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I served in the US Navy from 2002-08; four of those years were as a Nuclear Propulsion Operator aboard an aircraft carrier. I engage in political activism in various Democratic circles when I am able to. I have a cat, and I am an uncle.

All opinions that I express are my own and do not reflect the views of any organization that I represent.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

DISASTER IN TEXAS AND THE ROLE OF GOVERNMENT





I cannot count how many times I have driven through West, TX on my way to Austin and other points southward. I use the small Texas town as a reference point in my travels. As I am heading south, I am getting close to Waco. Heading back north to the Metroplex, I know I am getting close to Hillsboro and the 35W-35E split.

People regularly stop in West to take advantage of the bakeries largely influenced by Czech peoples that settled in Central Texas in the 1880s and 1890s. The town is named after its first post master.

While West is known here in Texas for its food it sadly gained national notoriety in the chaos of last week.

A fertilizer plant located near a middle school and apartment complex exploded last week. Right now 14 persons are dead but it is expected to rise as the missing are accounted for and more than 160 are injured. Some media outlets claim that the explosion was felt as far north as Arlington, TX. Richter scales in Hockley, located 142 miles southeast of the explosion, registered it as a 2.1 earthquake.

On scene responders have compared this to the Oklahoma City domestic terrorist bombing which destroyed the Murrah Federal Building back in April 1995 by use of a truck bomb containing fertilizer. They are correct to make that comparison but the Oklahoma City bombing involved two tons of ammonium nitrate, a key component in making fertilizer. This plant had 270 tons of that material.

If this sounds too familiar to Texans, it should.

On 16 April 1947, a similar explosion involving fertilizer occurred in the port city of Texas City, TX that killed 700 people, injured 5,000, and nearly wiped the city off the map. The explosion shattered windows in Houston and was felt as far east as Louisiana. One of the ship's anchors landed in a field and was later constructed as a memorial to this horrible event.

The outpouring of relief has been outstanding. The federal government is pledging it will do to help this small community recover. Baylor University in nearby Waco saw long lines for blood donations. The Texas Rangers baseball team held a goods drive during their recent homestand to send these products down to West.

The investigation has begun in asking why did this plant explode.

Again, the Texas City disaster was sparked by a carelessly flung cigarette into a ship carrying fertilizer to help Europe recover from the destruction caused by World War II. It is reported that the West fertilizer plant was last inspected.... even those reports are conflicting. Some reports have that the plant was last inspected by the state as recent as 2006. Other reports is saying that OSHA last inspected the plant in 1985. In 2012, the plant was fined $10,000 (later down to $5,250 after the plant said corrective actions were taken) for not having a sprinkler system in place.

Overall, the West plant had NO safety protections in place.

Among the destruction of property and loss of lives, this tragedy was avoidable.

Let's look at OSHA. Again... THE PLANT WAS LAST INSPECTED BY THIS ENTITY IN NINTEEN EIGHTY FIVE!! OSHA's budget suffered a $99 million cut in 2011. Who voted for that cut...?

One of them was West's representative in the US House, Bill Flores.

Bill Flores also voted against Hurricane Sandy relief.

You know who also voted against Sandy relief....? Senators Ted Cruz and Ted Cruz Jr. John Cornyn.


Hurricane Sandy inflicted devastating damage on the East Coast, and Congress appropriately responded with hurricane relief. Unfortunately, cynical politicians in Washington could not resist loading up this relief bill with billions in new spending utterly unrelated to Sandy.

Emergency relief for the families who are suffering from this natural disaster should not be used as a Christmas tree for billions in unrelated spending, including projects such as Smithsonian repairs, upgrades to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration airplanes, and more funding for Head Start.

Two thirds of this spending is not remotely “emergency”; the Congressional Budget Office estimates that only 30% of the authorized funds would be spent in the next 20 months, and over a billion dollars will be spent as late as 2021.

This bill is symptomatic of a larger problem in Washington – an addiction to spending money we do not have. The United States Senate should not be in the business of exploiting victims of natural disasters to fund pork projects that further expand our debt.


Hey, genius.... Texas leads the nation in FEMA declared disasters since 1 January 2009. We've had all kinds of weather events in Texas in that time period. Here's some I can list off the top of my head that have happened in our state's history:

1. Hurricanes Alicia, Rita, and Ike striking the Houston Metro Area
2. Galveston Hurricane of 1900 (still talked about to this day)
3. Summers where temperatures are in the triple-digits and the resulting brush fires and droughts
4. Metroplex snowstorm during the week leading up to Super Bowl XLV

Senator, maybe you need to bone up on your Texas History instead of summoning the spirit of Joseph McCarthy.

