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Louisiana Chemical Plant Explosions

[ 54 ] June 15, 2013 |

The West fertilizer plant disaster has faded from the headlines but that doesn’t mean our national workplace inspection system has improved at all. On Thursday, a petrochemical plant exploded in Louisiana, killing 2 and injuring about 100. The last time this plant received an OSHA inspection? We actually don’t know. But definitely not since 1993. And this is one of the most dangerous industries in the country. Petrochemical plants should be inspected at least a few times a year, if not weekly. Instead, not even once in 20 years. And again, death results.

And now we have another fertilizer plant explosion on Friday night in Donaldson, LA, killing one and injuring 8. This is only about 10 miles away from the first plant. This is hardly a coincidence. They don’t call the area Cancer Alley for nothing. It’s where we as a nation have sacrificed the health of the people and ecosystems to process our petrochemical needs in a low-regulatory environment.

The Non-Union Workplace

[ 41 ] June 15, 2013 |

Here’s what happens when workplaces don’t have unions.

An employee of Sewon America, an auto parts supplier for Kia, allegedly died Wednesday, May 29, after working in extreme heat on the company’s “project weld line” in LaGrange, according to another Sewon employee who spoke with LaGrange Citizen on conditions of anonymity.

Troup County Coroner Jeff Cook confirmed that Teresa Weaver Pickard, 42, of Wadley, Al., died after an emergency call came in indicating she was having trouble breathing. Her body has been sent to the state crime lab in Atlanta for an autopsy, but the results could take three to four months because of a backlog in cases, Cook said.

The anonymous employee, who has worked at the LaGrange auto parts supplier for approximately two years, said that he initially heard about Pickard’s death from his supervisor, who advised Sewon employees to stay hydrated.

“I heard that [Pickard] complained of chest pain several times before she was sent to the break room,” said the employee. He said that the air conditioning on the assembly line is not working properly, workers are soaked in sweat, and several other workers also passed out last week due to the extreme heat.

He added that the air conditioning in the break room where Pickard was sent was not turned on and that management keeps the air off in the break room to discourage employees from loitering. It’s so hot in the break room that the candy in the vending machines melted, he said.

Weaver was finally sent to the front office, the employee said, where she allegedly sat for approximately three hours before an ambulance was finally called. He said he heard that Weaver died on the way to the hospital. He added that representatives from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) visited Sewon the day after Weaver died. (LaGrange Citizen has left two message with the OSHA Atlanta West office and will update this article as soon as possible.)

In 2010, OSHA fined Sewon $135,900 for a variety of violations. A drop in the bucket compared to the money Sewon brings in from Kia. The fines should be in the millions. As for this case, the supervisors involved and the corporate leaders setting policy need to be charged with manslaughter.

The AFL-CIO blog with more.

The Cost of Carelessness

[ 25 ] June 14, 2013 |

Someone brought this up in comments a few months ago but I never posted what is by far the greatest traffic safety film ever made. The great stuff is in the last 5 minutes or so. Well worth your 15 minutes on a Friday night.

From 1913.

Remember, one think before an accident is worth a million thinks afterwards.

There’s a ton of references in silent films to terrible and dangerous drivers. It was a real issue in the early years of autos.

The Price of Poverty

[ 90 ] June 14, 2013 |

Poverty is very expensive. Because of the flat rates for most goods and services (personally, I’ve long thought that we should all have a card where our gross yearly income is scanned and prices are then a percentage of your income, not a flat rate for all), the damage poor credit or lacking a bank account does to your finances, and the inability to purchase necessary items, there’s a huge industry in exploiting the poor. The most notorious of these businesses is payday loans shops. But there’s a lot more. Lindsay Beyerstein points us to this great LA Times piece by Richard Bensinger on tire rental shops that serve the poor who need car tires to get to work in the city. Renting tires means that a couple featured in the article paid $962 with all fees and interest for a set of radial tires that should have cost around $300. The industry uses tough payment or repossess tactics and is just generally incredibly exploitative. These sort of industries should be tightly regulated, yet they essentially can do whatever they want in many states.

Best Selling Books, August 8, 1969

[ 72 ] June 14, 2013 |

I found this interesting.

1. Susann, The Love Machine
2. Roth, Portnoy’s Complaint
3. Puzo, The Godfather
4. Nabokov, Ada
5. Crichton, The Andromeda Strain
6. Davis, The Pretenders
7. Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five
8. Macdonald, The Goodbye Look
9. Woiwode, What I’m Going to Do, I Think
10. West, Except for Me and Thee

1. Peter and Hull, The Peter Principle
2. Talese, The Kingdom and the Power
3. White, The Making of the President ’68
4. Hellman, An Unfinished Woman
5. Ginott, Between Parent and Teenager
6. Baker, Ernest Hemingway
7. Martin, Jennie
8. Salisbury, The 900 Days
9. Guiles, Norma Jean
10. Craig, Miss Craig’s 21 Day Shape-Up Program for Men and Women

Given the cultural importance of so many of these authors, titles, or at least subject matter, I thought it was worth reprinting. It’s also remarkable that Vladimir Nabokov had the #4 book on the best-seller list. And it’s not like Ada is a light beach read either.

Got this from Time Magazine.

