07/11/2014 archive

Chemical Plants Contents Kept Secret By Campaign Money

On April 17, 2013, an ammonium nitrate chemical storage facility in West, Texas exploded killing 15, injuring 160 and destroyed or damaged over 160 buildings. The cause of the original fire is still unknown. The plant that exploded was owned by a privately held family corporation. The plant only carried $1 million in liability insurance which under Texas law, was $1 million more than it needed. One year later, no legislation has even been introduced to increase regulations or inspections.

A year after the explosion, the US Chemical Safety Board issued its findings:

CSB Chairperson Rafael Moure-Eraso said, “The fire and explosion at West Fertilizer was preventable. It should never have occurred. It resulted from the failure of a company to take the necessary steps to avert a preventable fire and explosion and from the inability of federal, state and local regulatory agencies to identify a serious hazard and correct it.”

The CSB’s investigation found that at the state level, there is no fire code and in fact counties under a certain population are prohibited from having them.  “Local authorities and specifically-local fire departments-need fire codes so they can hold industrial operators accountable for safe storage and handling of chemicals,” said Dr. Moure-Eraso.

CSB Supervisory Investigator Johnnie Banks said “The CSB found at all levels of government a failure to adopt codes to keep populated areas away from hazardous facilities, not just in West, Texas. We found 1,351 facilities across the country that store ammonium nitrate.  Farm communities are just starting to collect data on how close homes or schools are to AN storage, but there can be little doubt that West is not alone and that other communities should act to determine what hazards might exist in proximity.”

The CSB’s preliminary findings follow a yearlong investigation which has focused on learning how to prevent a similar accident from occurring in another community. “It is imperative that people learn from the tragedy at West,” Dr. Moure-Eraso said.

One of the major factors that has kept any new regulations from being passed has been the large amounts of cash from families like the Koch brothers that has flowed into the pockets of the Republican politicians. MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow talked with Wayne Slater, senior political writer for the Dallas Morning News, about Texas Attorney General and gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott allowing chemical plants to keep their contents secret, a move that benefits Koch Industries, and a campaign donor.

Hazardous chemical lists no longer public record in Texas

DALLAS — For the past 30 years, federal law has required chemical makers and handlers to disclose what’s stored on premises. It’s called the Community Right To Know Act, and it has been at the core of the safety conversation since last year’s deadly fertilizer explosion in West, Texas.

But News 8 has learned that in the past few weeks, state health officials have stopped making those hazardous chemical records public. [..]

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, “states and communities […] can use the Tier II information to improve chemical safety and protect public health and the environment.” In Texas, Tier II reports are kept on file at the Department of State Health Services and according to its web site, those reports are public information. All citizens “may ask for” them by simply filling out a request.

Yet, just days ago, following the ammonium nitrate building fire in Athens, when News 8 asked the Department of State Health Services for an updated Tier II report on the facility, department spokesperson Carrie Williams told us, “We’re not able to release the kind of information you’re requesting.”

Williams cited an Attorney General’s ruling from May 22, 2014, which denied public access to “Tier Two information […] because it reveals the location, quantity and identity of hazardous chemicals […] likely to assist in the construction of an explosive weapon.”

Emergency officials and responders are now the only ones in Texas able to access Tier II reports.

Abbott: Ask Chemical Plants What’s Inside

Republican Attorney General Greg Abbott, under fire for blocking public access to state records documenting the location of dangerous chemicals, said Texans still have a right to find out where the substances are stored – as long as they know which companies to ask.

“You know where they are if you drive around,” Abbott told reporters Tuesday. “You can ask every facility whether or not they have chemicals or not. You can ask them if they do, and they can tell you, well, we do have chemicals or we don’t have chemicals, and if they do, they tell which ones they have.”

In a recently released decision by his office, Abbott, the Republican candidate for governor, said government entities can withhold the state records – in so-called Tier II reports – of dangerous chemical locations. The reports contain an inventory of hazardous chemicals.

But Abbott said homeowners who think they might live near stores of dangerous chemicals could simply ask the companies near their homes what substances are kept on site.

