I often talk about the influence of corporations on government, sometimes the results of this influence which are detailed today by the Boston Globe scare even me. Recently, I did a post, "America For Sale," where I highlighted large increases in the number of lobbyists in Washington. Specific examples of what happens if you spend money in the right places aren't hard to find. For how the corporate-government alliance is broadly impacting the environment, check this article, "Endangered law," in the Globe (Free registration required).
Then there is this press release from the National Resource Defense Council which suggests a connection between the infamous Dick Cheney Energy Task Force and changes in the President's environmental commitments.
Two of the documents illuminate how the coal industry and an industry-funded think tank helped convince President Bush to renege on his campaign promise to regulate carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from power plants. Carbon dioxide emissions are a major cause of global warming. The documents in question are two letters to Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham, one from former Senator Jack Kemp on behalf of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, and another from a member of the National Coal Council.
Obviously this concerns me, but it pales to what has happened or should I say not happened in the realm of transportation security. Thomas Oliphant, from the Boston Globe's Washington Bureau has written an article, "America's vulnerable railways" that while scaring us should also shake our faith in our government which is supposed to looking out after our best interests.
Two years ago, the American Public Transport Association surveyed its transit agency members and uncovered about $6 billion in unmet needs. They do not lust for high-tech toys, but they need surveillance cameras for trains and stations, radio communications equipment, technology to control access to sensitive locations and to locate moving trains instantly -- the infrastructure of rapid response and protection.
Instead, the evidence shows an airport-fixated domestic security system that has little relation to real threat. Since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, some $250 million has been spent on rail and transit security, compared to more than $18 billion on air.
Among the 50 percent of the 9/11 Commission's specific recommendations a year ago that Congress and Bush have yet to act upon was the sensible notion that there should be a national transportation security strategy based on known threats and dangers.
Obviously the London subway and transit attacks are fresh in everyone's minds, but we should not forget Madrid as this CNN article reminds us.
March 11, 2005 marked a year since the devastating terrorist attacks in Madrid, in which a string of powerful bombs were detonated on packed commuter trains. The blasts killed 191 people. More than 1,500 were injured, and survivors are still struggling to rebuild their lives.
So what do our politicians focus on, airports and cutting funding for rail security. The same Oliphant article has this sobering fact, and trust me the folks at the Naval Research Lab are some of the smartest folks in the country.
...a study by the Naval Research Laboratory that estimated as many as 100,000 people in a densely populated area could die within 30 minutes if a single, 90-ton freight car carrying chlorine were punctured.
Perhaps the most blatant example of industry and government putting our safety at risk is the following example that Oliphant used.
But the best metaphor for the sorry state of affairs in the transit and rail sectors is an obscure court case here, involving an ordinance passed by the District of Columbia City Council. The local government had the temerity to ban shipments of the most dangerous chemicals from certain zones around the nation's capital, something the Bush people should have been doing on their own.
So what is the response? The shipping people (led by rail giant CSX Transportation) backed by the administration, files a lawsuit here to block the law's enforcement. They lost in US district court, but rather than accept the result they are appealing. Meanwhile nothing is happening.
While I am no longer surprised by anything, this twiddling your fingers while someone prepares to set fire to Washington is pretty astounding. To me it is reminiscent of the August 6, 2001 memo given to President Bush, warning of possible attacks in the US. Nothing was done then and little is being done now to prepare us for real threats to mass transit. I guess it will take an attack on a US train before we wake up.
Nevertheless, FBI information since that time indicates patterns of suspicious activity in this country consistent with preparations for hijackings or other types of attacks, including recent surveillance of federal buildings in New York.
The government is fully engaged though in a number of other efforts most of which don't make a lot of sense for what is supposedly a "conservative" government. The article, "End to federalism?," in the Philadelphia Enquirer has an interesting and what seems to me an accurate assessment of the situation.
Early in his presidency, Bush pledged to "make respect for federalism a priority in this administration," and he affirmed the founders' belief that "our freedom is best preserved when power is disbursed."
When you list the positions of the current administration, as the Enquirer has done. Somehow I don't feel very safe since their focus other than the terrorist training war in Iraq seems to be in consolidating power in Washington for the friends of the current administration and interfering with what should be personal decisions.
That (medical marijuana) decision followed many others that show the administration's lack of interest in the proper balance of powers between state and federal governments.
Consider its position on these issues:
The right to die. Then-Attorney General John Ashcroft said federal laws prohibit Oregon doctors from prescribing lethal doses of controlled drugs to terminally ill patients. He threatened to revoke the federal licenses of doctors who followed the Oregon law allowing physician-assisted suicide. Lower federal courts blocked him, but the administration has pursued the case to the Supreme Court, which will review it this fall.
The Terri Schiavo case. The President supported Congress's efforts to block her death. Congress issued an extraordinary directive to the federal courts to intervene in the normal workings of family law, an area that has remained under the control of the states since the birth of the republic. Fortunately, the federal courts proved more mindful of federalism than Congress and refused.
Gay marriage. Last year, in response to "activist judges and local officials" in Massachusetts and San Francisco, Bush proposed a constitutional amendment defining marriage as being between only a man and a woman. It would override state laws experimenting with gay marriage.
Education. The No Child Left Behind Act reduces state autonomy in education by imposing uniform testing requirements. It uses the threat of significant restructuring of school operations if districts do not meet federal standards, all in an area that has historically fallen under the control of states.
The best of intentions might be behind these measures, but they follow a dangerous constitutional strategy. Demanding rigid, one-size-fits-all nationwide rules counteracts the benefits of federalism, which calls for decentralized governance. Federalism allows states to compete for residents and businesses. Some people will choose to live in California because they are willing to trade high taxes for strong environmental rules, while others might want to live in Massachusetts because of gay marriage.