Monday, August 20, 2007

Philosophical Differences

In the hullabaloo over the Utah mine rescue story, the MSM seems to have missed this information about “mine safety czar” Richard Stickler. Apparently President Bush had to resort to one of his famous recess appointments to put Stickler in charge of the Mine Safety and Health Administration, because Stickler couldn’t get confirmed even by a lame duck GOP-dominated Senate.

Huffington Post and Keith Olbermann broke this story last week, although I still haven’t seen much in the MSM about this “mine safety Brownie” (in fact, CNN seems to have ignored the story). I can’t help but wonder if things wouldn’t be different had it been Drudge, not Huffington Post, that had broken the news. Liberal blogs just don’t seem to be on the MSM’s radar.

So in case you missed it, Stickler is a coal industry executive who has a history of overseeing mines with higher-than-average accident rates. His appointment was opposed by miners rescued from Quecreek in Pennsylvania, as well as the families of deceased miners in three states. I guess in the wake of the Sago disaster, putting an industry crony in charge of mine safety was considered bad PR, because the Senate opposed Stickler, too. But Bush wanted his coal industry buddy there, and here we are.

No, this isn’t another one of those “blame President Bush” posts. I really don’t think there’s any doubt about the depth of President Bush’s incompetence, and if you’re one of the remaining 27% who doesn’t agree with me, well, your mind won’t be changed by my little blog bloviatings. But Bush is not to blame for every single disaster this country has faced.

However, I do blame him for nurturing a philosophy in Washington where those in power don’t believe they serve the American people, just a privileged elite. At it’s core, that’s what cronyism does.

And I believe the American people deserve better. We’re entitled to a government that functions properly, where agencies charged with oversight of certain industries know their job is to keep the interests of people, not company profits, front and center. They know that’s why they’re there, because they remember that most of these agencies were created in response to some horrible disaster. That’s what American government does: it responds legislatively to disasters that grab the headlines and tug the heartstrings.

Look, the deadliest mine disaster in U.S. history occurred in December 1907 (the fourth-deadliest occured four days later). And in 1910, the Bureau of Mines (precursor to today’s Mine Safety & Health Administration) was created. Things change over the years, government agencies are phased out and new ones created, laws are modified--often in response to some other tragedy--but that’s basically how government responds.

But the GOP doesn’t seem to get that. Call it a philosophical difference, if you will, but they seem to view these things as “yet another useless government agency” that just gets in the way of business and profits, full of red tape and dumb rules that seem to serve no purpose other than to frustrate and just generally make things harder.

If you believe this, and you happen to be in power, then you will put your industry friends in charge of these oversight agencies so they can loosen the regulations that were created to protect people, and make it easier for companies to work around the rules. That seems to be a basic GOP philosophy. Somehow, the “free hand of the market” is supposed to be incentive enough for mine owners to operate safe workplaces, but it hasn’t been that way in the past few hundred years, so I don’t know why anyone expects anything to change now.

Yes, I realize the GOP doesn’t have the corner on cronyism. Yes, Democrats will put friends and fundraisers in positions of power, too. But I really think the Bush Administration has taken this to a new level.

There’s a tremendous lack of respect that borders on disdain for workers revealed here. Think about it: in the wake of Sago, which was a hugely publicized mine disaster that captivated the American people, President Bush installs an industry executive with a checkered past for mine safety to head the government body charged with .. mine safety. If that’s not a “fuck you” then I don’t know what is.