Collected under the federal Community Right to Know Act, the information was made available upon request by the state for decades to homeowners, the media or anyone else who wanted to know where dangerous chemicals were stored. But, as WFAA-TV recently reported, the Texas Department of State Health Services will no longer release the information because of the attorney general’s ruling.

Punting the Pundits

“Punting the Pundits” is an Open Thread. It is a selection of editorials and opinions from around the news medium and the internet blogs. The intent is to provide a forum for your reactions and opinions, not just to the opinions presented, but to what ever you find important.

Thanks to ek hornbeck, click on the link and you can access all the past “Punting the Pundits”.

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David Cay Johnston: Americans have lost out on $6.6 trillion

The inability to maintain 2000-level prosperity has cost us all

Why are so many Americans feeling squeezed economically even as the economy expands at an accelerating pace?

Last month set a new record for sustained job creation: 52 straight months of added jobs, with a robust 288,000 more jobs in June and more than 9 million jobs created since February 2010. The unemployment rate is down to 6.1 percent, and the number of long-term unemployed has been slashed, from about 5 million people to about 3 million.

The stock market is soaring, reaching a record high on July 3. The Dow Jones industrial average passed 17,000 – amazing compared with its Great Recession low of 6,627 in March 2009, just weeks after President Barack Obama took office.

So what’s missing? Why did Obama acknowledge in a television interview last week that the “underlying trend for middle class families, that they don’t feel, no matter how hard they work, they’re able to get ahead in the same way that their parents were able to get ahead.”

The answer lies in a very large sum of missing money – about $6.6 trillion by my count – over the first 12 years of this century. That’s as much money as everyone in the United States made from New Year’s Day 2012 through late September of that year. It may also explain Obama’s low approval ratings.

How could such a gigantic sum go missing and not get noticed?

Paul Krugman: Who Wants a Depression?

The story so far: For more than five years, the Fed has faced harsh criticism from a coalition of economists, pundits, politicians and financial-industry moguls warning that it is “debasing the dollar” and setting the stage for runaway inflation. You might have thought that the continuing failure of the predicted inflation to materialize would cause at least a few second thoughts, but you’d be wrong. Some of the critics have come up with new rationales for unchanging policy demands – it’s about inflation! no, it’s about financial stability! – but most have simply continued to repeat the same warnings.

Who are these always-wrong, never-in-doubt critics? With no exceptions I can think of, they come from the right side of the political spectrum. But why should right-wing sentiments go hand in hand with inflation paranoia? One answer is that using monetary policy to fight slumps is a form of government activism. And conservatives don’t want to legitimize the notion that government action can ever have positive effects, because once you start down that path you might end up endorsing things like government-guaranteed health insurance.

George Zornick: Did the CIA Illegally Spy on the Senate? Now We May Never Know

The Department of Justice will not investigate whether the Central Intelligence Agency illegally spied on staffers of the Senate Intelligence Committee and removed documents from committee servers, McClatchy confirmed Thursday. The CIA also claimed committee staffers took documents from the intelligence agency without authorization, and that claim will also not be investigated.

“The department carefully reviewed the matters referred to us and did not find sufficient evidence to warrant a criminal investigation,” Justice Department spokesman Peter Carr told McClatchy.

It’s a fizzling denouement to one of the more fascinating political dramas of the Obama era. Earlier this year, without any warning, Intelligence Committee chairwoman Dianne Feinstein took the Senate floor and delivered a lengthy, forceful speech directly accusing the CIA of spying on private committee computers and removing sensitive documents. It was an unprecedented public eruption of tensions between the security state and the legislative branch.

John Nichols: The Senate Judiciary Committee Just Backed an Amendment to Overturn ‘Citizens United’

Constitutional amendments are often proposed but rarely advanced to the stage of serious debate. What moves any meaningful amendment from mere paperwork to serious consideration is the popular will of the great mass of Americans. And the popular will of the great mass of Americans have been abundantly clear since the United States Supreme Court struck down barriers to corporate control of democracy with its 2010 Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission ruling.

