thanks to the influence of extreme Christian fundamentalism, the wall separating church and state is nothing but smoke and debris. And OSU is the IED that exploded the wall separating church and state in the Pentagon and throughout our military.” Weinstein continued: “The fact that they would even consider taking their crusade to a Muslim country shows the threat to our national security and to the constitution and everyone that loves it.”

This is the real and present danger; this is the threat to American credibility around the world, and it’s certainly a real problem for our soldiers in the field. When the average Iraqi sees an American solider as an occupier and an enemy, things are bad enough. When that same person sees them also as threat to their fundamental religious beliefs, it’s a huge issue.

But behind OSU’s anodyne promises of wholesome fun for military families, the organization promotes an apocalyptic brand of evangelical Christianity to active duty US soldiers serving in Muslim-dominated regions of the Middle East. Displayed prominently on the “What We Believe” section of OSU’s website is a passage from the Book of Revelations (Revelation 19:20; 20:10-15) that has become the bedrock of the Christian right’s End Times theology: “The devil and his angels, the beast and the false prophet, and whosoever is not found written in the Book of Life, shall be consigned to everlasting punishment in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.”

With the endorsement of the Defense Department, OSU is mailing “Freedom Packages” to soldiers serving in Iraq. These are not your grandfather’s care packages, however. Besides pairs of white socks and boxes of baby wipes (included at the apparent suggestion of Iran-Contra felon Oliver North, according to OSU) OSU’s care packages contain the controversial Left Behind: Eternal Forces video game. The game is inspired by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins’ bestselling pulp fiction series about a blood-soaked Battle of Armageddon pitting born-again Christians against anybody who does not adhere to their particular theology. In LaHaye’s and Jenkins’ books, the non-believers are ultimately condemned to “everlasting punishment” while the evangelicals are “raptured” up to heaven.

Again, we see the evangelicals standing in the space that ordinary, every day Christians should be standing. We see the radicals speaking for the masses while the masses remain silent. I’ve said this before; while people at home claim that Islam has a “cancer to remove,” in terms of doing more to silence and suppress radical Islamic clerics and students, and that the masses should do more to renounce violence and educate their congregations that terror and violence aren’t the paths to political power, again we see a reflection at home that American Christians refuse to acknowledge. Religious Americans have their own cancer to cut out, their own blight to cure; their own irrational minority to silence.

There are more and more voices rising up to refute this evangelical mindset and bury it for what it is – an inaccurate and improper interpretation of Christianity, but it’s a shame that we’re still on the fringes and the more prominent voices haven’t taken up the banner.

[ Kill Or Convert, Brought To You By the Pentagon ]
Source: The Nation

Administration Fights Dem Plan to Boost School Aid for Vets

The historic G.I. Bill, which extended educational benefits to veterans, our brave men and women in uniform who have fought our wars for us, whether they should have been fought or not, has been gutted over the past few decades; now the benefit doesn’t cover a soldier’s full educational costs, and many states have had to take up the slack. So the Democrats in congress have decided that a fraction of the money being spent on the war could at least be spent on ensuring that our veterans have educational opportunities when they get home, should they decide to pursue them.

The Bush Administration, on the other hand, says “whoa, not so fast.” What’s standing in the way this time? The cost, of course. The same administration that shamelessly locked up our veterans in sub-standard medical conditions at Walter Reed, the same Administration that would rather give sweetheart contracts to defense contractors with no success record or reconstruction contracts to companies that fail to deliver on their promises in Iraq, now claims that the money that our veterans deserve is simply too much.

Senate Democrats, led by Virginia’s Jim Webb, want the government to pay every penny of veterans’ educational costs, from tuition at a public university to books, housing and a monthly stipend.

Such a benefit was a major feature of the historic 1944 G.I. Bill, which put more than eight million U.S. soldiers through college and is now credited by historians as fueling the expansion of America’s middle class in the post-war era.

