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The Enemy Within

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The Enemy Within
Patricia Goldsmith

In 1973, in a court case involving General Motors, documents showed that a GM engineer had created a cost-benefit analysis to decide whether or not to correct a serious defect in the company's Malibu model. The analyst calculated that GM would pay $200,000 in legal costs for each of the projected 500 lives lost each year due to the defect. Fixing the defect, the study showed, would be more expensive than paying the costs of litigation. [1] So they didn't fix it.

GM had repositioned the fuel tank to cut costs. In most accidents, it didn't matter. But when the car was hit in a certain way, fuel-fed fires resulted. The defendants in the case in question suffered "horrible and disfiguring second- and third-degree burns. . . . Three of the children were burned over 60 percent of their bodies, and one of them had to have her hand amputated."

The jury was understandably horrified.

The Chamber of Commerce, on the other hand, saw a terrible danger in big court awards to wronged consumers. They wrote an amicus curiae brief disagreeing with the jury in the strongest possible terms. They argued that the "traditional public sense of the sanctity of life" caused jurors to wrongly identify "risk-utility balancing as unspeakable callousness," when, in fact, "the logic underlying it is impeachable." Far from being monstrous, cost-benefit analysis""even when applied to human life""is the "hallmark of corporate good behavior."

GM's behavior doesn't surprise me, but I am shocked that the Chamber of Commerce was making such cold-blooded arguments in public documents in1973. 1973! The year the Heritage Foundation was born. Four years before the Cato Institute and seven before Ronald Reagan. Before media consolidation. Before the fairness doctrine and equal time provision were abandoned, paving the way for Fox News. Before five media giants dominated our access to information and the press became a wholly owned subsidiary of the United States of America, Inc., a decidedly multinational corporation.

We are living in the age of the military-industrial complex that Dwight D. Eisenhower warned against, the corporate sector with guns. The Bush family, as in mob.

George Bush's failure to protect against the predicted attacks of September 11 and now Hurricane Katrina can only be understood if we're willing to follow the same unimpeachable logic GM used""just think in dollars and cents; ask yourself who benefits. Hint: White House political guru Karl Rove has been put in charge of the massive post-Katrina reconstruction effort, and already it is clear that the same folks who got all those sweetheart, no-bid contracts in Iraq will be inking the really big deals.

Halliburton is first in line, of course. Junior has already seen to it that they'll get a nice leg up by canceling the Davis-Bacon Act, which mandates that federal contractors pay prevailing local rates or better. Halliburton really needs the money. Whereas their potential employees, men and women who've just lost everything they own and their means of making a living, can easily afford to take a cut.

The Republican National Committee actually sent out an action alert in the days immediately following Hurricane Katrina calling on their members to make a big push to repeal the inheritance tax. Nothing is more important to the continuing contraction and concentration of wealth. Just their way of saying you can take it with you.

There was a very ugly mood brewing out there for a bit, but Junior took care of it in a speech on Thursday night, "reassur[ing] many Americans," to quote the NYT, "that he understands the enormity of the event." [2] The man wouldn't interrupt his golf game while people were dying awaiting his authorization for aid! If the Times understood the enormity of the event, they could hardly be reassured by Bush's chilling vision of a "broader role for the armed forces" in future disaster situations. There is a reason we have a law, posse comitatus, prohibiting the deployment of regular army domestically""namely, to guard against a coup by greedy, power-hungry scum like George Bush and his neocons.

I have been hearing the words of Ron Suskind's anonymous source rolling around in my head this whole past week, a philosophical Deep Throat identified only as "a senior advisor to George Bush," who spoke off the record before the election: "We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality""judiciously, as you will""we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too . . . We're history's actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do." Sheila Samples says she recognizes Cheney's cadences, and I hear it now too. The bloated syntax""judiciously, as you will"""the unctuous pomposity.

f*ck you, Mr. Cheney.

When Geraldo, on assignment for Fox News, held up a black baby and sobbed about letting the hurricane detainees out of their Super Dome death camp, I felt a spasm of hope that the media levees might actually hold out against the spin this time. But no. Hate is at the flood. Clear Channel Radio host Glenn Beck:

. . . you know it took me about a year to start hating the 9-11 victims' families? Took me about a year. . . . But . . . when I saw these people [in Louisiana] and they had to shut down the Astrodome and lock it down, I thought: I didn't think I could hate victims faster than the 9-11 victims.

Turns out Glenn can, indeed, hate faster.

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Patricia Goldsmith is a member of Long Island Media Watch, a grassroots free media and democracy watchdog group. She can be reached at
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