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“From Poor Regulation To Terrorism”: Texas’ Wild West Approach To Protecting Public Health And Safety

You might think the fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas, that leveled the town and killed 14 people would have given pause to those conservative policymakers and boosters in the Lone Star State who proudly boast of a “Texas Way” in which job-creators aren’t hassled by pointy-headed bureaucrats and regulators or income taxes or any of those other new-fangled socialist devices. But no: under the leadership of Gov. Rick Perry, we learn from a New York Times story today, Texas government and business officials are going out of their way to reiterate that this is a place where the Bidnessman walks tall, and poor living standards and high workplace risks are just the price of keeping job creators fat and happy.

Texas has always prided itself on its free-market posture. It is the only state that does not require companies to contribute to workers’ compensation coverage. It boasts the largest city in the country, Houston, with no zoning laws. It does not have a state fire code, and it prohibits smaller counties from having such codes. Some Texas counties even cite the lack of local fire codes as a reason for companies to move there.

But Texas has also had the nation’s highest number of workplace fatalities — more than 400 annually — for much of the past decade. Fires and explosions at Texas’ more than 1,300 chemical and industrial plants have cost as much in property damage as those in all the other states combined for the five years ending in May 2012. Compared with Illinois, which has the nation’s second-largest number of high-risk sites, more than 950, but tighter fire and safety rules, Texas had more than three times the number of accidents, four times the number of injuries and deaths, and 300 times the property damage costs….

“The Wild West approach to protecting public health and safety is what you get when you give companies too much economic freedom and not enough responsibility and accountability,” said Thomas O. McGarity, a professor at the University of Texas at Austin School of Law and an expert on regulation.

So I’d bet today’s news that Texas law enforcement officials have launched a criminal investigation based on reports that federal agents found bomb-making materials in the possession of a paramedic who was on the scene in West is going to generate a lot of excitement in the state’s conservative circles. True, the suspect who was arrested by the ATF isn’t an Arab or even a Chechen, and no one knows at this point if he had anything to do with the explosion, and if so, what his motives might have been.

But Lord a-mercy, wouldn’t it be nice if it was a terrorist and not an industry or lawmakers or regulators we ought to be looking at in connection with this tragedy? The very possibility must be worth toasting in certain circles during today’s Texas happy hours.

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, May 10, 2013

May 12, 2013 Posted by | Public Health, Public Safety | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Routine Securities Taken For Granted”: Essential Government Tasks Need Reliable Funding

Here’s hoping that Stewart Parnell goes to prison.

The former president of the now-bankrupt Peanut Corp. of America, Parnell ran a filthy Georgia processing plant contaminated with salmonella that injured more than 600 people in a 2008-2009 outbreak, killing nine. Last month, federal prosecutors charged Parnell and three others with criminal offenses, claiming the executives intentionally shipped out contaminated peanut products.

It’s about time that white-collar criminals whose actions result in death or horrible injuries have to do the perp walk, just like the leeches who sell narcotics to kids. Former workers and federal inspectors say the plant, located in the small southeast Georgia town of Blakely, was a breeding ground for bacteria — with a leaky roof, dirty floors, mold on the ceiling and walls, and rats and roaches everywhere.

Still, it’s not enough to know that Parnell is finally going before the bar of justice. I also want a vigorous and assertive government that will help ensure that plants like Parnell’s Blakely facility won’t be free to operate in the future.

With President Obama battling Republicans over government spending, it’s easy to forget the important functions that federal agencies carry on every day. The Washington commentariat has concluded the agreement — known as “sequestration” — that produced shortsighted budget cuts hasn’t caused any harm to the majority of Americans, an indication, in that view, that Obama oversold the consequences of the cuts.

Is that true? The fact is we may never know how much harm will be done by those cuts. We don’t know how many children will miss their vaccinations, how many Head Start teachers will be laid off, or how many food inspections will be skipped.

The line between cause and effect is especially hard to draw in the work of those federal agencies whose jobs are aimed at prevention. The inspectors at the Food and Drug Administration have done their jobs well when you don’t hear of a food-borne illness or a faulty medical product. That sort of work is essential, but its results are hard to measure. And it never attracts public attention of the sort that ensures big budgets.