But in recent years the benefit has dwindled; under the current law, passed in 1985, veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan can expect Uncle Sam to cover only 75 percent of their tuition costs. That’s not enough, say Democrats and veterans’ advocates.

Agreed. But even the VA doesn’t want the extra money. Why? They claim it’ll tax existing VA resources; that they’re already strained where they are. Wouldn’t it make sense that the additional funding would include money to beef up those resources? Certainly; but that’s not the point. Management at the VA has the best interests of America’s veterans at heart, but sadly has been called out on previous occasions for only wanting to do enough to get them by in the public eyes. Hopefully an influx of resources might make them more of the world-class organization that our world-class military so desperately needs.

[ Administration Fights Dem Plan to Boost School Aid for Vets ]
Source: ABC News

Why Don’t Conservatives Want Kids to Have Health Care?

Apparently the answer is that “it costs too much.” Which of course, lends itself to all of the traditional below-the-surface answers, like “we don’t care about those people,” and “they don’t vote for us,” and “why don’t they pull themselves up by their bootstraps,” to all the other sad reasons why the fiscal conservatives would rather see children go un-vaccinated against common diseases than spend the literal cents on the dollar now against their future medical costs to have them treated and covered with health insurance, public or not.

They should get private coverage, the conservatives say; or they’re already covered by some other public insurance program that’s costing taxpayers money. When in reality, the truth is, as it usually is when the conservatives claim to know it, isn’t on their side. The truth is that thousands of children depend on SCHIP (State Children’s Health Insurance Program) for everything from regular vaccinations before going to school to treatment of contagious or life-threatening diseases.

The conservatives, far more eager to spend the people’s money on the war and provoking a future conflict with Iran, threatened to bog down the program with the same kind of bureaucratic nonsense that they complain about (likely a win-win strategy for them; they can neuter the program now and later return to it and claim that it’s an example of big-government red-tape later when they choose to). President Bush threatened a veto if any legislation that dared try to keep America’s children in good health cross his desk, and in turn conservatives added amendment after amendment, red-tape roadblock after roadblock, all to ensure that if the bill does indeed pass that the everyday person, the middle-class worker who may not be able to afford health insurance for their children, could never take advantage of the service that their tax dollars was supposed to provide.

As the state governments attempt to cover more uninsured children and extend the benefit to more families that need it, they’re meeting opposition from the federal government.

[ Rules May Limit Health Program Aiding Children ]
Source: The New York Times

But people rebelled, the program is popular, and it’s very hard to defend a vote or a position against health care for children when health care is such a hot topic. That is, unless you’re a sitting President so unpopular that nothing you could possibly do or think of could match up with the public consciousness at this point. So Republican senators and representatives had to slink home during the August recess to explain to their constituents why they oppose children’s health care. But there’s more to their excuses than meets the eye; there’s a unique opportunity to define this kind of conservatism for what it really is: a reinforcement of the American class divide; a reaffirmation of economic inequality. There’s a strong desire to ensure that the haves continue to have, and the have-nots aren’t even allowed to cobble together something for themselves.

In turn, the American Prospect’s Paul Waldman sees a huge opportunity:

This is an opportunity … to define conservatism itself. It’s time … to talk in explicit terms about the consequences of the conservative antigovernment philosophy and what it says about the people who advocate it.

Conservatives are the people who degrade government to the point that it cannot effectively maintain our roads and bridges. Conservatives are the people who turn over our defense budget to corrupt contractors who steal the money that ought to go to our troops. Conservatives are the people who won’t let poor kids have health insurance.

[ How I Spent My August Recess ]
Source: TomPaine.com

Global Warming Deniers: A Well-Funded Machine

I’m not really one to follow the “Cult of Gore,” but I have to admit that the man has always been an environmentalist, and certainly has the credentials to be a flag carrier for modern environmentalism. It’s entertaining and telling in its own right that the majority of the attacks against global warming are generally directed at Gore himself, his personal lifestyle, or the things he does and owns, as if those things alone are some kind of irrefutable proof for or to the contrary of the global climate change discussion.

