Worlds of Fun

I have just read in my local newspaper a story that is appalling on so many levels I cannot begin to find the adjectives.

BUFFALO — Funeral services are scheduled for later this week for Army Sgt. James Hackemer, the amputee war veteran who fell to his death off a roller coaster at Darien Lake Theme Park & Resort.

Hackemer, who had lost both his legs to a roadside bomb in Iraq in 2008, was ejected Friday from the Ride of Steel coaster at the park.

The 208-foot-tall ride remained closed for a third day Monday as investigators looked into the accident.

A) This gentleman had no legs and they allowed him access to this ride anyway. The news story I’m reading today in the Democrat and Chronicle actually says the following:

Rules on Darien Lake’s website say riders must be 54 inches or taller to board the Ride of Steel. They don’t specify whether riders must have both legs, as do rules for some other coasters in the park.

Here’s a clue: If you are a double amputee, chances are good that you are shorter than four-feet-six-inches tall. Unless of course you are Robert Wadlow.

The accident of course has some bleeding-heart congressman clamoring about regulation. What an opportunist.

Wait. You mean he’s been clamoring for legislation to do something about this since 1999?

A Massachusetts congressman, meanwhile, renewed his 12-year-old call for federal oversight at amusement parks, including enabling the Consumer Product Safety Commission to investigate mishaps.

“While the cause of the accident that claimed the life of Sergeant Hackemer is still unknown, one thing is crystal-clear: Hypercoasters that hurtle riders at speeds exceeding 70 mph along 200-foot drops should not be exempt from federal safety oversight,” Edward Markey said in a statement.

His office Monday said the Democrat would soon re-introduce legislation he has proposed in every term since 1999, targeting what he calls a “dangerous loophole” that gives the CPSC oversight of traveling carnival rides but not those at permanent parks. Those are the responsibility of the states, which Markey said may lack the resources and experience to carry out effective checks.

So let’s get this straight. If you’re running a ride in a traveling carnival, you’re under the auspices of the Federal Government. If you’re Six Flags, then Bob McConnell is responsible for overseeing your coaster safety?

Do not. Ride coasters. In Virginia. I’m just saying.

Hmmm.

The Association of American Railroads’ Facebook thingie today marks the anniversary of the passage of the Staggers Act, signed in to law by President Jimmy Carter Oct. 14, 1980, which vastly de-regulated America’s transport industry and has, by many measures, been excellent for the industry.

From what I can tell, before this law, the railroad industry was stringently regulated in this country, since the Interstate Commerce Act of 1887, later amended by the Motor Carrier Act of 1935, which extended regulation to buslines and airlines as public utilities.

Everywhere I look, from Brookings to anywhere else, this Staggers Act is hailed as a good thing. But there’s one thing I can’t help but wonder about.

See, one thing the Act did was to blow up the Interstate Commerce Commission and to replace it with the Surface Transportation Board. This is the same regulatory entity that has no enforcement powers over the D.C. Metro public transportation system, which killed nine people last summer. From what I read, this 1980 law doesn’t address safety. But I can’t help but wonder if this overall drive to de-fang regulatory agencies that hold sway over our public transportation infrastructure didn’t contribute to those deaths and to the overall sucktitude of the D.C. Metro system.

Not to mention, by the way, that there was a REASON that those stringent regulations went into place in the first place, no? Because the railroad industry at the time was a dirty monopolistic cesspool? No?

Just wonderin’.

Which Came First?

Question…what’s the most complete protein you can eat without chomping into a beast’s leg?

It ain’t tofu. That’s got an amino acid score of 68. Whole milk’s is 85. Raw spirulina draws an impressive 103.

An egg grabs a 134, only 20 points down from a steak.

An egg is also rich in B vitamins, and in fact is one of the richest sources of riboflavin, B12, and choline, nutrients that can stave off dementia. An egg has a quarter of a day’s worth of calcium, is rich in selenium, and are also abundant in lutein and zeaxanthin, minerals which are good for your eyeballs. An egg is one of the few food sources available that naturally contains vitamin D.

Also, what I think few people know about eggs is that, when they are fresh, and I mean right out of the ass of a chicken, they are one of the most delicious things you have ever eaten.

Not to mention, without eggs, there would be no cake, no bread, no meatballs, no tiramisu. An egg is such a basic ingredient that many of your favorite dishes just wouldn’t exist if they didn’t.

Eggs are awesome. And in the food world, they’re nearly oxygen. And we live in a country now that’s too godammed stupid to make sure that they’re safe to eat.

