Let me tell you a story.
Once upon a time a very “smart” man demanded a car be built that would weigh no more than 2000 pounds and cost no more than $2000. That man was Lee Iacocca, and the car was the Ford Pinto. But to make that car to those specifications, something had to be compromised. That something was consumer safety.
You see, the Pinto was a gas tank explosion waiting to happen. In order to keep the weight of the vehicle down a protective shield around the Pinto’s gas tank that would saved the lives of many rear end car crash victims was not installed. Instead numerous drivers and passengers in Pintos were horribly burned to death (and they were often the lucky ones) because Ford deemed that cost of correcting this design flaw exceeded the benefit of saving the lives of it’s customers. For years Ford fought correcting this design flaw through lobbying efforts in Congress, and in court rooms throughout the US, because its “financial experts” had determined it was cheaper to sell a car with a serious design flaw that would kill a certain number of people each year than correct that problem and save those people’s lives.
You see, corporations are in the business of making money. If they can make more money saving lives and protecting people (customers, employees, people in general) they’ll do so. However, if it’s cheaper for them to skimp on measures that protect people, they’ll do that. Corporations are not moral agents. They have only one value: profit. If something stands in the way of that profit, well that something has to go. As Michael Corleone famously said in the movies once: “It’s not personal, Sonny. It’s strictly business.”
Which brings me to the title for this piece. You see, we didn’t really elect a President in George Bush. What we really did was appoint a CEO for America’s businesses. I know that lately he’s fond of referring to himself as the “Commander-in Chief” because that sounds nobler and more forceful than being a chief executive, but not that long ago he rather liked the label of a CEO President. You know, the guy who operated government just like a business. And how apt that title now is.
In so many areas, Bush has done what any good CEO does these days: cut expenses that don’t help the bottom line; in this case the bottom line for American Big Business. He has slashed (or attempted to slash) government funding for public health, occupational safety and environmental protections. The cost of such things was too high for American business to endure, after all.
And like most good CEO’s, he’s rewarded the people who put him in power: America’s corporations. The latest, most visible sign of this, of course, was the West Virginia Mine disaster,
The Sago mine had 14 injuries last year, almost twice as many as in 2004, and was cited for 46 alleged violations of federal mine safety rules during an 11-week review that ended Dec. 22, according to the Mine Safety and Health Administration. State violations doubled to 144, from 74 the previous year.
where we now learn (via David Sirota at Huffington Post) that the Bush administration actively weakened mine safety regulations and enforcement on behalf of the mining industry:
Now, after another bad accident, we find out that since the last accident in 2002, not only did the President ignore calls by Democrats to address the situation seriously, but he actually enacted more cuts to mine safety programs and weakened mine safety regulations.
The 2002 fact sheet and the Chicago Tribune story shows that Bush knew full well that mine safety was suffering – and now we know he didn’t do anything about it, to tragic consequences. They can put out GOP hacks and administration spokespeople to deny this reality – but the facts are there.
Of course, so what if 12 people died this week. The financial benefits to his “friends” (and the political benefits from campaign contributions, etc.) far outweigh the cost of a few poor, dirty miners’ lives.
Naturally, just like the last time a big mining accident occurred, the Bush administration will make all the appropriate gestures of concern and utter solemn promises that mine workers’ safety will be improved. That, after all, is what a CEO does whenever he or she is faced with a public relations disaster: put the best spin on it they can while waiting for the media to move on to the next story in the news cycle.
Actually fix the problem, however? That just wouldn’t be cost effective.