Mind you – the discussion that apparently only continues in the annals of political theatre, and among pundits who are either willing to manufacture the junk science they need to prove their own point, or the folks who have been so misinformed that they now believe themselves experts. Unfortunately for those folks, the scientific debate on climate change is all but over. Climatologists, meteorologists, and geophysicists alike all agree that the climate is changing in an unnatural way that cannot be tied to natural cycles, that indeed human activities on Earth are the root cause, and the effects can be catastrophic for society as we understand it unless we either do something to adapt or correct the damage.

Unfortunately, a number of people are still trying to alter climate data and feed it to politicians on their side to bolster their claims in the public arena, if nothing else:

Research aimed at disputing the scientific consensus on global warming is part of a huge public misinformation campaign funded by some of the world’s largest carbon polluters, former Vice President Al Gore said Tuesday.

“There has been an organized campaign, financed to the tune of about $10 million a year from some of the largest carbon polluters, to create the impression that there is disagreement in the scientific community,” Gore said at a forum in Singapore. “In actuality, there is very little disagreement.”

Gore likened the campaign to the millions of dollars spent by U.S. tobacco companies years ago on creating the appearance of scientific debate on smoking’s harmful effects.

It’s true, and not a comparison that hasn’t been made before. There are ways to maintain our environment without sacrificing technological and economic growth. It just appears that too many people are both too focused on the bottom line and simultaneously too lazy to explore them.

[ Gore: Polluters Manipulate Climate Info ]
Source: The Associated Press

But it goes on from there. Newsweek reports on more of the “pay for false information” racket:

Since the late 1980s, this well-coordinated, well-funded campaign by contrarian scientists, free-market think tanks and industry has created a paralyzing fog of doubt around climate change. Through advertisements, op-eds, lobbying and media attention, greenhouse doubters (they hate being called deniers) argued first that the world is not warming; measurements indicating otherwise are flawed, they said. Then they claimed that any warming is natural, not caused by human activities. Now they contend that the looming warming will be minuscule and harmless. “They patterned what they did after the tobacco industry,” says former senator Tim Wirth, who spearheaded environmental issues as an under secretary of State in the Clinton administration. “Both figured, sow enough doubt, call the science uncertain and in dispute. That’s had a huge impact on both the public and Congress.”

Just last year, polls found that 64 percent of Americans thought there was “a lot” of scientific disagreement on climate change; only one third thought planetary warming was “mainly caused by things people do.” In contrast, majorities in Europe and Japan recognize a broad consensus among climate experts that greenhouse gases—mostly from the burning of coal, oil and natural gas to power the world’s economies—are altering climate. A new NEWSWEEK Poll finds that the influence of the denial machine remains strong. Although the figure is less than in earlier polls, 39 percent of those asked say there is “a lot of disagreement among climate scientists” on the basic question of whether the planet is warming; 42 percent say there is a lot of disagreement that human activities are a major cause of global warming. Only 46 percent say the greenhouse effect is being felt today.

But the activities of the deniers is far more sinister than that. Since the science won’t work in their favor, the gameplan is to skip the laboratory entirely and go straight to the halls of government:

The reaction from industries most responsible for greenhouse emissions was immediate. “As soon as the scientific community began to come together on the science of climate change, the pushback began,” says historian Naomi Oreskes of the University of California, San Diego. Individual companies and industry associations—representing petroleum, steel, autos and utilities, for instance—formed lobbying groups with names like the Global Climate Coalition and the Information Council on the Environment. ICE’s game plan called for enlisting greenhouse doubters to “reposition global warming as theory rather than fact,” and to sow doubt about climate research just as cigarette makers had about smoking research. ICE ads asked, “If the earth is getting warmer, why is Minneapolis [or Kentucky, or some other site] getting colder?” This sounded what would become a recurring theme for naysayers: that global temperature data are flat-out wrong. For one thing, they argued, the data reflect urbanization (many temperature stations are in or near cities), not true global warming.