After the Blakely fiasco, Congress passed laws beefing up the powers given to the FDA. The agency used that new authority to shut down a New Mexico peanut processing plant that was implicated in a 2012 salmonella outbreak.

That decision came after the FDA, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (another federally funded agency) and state and local health departments tracked the outbreak to that specific plant, run by Sunland Inc. That outbreak sickened dozens.

I don’t know — and neither do you — whether the CDC will continue to have all the resources it needs to track deadly diseases with the across-the-board spending cuts dictated by GOP intransigence. I don’t know whether the Consumer Protection Agency will be able to track down all the lead-tinged toys coming in from China. I don’t know whether the FDA will be able to shut down the next Sunland before hundreds are hurt.

But I do know this: When I fix my 4-year-old a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich, I should not have to worry about whether she’ll get food poisoning. When you buy peanut butter crackers from a convenience store to placate your growling tummy on a road trip, you shouldn’t fear that eating them will send you to an emergency room.

Those are routine securities that we take for granted because we live in an affluent, developed nation with government regulations for food safety. However, those protections cost money. They don’t come free.

I’ve eaten in countries where there were no pesky government regulations keeping the milk pasteurized and the water free of parasites and the cooked meat free of harmful bacteria. I’ll take more government — with its higher costs — any day.


By: Cynthia Tucker, The National Memo, March 9, 2013

March 10, 2013 Posted by | Public Health, Sequestration | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Toilets, Light Bulbs and Reproductive Rights: Rand Paul Is Pro-Choice For Toilets

The senator gives a stunning rant against energy efficiency — and reproductive choice

Ladies and gentlemen, this is what we are up against. In a diatribe as bizarre and petulant as anything out of Charlie Sheen’s or any recent star of “The Bachelor’s” mouth, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul went on a tear Thursday about how abortion is somehow interfering with his God-given right to incandescent light bulbs. Clearly, there wasn’t one illuminating over his head when he started down the crazy path.

On Friday, Irin Carmon at Jezebel beautifully drilled down the essence of the rant — that “Rand Paul Thinks His Toilet Is More Important Than Your Abortion Rights.” In a mind-boggling display of foot stamping during an energy hearing, Paul asked deputy assistant energy secretary for efficiency Kathleen Hogan if she was “pro-choice,” leading the visibly puzzled Hogan to reply she’s pro-choice on light bulbs. Rand then launched into full cri de coeur mode, comparing the choice of abortion to being “anti-choice on every other consumer item, including light bulbs, refrigerators, toilets. You can’t go around your house without being told what to buy. You restrict my purchases. You don’t care about my choices.” Boo hoo hoooooo!

Who knew that reproductive choice was a consumer purchase? Who knew you could run out to Best Buy and pick up one of them late-term abortion thingies with an Energy Star rating? Paul then went on to overshare that “My toilets don’t work in my house. And I blame you and people like you.” We get it — Rand Paul has a fiber diet and a low flush toilet. “I can’t find a toilet that works!” he blurted angrily again later. So if you’re a pregnant teenage rape victim, maybe you should start thinking about how Rand Paul is suffering to get a little perspective.

Much of Paul’s speech doesn’t even make sense: If he’s so ticked about some perceived limitation of his “choice,” why does his Web page insist “I believe in a Human Life Amendment and a Life at Conception Act as federal solutions to the abortion issue.” You don’t like government regulation? The government regulates abortion. Where’s your free market now, Paul?

The whole piece is a truly remarkable piece of irony-rich rantitude, sure to be included in the next volume of Now That’s What I Call False Equivalencies and White Male Solipism! Paul said he finds it “troubling, this busybody nature that you want to come into my house — my bedroom, my bathroom …” But a woman’s womb, hey, that’s up for grabs.

Yet when he kvetched to Hogan that “I find it insulting … appalling and hypocritical,” it was clear the parallels to how he feels and the sentiments of many of us on the side of reproductive freedom are stunningly similar. Just because Rand Paul has problems with his plumbing, it’s astonishing that he believes he has the right to meddle in ours. But when he declared, “You busybodies are always trying to tell us how we can live our lives better — keep it to yourselves,” I had to admit, Rand Paul, you dismissive, whiny jerk, that I could not agree more.

By: Mary Elizabeth Williams, Salon, March 11, 2011

March 11, 2011 Posted by | Abortion, Pro-Choice, Womens Rights | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


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