Sunday, January 19, 2014

A tragedy or a harbinger?

As the people of Charleston, WV grapple with the challenge of contaminated water from a chemical spill into the public water supply, I probably reacted initially with a rather more partisan view than was appropriate.  My generally liberal views (although not entirely "liberal" - whatever that word might imply to you) saw this as a symptom of the "conservative" (i.e., Republican) position on environmentalism and regulation of industry.  Radically conservative Republicans in the House of Representatives ("radcons", for short) and their supporters seem hell bent on massive deregulation, so it first appeared obvious to me that this incident was inevitable fallout from radcon-backed industry deregulation.  It still seems that way to me.  Deregulation and gutting the budgets of regulatory agencies necessarily will lead to an increasing number of these "accidents" - which to my mind are not so clearly accidental when they arise from willful neglect. Imagine the airlines without the FAA and NTSB.  Or the drug industry without the FDA.  When Freedom Industries can escape culpability for this incident by simply declaring bankruptcy, something is horribly wrong.  The management of that company needs to be prosecuted and serve significant jail time.  And not in some country club-like minimum security prison, either!  Perhaps that experience would give them more empathy for the people they plundered ...

But I have to back off my finger-pointing at the radcons (a seemingly contradictory expression of the reality that "conservatives" - largely tea party types and religious fundamentalists - have become radicalized).  They don't bear the sole responsibility here.  Liberals and Democrats have contributed through their own sort of neglect and ineptitude.  Their opposition to the drive to create a mythical "free market capitalism" (which is really welfare for the rich and the creation of a nearly complete immunity for the rich from prosecution for violating regulations) has been mostly ineffective at convincing American voters that unbridled corporate greed is not in their best interest.  Many of the very people who are victims of corporate greed are voting for the radcons, despite what seems obvious to me:  the folks they're electing are victimizing the very voters who elected them!

The model of "free market capitalism" the radcons seem to be looking toward looks a lot more like industry under the Soviets or the Chinese Communists than some mythical ideal from our past.  The illusion that a "free market" is some ideal to which we must return is simply ignoring the history of corporate greed.  Around the beginning of the 20th century, the USA went through a period when it became politically necessary to break the power of the large corporations - known colloquially as "trust busting", championed by President Theodore Roosevelt.  Horrible abuses were rampant in industry, not unlike the situation we face today.  Much of the regulatory activity swept away in recent episodes of deregulation were put in place during the period of trust busting, to prevent the abuses we recently have begun to experience again.  What a surprise!  If you open the door again, the rats will always rush back in.

Incidents like Charleston's tragedy might well be more than just isolated incidents if the "corporations are people" folks have their way.  The Soviets and the Chinese ran/run their industries with virtually no safety regulation, low wages, and without any regard for environmental impacts.  Pretty much the same as USA corporations prior to the 20th century.  Under circumstances like that, where industry can operate solely for short-term profit without regard for their workers and the residents in the surrounding areas, "accidents" like Charleston become the norm.  With their oppressive control over the media, the Soviets and the Chinese could suppress any news leaks about local disasters - as yet, we haven't reached that point in the USA - yet.  

The hardships and uncertainty folks in Charleston, WV, are experiencing could become commonplace if we don't begin to regain control of corporate America.  Those 1%ers have transformed the economy into welfare for the rich by outsourcing their jobs to places with low wage expectations, bilking the public with outrageous Ponzi schemes and mismanagement of markets, pushing through massive deregulation of corporations and cutting the budgets of regulatory agencies, and numerous other abuses against the 99%.  And they're getting away with it, with the apparent approval of many within the electorate.  We seem hell-bent to return to the 19th century. 

I just don't see how an economy that drives the majority of people into poverty or at least reduces disposable income for the middle class can remain a prosperous one.  The greed that drives the corporations is ultimately self-destructive for us all.  If our existing economy continues down the road it's on, what will take its place when it collapses under the top-heavy weight of corporate abuse?  I don't believe those who have been bamboozled into voting for the radcons have any idea what they're supporting.  Somehow, we need to do something about that.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I saw a very interesting comment about this event that I thought was somewhat telling about the citizenry's state of mind as well. The gist was if this water contamination had come at the hand of a few middle eastern terrorists, people (including the politico's on both side of the isle) would be demanding that we blow a hole the size of the grand canyon in some other country. But since it was just some company.....yawn. Someday, people will just get angry when something like this happens period and care less about the who caused it part or why it happened.

Ben Baranowski