Deregulating Themselves to Extinction?


Things may be looking grim for progressives these days, given the Republican grip on the media, the American public’s seemingly willful obsession with crime and celebrity news, the few really competitive seats in the already Republican-dominated Senate and House, and the increasingly conservative and politically active U.S. Supreme Court.

Looking at the short term, then, there might seem little hope for a political turnaround.

Longer term, though, there is a dialectic at work that favors progressive political change.

The latest mad cow find gives us a clear picture of how this could work: Beef, after all, is above all a Republican food. How many progressives do you know who like to chow down on a 16-oz steak? Many of the progressives I know are vegetarians–even vegans–and those who do eat animals tend to favor poultry. Yet beef-loving Republicans (like President Bush who this past weekend announced “I ate beef today, and will continue to eat beef), don’t want to impose any regulatory costs on the agribusiness firms that raise, slaughter, butcher and deliver beef to their tables. That means that millions of mad cow prions are finding their way onto the $1000 plates of the GOP fund-raising circuit, and are gradually entering the Republican leaderships’ bloodstreams. It’s only a matter of time before even the gray matter of the Republican braintrust begins to resemble whatever it is that resides in the Bush II cranial cavity.

And Mad Cow is only one example.

With Washington firmly in the pocket of corporate interests, the nation’s entire regulatory apparatus is now only doing the bidding of the industries its various units are ostensibly regulating. That means that there will be cover-up after cover-up of industry problems and crises, and that corporate evil-doers will be given a free hand to commit their money-making atrocities.

But the interesting thing is that many of those corporate crimes will end up striking the very folk who are enabling them.

Take airlines. The FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board have always been as much about promoting air travel as they have been about monitoring airline safety, but under the Bush Administration, they have pretty much jettisoned the latter function altogether. Despite clear evidence that pilot compartments need to be secured, most U.S. airliners still don’t have hardened doors to the flight deck, making it as easy for a hijacker to get to the flight controls as it is to go to the lavatory. Airliners are routinely permitted to fly, with passengers, past their engine overhaul deadlines, and planes that have only two engines are now allowed to fly over vast stretches of ocean, even though failure of one of those motors would doom the flight. The list goes on and on.

But think about it. Who flies these days? Most working class people can’t afford such luxuries. My guess would be that the percentage of Republicans on airplanes is probably at least double the national average. Add to that the evidence that survival rates in a crash are much higher in the steerage section located at the rear of the plane than in the first class section at the front where the ride is smoother, and you can see how this calculus works to the advantage of the progressive movement.

The same might be said when it comes to housing.

Republicans, increasingly, are moving into gigantic houses. A family of four Republicans in a 26-room McMansion would not be unusual. But because of lax building codes designed to placate the construction industry, these ostentatious plywood palaces are actually toxic wastelands. Sealed up as tight as drums with plastic wrap, double-glazed windows and the like, they are filled with deadly carcinogenic fumes from insulation, glue-filled particle-board siding, formaldehyde-soaked wall-to-wall carpeting and vinyl-based plaster. Walking into these over-sized structures is like entering a chemical plant, and the results of living in such settings are predictable.

The lower classes, progressives among them, are left with older housing stock, which, even if it was built with similar chemical-laced material, is so venerable that most of the volatile chemical stew has long since leached away. Besides, the windows of most progressives’ homes I’ve been in are so leaky that the air inside remains relatively fresh.

It’s easy to see who’s going to win out in the longevity stakes here.

Medical care too, provides an example of how this demographic story is playing out.

We hear all the time how working people are losing insurance coverage, while the rich in America have access to gold-plated medical care, and this is all very true. But at the same time, with access to medical care comes overuse of medical care. Granted, the Republican rich are able to get rid of arthritic hip and knee joints so they can continue to stroll an 18-hold course while their poorer countrymen have to hobble around the house with inflamed joints. But those same metal-jointed conservatives (we used to call them rock-ribbed, but this is a dated term now), are also getting a lot of risky surgery, too. And before long, we’ll be seeing the wealthy getting replacement organs from pigs and other animals. It’s only a matter of time before the viruses that plague the animal kingdom will be plaguing the recipients of these frankensteinian ventures.

The increasingly impoverished middle class, unable to access modern high-tech medicine, will be stuck with their own organs, and will have to resort to long walks or jogging to keep their tickers healthy.

The same kind of story can be repeated over and over looking at each regulated industry.

My guess is that over time, we’ll see the American ruling class, like the lead-poisoned Roman elite before it, reduced to doddering idiots, at which point the progressives and working classes, healthier by default, will take over.

DAVE LINDORFF is the author of Killing Time: an Investigation into the Death Row Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal. A collection of Lindorff’s stories can be found here: http://www.nwuphilly.org/dave.html


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Dave Lindorff is a founding member of ThisCantBeHappening!, an online newspaper collective, and is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).

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