Saturday, September 17, 2005

Lab rats on the gulf
I've seen a few reviews of Bush's bring-your-own-electricity speech on Thursday that seem to feel that he was pushing a semi-liberal agenda. I didn't see or hear the speech; I read it. I didn't get that impression at all. Are people so separated from real liberalism that they think all liberalism is measured by is the size of the program? Liberalism means helping people improve their lives by themselves. Conservatism means challenging people to prosper or die. Liberals have no fear of using the power of the state to help people. This makes the big federal program to locate and reach out to the needy a hallmark of modern liberalism. Largeness is the only or most reliable measurement of liberalness. Conservatives can also use big programs, for instance the massive military build up, to achieve their ends.

Digby quotes an article from the Wall Street Journal that confirms what many of us feared all along.
Congressional Republicans, backed by the White House, say they are using relief measures for the hurricane-ravaged Gulf coast to achieve a broad range of conservative economic and social policies, both in the storm zone and beyond.

Some new measures are already taking shape. In the past week, the Bush administration has suspended some union-friendly rules that require federal contractors pay prevailing wages, moved to ease tariffs on Canadian lumber, and allowed more foreign sugar imports to calm rising sugar prices. Just yesterday, it waived some affirmative-action rules for employers with federal contracts in the Gulf region.

Now, Republicans are working on legislation that would limit victims' right to sue, offer vouchers for displaced school children, lift some environment restrictions on new refineries and create tax-advantaged enterprise zones to maximize private-sector participation in recovery and reconstruction. Yesterday, the House overwhelmingly passed a bill that would offer sweeping protection against lawsuits to any person or organization that helps Katrina victims without compensation.

"The desire to bring conservative, free-market ideas to the Gulf Coast is white hot," says Rep. Mike Pence, the Indiana Republican who leads the Republican Study Group, an influential caucus of conservative House members. "We want to turn the Gulf Coast into a magnet for free enterprise. The last thing we want is a federal city where New Orleans once was."

When the radical conservative had all of Iraq as their playground, they flooded the country with think-tank interns and corporate looters to create a conservative playground. The corporate looters had more success achieving their goals than did the think-tank interns. The embryonic civil war and basic foreignness of the country provided the think-tank interns with convenient excuses for their failure to create an objectivist utopia. Now they have an American playground for their experiments.

In my last post I mentioned the preference of the Bush administration to bypass the compromise and messiness of legislative democracy and pursue their goals by executive fiat. So far, the gulf is providing a beautiful proof for that proposition. The administration is using its executive power to terminate seventy years of federal regulation and legislation in large parts of three states. So far the only role they have allowed the legislative branch of the government has been to rubber-stamp the budget.

The rebellion in Iraq has many causes. Their being used as lab rats for conservative social experimentation is probably quite low on the list. I suspect that this will not be the case on the gulf coast. Southern blacks have been used for experimentation before, and the results did not make them happy.

In 1932, the United States Public Health Service began a study of the natural history of untreated syphilis. Their subjects were 400 mostly black, illiterate, and poor sharecroppers around Tuskegee, Alabama. The subjects of the study were not informed of their diagnosis or of the goals of the study. When consent was needed for various study procedures (such as spinal taps,) they were told they had "bad blood" and needed to sign to receive free treatment.

Even after penicillin had become standard treatment for syphilis and the the Nuremberg Code had been formulated to protect the rights of research subjects, the Tuskegee subjects were allowed to go untreated so the clinicians could observe how the disease develops and kills. A whistle-blower ended the study in 1972. "By the end of the study, only 74 of the test subjects were still alive. Twenty-eight of the men had died directly of syphilis, 100 were dead of related complications, 40 of their wives had been infected, and 19 of their children had been born with congenital syphilis."

I suppose some people might say that the New Deal and the Great Society involved a significant amount of social experimenting with the lives of poor people and black people; how is Bush's plan for the gulf so different? To such sincere and reasoned criticism, I can only answer, don't be a silly git! There is a very real and large difference in engaging in social experimenting to the direct and immediate benfit of a population in question and in experimenting on that population in order to achieve results that may or may not benefit their descendents somewhere down the line. Many black people have probably benefited from the medical knowledge gained from the Tuskegee syphilis study. Do you think that makes most blacks thankful and appreciative of the study?

Bush and his radical conservative supporters want to use a couple of million, mostly black, Americans as lab rats to test their social and economic theories. These people have no say in whether or not they will be lab rats (except by moving away from their homes).

To date, massive immorality, opportunism, and contempt for democratic norms have been the hallmarks of the Bush administration. I've known that and been very vocal about it, yet the scale of their plans for the gulf takes even my breath away.

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