Friday, April 26, 2013

More on the act of terror in West Texas

West Texas: No accident
by Richard Mellor
Afscme Local 444 retired

A recent Pew study found that the richest 7% of American households now own 63% of the country’s net worth up from 56% in 2009, while for the remaining 93% our average net worth declined to $134,000 from $140,000.  Poverty and inequality is presently at 1920’s levels. This is what their media calls a recovery, they actually mean, “our” recovery, it’s a matter of language.  When we add to this the attacks on already dismal social services, lack of health care, homelessness, indebtedness etc. and the insecurity that results, it is no surprise that in the absence of a means of organizational expression, the anger beneath the surface of US society often manifests itself in drug and alcohol abuse, domestic violence, psychological despair and acts of mass murder that we see on an almost daily basis.

Despite all the appeals to patriotism and nationalism, Americans don’t trust the government for good reason.  But these appeals get more of an echo as people see a nasty world out there and no alternative to the status Quo; better the devil you know.

A major source of this anger and alienation as well as the confusion, is the media.  And for those of us that do give the mass media more credibility than it deserves when reporting on global affairs and particularly the US government and war machine’s role in them, we should look at a recent domestic act of terror brought about by US capitalism and how its media reports it. I am referring to the West Texas fertilizer plant that exploded, killing 15 people and injuring more than 200.  The blast destroyed homes within a five-block radius. It “…destroyed a nursing home, an apartment complex, and a nearby middle school, according to the New York Times, the blast left a crater 93 feet wide and 10 feet deep, and the fire 'burned with such intensity that railroad tracks were fused.'" (

This act of domestic terrorism was easily preventable; it was not an accident. The New York Times headline in the aftermath of the catastrophe proclaims that the fertilizer plant, ”Fell Through the Cracks of Regulatory Oversight.”. “Fell through the cracks?”.  What “cracks” are these I wonder?  The Times again, “The uncertainty over who was aware of the chemical at the plant and who was not…”  Ok, we have “cracks” and “uncertainty” so far but there’s more; there were “bureaucratic cracks at the federal, state and local levels” says the Times. It’s hard to grasp it all except it seems no one was responsible.

The NY Times knows this is so because an unnamed federal official told the paper that “regulatory cracks” seem to be the culprit so far.  Why the  “uncertainty” though? We’ve seen the precision and efficiency the US government applies to its military operations and assassinations of various characters in its staunch efforts to protect us all.

It appears that there is a legal requirement that requires a company like the fertilizer plant that just blew up to send annual reports to three state and local agencies according to the Times.  These reports are supposed to inform the authorities of the hazardous chemicals on site.  The company sent them this year informing these agencies that in 2012 it had 540,000 pounds of ammonium nitrate stored at its facility, more than 100 times that used in the Oklahoma bombing. What the response to this information was from these agencies is unclear.

What we do know is that after 911, Congress passed a law that required these companies that store high explosives or hazardous chemicals to notify Homeland Security if they had more than 400 pounds stored.  This was not done in the West Texas case despite the company having more than 1350 times that amount.

In a previous blog on this issue I commented that OSHA last inspected the plant 28 years ago and that
A West Texas victim of capitalist terror
even when found at fault for “serious violations” the fines are so paltry, no company would be hurt by them.  OSHA officials claim that this lax approach was due to the results of prior inspections.  A “lack of worker complaints” was also a factor as well as the company not being “classified as high risk by the EPA” says the Times.

Here’s where the frustration and anger is about to erupt.  Why would a worker not complain about safety violations?  Ask any worker and they’ll tell you.  (Assuming you’re not the boss or one of their flunkies).  You’ll be victimized.  You’ll be punished in some way either by denial of advancement, vacation preferences, overtime availability etc.  Or if you persist you’ll be fired. The main thing is it lets the bosses know you’re not on their, “Team”. You’re, a “trouble maker”. Persist, and you’ll be unemployed.  I worked in the more humane public sector and had a Union and even then, workers were wary.  Only a strong, organized and militant Union presence on the job encourages such freedom.  We are talking about Texas here. And at least, we all know that OSHA rarely has the person power to respond until workers die and can’t protect you against retaliation so you keep your mouth shut and carry on working to keep your head above water and your kids in school.

