Saturday, April 20, 2013

If Corporations Are People When Will We Be Arresting Adair Grain, Inc?

Crime scene in West, TX, LM Otero/AP, via the CSM
The Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards went into effect in the US in June of 2007. These regulations require any chemical facility that stores over a certain amount of dangerous material to report to the Department of Homeland Security. The chemical industry fought the regulations, and managed to get them relaxed for certain compounds, like urea. Ammonium nitrate did not get a pass.

So, when Adair Grain, Inc, of West, TX, failed to report that they had "been storing 1,350 times the amount of ammonium nitrate that would normally trigger safety oversight by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security," they were violating the law. Donald R. Adair (President of Adair Grain) Wanda Adair (Vice President), and Tedd Uptmore Jr. (General Manager) broke the law by not reporting the fact that they were storing more than 400 lbs of ammonium nitrate. In fact,  according to the Reuters story, they had 240 tons of the stuff on hand last year.
"It seems this manufacturer was willfully off the grid," Rep. Bennie Thompson, (D-MS), ranking member of the House Committee on Homeland Security, said in a statement. "This facility was known to have chemicals well above the threshold amount to be regulated under the Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards Act (CFATS), yet we understand that DHS did not even know the plant existed until it blew up."
Reuters contacted Bryan Haywood, a hazardous chemical expert.
"That's just a god awful amount of ammonium nitrate," said Bryan Haywood, the owner of a hazardous chemical consulting firm in Milford, Ohio. "If they were doing that, I would hope they would have gotten outside help." 
In response to a request from Reuters, Haywood, who has been a safety engineer for 17 years, reviewed West Fertilizer's Tier II sheets from the last six years. He said he found several items that should have triggered the attention of local emergency planning authorities - most notably the sudden appearance of a large amount of ammonium nitrate in 2012. 
"As a former HAZMAT coordinator, that would have been a red flag for me," said Haywood, referring to hazardous materials.
Crime scene in West, TX, via KABC
Violation of federal law is a felony. The Felony Murder rule makes any death that occurs during the commission of a felony a murder.
To "qualify" for felony murder, the underlying felony must present a foreseeable danger to life, and the link between the felony and the death must not be too remote.
Storing 240 tons of a highly explosive material in the middle of a town of 2000 people certainly presents a foreseeable danger to life, and the link between not reporting the storage of more than 400 lbs of the stuff and the deaths of the people who died in the explosion is certainly not too remote.

I'm not a lawyer, but considering the fact that this occurred in the Great Law and Order State of Texas, where people are railroaded on trumped up murder charges all the time in the name of Justice, I find it odd that the Governor hasn't sent the Rangers to arrest the Adairs and Mr. Uptmore. But since it's a felony, who needs Ranger Rick? The FBI could march into West, Texas right now and arrest these people for their role in the killing of at least 14 people.

The reckless endangerment of the residents near this plant certainly qualifies as manslaughter, and the violation of federal chemical storage safety rules suggests it's felony murder. And yet the owners of this plant sit in their presumably nice homes, releasing statements of heart break:
"We are presenting all employees for interviews and will assist in the fact finding to whatever degree possible," Adair said. "We pledge to do everything we can to understand what happened to ensure nothing like this ever happens again in any community."
Crime scene in West, TX, by Mike Stone/Reuters/Landov, via NPR
Too little, too late.

Texas is one of the 24 states that actually allows the execution of people convicted of felony murder. I'm against the death penalty, but it would seem that in a state where the driver of a car that transported a murderer can be executed, the state might want to go after folks whose 240 tons of high explosives in the middle of a town exploded after they had not informed the DHS, as required by law.

This is the state of corporate responsibility in the US today. A couple of idiot kids set off some pressure cooker bombs that kill and maim hundreds, and we have US Senators calling for them to be treated as enemy combatants and tried in military courts. But a corporation can willfully and blatantly flaunt federal law, leading to the flattening of a small town, killing and maiming hundreds, and the owners and operators of that corporation walk free and lament the heart break of such a tragedy, knowing that they will likely just have to pay a fine, and maybe get sued.

It's enough to make you think that if you want to commit felony murder in this country, you should incorporate first.

Monday, April 08, 2013

While Thatcher Mauled Britain

Robyn Hitchcock's I Wanna Go Backwards 
Robyn Hitchcock's Box Set I Want to Go Backwards If you're not familiar with Robyn Hitchcock, today's death of Margaret Thatcher is a good reason to get familiar. Hitchcock's album While Thatcher Mauled Britain, included in the remastered box set I Wanna Go Backwards, is a haunting collection of typically Hitchcockian weirdness--banging his brilliant head against the hard reality of Thatcherian despair:
Hitchcock explains that these records were inspired by the despairing state of Britain at the time they were written and recorded. Aside from elucidating the frequent appearance of colonial themes (see Eye opener "Cynthia Mask" and I Often Dream of Trains' "This Could Be the Day"), this also speaks to the oddly intrusive quality of the darker elements in Hitchcock's work. While these albums take place largely in the plane of the imagination, the integrity of this world is always being undermined by an invisible dialogue with an increasingly sad and decrepit reality.
Like her wrecking crew partner Reagan in the US, Thatcher installed a junta of elite supply-siders who spent the next three decades systematically redistributing wealth and income upwards. Their policies live on, continuing to rob the middle class of wage increases associated with productivity, which had been the norm up until the Reagan/Thatcher era.

