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In its ranking of business values, corporate America proudly provides a special place for elevated moral behavior. That place is the trash can.
Indeed, several years ago, free-market extremist Milton Friedman actually decreed that the only ethical obligation a corporation has to society is to deliver as much profit as possible to its big investors — everybody else be damned. Any awfulness caused by their self-indulgent policy of profit maximization is excused by claiming that their iniquities "broke no laws." But — hello — they write the laws, intentionally defining corporate immorality as always technically legal.
America experienced the result of this mentality just before Christmas, when a line of supercell tornadoes ripped through Midwestern states, demolishing homes, businesses and even whole towns, killing more than 90 people. "A tragedy," wailed CEOs, the media and public officials! But wait: Those deaths were not destiny. No question that a twisting 190-mph vortex comes at us with cataclysmic power, but we're not helpless in the face of its fury. For years, an effective, comparatively cheap defense against killer tornadoes has been readily available: Safe rooms.
Basically, these are simple, concrete rooms built inside homes, schools, factories, shopping centers and elsewhere. People can shelter safely in them during big blows, surviving even if the building around them is shredded. Emergency management officials report that they provide "near absolute protection" from tornadoes. A decade ago, safety officials, insurance providers, consumer advocates and others had proposed amending our building codes to require these inexpensive, lifesaving structures in new commercial and public buildings. Such a provision would've saved many workers who were crushed in an Amazon warehouse, a candle-making factory and other buildings destroyed in December's storms.
But they died, because in 2012, members of a little-known industry-controlled group, the International Code Council, had quietly vetoed the proposal, calling it "overly restrictive," even declaring it "way too soon to do a knee jerk reaction" to tornado deaths.
All those buildings smashed by December's tornadoes were corporate death sites because their shoddy construction "broke no laws." Let's ask corporate America if it's still too soon for Congress to mandate tornado-safe rooms.
The morning after the horrific tornado smashed a huge Amazon warehouse in Illinois, killing six workers on the night shift, corporate CEO Jeff Bezos issued a personal video message.
But instead of expressing distress and sorrow, Boss Bezos was perversely giddy. That's because the narcissistic gazillionaire had not made the video to mourn the deaths. Rather, ignoring Amazon's Illinois disaster, he had chosen this hour of tragedy to gloat to the world that his private space tourism business had just rocketed a small group of extremely rich thrill seekers on a 10-minute joyride some 66 miles up to the edge of space. As reported by the "Popular Information" newsletter, Bezos even dressed up in a pretend astronaut costume for this PR video, grinning proudly as he exclaimed that everyone involved was really "happy."
Back on Planet Earth, though, the families and co-workers of the employees crushed when Amazon's cheaply built structure collapsed on them were not happy with him. It took Bezos some 12 hours after his self-congratulatory media event before he finally issued a perfunctory tweet professing to be "heartbroken over the loss of our teammates."
But they weren't "lost" to a storm — they were killed by a deliberate corporate culture that routinely cuts corners on worker safety to put more profit in corporate pockets. First, the building itself was thrown up quickly with cheap, preassembled, 40-foot-high concrete walls that collapse inward in a tornado; second, Amazon's employees were expected to stay on the job that night even though there was a high risk of tornadoes; third, Amazon never bothered to hold tornado drills; and fourth, nearly all of the workers were classified as "contractors," letting Amazon dodge liability for on-the-job harm.
Oh, and Jeff might also want to reconsider one more bit of the corporate arrogance he revealed in this ugly incident: Those dead workers were not his "teammates," as he so cynically called them — even a high-flying captain doesn't treat teammates as throwaway units, carelessly sacrificing their lives for a few more dollars in corporate profit.
To find out more about Jim Hightower and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators webpage at www.creators.com.
Sen. Bernie Sanders said that by vowing to uphold the archaic Senate rule standing in the way of voting rights legislation, his Senate colleagues Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) are putting "the future of American democracy" at risk.
"It is a sad day when two members of the Democratic caucus are prepared to allow the Freedom to Vote Act to fail," the Vermont senator tweeted on Friday "I hope very much they will reconsider their positions."
Sinema and Manchin's opposition to weakening the 60-vote filibuster rule—a stance they reiterated last Thursday—effectively tanks their party's hopes of passing voting rights legislation to thwart the GOP's mass disenfranchisement and election subversion efforts in states across the country.
Despite the likelihood of failure, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY.) said the Senate will debate the newly assembled Freedom to Vote: John R. Lewis Act on Tuesday, a day after the federal holiday honoring Martin Luther King Jr.
"If Senate Republicans choose obstruction over protecting the sacred right to vote—as we expect them to—the Senate will consider and vote on changing the Senate rules, as has been done many times before, to allow for passage of voting rights legislation," Schumer said in a floor speech after Sinema made clear she would not back any such changes, intensifying calls for a 2024 primary challenge.
The support of every member of the Senate Democratic caucus and a tie-breaking vote from Vice President Kamala Harris would be needed to enact a rule change.
With federal action likely not forthcoming, local Democratic officials and activists "now say they are resigned to having to spend and organize their way around" the slew of fresh Republican-authored voting restrictions, the New York Times reported, "a prospect many view with hard-earned skepticism."
In a July letter to President Joe Biden, a coalition of 150 civil rights organizations wrote that "while we support the notion of a broad-based coalition of advocates, we cannot and should not have to organize our way out of the attacks and restrictions on voting that lawmakers are passing and proposing at the state level."
"Nor can we litigate our way out of this threat to democracy," the groups warned. "We must remember that at critical times in our history, one party has been forced to act alone in securing the fundamental democratic rights of American citizens, including Congress' passage of both the 14th and 15th Amendments. Any rule or procedure that functions to stop bills from ever being considered on the floor is not a procedure to promote debate; it is a procedure to promote gridlock."
Reprinted with permission from Alternet