Thursday, May 27, 2010

Safety doesn't pay

While the rest of the world is waiting to see if the BP well in the Gulf can be capped, NPR has been looking at our last industrial disaster, the explosion at the Upper Big Branch mine that killed 29 miners. The network discovered that mine owner Massey Energy routinely pulled the wool over the eyes of Mine Safety and Health Administration inspectors.

Fortunately, under the Obama administration, the MSHA seems to be taking its role of protecting mine workers more seriously than it did in former years. The agency has made a number of surprise inspections of Massey mines. Inspectors were following up on tips that the company was not hanging safety curtains that are supposed to direct air to the face of the shaft, dilute methane and keep down coal dust, which can not only explode but is the cause of black lung. The result:
MSHA coal administrator Kevin Stricklin said inspectors blitzed the Massey mines and stopped people from tipping off workers inside. "We captured the phone and we went underground and unfortunately in all three of these cases, we found the anonymous tips were true," Stricklin said.
Massey is worse than other employers--and its errors are more likely to cause loss of life--but its behavior is perfectly understandable when we remember what corporations exist for: to make money. Not to be nice to workers. Not to provide safe workplaces. To make money.

Now, some people (like your editor) would argue that better working conditions mean more productive workers, a greater likelihood of being able to hire high-quality employees and less turnover. All of which contributes to profitability, or should. But it's hard to measure such things, whereas dollars saved on safety equipment, and more hours spent cutting coal, because the time supposed to be spent on safety is cut, all go directly to the bottom line.

The tendency to cut back on safety--and analogous measures like environmental protection--is exacerbated in a climate in which the stock market values the last quarter more than the last quarter-century. In today's economy, the company that cares about worker safety or protecting the environment starts out behind those who don't.

So industry cannot be left to its own devices when it comes to the health and safety of its workers or the protection of the public. Capitalism is fine when it comes to separating companies that can make money in a dog-eat-dog world from those that can't. But pure capitalism does not care whit about other matters. So Massey Energy and BP will go on their merry way, killing people and harming the world we live in, as long as they can.

Which is why we need strong, effective government. Which ought to be obvious, and was for many years, but is today threatened by a rising tide of ignorance.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Grayson strikes again

The irrepressible Alan Grayson asks why you'd want to put Republicans in charge of government, when they "don't want to do it. " And more. Watch.

Political Self-Destruction 101

You've probably heard that newly-anointed Republican Senate candidate Rand Paul had a very long 24 hours between Wednesday and Thursday evening. First, he went on Rachel Maddow's show and suggested that the public-accommodations section of the 1964 Civil Rights Act was so problematic that he might have voted against the entire act had had he been in Congress then. (For some of us, he actually made it worse by suggesting that the law should not ban people from carrying weapons into restaurants. If the Long Branch could do it, why not us?)

The Paul tried to walk it back, saying that, yes, the federal government may ban racial discrimination in private business. That may have been less of a change in his position than it may sound like; I don't hear his original comment as saying that the Constitution prevents legislation to outlaw discrimination, just that it's a bad idea. Not exactly a full-throated endorsement of the Civil Rights Act.

Then, at about 2:00 p.m. yesterday, Paul said that he does not support repealing the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Which puts him on the same page as every member of the US Congress and everyone this side of the Ku Klux Klan and the Aryan Nation. And, by saying that he does not favor repeal of an act that's sacrosanct, he raises the question of whether he actually does.

Finally, at about 5:00 p.m., the would-be senator told CNN that, yes, he would have voted for the law had he been in Congress when it came up.

Quite a first day as his party's candidate. Welcome to the big leagues, Dr. Paul.

This incident tells us several things about Rand Paul, and the forces he is said to represent. First, he is an ideologue, and one who has not thought through the implications of his philosophy. The problem with libertarianism is that, carried to its logical conclusion, it leads to results that are anything but liberty. May a group of people, exercising their individual rights, form a lynch mob?

Then, too, Dr. Paul (he's an ophthalmologist) seems proud that he is not a "professional politician;" rather than serving an apprenticeship in local or statewide offices, he makes his first attempt at what is often called the second-highest office in the land. But legislating is a skill. It needs the ability to master detail, to deal with multiple issues at the same time, to understand the implications of positions on bills--even those that might not be immediately apparent--and to negotiate. Senators vote on trillions (that's "trillions" with a "T") of dollars in appropriations and borrowings each year. The Senate is no place for amateurs.

Update: The hits just keep on coming. Today on Good Morning America, Rand Paul accused President Obama of putting his "boot heel on the throat of BP," and called criticism of the company "un-American." That's going to endear him to the 98 percent of Americans who think the government isn't grinding that boot heel in hard enough. And doesn't he realize that the company is BRITISH Petroleum?

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Where are you going to spend eternity?

That was the title on a pamphlet handed to me today. Distributed by the Fellowship Tract League of Lebanon, OH, it is "free as the Lord provides." Pardon my cynicism, but I see the hand of man involved in the process, although I think that is good. If God can't get man involved, maybe he's doing something wrong.

I'm not going to comment on the content of the brochure I got. Some will, undoubtedly, find its message attractive and perhaps comforting. Fine for them.