Sixteen American states and roughly 600 communities have formally told Congress that the Constitution must be amended to make it clear that corporations are not people, money is not speech and citizens and their elected representatives have a right to organize elections that are defined by votes rather than dollars.

Zoë Carpenter: The GOP’s Completely Incoherent Stance on the Border Crisis

Republicans are furious about the flood of children streaming across the US-Mexico border, and are criticizing the president for not deporting the children fast enough. But now that Obama has asked for nearly $4 billion to help kick the kids out more quickly, they don’t want to fund the emergency measures. [..]

Most minors are simply handing themselves over to border patrol agents, suggesting that a porous border isn’t really the problem. And even if the border were completely sealed, there’s still the question of what to do with the tens of thousands of children here already. Perry ignored the fact that the Obama administration is bound by the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act, which bars the government from immediately deporting children from countries that do not share a border with the United States-such as Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, where the bulk of the children are from. The law requires border patrol to turn the children over to Health and Human Services and entitles them to due process so they may apply for humanitarian relief. Obama is trying to speed up deportations, to the consternation of immigrant rights and humanitarian groups. But unless Congress changes the trafficking law, the only way to do so is to make the legal system work faster by paying for more lawyers and judges.

Ana Marie Cox: Rick Perry just might be the lunatic the GOP is looking for in 2016

Republicans need a candidate who can do a quick two-step on immigration. Who better than a Texan?

Can Rick Perry – the one-time laughingstock who couldn’t overcome uncountable gaffes and wildly uneven stump performances to become the Republican nominee in 2012 – be the Republican party’s great red hope in 2016? Given a schizophrenic GOP and a political climate where one word – jobs – can trump most every concern, the answer, let me tell you, is … let’s see … sorry … oops … yes! And it’s precisely because his policy positions are as wildly unpredictable as his debate performances. [..]

He’ll have to weather some stumping, of course, and, of all the potential Republican presidential candidates, Perry stands to benefit the most from the shortened primary season and curtailed debate schedule. But it would behoove his naysayers to remember that his bad-to-weird stump performances in 2012 were a seeming anomaly in a retail politics career that once earned him comparisons v] to Bill Clinton and the [endorsement of a liberal state congresswoman “on personal grounds” during his first gubernatorial re-election campaign.

As for the Beltway establishment’s obsession with Perry’s gaffes, it’s almost not worth even asking the question if voters really care. Was George W Bush elected president? Gaffes are a feature of politicians and the electoral process, not a bug. Rick Perry puts on a good show. He may have ditched his cowboy boots for nerd glasses, but he’s still as captivating as a rodeo clown.

The Breakfast Club: 7-11-2014

Welcome to The Breakfast Club! We’re a disorganized group of rebel lefties who hang out and chat if and when we’re not too hungover we’ve been bailed out we’re not too exhausted from last night’s (CENSORED) the caffeine kicks in. Everyone’s welcome here, no special handshake required. Just check your meta at the door.

Join us every weekday morning at 9am (ET) and weekend morning at 10:30am (ET) to talk about current news and our boring lives and to make fun of LaEscapee! If we are ever running late, it’s PhilJD’s fault.

breakfast beers photo breakfastbeers.jpg

This Day in History

Germany Boots CIA Station Chief

Germany Expels Top U.S. Intelligence Officer


JULY 10, 2014

“The representative of the U.S. intelligence services at the United States Embassy has been asked to leave Germany,” a government spokesman, Steffen Seibert, said in a statement.

“The request occurred against the backdrop of the ongoing investigation by federal prosecutors as well as the questions that were posed months ago about the activities of U.S. intelligence agencies in Germany,” he said. “The government takes the matter very seriously.”

German officials have been frustrated in their efforts to receive clarification from Washington over allegations of spying that began last year when it was revealed that the National Security Agency had been monitoring the chancellor’s cellphone. Although President Obama has offered assurances that it will no longer happen, revelations last week that a member of the German secret services had been spying for the United States sparked a fresh round of outrage.

