Sunday, July 14, 2013

West Texas, capitalist terror, don't forget it

West, Texas explosion: no accident
by Richard Mellor
Afscme Local 444, retired

I see that the market driven catastrophe the world knows as Fukushima got a small mention in the media last week.  William Boardman writing for the left leaning, Reader Supported News points out that, By official measurement, the water coming out of Fukushima is currently 90,000 times more radioactive than officially "safe" drinking water.

It is not surprising that these developments are not prominent in the mainstream media as the 1% would rather the issue go away. The huge demonstrations and protests that are occurring throughout the world against the savagery of the market are no competition for such important events as actress Leah Remini’s break with Scientology.

The effects of Fukushima, the BP oil spill and other “unnatural” disasters will be felt and understood by those closest to the source of the crisis, the plants, animals and human beings whose health will be aversely affected.  The capitalist class is very short sighted, some of the effects of such disasters will not be clearly understood for centuries so best leave it alone and make some money while we can.

 In April and the following months, the US mass media was absorbed, as was US society, with domestic terrorism as bombs exploded at the end of the Boston Marathon. Boston, a major US city was put on lockdown as the authorities searched for the alleged perpetrators.  No doubt we will be very well informed about the trial of one of the captives. There are some who believe that the real perpetrators were right wing US terrorists as the bombing occurred on April 15th, or Tax Day in the US when returns have to be in to the IRS, but that’s another issue.

Two days after the Boston bombing an explosion at a fertilizer plant in West, Texas, rocked that city.  The loss of life was far greater and the damage more extensive, 15 people were killed and more than 150 homes destroyed or damaged in a 37 block area. A high school, middle school, apartment complex and a nursing home were also destroyed in the April 17 blast. “Chunks of concrete were fell from the sky like cartoon anvils…” writes Business week.

 As I commented previously, this was no an accident but also an act of terror.  So far no one had been arrested or imprisoned for this crime.  But there are plenty of culprits.  As Peter Dreier and Donald Cohen pointed out:

“The chemical industry has been one of the most effective lobby groups in this regard. In the 1970s, for example, the industry lobbied Congress to prohibit OSHA from regularly inspecting workplaces with fewer than 10 employees in industries with low reported injury rates. Fertilizer plants are included on the list of exempted industries. This may be why OSHA hadn't inspected the West Fertilizer plant since 1985. If they put profit before people, and allow greed or indifference to put lives at risk, they should be punished”

I agree with these authors of course but we live in a capitalist economic system where the means of production are privately owned and profit is supposed to come before people. In fact, profit has its source in the unpaid labor of workers who, as part of the labor process produce more value than the sum of their wages.  Capitalists set the productive process in motion if it’s profitable first and foremost.

The production of food must be profitable and the production and storage of fertilizers that can increase productivity is no different. Any obstacle to profit and capital accumulation is cleared like brush fire, regulation by the state, unions, community activists and organizations etc. Billions are spent bribing the politicians of the 1% in to ensuring laws protecting workers consumers and our communities are not enacted.

What happened at the West Fertilizer plant was some 28 to 34 tons of Ammonium nitrate, equivalent to 15,000 to 20,000 pounds of TNT, exploded,.  The explosion left a crater 93 feet wide and 10 feet deep. West Fertilizer was a retail family plant owned by Adair Grain.  There are some 6000 retail plants in the US, many of them owned by the giant agricultural outfits but “No one tracks the number of retail facilities in operation” writes Bloomberg Business Week.   The explosion was horrific.  Business Week describes what it did to Robert Payne, one of the town’s residents who was found by neighbors “The shock wave had lifted him out of his boots and thrown him 35 feet through the air in to the side of a large plastic tank of livestock feed.” Payne survived with the help of his neighbors; he was one of the lucky ones.

As I pointed out in an earlier blog, all sorts of reasons have been thrown out there that can explain away this tragic event. The plant ”Fell Through the Cracks of Regulatory Oversight.”, said the New York Times on April 24th adding that, there were “bureaucratic cracks at the federal, state and local levels.”

But why were there regulatory cracks, or bureaucratic cracks or any sort of cracks? Why are one group of people allowed to prevent through bribery, laws that if acted on, would protect workers and our communities?  When they talk about big government and slashing public services in the interests of economic growth and prosperity sometime in the future, they are increasing the likelihood of further catastrophe’s like West Texas.  We have seen many in the past period including mine explosions, refinery explosions and tragedies of historical proportions like the BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico and the Fukushima disaster.  Ask yourself ordinary citizen; who would put a nuclear reactor on an earthquake fault in an area of the planet known as the Ring of Fire due to its seismic activity and next to the ocean in a land whose language gave us the word Tsunami?
“Experts” decided to do that, and that decision was based primarily on profit.