And it’s not certain the EPA would have done much if anything and in this instance the agency wasn’t even informed. Another accident?  Another slip through the “Regulatory cracks”?

One agency, the Texas Feed and Fertilizer Control Service did make visits to the plant, 35 of them, including one 12 days prior to the explosion. This agency is supposed to keep tabs on the sale of this potentially powerful chemical through the state. Officials of this agency are forbidden by law to divulge information about these facilities.

We finally come to the answer to all of this when an expert on chemical safety informs us that the problem, or a major “shortcoming in the system of regulating chemical plants…” , to use his own words, is “…the reliance on self reporting.” 

 “Self reporting” is like asking the fox to protect the chickens and the Times reports that in its 2011 Risk Management Plan that it has to file with the EPA, West Fertilizer, “..did not check the box saying the plant might face a risk of fire or explosion.”

That should raise the eyebrows of any concerned person but here come those damn “cracks” again.  This time the “budgetary constraint” and “overstretched staffs” cracks kicked in and this little gem slipped by. That may be true in this case.  But why the budgetary constraints?

The ruling class, and the NYT is a organ of the US ruling class, uses language carefully.  They don’t call this terrorism but it is; a far more destructive and violent domestic kind than anything foreign. It is the terror of the market, it is capitalist terror just like the deaths of the workers in Bangladesh this week.

This was no accident.  Human beings made conscious decisions about everything leading up to this event including allowing the construction of such a facility so close to human habitation, schools, libraries, homes. These same forces allow a private corporation dealing in such dangerous chemicals a free hand in how it does so.  The same forces decide what is important and what is not in the allocation of society’s resources, both labor and capital. Another aspect of the location is that it is a small rural community. It is not only that workers and youth in the urban centers are victimized, so are our brothers and sisters in rural communities where regulation and Unions are weak and poverty rife.

There is no shortage of labor power nor is there a shortage of capital in society yet there is apparently a shortage of staff which emerged from thin air and contributed to this catastrophe.  Although, the labor power is available in this case the Times makes clear, but is not put to use due to “budgetary restraints.”  But such budgetary restraints are also arrived at consciously and by the same forces that have other more important areas to think about rather than curbing investors’ ability to profit from their investments by government interference. 

The Boston bombing on the other hand gets a different treatment. We must unite, us as workers and the same capitalists responsible for the act of terror in West Texas that has killed 15 of us and brought horror to a community. We must join them in the struggle to defend our way of life from the countless foreigners who want to take away our freedoms, like the freedom to lose one’s home. They claim they are our guardians abroad but they are our killers at home. Once we understand this, their War on Terror should be looked at more closely. If they care so little about the lives of US citizens in West Texas and countless other victims of capitalism like those that died in mine explosions or the BP disaster or the two million in prison or the old people who’ll soon have no post office if they have their way; how little can they care about foreign workers when it comes to their rapacious thirst for profits.

The death and devastation in West Texas will not receive the media attention as Boston because Boston is supposed to take our mind off it, turn our anger in a different direction toward the “foreign” enemy rather than the domestic.
Marshall law and the use of some 9000 militia after the bombing was a practice run, an opportunity to test the security and police presence beefed up since 911 and the Occupy Movement entered the stage and in preparation for the coming battles here in the US as workers rise to resist the attempts by capital to drive us back 150 years.

So, I am done now. I’ve got it out of my system for a while.  I just want to urge my class to think about it.  About what happened in Texas not being an accident and that behind the increase in global hatred for the US government there is more than meets the eye; things CNN doesn’t tell us. We should be angry and moved when people in our own community are killed but where our anger should be directed is a bit more complicated and we have to have information to draw the right conclusion. And one of those conclusions must be that society needs new managers and the productive forces need collective ownership.  An economic system should be built on human solidarity not the accumulation of profits. There will be no massive hunt for those responsible for the destruction and death in West Texas.  "Regulatory cracks"  disappear once you've fallen through them.

As for language, we can start by referring to the tip jar at the counter by the name that actually describes its function---the “employer’s subsidy jar”

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