On Wednesday, the police searched the Berlin office and apartment of a man suspected of being a spy, federal prosecutors said. They declined to give further information, but the German news media reported that the suspect worked for the Defense Ministry. A ministry spokesman confirmed that it was involved in an investigation.

Oh, that’s right.  In case you missed it the was a second spy, this one in the Defense Department.

Second German government worker suspected of spying for US

Philip Oltermann, The Guardian

Wednesday 9 July 2014 13.20 EDT

Public prosecutors confirmed that the home and office of a defence ministry employee in the greater Berlin area had been searched on Wednesday morning.

They told the Guardian that a search had been conducted “under suspicion of secret agent activity” and that evidence – including computers and several data storage devices – had been seized for analysis. The federal prosecutor’s office confirmed that no arrest had yet been made.

According to Die Welt newspaper, the staffer being investigated is a soldier who had caught the attention of the German military counter-intelligence service after establishing regular contact with people thought to be working for a US secret agency.

The news came just days after a member of the German intelligence agency BND confessed to having passed more than 200 confidential files to a contact at the CIA.

The new case is not thought to be directly related to that of the BND staffer. However, one government insider familiar with the case told Süddeutsche Zeitung that the new case being investigated was “more serious” than that of the BND spy, in which the sold documents are thought to have been of limited value.

So we have the NSA tapping Andrea Merkel’s phone.  A spy at the German intelligence agency.  Another spy in the Defense Department and John Brennan, Director of National Intellegence for the United States and proven liar under oath to Congress calling to try and patch things up.

US officials have been trying to limit the diplomatic fallout, with the CIA’s head, John Brennan, reportedly calling Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, in the wake of the latest spying scandal.

Why John Brennan you ask?  Well because the CIA and the NSA don’t deign to tell Barack Obama about their spying on friendly allied governments.

Spying Case Left Obama in Dark, U.S. Officials Say


JULY 8, 2014

What Mr. Obama did not know was that a day earlier, a young German intelligence operative had been arrested and had admitted that he had been passing secrets to the Central Intelligence Agency.

While Ms. Merkel chose not to raise the issue during the call, the fact that the president was kept in the dark about the blown spying operation at a particularly delicate moment in American relations with Germany has led frustrated White House officials to question who in the C.I.A.’s chain of command was aware of the case – and why that information did not make it to the Oval Office before the call.

What is particularly baffling to these officials is that the C.I.A. did not inform the White House that its agent – a 31-year-old employee of Germany’s federal intelligence service, the BND – had been compromised, given his arrest the day before the two leaders spoke. According to German news media reports, the agency may have been aware three weeks before the arrest that the German authorities were monitoring the man.

A central question, one American official said, is how high the information about the agent went in the C.I.A.’s command – whether it was bottled up at the level of the station chief in Berlin or transmitted to senior officials, including the director, John O. Brennan, who is responsible for briefing the White House.

Yeah, right.  The BND spy was arrested and in custody and identified as a  CIA spy a full day before the phone call to Merkel.

And Brennan didn’t know?  And Barack Obama didn’t know?

There’s a lovely little bridge in their home town I’d like to sell these propagandists.

Le Tour 2014: Stage 7, Épernay / Nancy

Le.  Tour.  De.  France.

Well, just to prove you don’t need wet weather and cobbles to make Le Tour dangerous (why yes, I am in favor of keeping the cobbles sections), yesterday on regular roads we had 2 huge crashes that injured 14 riders, more, may I point out, than in Stage 5 with the cobbles.  Three had to withdraw on course, Xabier Zandio of Sky, Jesús Hernández of Tinkoff, and Egor Silin of Katusha, and Stef Clement of Belkin will not start.  By contrast on the cobbles we only lost 2.

People are also grousing about the spectators getting too close to take ‘selfies’ but the fact is they have always been getting in the middle of the course and pressing in from the sides to take pictures so it’s really the same as it’s always been.  It was a bit damp, but it always is in Belgium, and there was a strong cross wind that broke up the main group of riders into 2 smaller groups which helped shape the race.

