January 1999

By David Trumbull

Button up Your Overcoat


"Winter is icummen in, lhude sing Goddamn," wrote Ezra Pound of this season. Or, more prosaically, "Winter has arrived, forcing America's outdoor workers to face yet another brisk challenge," wrote the U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Safety and Health Administration in a "news" release that recently crossed my desk. That OSHA considers the arrival of winter to be "news" suggests Republicans' mistake in 1995 was not in closing down the federal government, but letting in start up again.

"Wearing the right clothing is the most important step a person can take to fight the cold's harmful effects," advised OSHA Administrator Charles N. Jeffress. I had always thought that "nanny state" was just a figure of speech until I read this six-page taxpayer funded admonition to button up my overcoat and remember to wear my rubbers.

That last point of course was also made by the former Surgeon General of the United States, although I think she meant something else. Then again, who knows? Even Mr. Clinton finally gave up trying to figure out what Jocelyn Elders would say in public.

Still, I am taking no chances. I have bought a new hat and coat, just in case the power goes out and there is no heat after the computers all fail on January 1, 2000. You see, I had rashly concluded that the Y2K bug was largely the creation of the media looking for a sensational story and opportunistic computer consultants seeking to fleece gullible techno-phobes. Then I received my copy of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Y2K Enforcement Policy.

Yes, that's right, the EPA. I guess all those computers that fail will create a waste disposal problem. My suspicion of government agencies that are "here to help" went into over drive when I received this package from EPA. The cover letter was signed by Karen V. Brown, EPA Asbestos and Small Business Ombudsman. Now, let's get this straight: EPA lumps together asbestos, a highly carcinogenic substance, and small business. Suddenly my far-right friends don't sound so far off the mark. Why, this confirms conservatives' worst fears about Washington, DC.

Protecting Americans from small business and other cancer causing substances is no small job. Why else would it take the Food and Drug Administration 473 pages of single-spaced, three-column, small type to say to tobacconists "check I.D. and don't sell to minors." That is, after all, the substance of the USFDA Regulations Restricting the Sale and Distribution of Cigarettes and Smokeless Tobacco Products to Protect Children and Adolescents.

Every business day the Government Printing Office produces the Federal Register, the listing of new regulations issued that day. Every day a new Federal Register, about one-half the size of the Boston Area White Pages, arrives at my office. I'm still waiting for an EPA report on the number of trees chopped down annually to produce the Federal Register; I suspect I'll be waiting a long time.

I'll still be waiting in June, when I'll receive a "news" release from OSHA reminding me to wear light clothing and drink plenty of water. "Summer is icummen in, lhude sing cuckoo."


David Trumbull is Chairman of the Cambridge Republican City Committee.