The Enemy Within
September 24, 2005
By Patricia Goldsmith
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.  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 plaintiffs 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
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 Administration response to the attacks of September 11
and now Hurricane Katrina can be understood if we 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
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
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."  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
We should all be aware that empires, unlike republics, are built
on slave labor.
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
. . . 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.
For the more high-brow hater (i.e., those who still read), there's
conservative columnist George
F. Will. Criticizing Barack Obama's "banalities" about connections
between race and poverty, Will writes,
The senator is called a "new kind of Democrat," which
often means one with new ways of ignoring evidence discordant with
old liberal orthodoxies about using cash—much of it spent through
liberalism's "caring professions"—to cope with cultural collapse.
He might, however, care to note three not-at-all recondite rules
for avoiding poverty: Graduate from high school, don't have a baby
until you are married, don't marry while you are a teenager. Among
people who obey these rules, poverty is minimal.
The reference to "cultural collapse" shows Will working up-wind
in the exact same heavily-fertilized field as his colleague Mr.
Will cuts down Obama's charge of "malicious neglect" on the part
of the Bush government by citing "6.6 trillion (emphasis
his) in spending since Lyndon Johnson declared war on poverty 40
years ago." Golly, Mr. Will, did you say $6.6 trillion?
Spread over 40 years. And exactly how many trillions of dollars
did corporations and wealthy individuals receive in tax "relief"
in the last year alone? And why is it that corporations are never
expected to get off government welfare and stand on their own two
feet (so to speak)?
I think Cheney talked to Suskind because he wanted to boast to
someone smart enough to appreciate his artistry, who could really
see—and therefore fear—what they are doing. Consider this statement
in the second paragraph of Bush's
speech: "fellow Americans calling out for food and water, vulnerable
people left at the mercy of criminals who had no mercy . . ." Do
I hear a confession buried deep inside that twisted reference to
And what about the Biblical reference? Those are always fun. This
one, aptly enough, describes the Great Flood, "along this coast,
for mile after mile," George said, talking directly to his base,
"the wind and water swept the land clean." Since Hurricane Katrina
polluted the land, with millions of barrels of spilt oil and broken
sewers and dead bodies and submerged toxic landfills, the passage
must be metaphorical: just like the Great Flood, which came upon
the earth to wipe out a sinful race, we've had a warning.
Lakoff believes that Katrina is a watershed moment, that now
is the time for liberals to assert the necessity of a government
that cares about and protects people, to frame the philosophical
discussion in human terms before the neocons can bury it under tons
of mud. Only problem is, many Democrats can't do that. They derive
their financing from the same corporate masters as the Republicans.
Which is also the reason Democrats as a whole are not and will never
be a peace party.
But Katrina is a threshold event, on many levels. Most important,
it is perhaps the first widely recognized harbinger of catastrophic
climate change, the last in a line of unusual occurrences—the Indian
Ocean tsunami, drunken forests in Alaska, a
snowless Mt. Fuji—that have been subliminally but steadily dripping
into public awareness.
I believe we are one ecological catastrophe away from a mass consciousness
that there just might be something more important than money. Like
We need to take a page from the enemy's book and put ourselves
in a position to exploit the next, inevitable disaster. Instead
of wasting our time learning to speak the so-called language of
faith, we need to start preaching science, informing people that
even now it may be too late, that climate change may be sudden and
irreversible, preparing ourselves to channel the outrage that is
coming, an unimaginable tsunami.
1. The Corporation, Joel Bakan, pgs. 62-64.
2. The New York Times, editorial, 9-16-05.