In the case of West Texas, politicians and business big shots decided that it was OK to have a fertilizer plant surrounded by homes and a couple of schools.  The nearest fire hydrant to the plant was 2500 feet from the burning building at the plant. Obama and his drone program can blow a family to bits 3000 miles away yet a basic thing like a fire hydrant can’t be placed in a area it might serve the public good here in the US.

Two months after the blast the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) refused the state’s request to declare West, Texas a major disaster site which meant the town was denied some $17 million in aid although the federal government did allot $25 million in aid but the decision by FEMA was not popular with local resident, “Everybody expects you to work and pay taxes..” West resident David Pratka told Business Week, “..and when it comes time to get help you don’t get help.”

But our taxes are needed for much more important areas of work like giving former ruthless dictators like Mubarak $2 billion a year, or producing military hardware for the Saudi thugs or another billion or two for the Zionist regime to ensure that apartheid state maintains its brutal occupation of Palestinian land. The bases in Afghanistan, Iraq, and all over the world cost money.

As is always the case in these instances, lawsuits have been filed. West has filed against Adair and its “deep pocketed” supplier, CF industries and individuals have filed against Adair Grain.  The town has argued that CF industries should have inspected the plant.  After the fact it is now recognized many things could have been done to prevent the explosion, (it was recognized before but why interfere with profit making.) including not surrounding the place with homes and schools where we educate our children.  The structures and plant facilities are now recognized to have been lacking.

The chairman of the US Chemical Safety Board testified to the US Senate in June that their investigation, “has not identified any US standards or guidance that prohibit or discourage many of the factors t likely contributed to the West disaster.”.  How many times have we heard these excuses?  Companies claim after workers die or communities are poisoned by their toxic waste that the taxpayer has to clean up, that “we complied with all the relevant laws and regulations” and indeed they do. You can’t break rules and regulations that protect the public when their politicians ensure that such laws don’t exist. “It’s easy to say you’re not in violation of any regulations if you don’t have any regulations” on of the lawyers representing plaintiffs tells Business week.

The mass media representing the economic interests of the 1% spouts propaganda against big government, unions and regulation as anti-American and damaging to the nation and its economy meaning all of us as if workers and capitalists have the same economic interests. The reality is, the aspects of state intervention they oppose are those that deny or limit their ability to rake in the dough at the expense of workers, the middle class and the precious environment that we depend on for human life.  Their propaganda and fear mongering about foreign terrorists and Muslims is a smoke screen. The day after this act of terror in West, Texas Governor Rick Perry made it clear more regulation wasn’t necessary even though there is no regulation by any serious standards.  This is a character who wages war on the rights of women and says he is pro-life as he supports the mass incarceration and murder of workers and the poor by the state.

There is one last aspect of this for me.  Ammonium nitrate is a fertilizer and the Business Week article from which much of the information in this commentary originates, states that, “Without synthetic nitrogen fertilizers it has been estimated that the earth could feed only 3.5 billion people or half its current population…”  We need to ask ourselves, “Whose estimation is this?” It is the estimates of scientists, demographers, agronomists and all the experts in the employ of capitalism. Willingly or not, they start from the position that the only way to produce food is for profit and under the direction of private capital. The same people using the same methods claim overpopulation and the poor having too many children are behind the race to provide more food which means more  fertilizers with the environmental destruction that results; there are “too many people “ they argue.*

But it is not too many people that is the problem. It is that food is a commodity like anything else in a capitalist economy including human beings or water. The problem is how we produce food.  The primary motive is profit and the entire industry is based on it.  I do not intend to go in to that here but how we produce food in a democratic socialist society would be entirely different and not dominated by a few giant agricultural corporations.

And while I wouldn’t argue against regulation in a capitalist economy, we know through experience that they will not regulate themselves. They will always put profit first and they will bribe their politicians to ensure that is so or regulators will simply allow them to write their own rules as they did with the energy industry with regard to deep water drilling which led to the deaths there and the poisoning of the Gulf of Mexico.

Our security and the fate of our children and the health of the planet on which we live can only be assured when we control the economic and political decisions that affect us, from the production of our food to the building of our cities and the protection of our land and water. A genuine democratic socialist society as part of a world federation of democratic socialist states is not a dream, it’s a necessity.

*For an excellent response to this false argument read: Too Many People by Ian Angus and Simon Butler. You can purchase the book here

No comments: