Editor's note: This contribution by the late journalist I.F. Stone first appeared in our January 1975 magazine.
Texas Governor Rick Perry said recently that even after the massive fertilizer plant explosion last month, voters in his state really aren't that interested in tighter workplace safety rules. That would infringe upon freedom.
Having lived in Texas for most of my life, I can tell you this makes a strange sort of sense. Despite the state's history with populism, Texas is home to one of the most rare and powerful creatures on the political tundra: NIMBY's, in numbers you wouldn't believe.
Whole armies of them swarm city councils and leave members in rotting heaps for buzzards and property developers to pick clean. When business and political leaders say, "All politics is local," what they really mean is don't cross the "Not In My Back Yard" folks.
I've seen Texas NIMBYs bring even the almighty Home Depot to a standstill, leaving company representatives pleading with local activists -- okay, we'll drop our whole brand's unique color scheme if you'll just stop stacking the zoning board meetings already -- and it's astonishing. This is the backdrop to what happened in West. It was all kept so quiet for so long that nobody even really knew a bomb twice the size of the blast that leveled the Oklahoma City federal building was just waiting to go off mere miles from Interstate 35. Aside from the near constant smell of cow shit, this fertilizer depot was not out of the ordinary, so the NIMBYs stayed at home.
Here we see how the real power behind Texas Republicans perpetuates itself: through the unthinking, unknowing capitulation of the NIMBYs. Keep things quiet and we should be fine, is the mantra. Texas is the headquarters of corporate America's moral authority. It's the place where they can say, Yes, Everything's Working Fine, just like we told you. It's a place where an awkward, grandstanding suit like Perry can shoot off automatic rifles on camera, then lick his lips and declare economic dominance, even though his state's battalion of former used car salesmen barely survived the recession by getting jobs managing the local McDonalds. That's sadly what the state's economic "recovery" has amounted to: a boom in low-wage service jobs, very few of which offer even basic health care at prices workers can afford.
The problem with this corporate moral authority is that it's the same complete bullshit as the moral authority of globalism today: it places convenience and profits above survival, and makes undercutting your own working class to steal a few jobs away from a neighboring state seem like a net positive, not the shameful cannibalism it really represents. As we peel away the layers of this Banana Republic, it becomes clear that the only thing keeping it from spoiling entirely is blind faith.
In a nutshell, that's the problem with Texas: We're the biggest cannibal of them all right now, for a variety of reasons. First, if you're a corporation, we literally do not care what you're doing, and the apathy runs so deep that we'll abdicate even the most basic oversight.
This is why the facility in West was not inspected since 1985. You could be storing enough explosives to take down the tallest skyscraper in Dallas and, as this episode has proved, that's quite alright with us. Hell, we'll even consider paying you to come set up shop here, provided you make the right political contributions.
The shamelessness is right out in the open, too: Perry's campaign has benefitted to the tune of $2 million from companies that suck on the taxpayer-created Texas Enterprise Fund, where businesses get free venture capital provided they catch the attention of one of the state's three top Republicans. And that's just scratching the surface.
So when Perry goes in front of the cameras and tells corporate America they don't have to worry about us, they can keep on running roughshod over Texas citizens, the environment and even federal freaking law, please be sure that he's serious -- because, how else can one create jobs? This is the magic of America's corporate moral authority: the more we eat our own, the more it just tastes like steak. And if our own spokesperson does not believe in this GOP magic-sauce hard enough, why, the whole damn banana will go rotten.
Consider the quandary of West in a different light: When an arsonist burned down the Texas governor's mansion, we caught him on tape, but not with enough detail to identify him and the investigation remains open years after the fact. Instead of taking reasonable steps to secure the area around the governor's mansion once it reopened, what does Perry do? He makes a bunch of black lawmakers undergo criminal background checks just to enter the building, then prances around before the National Rifle Association claiming that pushing background checks for gun buyers is anti-American heresy. Yet, nobody seems to have noticed that you can still throw objects through the governor's mansion fence to the front porch, just like the arsonist did with a Molotov. Good thing we addressed those 16 giant goddamn caches of unguarded explosives that dot the state, right?
For an outsider touring Texas political affairs, it must be like taking a peek into a futuristic corporate dystopia, where urban sprawl happens and, eh, who gives a shit about infrastructure? Why should we raise taxes on the company that's causing all the lung cancer when we can just privatize health care and give the money we saved to the coal industry?
While we're at it, why not privatize our roads and bridges too? (We have.) And by golly, we could do that to the schools, police forces, emergency responders... Even whole towns! (Seriously, there's a corporate-owned "master planned community" in the Dallas area called Lantana that's admittedly quite nice until you get involved in the local decision-making process.) And let's not even begin talking about the state's water planners, who are ideologically opposed to the latest weather prediction models, mainly because they anticipate a rash of droughts over the next 25 years driven by climate change. Stare at it long enough and you'll realize the infiltration is so rife, even Texas churches are now being run by megacorp executives. Keeping the faith, morals be damned.
So it was and so it is in the weird wonderland of Texas, where your average voter rages against big government, then spends thousands of dollars every year just trying to get to and from work, breathing in some of the worst air pollution in the nation while listening to right wing radio that tells them Mexicans and environmentalists are the Real cause of their problems.
Yes, God Bless Texas. But God bless Rep. George Miller (D-CA) even more, for proposing a bill after the explosion in West that would take workplace safety inspections and accountability out of these irresponsible leaders' hands and give it to the feds. People like the volunteer firefighters in West, who were willing to run into burning structures at all hours of the day for nothing but gratitude in return, deserve better than closed-casket funerals paid for by a company that traffics in cow shit.
Now, if only House Republicans agree