When I listen to these albums, I get a sense of the era that's eerily more human than my philosophical, economic, or political thoughts are capable of giving me. The disjointed, schizophrenic, chilling tones and effects, combined with hypnotic lyrics that jolt the neurons into contemplation, paint a picture of the time of the Great Mauling that no history book or obituary ever could.

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Another Guy With a Desk Job Bitches About Those Lazy Union Thugs

Courken George Deukmejian, Jr. 

Conor's back with another column wherein he simply cannot bring himself to blame Republicans for anything. Instead, he goes after K-Thug for not blaming the Democrats for anything.
"...political victory doesn't guarantee good governance."
I know, right? Just look at the disaster that was the Bush Administration. The David Brooks of the Atlantic really nailed that subtitle.

Jerry Brown's secret tree-hugging, union-thugging plan to bankrupt the state right into the Pacific is totally like something that happened that Conor doesn't like to talk about.

But California Governorships? He's all over that...
"Since Ronald Reagan departed in 1975, it has gone back and forth between Democrats (like current and former governor Jerry Brown) and Republicans, most recently the moderate Arnold Schwarzenegger."
CA Governorships since 1975:
1975-1983 DEM 8
1983-1999 GOP 16
1999-2003 DEM 4
2003-2011 GOP 8
2011-2013 DEM 2
Peter Barton “Pete” Wilson
24 years of GOP, 14 yrs of DEM.

Conor Math: 24/14  = "gone back and forth."

If we really wanted to stay out of the obfuscation game we'd take a more recent, and relevant time frame, say, 1983-2013, the last 30 years of pertinent American History. During this period of mostly GOP presidents, the CA Governorship has been 24 years of GOP, and 6 years of DEM.

The "back and forth" for the last 30 years has been a 4 to 1 GOP dominance of the California Governor's Mansion.

So, right off the bat I get the feeling that Conor's is bluffing. But here's his tell:
"...the moderate Arnold Schwarzenegger."
See that gentle nudge to the left Connor gives the union hating, Ken Lay and Dick Cheney secret meeting taking, lower taxes for the rich loving, education slashing, safety-net-cutting Plutocrat who happened to believe in global warming while he drove his Hummer down the sunny beach of gay rights?

Conor's never-blame-the-GOP-for-anything-unless-you-call-them-RINOs attitude runs rampant while he criticizes Krugman for not blaming the Democrats for anything (and, seriously, go read K-Thug's column, because Conor's really stretching it).

Of course, there is no mention of Prop 13.

Arnold Alois Schwarzenegger
Conor's serious tackling of The Big Issue? Blame the unions.

In Conor's world, union thugs (who bust their asses fixing roads, controlling violent prisoners, policing dangerous streets, risking their lives to put out fires, and teaching our children while the school crumbles around them) are just a bunch of greedy socialist parasites because they want a defined benefit pension that gives them a decent retirement. In Conor's world, it's fine to let corporate market riggers hijack corporate boards and reward themselves golden parachutes after tanking their companies and the world economy, but if some hard working middle class union member wants a decent retirement, they're greedy and responsible for the downfall of the whole state. It's fine to keep paying into a bloated and corrupt medical industrial complex, the main reason for our long term debt, but wanting to be modestly middle class in a home you've lived in all your life in one of the most expensive states to live in is just too much.

I wish we had a program where people who sit on their asses for their whole career actually have to go work at one of those cushy union jobs guarding dangerous criminals or getting shot at or teaching kids in a crumbling school for crappy pay for just one year. Just one year. Maybe we'd get a lot less Glib Bullshit and a little more sympathy for the people who literally bust their asses making the world work well enough for Conor Friedersdorf to get paid to sit on his ass and write Glib Bullshit. Maybe one year on the streets of south central LA would make him think twice about raising the retirement age, or cutting pensions, or not giving those hard-working, brave Americans raises that keep up with inflation.

Maybe one year isn't enough of too little sleep, sore feet, aching joints, permanent physical damage and pain, while simultaneously never having enough money to make ends meet, not being able to afford college for your kids, or not being able to stay in your home after retirement. The real trick to appreciating the life these hard-working Americans lead is to have to face the long, backwards bending arc of the universe of hard work for little reward. I'm not sure one year of walking in those shoes would be enough for the pampered hordes of Conor Friedersdorfs to really appreciate what it's like to Play Spent in the real world.

My advice to liberals and progressives? If you're ever in contact with some union hating, hard work punishing, market rigging, plutocrat ass-kissing suck up, tell them to just try one little on-line game about being poor. Let's see what kind of choices they make when faced with near poverty, no savings, and one bad break from homelessness and hunger... one medical emergency from bankruptcy. Maybe they'll be kind enough to explain how it's their own lazy faults.