AUSTIN -- Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice helpfully explained it all for us. The problem is that we are living in an alternative reality. What we think we know is not true. We have always had enough troops in Iraq. There are 120,000 trained Iraqi soldiers ready to take over. The president has condemned torture, so what else is there to say? Why torture happened, whose fault it is and why it is still happening at Guantanamo is not a problem because the president has condemned it. Secretary Rice also condemns it, so why raise questions about the fact that she wrote a letter to get an anti-torture clause in the intelligence appropriation bill taken out?

What, do you want to insult her integrity?

Secretary Rice did say that mistakes were made, but she does not know who made them or who should be held accountable. And, of course, as we all learned during the last election, no matter what happens, it is never, ever President Bush's fault.

Oh, goody, another Texan with a big job in Washington. We're so proud. Jonathan L. Snare has been named to head the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Just the guy we would have chosen ourselves, because his background is so relevant. No, he's not an expert in health or safety, but he used to be the lobbyist for Metabolife, the ephedra diet pill that attracted so much unpleasant attention. Ephedrine was finally barred in 2003 after the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) decided it had caused 155 deaths. I guess we're lucky Bush didn't put Snare at the FDA. According to the Washington Post, Metabolife spent more than $4 million lobbying the Texas Legislature between 1998 and 2000. Snare was also general counsel to the Republican Party of Texas from 1999 to '01 and has extensive experience in election law.

Exactly how this qualifies him to head OSHA is unclear -- maybe he's a quick learner. He did join the solicitor's office of the Department of Labor in June 2003, where the Labor Department's announcement says, "Snare focused on issues at OSHA, as well as the Wage and Hour Division and the Mine Safety and Health Administration." Wage and Hour, you may recall, has made what business considers a great leap forward by making overtime pay optional, whereas the Mine Safety people have just had their budget cut.

Snare was formerly with the Texas law firm Loeffler, Jonas & Tuggey. That would be W's close friend and big-time money-raiser Tom Loeffler, who ran for governor of Texas on the grounds that he was "tough as 'bob war.'" To prove it, he proudly claimed to have played football with two broken wrists. (Loeffler also wore shower caps on his feet while showering during a visit to San Francisco back in the '80s lest he get AIDS through his feet. (I tell this story not to make Snare ridiculous by association but just because it's a good story.)

Snare is actually the second fox assigned by Bush to guard this particular henhouse. The assistant secretary is John Henshaw, a former health and safety chief for the chemical company Monsanto. In 40 months on the job, Henshaw axed three dozen proposed regulations from the agency's agenda, according to NPR -- toxic chemical exposure regs, metalworking fluids regs, flammable and combustible liquids reactive chemicals that kill people and so forth.

Snare was generally well-liked and well thought of here in Texas, but that still doesn't make him an expert on health and safety issues. OSHA is now so toothless, with so few inspectors that they can only look at a tiny percentage of plants in this country.

Henshaw also encouraged partnership with industry. According to NPR reporter Peter Overby, "What OSHA has done is turn away from regulating; less stick more carrot. Now its goal is to work with industry instead of mandating health and safety standards." He also reports the new alliances business encouraged by Henshaw do not include worker representatives. "That's not the only way in which previous policies at OSHA have been stood on their head. OSHA used to recruit its top appointees from state agencies and job safety organizations. In the Bush administration, it draws appointees from business and anti-regulatory groups."

Well, Snare will certainly fit right in, then. This administration disdains the whole idea of ergonomic injuries, also called repetitive stress syndrome, despite the fact that millions of people have them. It's one thing to ignore ergonomic injuries since people seldom die of them, but chemical exposure and many other problems are life-threatening. Workplace deaths were up last year, but the agency claims illness and injuries were down. I hate to sound like a cynic, but I'd like to know how they changed the reporting requirements on the last two.

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