It’s the same story we hear time and time again. A large corporation doesn’t do business right and the government nags at them for years and years. But the big corporation pays the fines as part of the cost of doing business. Then, the business’ improper business practices cause American taxpayers to get sick or to die, either from poison in our food or as the result of a horrible terrible “accident.”

You know, I hear it a lot. You liberals. You always want to do nothing else but blame Republigoats for everything. Read the comments on the Will Bunch blog entry I referenced yesterday. Jesus, they wrote, Reagan’s been out of office for years, and you’re still blaming him for shit?

Here’s the thing, though: This isn’t about Republigoat versus Demmycrat. It’s not. It’s much, much bigger than that.

We’re not fighting Republigoats. We’re fighting a school of thought.

There’s a theory out there that says there’s a mythical, beautiful animal loose and in the wild, and that it’s the most beautiful golden unicorn you’ve ever seen, a shade of color previously not experienced by the human eye, and that its face looks exactly like that of Halle Berry, and that it will blow you if you want it too and that it poops gold bullions in any shape you ask it too, and this lovely animal is called the “free market.” And, the theory goes, if you just leave this beautiful animal free in the wild to do whatever it wants to do, everything will be amazing and perfect and beautiful and even that annoying wart on your thumb will just go away.

And they’ve been telling and retelling the story of this beautiful mythical creature for so long and so effectively that it’s not only become believed, but it’s become the bulk of our intellectual firmament. I mean, once upon a time even in my lifetime, believe it or not, the federal government used to have some heft when it came to regulation and enforcement. For instance, once upon a time, the federal government told a big corporation called Ma Bell that it was too fucking big and that it would have to split up, and Ma Bell did. And, by the way, that turned out to have been a pretty good idea.

Now, though, our intellectual discourse has converted “freedom” into “corporate America’s right to do bidness.” And they’ve got us so convinced of this way of thinking that you’ve got people in the streets not against a war but to stick up for the big corporations. And that’s just weird.

Because it’s big corporate recalcitrance that has made it today so that you have to worry over if those eggs you bought at Safeway might make you shit water. And it’s a lame federal government that simply ain’t watching out for you anymore.

This is exactly what you “get the government out of my Medicare” assholes are asking for.

Enjoy your stomach cramps.

Now Here's What I'm Typing About

First of all, having grown up in the greater Cleveland metropolitan area, I am utterly tickled that the oversight agency involved in offshore drilling is called the MMS. That is damned funny. The Buzzard. Heh.

Now. Check this out.

LOS ANGELES — The federal agency responsible for ensuring that an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico was operating safely before it exploded last month fell well short of its own policy that inspections be done at least once per month, an Associated Press investigation shows.

Since January 2005, the federal Minerals Management Service conducted at least 16 fewer inspections aboard the Deepwater Horizon than it should have under the policy, a dramatic fall from the frequency of prior years, according to the agency’s records.

The last time this rig was even cited for anything was August 2003. Seven years ago. No way in hell a big oil rig like this goes seven years without some sort of violation. No way. Nuh-huh.

The inspection gaps and poor recordkeeping are the latest in a series of questions raised about the agency’s oversight of the offshore oil drilling industry. Members of Congress and President Barack Obama have criticized what they call the cozy relationship between regulators and oil companies and have vowed to reform MMS, which both regulates the industry and collects billions in royalties from it.

Among the dubious oversight practices, the MMS has reportedly allowed hundreds of drilling plans to move forward without required permits since Obama took office.

So, sure, one can lay some of this mess at Mr. Obama’s feet. However, as I indicated yesterday, there is a larger issue at work here. If Obama’s guilty of anything, it’s of continuing to view the political landscape with rose-tinged field glasses. He may have failed, I think, to grasp the scope of the long-haul war being waged against sensible government regulation and enforcement. Sure, OSHA has been damned near activist in its enforcement efforts under Hilda Solis, at least compared to its previous Rip Van Winkle pose. But OSHA is only a more visible link in a much larger regulatory chainmail. If you mean to step up regulatory activity, you might want to approach it more holistically than to focus on your top-notch agencies.

The rest:

Earlier AP investigations have shown that the doomed rig was allowed to operate without safety documentation required by MMS regulations for the exact disaster scenario that occurred; that the cutoff valve which failed has repeatedly broken down at other wells in the years since regulators weakened testing requirements; and that regulation is so lax that some key safety aspects on rigs are decided almost entirely by the companies doing the work.

