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The Republican Assault Begins

by Molly Ivins

The beauty of having three Texas oilmen in one Cabinet must be apparent to all
Not, all in all, a good week for government or business. As the stock market continued to tank, we got three primo examples out of Washington of how not to govern.

The indefensible Git Tuff on Bankruptcy bill slid through the Senate, 83-15, with only Paul Wellstone of Minnesota putting up much of a fight. If you want to know just how cynical this bill is, the fact is that most people in bankruptcy are there because of medical bills (usually for a catastrophic illness), divorce or job loss.

The credit companies' big argument is that rich people, like film star Burt Reynolds, take advantage of bankruptcy laws by sheltering huge sums in expensive homes. How true -- and we always like to hear bankers being populist. Gosh, this must be the only law anywhere on the books that gives rich folks a special edge.

So the Senate was shamed into putting a $125,000 limit on the value of a home that can be protected under the new law. Now watch closely as that limit goes through the conference committee process and see if you can still find it at the other end.

The equally craven cave on new ergonomic rules to protect workers from carpal tunnel or repetitive stress syndrome offers a gruesome example of how business' knee-jerk anti-regulatory stance often works against its own interests.

Just as predictably as the entire restaurant industry claims it will inevitably go broke if we ever pass another increase in the minimum wage, business can be counted upon to threaten to shut down or move to Taiwan if forced to do anything to protect workers' health or safety.

But remember the key question: "How much does it cost not to do it?" The labor unions were claiming that repetitive stress costs up to $9 billion a year. So, as Jonathan Alter reported in Newsweek, the Republicans commissioned a study to refute this absurd claim from the prestigious National Academy of Sciences. The NAS report came out in January, and it says that repetitive stress costs $50 billion a year in lost wages and productivity.

So it costs significantly more to deal with the consequences of a preventable workplace injury than it does to fix it. Not to mention (and who would?) the human misery involved. But the business community decided to call in its campaign contribution chips to kill the measure anyway. Go figure.

President G.W. Bush's flip-flop on carbon dioxide emissions was sad but sort of funny, too. Those who ever bothered to convince themselves that Bush is a friend of the environment just never looked at his record.

True, coal-fired power plants are notorious polluters. And true, Bush did promise during the campaign that he would impose mandatory emission controls not only on carbon dioxide but also on three other dangerous pollutants.

But now there's an energy crisis in California, which has nothing to do with emissions controls, even according to the power industry. But a president who could use the same crisis to justify drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (even though California gets none of its electric power from oil-fired plants) is not going to be discouraged by a detail like that.

The funny part of the story is the Cabinet meeting at which Bush was persuaded to change his mind. The beauty of having three Texas oilmen in one Cabinet must be apparent to all. Not to mention the wall-to-wall diversity in the rest of the Cabinet, consisting as it does of what some rude people call "corporate stooges."

Think of the input he got from that group. Veep Dick Cheney, they said, was a big player in the decision. Spencer Abraham, energy secretary and devoted servant of the auto industry, was another. Commerce Secretary Don Evans, who at least was a successful Texas oilman, doubtless offered disinterested advice.

So we are to spend another four years pretending that global warming is not happening. Derek Jackson, the British physicist, once observed that if you read a French history, it is sympathetic to France; if you read a British history, it is sympathetic to Britain; but no one ever wrote a chemistry book that favors zinc over copper.

Of course, in this country we are still debating whether we are any kin to the apes, the existence of Bigfoot, if Elvis lives, UFOs and the flat earth theory.

It is not, of course, sufficient to simply dismiss those who are still arguing that there is no such thing as global warming. It is pertinent, however, to point out how much of their funding comes from the energy industry, an oft-documented phenomenon.

Ever looking on that famous sunny side, one must admit that it's a great set-up for this week's debate on the McCain-Feingold bill.

© Creators Syndicate

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Albion Monitor March 18, 2001 (

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