Nelson Mandela: A life in pictures
Nelson Mandela and his wife Winnie in this undated file picture.
If I told you that government officials possessed ironclad proof that an imminent threat to this nation had the capacity to create a 9/11′s worth of injuries and deaths every year at an annual economic cost of a quarter trillion dollars, ask yourself: Would you say we should do something about it?
I’m guessing you would. Out of a basic sense of patriotism, you would probably at minimum support some new security regulations and investments in enforcing those regulations, even if that meant paying slightly higher taxes. After all, you profess to love America, and that’s the least we should do in the face of such a threat to our country, right?
Now ask yourself: Would your response to the original query change if you discovered that the threat at hand was not from a terrorist, but from unsafe workplaces — and that because of that unaddressed problem, these casualties and costs have already become a fact of life in America? Come on, admit it — your response probably would change. Yes, many who would reflexively support more regulations and enforcement in the face of a foreign terrorist threat would suddenly scoff at more regulations and enforcement in the face of unsafe workplaces. Why the double standard?
That’s the troubling question raised by the reaction — or, really, lack thereof — to last month’s catastrophic explosion in West, Texas.
Occurring in the heart of a nation whose government data documents 4,500 workplace deaths every year at a cost of $250 billion, the deadly blast originated at a fertilizer plant that had not been inspected by the chronically underfunded Occupational Safety and Health Administration since 1985.
The location of the plant is particularly significant. As the New York Times reports, Texas promotes an “antipathy toward regulations” as “the only state that does not require companies to contribute to workers’ compensation coverage” and a place where many counties “cite the lack of local fire codes as a reason for companies to move there.”
As a result, Texas is not the nation’s most populous state but nonetheless sports “the nation’s highest number of workplace fatalities.” When it comes to industrial disasters, the Times notes that Texas has only about a quarter more “high risk” sites than the state (Illinois) with the second most number of such facilities. However, it has, according to the Times, “more than three times the number of accidents, four times the number of injuries and deaths, and 300 times the property damage costs” as that state.
If all this data was about a terrorist threat, the reaction would be swift — negligent federal agencies would be roundly criticized and the specific state’s lax attitude toward security would be lambasted. Yet, after the fertilizer plant explosion, there has been no proactive reaction at all, other than Texas Republican Gov. Rick Perry boasting about his state’s “comfort with the amount of oversight” that already exists.
So, again, why the discrepancy? Simply put, because this is what now passes for acceptable in a deregulated economy whose laws are written by corporate interests.
Those interests are hostile to safety regulation and enforcement because they don’t want to spend even a tiny bit more on making worksites secure for employees. So they, and the politicians whose campaigns they fund, have made an epithet out of the word “regulation” in order to guarantee that almost nobody asks whether we have to tolerate 4,500 dead American workers each year.
We don’t have to tolerate that level of workplace carnage, of course. There are many obvious and constructive things we could do, starting with adding resources to regulatory agencies and beefing up workplace enforcement. But if even a blast as big as the one in West, Texas, cannot make us realize that simple fact, then nothing will.
David Sirota is a nationally syndicated newspaper columnist, magazine journalist and the best-selling author of the books "Hostile Takeover," "The Uprising" and "Back to Our Future." E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow him on Twitter @davidsirota or visit his website at www.davidsirota.com. More David Sirota.
Nelson Mandela and his wife Winnie in this undated file picture.
Mandela is accompanied by his former wife Winnie, moments after his release from prison February 11, 1990 after serving 27 years in jail. (Reuters)
In this February, 1990 photo, shortly after his release from 27 years in prison, Nelson Mandela, gives the black power salute to the 120,000 supporters packing Soccer City stadium in Soweto, near Johannesburg. (AP Photo)
Nelson Mandela showed his passport in February 19, 1990, shortly after his release from prison. The South African government authorized an application for himself and his wife Winnie - (Juda Ngwenya / Reuters)
In this July 27, 1991 photo, Cuban President Fidel Castro, and Nelson Mandela gesture during the celebration of the "Day of the Revolution" in Matanzas, Cuba. (AP Photo)
In this July 4, 1993 photo, President Bill Clinton and Nelson Mandela listen during Fourth of July ceremonies in Philadelphia during which Clinton presented the Philadelphia Liberty Medal to the African National Congress president and South African President F.W. de Klerk. (AP Photo/Greg Gibson)
President of the African National Congress Nelson Mandela acknowledges cheers from the crowd as he prepares to unveil the ANC's official election platform in 1994. (AP Photo/David Brauchli)
African National Congress (ANC) leader Nelson Mandela greeted residents of Mmabatho in March 1994, during a visit after the nominal homeland came under South African control following the ousting of the former President Lucas Mangope. (Reuters/Howard Burditt)
South African President Nelson Mandela smiles with actor Sidney Poitier at a press conference in Cape Town in 1996. Poitier played Mandela in the film "One Man, One Vote" (AP Photo / Sasa Kralj)
South African President Nelson Mandela waves to crowds as he sits next to Queen Elizabeth II in a an open carriage on the way to Buckingham Palace.(AP/Louisa Buller)
Chairman of the Constitutional Assembly Cyril Ramaphosa, left, holds up a copy of the country's constitution which was signed by President Nelson Mandela, in December 1996. (AP Photo / Adil Bradlow / POOL)
Nelson Mandela at a news conference in Johannesburg in February 2000. (AP Photo / Denis Farrell)
South African rugby captain Francois Pienaar, right, received the Rugby World Cup trophy from President Nelson Mandela also wearing a South African rugby shirt, after South Africa defeated New Zealand in the Rugby World Cup , in 1995. (AP Photo / Ross Setford)