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William Rivers Pitt | The Easy Problem With Government

William Rivers Pitt: Maybe, government isn’t the problem. Maybe the people we allow into government are the problem with government.

An environmental enforcement boat patrols in front of the chemical spill at Freedom Industries in Charleston, West Virginia. (Photo: Foo Conner / Flickr)

So I enjoyed watching the Chris Christie Show last week. High entertainment, that, especially the part where he spent two hours saying he didn’t know anything about that bridge, hadn’t heard, had no idea, couldn’t say, because eleventy thousand people work under him, and he can’t be watching them all. That was great stuff, the way he exuded a real sense of executive command a year after describing President Obama as a man “walking around in a dark room looking for the light switch of leadership for the past four years,” because irony is always awesome.

Chris Christie is a public servant, and a card-carrying member (and former presidential frontrunner) of a party that goes out of its way to disparage, attack, diminish and deride public service and government at every opportunity. In Christie’s case, and in the cases of so many others at the upper echelons of government employment, it seems as if these people are determined to establish how bad government is by being bad at government. Government is terrible!…I’m terrible!…See? I told you!

All this anti-government rhetoric, of course, is in service of the sainted private sector, the “job creators,” the captains of industry. It was Reagan who said government is the problem, a maxim that has become holy writ not only among those on the Right, but among too many Democrats, as well as among all sorts of idiots in the “news” media whose grasping desperation for “balance” leads them on a daily basis to accept and broadcast demonstrably disproven and discredited arguments. Because “balance,” and stuff.

Let’s take a look at the track record of private industry over the last 200 hours.

The giant retailer Target let it be known that it wasn’t 40 million customers who had their financial data stolen, it was 70 million…and then it was 110 million…and it was also PIN numbers and email addresses that got snatched, too. If the federal government had allowed so profound a theft of financial information to take place, the good people at Fox News would be handing out the pitchforks and torches. After a third of the country was placed in peril of having their money stolen, thanks to the failure of private industry? Silence.

In West Virginia, some 300,000 people have been deprived of water to drink, bathe in, or prepare food with for days upon days now. Hospitals and retirement homes have had no water to work with, restaurants and other small businesses have been closed, because the water is so dirty you cannot even boil it to make it clean. Why? Because thousands of gallons of 4-methylcyclohexane methanol were dumped into the Elk River by the magnificently misnamed Freedom Industries, a private company that deals with coal.

But damn those pointy-headed bureaucrats in Washington, right? Except it’s the public servants in Washington who are running down the crooks who stole all that information from Target. It’s the public servants who are cleaning up the mess made by Freedom Industries, and who are trucking in thousands of gallons of clean water to make sure the West Virginia residents affected by this get through it.

And there’s this, too: the site of the spill in West Virginia has not undergone a government inspection since 1991, because government is the problem, so they de-regulated everything. And when it does go wrong, as it always does (ask West, Texas), it’s the taxpayer who pays for the clean-up that is performed by the public servants.

To wit:

Last week’s major chemical spill into West Virginia’s Elk River, which cut off water to more than 300,000 people, came in a state with a long and troubled history of regulating the coal and chemical companies that form the heart of its economy. “We can’t just point a single finger at this company,” said Angela Rosser, the executive director of West Virginia Rivers Coalition. “We need to look at our entire system and give some serious thought to making some serious reform and valuing our natural resources over industry interests.”

Ms. Rosser and others noted that the site of the spill has not been subject to a state or federal inspection since 1991. West Virginia law does not require inspections for chemical storage facilities – only for production facilities. Critics say the problems are widespread in a state where the coal and chemical industries, which drive much of West Virginia’s economy and are powerful forces in the state’s politics, have long pushed back against tight federal health, safety and environmental controls.

The chemical in last Thursday’s spill was 4-methylcyclohexane methanol, known as MCHM. The leak at the Elk River storage facility came from a ruptured tank storing this chemical, which is used to wash coal. No charges have been filed against Freedom Industries, the company that owns the plant, but the United States attorney’s office has already begun an investigation into the spill.

Clearly, the decades-long push to privatize everything will lead us all to paradise on Earth. Please excuse me while I enjoy a glass of tap-provided poison while watching my bank account get looted.

Or maybe, just maybe, government isn’t the problem. Maybe the people we allow into government are the problem with government. Maybe the people who eviscerate regulations and then highlight ineffectual regulations as examples of bad government are the problem with government. Maybe the people who are bought and paid for by private business have no business in public office.

That’s an easy fix, if we want it.

Oh, P.S., all that yelling recently about the screwed-up “Obamacare” website? Yeah, that website was built by a private business.


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