Protecting the People – Safety and Happiness: The Declaration of Independence gave the American people the powers to protect our “safety and happiness”.(1) In this piece, we look at the power of people to protect people.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.
Attacks against America’s Safety and Happiness
The safety and happiness of the people is now suffering violence on many fronts: inequality, injustice, medical and social insecurity, failing schools, terrorism, war, homelessness, hunger, unemployment, vehicle violence, unsafe products and services, unsafe air, unsafe water, unsafe working conditions, failing infrastructure, corporatized media, policy makers and scientists for sale, insecure elections etc. Our planet is in human existential danger.
Colman McCarthy, a great humanitarian and teacher of peace, describes many types of violence afflicting us today. Watch his serious, and humorous, Ted Talk.(2)
Ralph Nader, in a Bloomberg interview, said “We’re in a very perilous situation,” warns of war and lauds the powers of the people.(3)
Inequality + Injury + Injustice = Endless Tragedies
Gandhi, also a lawyer, showed in India that the way for people to achieve independence was through non-violence. (Tragically, British rulers pitted two religions against each other to retain some degree of power after independence. The result was massive – but preventable – violence for billions of people for decades.)
The “Seven Deadly Sins”, that Gandhi warned of afflict us today as roots of violence here in the U.S.A. – and around the world.(4)
Wealth Without Work
Pleasure Without Conscience
Knowledge Without Character
Commerce (Business) Without Morality (Ethics)
Science Without Humanity
Religion Without Sacrifice
Politics Without Principle
The violence of inequality, injury, and injustice is a vicious cycle. History shows that inequality inevitably leads to violence. A New York Times column by Eduardo Porter reports:
“History — from Ancient Rome through the Gilded Age; from the Russian Revolution to the Great Compression of incomes across the West in the middle of the 20th century — suggests that reversing the trend toward greater concentrations of income, in the United States and across the world, might be, in fact, nearly impossible.
That’s the bleak argument of Walter Scheidel, a professor of history at Stanford, whose new book, “The Great Leveler” (Princeton University Press), is due out next month. He goes so far as to state that ‘only all-out thermonuclear war might fundamentally reset the existing distribution of resources.’ If history is anything to go by, he writes, ‘peaceful policy reform may well prove unequal to the growing challenges ahead.’
The big equalizing moments in history may not have always have the same cause, he writes, ‘but they shared one common root: massive and violent disruptions of the established order.’” (5)
Equal Justice = Safety and Happiness
The people’s power can be the peaceful equalizer when applied fairly in the courts of public opinion and the courts of justice. (See Lady Justice Graphic – Lady Justice, while blind folded for fairness, can still smell the stench of money and hear the pleas of millions of injured people – past, present, and future.)
Legal Reader has asked that I relate stories from my experience on safety and air pollution control. One story is the airbag story that showed tragic political deregulatory decisions – sometimes – can be overturned to restore life saving regulations.
While working at NHTSA under Administrator Joan Claybrook, I had the honor and privilege to edit a 1980 agency Report to Congress titled Automobile Occupant Crash Protection. (6)
Months later, Ronald Reagan was elected President. He promptly appointed a coal industry lobbyist, Raymond A. Peck, Jr., to head NHTSA. Peck oversaw the rescission of the airbag regulation promulgated under Joan Claybrook. Reagan policies also reduced NHTSA staff by 300 safety workers (33% of the staff). (7)
Litigation ensued and in June of 1983, the Supreme Court, citing the July 1980 NHTSA Report, overturned the Reagan rescission in a decision that found:
“For nearly a decade, the automobile industry waged the regulatory equivalent of war against the airbag and lost – the inflatable restraint was proved sufficiently effective. Now the automobile industry has decided to employ a seatbelt system which will not meet the safety objectives of Standard 208.” (8)
The war to get airbags into cars continued to be waged for another decade in courts of public opinion and legislatures before airbags began entering the fleet widely in the 1990s – a decade of deadly delay.
Today, NHTSA estimates that by 2014, the number lives saved by frontal air bags amounted to 42,292. Lives are now being saved by frontal airbags at a rate of about 2,400 lives saved per year or about 6 lives per day. Note this estimate does not include lives saved by side airbags. But for Reagan’s decade of deadly delay many thousands more American lives would have been saved by now.(9)
The American people remember President Reagan for saying in Berlin: “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.” I remember President Reagan’s policy to tear up the airbag regulations in Washington, DC thereby condemning many thousands of Americans to suffer preventable tragic deaths and injuries – and their terrible consequences – that will haunt us forevermore right here in the U.S.A.