Tuesday, July 28, 2020

"Never Let a Good Crisis Go to Waste."

Remember back in April and May when meatpacking plants were hotspots of coronavirus? Do you wonder why they're no longer in the headlines? Do you think it's because the owners reformed how they are run and reopened them safely? Think again. The plants might still be hotbeds of coronavirus. We don't know because governments have allowed the plants to quit reporting statistics of the spread of coronavirus among their workers.

An old political precept is "Never let a good crisis go to waste." The idea is to take advantage of a crisis to advance a political agenda. The Bush administration used the notion to escalate the 9/11 attacks into a war on Iraq, which was not involved in the 9/11 attacks. The saying itself was popularized by Rahm Emmanuel, who saw the financial crash of 2008 as an opportunity to do the things he once thought were impossible. Today's crisis is the coronavirus pandemic. President Trump has proven himself incompetent at combating the pandemic, but that doesn't mean he isn't using the crisis to advance his own political agenda.

Back to those meatpacking plants and their workers' union's attempts at protecting workers:
The [United Food and Commercial Workers International Union's] struggles with the Labor Department are part of a much larger reversal of federal protections for workers, consumers, and the environment under Trump. In 2016, the President promised to "dismantle the regulatory state," as Stephen Bannon, his former White House strategist, often put it. Given the complexities of federal rulemaking, this proved somewhat difficult in the first three years of the Administration. But the pandemic has offered Trump an opportunity: now that he can invoke an economic emergency, he can relax, rescind, or suspend federal regulations by fiat. In May and June, Trump issued a pair of executive orders directing national agencies to ignore federal regulations and environmental laws if they burdened the economy—again, in many instances, the companies were told that they just had to act "in good faith." As the Times and the Washington Post have reported, these moves have weakened regulations on all kinds of businesses, from trucking companies to oil and gas pipelines. In [Tony Corbo's view, a lobbyist for Food and Water Watch], many in the media have missed one of the biggest aspects of the covid-19 story. "Everyone is looking at the shiny object — the pandemic," he said. "Meanwhile, the government is deregulating everything. It's unreal."
Source: New Yorker.
This is not the way government normally works. The regulations that are being ignored, waived, or dismantled go back decades, established by Congress and enforced by agencies Congress established for that purpose. Today, an out-of-control Executive is ripping up these protections for workers and consumers and the environment wholesale, all in the name of a public health crisis that the administration is not combating. The Trump administration decided not to solve the health crisis but instead to exploit it for its own political agenda. And it's winning at that while the public's attention is diverted by the health crisis.
David Michaels, a professor of public health at George Washington University, who headed OSHA during the Obama Administration, told me that the agency was "saying that the Labor Department would side with the employers if workers sued," and added, "That would be unthinkable in any other Administration. OSHA's job isn't to protect corporations — it's to protect workers!"
Michaels, the former OSHA head, told me, "We're very much back in Upton Sinclair's "The Jungle" — the 1906 novel that exposed abuses in the meat industry. The book so shocked Americans that President Theodore Roosevelt ordered an immediate investigation of slaughterhouses. The result was landmark consumer-protection legislation that formed the foundation of today's Food and Drug Administration. But, for the past four decades, wealthy donors to the Republican Party have pushed hard for the dismantling of Progressive Era reforms and later curbs on corporate power. The 1980 platform of the Libertarian Party, which was underwritten by the billionaire conservative donors Charles and David Koch, laid out a road map, calling for the abolition of almost every federal agency, including the F.D.A. Although Trump claims to be a defender of the working class, he has delighted wealthy donors — and their pressure groups, such as the Club for Growth — by reliably serving their agenda.
Source: New Yorker.
I remember reading Upton Sinclair's "The Jungle" in high school over a half century ago. At the time, it read like a nightmare from our past that we had lived through, took corrective action against, and were free of fear of it happening again. I don't think many teachers assign "The Jungle" in high school anymore. Another old political saying is George Santayana's, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." That's us. While we are all focused on the virus, Trump is taking us back to "The Jungle".

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