Some years ago, when I was working in New York City, I came out of a subway exit on Lexington Avenue early one morning and found myself ankle deep in a sea of broken glass. There were police and firefighters all over the place, and just across the street, there was modern a high-rise office building, its entire street-facing side from top to bottom blown off and scattered up and down the avenue. It seems that just before rush hour, an surprised building custodian had come to work and pressed the elevator button, which caused a spark in the basement switching mechanism, setting off an incredible explosion of gas which had been leaking all night in the basement and up into the building’s elevator shafts. It was a collossal explosion which, because of the early hour of the day, incredibly ended up killing nobody. Had it happened an hour or so later, during rush hour, the casualties would have been horrific.
In recent months, we have learned of a number of such near disasters--a train wreck that leaked deadly chlorine gas, killing several people, an oil refinery explosion and fire that somehow spared workers and community, and most recently the shipment through the mails of thousands of laboratory test kits inadvertently containing a deadly strain of Asian flu virus that 48 years ago killed millions of people and which, if contracted by someone today and spread again could cause a second pandemic in short order.
While we have been lucky so far that none of these disasters or potential disasters led to mass deaths, it is ironic that the more than 0 billion spent on Homeland Security by the Bush administration has had nothing to do with it.
What these incidents tell us is that the whole American obsession with terrorism is misplaced.
The really terrible disasters that threaten America are not those bombs that nefarious foreign terrorists are supposedly trying to smuggle into our country, but what the negligence, greed of our own U.S. corporations, and lack of adequate government oversight of those corporations, will bring us.
The petrochemical industry has fought successfully to prevent new safety regulations which would make their dangerous facilities less likely to blow up, torching and/or poisoning millions of neighbors.
The drug and chemical companies are literally getting away with murder already as they dump toxins into our air, water and soil, largely unimpeded by an increasingly lackadaisical and poorly funded EPA and FDA.
Railroads, which carry vast amounts of deadly chemicals around the country through populated areas every day, have successfully avoided having to eliminate dangerous grade-level crossings and other potential causes of potentially catastrophic derailments, and have blocked measures to limit the transport of hazardous cargoes through densely populated urban areas. Trucking firms have had similar success in blocking regulations limiting where they can go with dangerous cargoes.
The nuclear industry is permitted to store incredibly toxic nuclear waste in virtually unguarded and unsafe sites adjacent to nuclear reactors, where it is vulnerable to both leaks and theft.
What links most of the real potential dangers like these facing the American public is greed and corporate political influence.
Corporate power and influence in state and federal government has reached the point where there is little or no real safety regulation possible anymore, and where real legislative action can only come after some disaster strikes, when public outrage and demands for action temporarily outweigh one industry’s corporate power and influence.
There is plenty of money for overseas military adventures, and for building up intrusive police forces and monitoring systems at home, all in the name of some deliberately inflated fear of terror or in the name of the bogus "war on terrorism."
For the rest of this column and other stories by Lindorff, please go (at no charge) to This Can't Be Happening! .