Shaping public opinion was only one goal of the industry groups, for soon after Hansen’s sweat-drenched testimony they faced a more tangible threat: international proposals to address global warming. The United Nations had scheduled an “Earth Summit” for 1992 in Rio de Janeiro, and climate change was high on an agenda that included saving endangered species and rain forests. ICE and the Global Climate Coalition lobbied hard against a global treaty to curb greenhouse gases, and were joined by a central cog in the denial machine: the George C. Marshall Institute, a conservative think tank. Barely two months before Rio, it released a study concluding that models of the greenhouse effect had “substantially exaggerated its importance.” The small amount of global warming that might be occurring, it argued, actually reflected a simple fact: the Sun is putting out more energy. The idea of a “variable Sun” has remained a constant in the naysayers’ arsenal to this day, even though the tiny increase in solar output over recent decades falls far short of explaining the extent or details of the observed warming.

The above snippets were published in an incredible Newsweek article, posted online by StopGlobalWarming.org, a non-profit dedicated to doing something about global warming and maneuvering past the roadblocks that industry groups and their allies continue to put up, both in the political and scientific arenas. The piece itself is long and full of pertinent information, so I won’t repub the entire post here, but it ends with the best summary I’ve seen in a global warming article in a lon time:

Look for the next round of debate to center on what Americans are willing to pay and do to stave off the worst of global warming. So far the answer seems to be, not much. The NEWSWEEK Poll finds less than half in favor of requiring high-mileage cars or energy-efficient appliances and buildings. No amount of white papers, reports and studies is likely to change that. If anything can, it will be the climate itself. This summer, Texas was hit by exactly the kind of downpours and flooding expected in a greenhouse world, and Las Vegas and other cities broiled in record triple-digit temperatures. Just last week the most accurate study to date concluded that the length of heat waves in Europe has doubled, and their frequency nearly tripled, in the past century. The frequency of Atlantic hurricanes has already doubled in the last century. Snowpack whose water is crucial to both cities and farms is diminishing. It’s enough to make you wish that climate change were a hoax, rather than the reality it is.

[ Global Warming Deniers: A Well-Funded Machine ]
Source: NewsWeek (courtesy of StopGlobalWarming.org)

This is Your Government on Conservatism

I thought long and hard about this (as you can likely tell) and I hesitate strongly at politicizing tragedies, but there’s a story behind both the mine collapse in Utah, recalls of Chinese made toys with lead paint, and bridge collapses around the country that needs to be explained. The root cause? The tragedies are universal, but the underlying issues behind them are inherently political. Whether its local or state administrations that decide that “big government” is to blame for all of the world’s ills and slash regional budgets for transportation and infrastructure to an underfunded federal regulatory agency because the word “regulation” is a naughty term to most free-marketeers, we’re finally beginning to see what happens when you let blind faith in the marketplace and the “lack-of-common-sense” fiscal conservatives run the show.

For example, let’s take a look at the bridge collapse in Minneapolis. I want to give this one a pass because it was a horrible tragedy, but it does make me wonder where the tax dollars of the fine people of the Minneapolis area go if not to ensuring their infrastructure is safe, sound, and ready for the daily service that it provides. Certainly the entire thing could have been a simple and tragic accident, and I don’t want to imply that politicians in the area on the left are without blame for ignoring the warnings of transportation officials and inspectors, but the juggling act of “where to spend our budget dollars” has to stop somewhere, and that place should be the basic needs of the community. Even the capital-L libertarians can agree with that: if you’re going to tax the people, let the results of that taxation be visible to the public in ways that can be accounted for. So when the governor refused to reshuffle the budget or raise taxes to find transportation efforts and modernization the money it needed to keep the people safe, what does that say? Where are the priorities?