The fireworks came in the final kilometer when it became clear that Giant-Shimano had lost a little of it’s leg speed.  Though commentators initially blamed Kittel’s disappointing finish to a puncture he later admitted he had simply run out of gas.  Starting at the 1 km mark it looked as if the race was Michal Kwiatkowski’s but André Greipel attacked from the middle of the lead group and held off a very late charge from  Alexander Kristoff.  Once again Peter Sagan overcame a crash to finish a very respectable 5th.

So on the day it was André Greipel, Alexander Kristoff, Samuel Dumoulin, Mark Renshaw, and Peter Sagan.  Marcel Kittel finished 84th, 54 seconds back.  64 riders finished on the lead time including Jakob Fuglsang in 15th and Vincenzo Nibali in 18th.  Alberto Contador finished 20th.

In the General Classification it’s Vincenzo Nibali, Jakob Fuglsang (:02), Peter Sagan (:44), Michal Kwiatkowski (:50), and Fabian Cancellara (1:17).  There are only 3 other riders less than 2 minutes back.  In the Points championship the leader is Peter Sagan (217), Brian Coquard (137), Marcel Kittel (135), Alexander Kristoff (117), André Greipel (91), and Mark Renshaw (87).  Their nearest competitor is 32 points behind.  In the Climber competition not much has changed, Cyril Lmoine (6), Blel Kadri (5), Jens Voigt and Nicolas Edet tied at 4.  Team rankings are Astana, Belkin (4:18), BMC (6:05), Sky (6:17), Trek (7:22), Cannondale (9:03).  Everyone else is over 10 minutes out.  Youth competition has boiled down to 4 riders, Peter Sagan, Michal Kwiatkowski (:06), Roman Bardet (1:27), Tom Dumoulin (1:41), and Thibaut Pinot (2:40).  Everyone else is over 11 minutes out.

Épernay / Nancy is about 146 miles long.  It’s another mostly flat sprint stage with the Sprint Checkpoint about 2 thirds of the way through.  At the end of the stage there are 2 Category 4 climbs, Cote de Maron and Cote de Bofflers.  They expect showers on and off, we shall see.

On This Day In History July 11

This is your morning Open Thread. Pour your favorite beverage and review the past and comment on the future.

Find the past “On This Day in History” here.

July 11 is the 192nd day of the year (193rd in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 173 days remaining until the end of the year.

On this day in 1789, Jacques Necker is dismissed as France’s Finance Minister sparking the Storming of the Bastille.

Necker was seen as the savior of France while the country stood on the brink of ruin, but his actions could not stop the French Revolution. Necker put a stop to the rebellion in the Dauphiné by legalizing its assembly, and then set to work to arrange for the summons of the Estates-General of 1789. He advocated doubling the representation of the Third Estate to satisfy the people. But he failed to address the matter of voting – rather than voting by head count, which is what the people wanted, voting remained as one vote for each estate. Also, his address at the Estates-General was terribly miscalculated: it lasted for hours, and while those present expected a reforming policy to save the nation, he gave them financial data. This approach had serious repercussions on Necker’s reputation; he appeared to consider the Estates-General to be a facility designed to help the administration rather than to reform government.

Necker’s dismissal on 11 July 1789 made the people of France incredibly angry and provoked the storming of the Bastille on July 14. The king recalled him on 19 July. He was received with joy in every city he traversed, but in Paris he again proved to be no statesman. Believing that he could save France alone, he refused to act with the Comte de Mirabeau or Marquis de Lafayette. He caused the king’s acceptance of the suspensive veto, by which he sacrificed his chief prerogative in September, and destroyed all chance of a strong executive by contriving the decree of 7 November by which the ministry might not be chosen from the assembly. Financially he proved equally incapable for a time of crisis, and could not understand the need of such extreme measures as the establishment of assignats in order to keep the country quiet. Necker stayed in office until 1790, but his efforts to keep the financial situation afloat were ineffective. His popularity had vanished, and he resigned with a broken reputation.