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Wet is dry, black is white, and mandatory is voluntary

The New York Times is upset because the Bush administration has announced its new "ergonomic" policy for workplace safety, and that policy is voluntary. You can tell the Times is upset, because they lead their coverage not with the justification for the policy, but with the criticism:

Democratic lawmakers and union leaders were quick to attack the new policy, calling it toothless and far weaker than the Clinton administration regulations that a Republican-dominated Congress repealed 13 months ago, with President Bush's encouragement.

Business groups, on the other hand, were mostly pleased. They had vigorously fought against mandatory ergonomic measures, contending that they could cost American companies $100 billion or more.

Note that the Times doesn't mention the jobs that will be lost; only the money. That way they can frame it as injured workers vs. greedy corporations. But then they add this puzzling statement:
At a news conference at the Labor Department, Mr. Henshaw promised to put some teeth behind the voluntary guidelines, warning that OSHA would bring enforcement actions against industries that had high injury rates and took few steps to reduce them. He declined to identify the industries that government safety officials might focus on, saying only that the government would concentrate on industries with the highest rates of injuries.
Huh? "Teeth" behind "voluntary" guidelines? "Enforcement actions"? To paraphrase Sesame Street: one of these words is not like the others. And knowing that government only gets bigger, never smaller (no matter who's in charge), I can guess which word will turn out to be applicable. After all, whatever the ideology of the Bush administration, regulators themselves only have jobs if they have regulations to enforce.

Still, the Times has to give voice to the usual suspects to complain, from union lobbyists to Teddy Kennedy:

"Once again, the administration handed a win to big business at the expense of millions of average workers especially women who risk workplace injuries every single day," Mr. Kennedy said. "Today's announcement rejects substantive protections for America's workers in favor of small symbolic gestures."
See, the administration isn't just being anti-worker; they're also anti-women. The Times doesn't challenge this -- of course -- and it's not clear to me that Kennedy isn't just pulling it out of thin air. More importantly, the Times never begins to address the notion that there's any argument against such regulations except money. You're either pro-regulation or you're anti-worker, in the Times' worldview There's simply no acknowledgement that increasing business costs can cost jobs, which obviously hurts workers. Of course, one could argue that the tradeoff is worth it -- but the Times doesn't even try. (Let alone the thought of broaching the idea that workers should decide on their own whether the tradeoff is worth it.)


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