Some progressives have said that the issue here is low taxation – when you don’t tax properly, you don’t have the budget to spend appropriately. This is true, but I’m not in a position to analyze the tax levels of the Minneapolis area; what I’m concerned with is where those tax dollars are spent, and why they’re not being spent on public infrastructure. I’m sure the local police might have something to say about this too, as will the local homeless shelters, as will the local unemployment office.

Let’s move on to Utah, where a mine collapses on top of six men guilty of nothing more than going to work in the morning, while Bob Murray, the mine owner, dares to tell the public that it was an earthquake, or some other seismic event, in the face of scientists around the continent who checked and rechecked their data only to find no readings for that time period. The same mine owner who flew off the handle at the very mention of workplace safety:

Who is this strange megalomaniac? A poster child for the E. coli conservatives, he’s the guy who, in 2002, when officials of the Mine Safety Administration confronted him about his mines’ poor safety conditions, shrieked at them to lay off or he would tell Labor Secretary Elaine Chao to fire them. Chao, of course, is married to Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY). According to the Lexington Herald-Leader, Murray bellowed, “Mitch McConnell calls me one of the five finest men in America, and the last I checked, he was sleeping with your boss.”

Fine behavior from a man speaking with the people whose jobs are only to make sure that his employees are safe. I know interacting with regulators can’t be a pleasant experience for business owners looking to cut corners and line their pockets, but you’d at least figure every now and again they’d have a vested interest in the well being of their employees. Sadly, Murray’s only vested interest was in the well being of his pocketbook. Now he plans to close the mine and let the whole thing go away. We may never really know the cause of the mine collapse, especially with the subsequent deaths of other inspectors looking to discover the cause and hopefully rescue the buried workers.

Murray has called Hillary Clinton “anti-American” for saying she would “appoint people who actually care about workers’ rights and workers’ safety.” He told Congress his safety record “is one of the best in the coal industry anywhere”—upon which Senator Boxer pulled out an article showing injury rates in two of his mines were a quarter higher than the national average. “Union propaganda,” he harrumphed.

Another of his mines in central Utah was cited for 116 “significant and substantial” violations that are considered serious enough to cause injury or death since January of 2004. That’s the one that has just entombed six brave men.

[ E. Coli Conservatism Killing Six More? ]
Source: TomPaine.com

Add to this other mine collapses since this one, and you have the worst year on record for mine safety since 1926.

Let’s move on to recalled toys from China. I know how business is done, and playing a protectionist game and trying to isolate and blame China for everything isn’t the solution to the problem, although it might be an attractive option. Blaming China for taking American manufacturing jobs, blaming China for poor food quality and product quality, blaming China for artificially pegging the value of its economy to keep imports impossibly expensive and exports incredibly cheap; we’ve heard it all in the news and we’ve heard market pundits go around and around gnashing their teeth and snarling at China but stopping short of recommending any action for fear of upsetting the almighty free market.

So who is to blame? The American multinationals who left the US wholesale, with no imprint behind aside from their corporate headquarters, for unskilled, process-driven partners in China. Sure, the Chinese share some of the blame for their lack of human rights, workplace safety laws, regulatory system, and so on, and now we’re starting to see a demand for that kind of regulation in China (although the business community will surely bemoan the lack of a regulatory no-man’s land), but for the foreseeable future we’ll likely see more talk and less action. In the meantime, the companies that abandoned their American workers for cheaper Chinese shores will have to redo their cost-benefit analyses to discover if the money they make overseas is worth the lack of consumer confidence at home, added to the cost of recalling products and sending out the consumer spin doctors as often as they’ve had to.

Speaking of the spin doctors:

The reason crap from China seems so crappy is just because there’s lots of crap being made in China–nothing to do with the fact that, say, Chinese newspapers aren’t allowed to report “negative news” about business, thus giving Chinese factories impunity to work whatever scams they can dream up without fear of discovery; or that Chinese factory owners who slather lead paint on toy trains are allowed to escort inquiring American reporters to jail. No: the fact that there were more recalled Chinese toys was just a function of the fact that there are more Chinese toys. Simple arithmetic. Move along. Pay no attention to the lead paint behind the curtain.