As for me, as I've noted before, I'm going to Hell. No disrespect to the folks at the Fellowship Tract League, whom I don't know--their pamphlet was given to me as I walked by--but after seeing the folks who are sure they're on their way to Heaven, the idea of spending eternity with them is, well, hell. So I'm on my way to the other place.

Four words

Four words make a complete case against the "small government" folks--the ones who want to limit government in its dealings with corporations and agglomerations of private power.

Actually, the case is made by a pair of two-word phrases. They are:

Massey Energy


British Petroleum

Doesn't look good

This page tends to downplay the so-called anti-incumbent fervor said to be sweeping the nation. For instance, while it's true that Sen. Arlen Specter (R/D. PA) was voted out in Democratic Party's primary, recall that until a year ago he was a long-time Republican. To paraphrase an old saying, Democrats may have welcomed the convert, but were unlikely to elect him Pope. Or in this case, Senator.

I don't mean to say that there is no anti-incumbent feeling abroad in the land--there is. We saw that in Utah, where Bob Bennett (R. UT) was swept from office. Will that feeling last to November? There, we have doubts.

For one incumbent, Blanche Lincoln (D. AR), things do not look good, however. Check this graph of her poll numbers vs. those of her Democratic challenger, Lt. Gov. Bill Halter.

Lincoln does not have until November to see if hostility to incumbents fades; the primary run-off will be held June 8th.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Have you noticed?

I've said for a long time that the secret to being a pundit is never to look back. You predicted that Specter would trounce Sestak, that John McCain would beat that young guy Obama, that W was toast after he invaded Iraq? Never give a hint that you said those things--just go forward with your fearless forecasts.

The point of my maundering is to note that we're not hearing much from all those people who complained that democracy was broken, that incumbents had such a lock on public office that the voters couldn't make themselves heard. Now, all we hear is how incumbents are an endangered species.

That is an exaggeration, too. Just don't remind me that I said so...

Friday, May 14, 2010

The end of civilization as we know it

NBC cancels Law and Order.

(Now we know why it is the 3rd place network.)

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Making Mississippi look good

In its campaign to make Mississippi look progressive, Arizona has decreed that those with "heavy" accents can no longer teach English.

Hmmm. So Arizona would keep Winston Churchill, Laurence Olivier, Cary Grant, or Hugh Grant from teaching English?

As the lovely Diane points out, wouldn't it make more sense to keep people who can't speak other languages properly from teaching them? Legions of French teachers who, with the best will in the world, could not pronounce "J'entre dans la salle de classe" come to mind.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Just a thought

David Cameron does not look like a Prime Minister. He looks like the Prime Minister on a BBC sitcom.

The wrath of G_d?

As you've probably heard, Oklahoma recently passed a pair of statutes designed to place further obstacles in the way of women seeking constitutionally-protected abortions. Shortly thereafter, the state was pummeled by a series of tornadoes.

So, how come we don't hear any of the panjandrums who are so certain that they know the will of the Almighty telling us that this is Oklahoma's punishment?

Just wondering.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Wingnuts rule!

The saying goes that revolutions eat their young. The Tea Party faction of the Republican Party exhibited such behavior over the weekend, when their supporters ended the senatorial career of Robert Bennett (R.UT).

Bob Bennett is extremely conservative. Like really, really conservative. But he is not a yahoo, like, say Tom Coburn or James Inhofe (both R. OK). No firebrand, Bennett is the kind of person that conservatives need--a steady, reliable vote who is willing to speak civilly with those across the aisle and will not terrify the legion of independents.

That's not good enough for the radicals who are taking over the GOP. They only want fire-breathing true-believers.

I've already gone out on a limb and said publicly that the Democrats will not do as badly in the mid-term elections as is widely expected. They may lose seats--that's normal in off-years. But as the six months to November unreel, I expect that the sensible center will begin to reject the anger and simple-minded nostrums of the extremists. Even if I am wrong about 2010, even if the anger in the nation is even deeper--and broader--than it seems, the Republican Party has taken a turn down the road to irrelevance.

The right place?

Palestinians and Israelis have begun indirect peace talks under US auspices. We should hope that they will be successful, but no one expects rapid results.

It strikes me that a more important locale for the US to expend energy on peacemaking would be between India and Pakistan. I make no claim to expertise, but it seems as if the issues in the sub-continent, though anything but simple, are less complex than those in the Middle East. And if a real peace treaty could be attained, it would have direct and immediate benefits to American interests. To begin with, it would free the largest part of Pakistan's military to cope with the Taliban and al Qaeda, and probably permit the nation to reduce its overall military expenditures as well, thereby much improving its economic prospects.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

The time for gun control is past

Faisal Shahzad, the would-be Times Square car bomber, was the legal owner of a Kel-Tec Sub Rifle 2000, a weapon that The New York Times described as "fearsome looking, a hybrid of a pistol and a long gun." A semi-automatic weapon with a telescoping stock, it could be concealed with ease under a coat, and provide a terrorist with just the weapon he needs to kill a large number of people in a place like Times Square.t s

And this weapon was bought legally in Connecticut, not obtained at some gun show or bought from a gun-runner in Georgia or Virginia.

It's time to stop talking about gun control and start talking about gun sanity.