The Passing of the Great Race

[ 109 ] June 14, 2013 |

Really, it can’t happen fast enough.

Deaths exceeded births among non-Hispanic white Americans for the first time in at least a century, according to new census data, a benchmark that heralds profound demographic change.

The disparity was tiny — only about 12,000 — and was more than made up by a gain of 188,000 as a result of immigration from abroad. But the decrease for the year ending July 1, 2012, coupled with the fact that a majority of births in the United States are now to Hispanic, black, and Asian mothers, is further evidence that white Americans will become a minority nationwide within about three decades.

Overall, the number of non-Hispanic white Americans is expected to begin declining by the end of this decade.

“These new census estimates are an early signal alerting us to the impending decline in the white population that will characterize most of the 21st century,” said William H. Frey, a demographer with the Brookings Institution.

The transition will mean that “today’s racial and ethnic minorities will no longer be dependent on older whites for their economic well-being,” Frey said. In fact, the situation might be reversed. “It makes more vivid than ever the fact that we will be reliant on younger minorities and immigrants for our future demographic and economic growth,” he said.

Let the Reconquista commence!

Let Us Bow Before Our Corporate Masters

[ 57 ] June 14, 2013 |

Esther Cepeda defends Whole Foods disciplining two Spanish-speaking workers violating its English-only policy while on the job in a very special way.

But say they were. What’s the problem? Not too long ago people understood that when you enter into an employment agreement with a company, you’re generally expected to follow their policies.

Whole Foods’ rules state: “English-speaking Team Members must speak English to customers and other Team Members while on the clock. Team Members are free to speak any language they would like during their breaks, meal periods and before and after work. Additionally, this policy does not apply to conversations among Team Members and customers if all parties present agree that a different language is their preferred form of communication.”

Hardly draconian. Either way, employees can choose to follow them and work there or find a different job.

No. Actually, not long ago, you had a union when you were on the job. If you worked at a grocery store, you would be a member of the United Food and Commercial Workers. And that union represented you as a worker. It negotiated ridiculous rules like this in order to protect workers from bosses’ tyranny. If the boss tried to discipline you or change the rules outside of the contract, the union would grieve the process and probably win.

I guess if by “not long ago” Cepeda actually means “before the National Labor Relations Act when bosses could fire workers for literally anything” then I guess she has a point. And that’s clearly what she wants anyway.

I’ve leave the rest of the editorial, which basically consists of “let’s all be good immigrants and assimilate into white America” to the rest of you to parse.

Grifters Gotta Grift

[ 9 ] June 13, 2013 |

Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam’s personal financial stake in the company that received $330 million of outsourced state services. With bonus Roger Staubach involvement.

Bomb Shelters

[ 48 ] June 13, 2013 |

The story about this fully equipped 1961 nuclear fallout shelter is kind of awesome. But I have to ask, if you were in a bomb shelter suffering from a nuclear attack, would science fiction really be what you wanted to read for entertainment?


[ 35 ] June 13, 2013 |

Cory Booker is going to be one very annoying senator.

Shame on Carl Levin

[ 91 ] June 12, 2013 |

This is unconscionable:

In a striking showdown between Senator Carl Levin, the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, and a member of his own party, Mr. Levin said on Tuesday that he would remove a measure aimed at curbing sexual assault in the military from a defense spending bill.

Senator Kirsten E. Gillibrand, Democrat of New York, offered a measure that would give military prosecutors rather than commanders the power to decide which sexual assault crimes to try, with the goal of increasing the number of people who report crimes without fear of retaliation. Mr. Levin, Democrat of Michigan, said he would replace Ms. Gillibrand’s measure — which has 27 co-sponsors, including four Republicans — with one that would require a senior military officer to review decisions by commanders who decline to prosecute sexual assault cases. Although Mr. Levin’s measure would change the current system, it would keep prosecution of sexual assault cases within the chain of command, as the military wants.

As Laura Clawson puts it, “Old white man decides to leave military sexual assault decisions in the hands of old white men.”

Between Levin being most formidable obstacle within the Democratic caucus against filibuster reform and now caving to the military on sexual assault, the august senator from Michigan is not exactly ending his career in Ted Kennedy-esque fashion.

See also Katie at Feministing and Adele Stan.

Stan notes elsewhere that the Obama Administration has done nothing but lip service on this issue. It’s really unacceptable.

Separating Production from Consumption

[ 45 ] June 12, 2013 |

Arguably capitalism’s greatest feat in the last century is the almost complete separation of production from consumption. Modern Americans rarely see where anything is produced, whether food or consumer goods. This is an intentional move by corporations to shelter themselves from pressures to produce goods in anything other than brutal conditions that maximize profit.

I thought of this when reading this article about a person in a Chinese prison camp slipping pleas for help inside the goods the prison produced for export.
An Oregon woman found one of them in a package of Halloween decorations. We simply have no idea of knowing what goods are produced under any sort of labor conditions, but especially prison labor. What corporations are directly benefiting from prison labor? At what point do Americans enter into the process? What responsibility do we have to find out? But because of the extreme capital mobility lauded by the political and economic elite for the last fifty years, we simply have almost no way to find out the answers to the questions.

And that’s the way capital likes it.

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