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Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Sign O' The Times

safety.jpg

Talk about treating the symptom and not the disease :
Gov. Joe Manchin said Thursday that the Bush administration should require full-time, professional rescue teams to respond to fires and explosions in the nation’s coal mines.

Manchin called for the action during a Charleston event to honor mine rescue teams from across West Virginia.

The governor praised rescue team members, but noted that few mines have their own teams and all members are volunteers.

Manchin said January’s two mine accidents showed the volunteer system is inadequate. More teams are needed at strategic locations around the coalfields, the governor said.
You know what would be even more effective? Preventing the accidents from happening in the first place. I guess that would take something crazy like enforcing the workplace safety laws already on the books.

In my earlier post, I complained about Democrats not standing up for what they believe in, so let me present this perfect opportunity for the Democratic leaders in Congress to step up and say something that doesn't poll well but is the right thing to do. With the GOP having a boner for tort "reform", deregulation, and other ways of kissing CEO ass, it would be nice to hear a politician say "You're right. Jury awards and fines are out of control. The problem is they're way too low to be effective." Seriously.

I know we've all been conditioned to believe a multimillion dollar fine is insane, but that's largely because liberals of all stripes have rolled over and played dead while corporate shills have convinced the public that punitive damages are like a winning lottery ticket for the victims who, as they'll often imply, probably didn't even really get hurt that bad to begin with. This blame the victim mentality is an entire plank of the GOP's rickety platform and it's time for someone to knock the damn thing down.

Businesses exist for one reason only : to make money. I don't begrudge them that, but I do think one of the big lines that separates the two parties is that Democrats by and large think our laws should protect Americans from amoral entities, while Republicans are content with pretending that corporations have our best interests in mind. Of course, if a company is actually held to that same standard later, "pro-business" shills are quick to point out that their obligation is to shareholders. If that's the way things are going to be, then that's fine, but then we need to make sure our laws reflect the fact that businesses put money first and people second.

Which brings me back to the mine disasters. We've all read about the pitiful government oversight, fines for safety violations that could be paid with the change you'd find in your couch, etc. With the tragedy we've seen, it's tempting to reevaluate punitive measures against the mine companies with questions like "How much should a human life be worth?", but posing vaguely philosophical questions misses the mark. Nailing down a dollar amount is pointless without pursuing this goal :

Fines and damages should always be greater than the total cost of complying with the law.

As long as it's cheaper to break the law, we're going to keep seeing innocent people killed by corporate negligence. It's not because corporations are necessarily evil, but that it's cheaper to pay the fines and cross your fingers (especially when CEOs are pressured to keep costs down and are competing with other businesses equally willing bend the law). As long as the government lets businesses get away with doing a cost/benefit analysis with your lives, the string of tragedies will continue. If you want this to stop, the first step will be having an opposition party who takes the same "no tolerance" approach towards corporate crime that they do with violent and property crimes.

Here's an idea : Since corporations are legally viewed as persons, why not a corporate three-strikes law?

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