Today's title comes from an editorial cartoon about the fertilizer factory that blew up in Texas a couple of weeks ago, killing 14 people, injuring more than 200 others, and causing tens of millions of dollars in damage. Your Daily Republic has run several stories on that incident, the latest on May 5th, saying that the plant's scant $1 million liability coverage may have to be divided amongst the many, many potential plaintiffs. The explosion came shortly after Texas Governor, Rick Perry, came to California, trying to lure businesses to the low taxes and meager regulations of the Lone Star State. Sacramento Bee political cartoonist, Jack Ohman, picked up on the bloody irony and drew a cartoon showing Governor Perry at a podium, smiling and saying, "Business is booming in Texas," with an explosion next to him. Like Rick Perry, you may consider that cartoon to be inappropriate, but just like the Great Recession, the Gulf oil spill, or Love Canal, it certainly does drive home the raw reality of a de-regulated world.
Most laws and regulations are formulated to prevent one person from injuring or cheating another. A zoning law preventing an ammonium nitrate fertilizer factory from being placed next door to a retirement home or children's school may seem like a good idea now, but I doubt many would have understood its purpose before the Texas blast.
Corporate propagandists; paid, right-wing, foundation writers; and their leagues of followers delight in proclaiming that we have "too many" laws and regulations here in California. They continually attempt to re-define "freedom" as a lack of corporate regulation and enforcement and then prattle on about how regulations are bad for business, despite the fact that California is one of the world's top ten economic powerhouses. But one big problem with simply parroting "overregulated," is the lack of specificity. How does one argue against the fog? Tell me, which regulations do you want to eliminate and why?
Last month, the ultra-conservative, Koch brothers-funded, George Mason University published an article outlining their idea of "Freedom in the Fifty States," complete with an online cartoon version for their illiterate followers. As you might expect, "overregulated" California ended-up near the bottom at number 49, while staunchly Republican North and South Dakota ranked at the top. For all you regulation-hating "freedom" lovers, your direction is now clear: East on I-80.
In my 2011 Daily Republic article, "The Republican shape of things to come," I wrote: "Mexico is truly a Republican Dream Land: There are far fewer of those pesky regulations than the U.S. and also far fewer unions." "Mexico City reports 100,000 deaths a year from air pollution and ranks as the fifth unhealthiest city in the world. Water? Bottled, thank you." "The conservative Heritage Foundation ranks countries by "Level of Freedom - Government Spending' or, what a normal person would call "lack of government.' Mexico gets good ratings along with other "winners' at the top like Haiti, Liberia and Bangladesh, while "losers' like the U.S. are stuck with the likes of Switzerland and Japan."
As passionately expressed in the Daily Republic editorial last Tuesday about the 675 people who died in the Bangladesh building collapse, or as shown by the Bangladesh garment factory fire that took another 112 lives last year, the lack of regulation comes with a hefty, hidden, human price tag. If Republican propagandists are serious about cutting regulations, they need to first assign a dollar value to human life. It should then be a simple matter to calculate the business cost of a regulation, versus the human cost without it. After all, "freedom" isn't free.