Mantagne followed up: “Consumer groups do say that Mattel is one of the most conscientious and rigorous toy manufacturers in the country so does this mean that if their products have problems, all products from China could be suspect?”

Great question. As Chaucer said: “If gold rust, what shall iron do?”

Great answer: she ignored the question.

“Toys are one of the most heavily regulated products in our economy. And by and large toys are very, very safe. Obviously we don’t like to see any recalls; a nine million piece recall is, although it seems to be big it certainly isn’t the biggest recall we’ve done, and if you put it in perspective of the hundreds of millions of toys that are sold in the United States every year–frankly, we want to make sure that the marketplace is safe, but consumers really shouldn’t be panicking and thinking that somehow everything in their toy chest is unsafe for the children.”

I said to myself: “She’s goooooood.” Not quite as good as ol’ Rick Berman, the superflack immortalized in the book and movie Thank You For Smoking, but gooooood. I found the link for the NPR broadcast to transcribe her words for a post on the wiles of corporate public relations, upon which I learned the following:

This woman was not a toy industry spokesman. This woman is acting director of the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

So, to continue to borrow from Rick Perlstein (the author of all of these linked pieces), how does this all fit in with the conservative worldview?

This is not a story about toy cars. It’s a story about conservatism. It’s a story about what happens when you abandon the idea of government as a conveyance for the common good, and start thinking about it as the problem. You hire “regulators” like Nancy Nord. And you hire mine safety administrators like Richard Stickler.

America is in mourning again over a mine tragedy: like the sorcerers’ apprentice try to tame his metastasizing brooms, the efforts to save six lives has already cost the lives of three more. Because another section of the mine collapsed. Because priming mines in ways that makes them more susceptible to collapse, the better to squeeze out a tiny portion more of profit, is what mine owner and Republican contributor Bob Murray does best.

What does Richard Stickler, the mine safety czar the President had to sneak in via recess appointment in 2006 when it became clear he couldn’t have survived a confirmation hearing in even a Republican congress, do best? Look the other way. This man our president has entrusted with mine safety has three deaths on his conscience in his career a former mine manager, and, Keith Olbermann reports, “an incident rate that was often twice the national average.” Running mine safety in Pennsylvania, a grand jury practically blamed him for a flood that trapped nine miners; then after the Sago collapse last year, Stickler declined to endorse new safety rules the day before two of the miners died.

Dude’s a “stickler” like I’m a ballerina.

Listen to Olbermann. Coal mining fatalities had been declining since 1926: yes, the last time mine safety was this bad the Charleston was all the rage. Then, in 2006, the most coalminers died than had in any one year in a decade. We’re up to the largest percentage increase in 107 years.

Why? How? By formula. They use corporate contributions to weaken government regulations, and to help cripple unions. They wage fierce anti-union jihads to keep workers and their advocates powerless. They violate even existing anemic safety rules, while pushing the mineral seams beyond all earthly limits to squeeze forth just a teensy bit more precious profit.

Then they call the result a “mine accident.”

When Ronald Reagan ran for governor of 1966 he proposed what he called the “creative society”—government mobilizing the energies of the people” and “helping them organize their own solutions to these problems” by hiring business “experts” instead of civil servants. For example, since state hospitals and mental institutions were “in a sense, hotel operations,” an expert committee of hotel operators could oversee them instead of “government planners.”

Well, they got their “creative society.” Now that we’ve seen what it creates, can we please now just make it go away?

Well put. Let’s face it, as long as “regulation” is a dirty word that the fiscal conservatives and the libertarians drag out like a punching bag whenever someone dares claim that someone should be on the consumer’s side, the worker’s side, and the side of the common good against the special interest and overwhelming influence of the business owner, then we’ll have these issues. It’s time to reclaim that word as well.

[ The Creative Society ]
Source: Tompaine.com