If you recall during the 2012 Republican Presidential Primary, Texas Governor Rick Perry flamed out.... bad. One of his campaign points was to greatly reduce the size of government by getting rid of three government agencies. Sadly, he could only count to two.

Since his failed presidency bid, Governor Perry has taken full credit for Texas's economic successes that he has taken ads in papers in blue states such as California, New York, and Illinois telling companies that in order to escape the perceived burdens of over regulation and taxation, you should move to Texas.

After what happened in West, I wouldn't blame a company having second thoughts about relocating to Texas. Not only that, but my home state is near and/or at the bottom of key education and health care statistics. Such an inviting environment for business growth (#sarcasm #snark).


But the minute disaster strikes in Texas... he suddenly becomes President Obama's best friend.

Oh... that link was from 2 May 2011 when the Governor got his britches in a bunch over the President going to Alabama in response to the tornadoes that struck Tuscaloosa on 27 April 2011 that killed 300 people. Meanwhile, all but TWO of Texas 254 counties were burning due to unseasonably warm and dry weather that took place over the Spring and the loss of life was minimal.

The tornadoes in Tuscaloosa was sudden while the Texas wildfires were ongoing. Oh and what else happened in May 2011...? THIS.

You know what the Governor's response was to this problem...?


That seems to be his solution to everything recently instead of you know... GOVERNING.


Now before I get letters and comments stating "how dare you politicize a tragedy," let me ask you this: if we don't learn from this, are we not dishonoring the dead and injured? To not learn from the mistakes is an equal tragedy.

This brings me to the next point of this post: the role of government.

I am thinking about the ones who have to bury their dead. I am not feeling too confident about their chances for compensation from the industries that flaunted in the face of both regulations and good old common sense. You know... an explosion involving fertilizer in Texas has happened once, maybe we should make sure that it doesn't happen again. Maybe we should make sure that cities don't build too close to a fertilizer plant. Perhaps we should find a way to hold companies accountable when their actions cause a mass casualty event like the one we saw last week.

The injured... Here are some stats about Texans when it comes to access to health care from the Texas Legislative Study Group titled "Texas on the Brink."

Percent of Population Uninsured: 1st
Percent of Non-Elderly Uninsured: 1st
Percent of Low Income Population Covered by Medicaid: 48th

Meanwhile, Governor Perry and his cohorts in the Texas Legislature have vehemently and repeatedly stated their opposition to set up a Texas health insurance exchange under the Affordable Care Act also known as "ObamaCare." One of the most sue happy State Attorney Generals, Greg Abbott, was involved in the efforts to overturn "ObamaCare" in 2012. Supreme Court ruled otherwise. The cost of this opposition is having nearly 6.2 million citizens, or 25%, without access to health care.

Shorter Greg Abbott: Sorry you don't have health care, but TEXAS SOVERIGNTY!!

Governor Perry and Texas Republicans can moan about the federal government, but in the end it is nothing but bluster and usual empty Texas bravado. The moment disaster strikes they are first in line asking for help instead of telling their constituents "tough luck." And if the help is not to their liking, they'll bitch about it. Just wait sometime after the cleanup and recovery... I'd say in March 2014 as Republicans are fighting off primary challenges from the far-right reaches of their party, you'll hear Texas Republicans bemoan about the burdensome federal government when that same federal government is there when disaster and uncertainty strikes.

Back in August 2011, I remember having a conversation with one of my many aunts. We talked about how the House GOP was blocking relief efforts from Hurricane Irene that hit near my old stomping grounds in Virginia. The only way that Virginia and places affected by the storm was going to get any relief was if there were budgets cuts.

One of the persons calling for these cuts was House GOP Leader Rep. Eric Cantor.... who represents Central Virginia.

My aunt made this observation: "Everyone becomes a big government liberal when disaster strikes."

Last week there was a lesson to be had in the destruction and chaos that took place in Boston and West. I watched the ceremony honoring those lost in the West disaster today and there was such praise for those who rushed into unknown danger. Our policies must reflect the praise we have our first responders to disasters.

I've regularly used this quote to describe why we should care for our Veterans, but I am extending it to those who go into unknown danger. It is the closing line from President Abraham Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address on 4 March 1865.

"With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations."

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