Here’s what I know from my brief professional involvement and long-time study of regulation and enforcement: It works. I guarantee you, when there is an injury or a death in industry, you will find that in the course of that incident, an employee was failing to comply with federal regs in one way or another. He wasn’t wearing his seat belt, or he wasn’t following the floor plan, or he hadn’t properly locked out a machine, or he was wearing a hoodie while working around a conveyor. It’s always something that’s covered in the CFR. Always.

Look, I dig capitalism. I really do. But capitalism unchecked is a monster. The fact is that you need government to create markets, and you need it to force the market players to accountability. The proof is in the headlines. Just look.

Apocalypse Now?

Ketchup Is A Vegetable has not updated for quite some time. I could excuse this to travel plans; I was on travel the first week of May, while PB is on travel this week, and we all know how travel takes it out of a person and causes said person to lose contact with current events and such.

But I’ve also not blogged because I’m a bit too horrified at what I fear—irrationally or otherwise—that these Untied States of America might be approaching some horrific, slow-mo apocalypse that is what should be renamed the Oil Geyser (because our media can’t seem to get it into its head that this is NOT a “spill”) in the Gulf Coast region, and it concerns me that I see few media outlets seriously discussing what its effects might actually be.

Here’s what they’re reporting this morning:

Oil from a blown-out well is forming huge underwater plumes below a visible slick in the Gulf of Mexico, scientists said as BP wrestled for a third day Sunday with its latest contraption for slowing the nearly month-old gusher. One of the plumes is “as large as 10 miles long, 3 miles wide and 300 feet thick in spots,” the New York Times reported. “The discovery is fresh evidence that the leak from the broken undersea well could be substantially worse than estimates that the government and BP have given.”

And yet, BP has the gall and, apparently, the gusto, to block neutral scientists from examining the site.

What confounds me is that I still don’t feel that many Americans are yet connecting the dots. I still see the occasional youngster reading the pornography known as the “Ayn Rand novel” with a self-satisfied grin. We still live in a culture that 30 years ago swallowed the hook whole and rubbed its tummy approvingly when Ron Raygun offered his famous line about someone from the government offering help being absolutely terrifying. I do not see enough people actually connecting the dots between a culture that has purposely frowned on government intervention for 30 years and the sad state of affairs we’ve seen of late.

In 1906, a man named Upton Sinclair wrote a novel called “The Jungle.” Sinclair meant the book to expose the plight of the working class, but alas, most Americans took to its discussion of unsafe practices in handling meat. Those revelations were confirmed by federal government inspectors and were so egregious that eventually the industry itself lobbied Uncle Sam to form the USDA in order for it to regain the public trust. Sinclair was appalled.

“I aimed at the public’s heart, and by accident I hit it in the stomach,” he is quoted as saying.

Regardless of Sinclair’s perspective, the fact is that his reporting, conducted now 104 years ago, led to the notion that the federal government has a responsibility to protect the American people from industry, which, when left to its own devices, cuts corners in the pursuit of a fatter bottom line.

And yet, with 104 years between us and “The Jungle,” we’re still having this debate. It is astounding.

This is one of the most influential truths on my politics. When I was growing up, I had a great-grandfather who was deaf as long as I knew him. Two big fat hearing aids and he still couldn’t understand a thing you said to him. I always assumed this was simply because he was old. But that wasn’t it. My great-grandfather was deaf because he’d had a career in the smelters of Pittsburgh, and because there was no OSHA* to make his employers provide him with acceptable hearing protection. Or with, say, adequate safety railing. Or with a break-room where he could go to eat his lunch.

Where I work, our guys are ringing the bell about the “new sheriff in town” at OSHA, which is under the Obama administration stepping up inspections and enforcement. But they always frame the issue with an adversarial bent. Watch out, OSHA’s coming. How about we instead laud the agency for standing up to actually do its job for a change and reflect on how a greater awareness of safety might actually benefit our industry?

We’ve seen it time and time again as of late, in the form of economic collapse, mine disasters, e. coli breakouts, bridges falling out of the sky, and now this. This contemporary idealogical regime that demonizes government intervention, which has radically upped the ante with the T Party**, has still seen hardly a peep of backlash despite overwhelming evidence that, sometimes, it is in the public’s best interest for the government to provide oversight. In fact, we’ve just had a Supreme Court decision that has for all intents and purposes codified the sentiment.

The agency that doles out offshore drilling permits is the same agency that a few years back reportedly had its employees engaging in sexual intercourse with people in the industry and snorting smack with them off of toaster ovens (I am not making this up). This is how seriously regulation and enforcement were taken in the good old days of Chimpy McCokespoon, an executive administration that was run by an oil guy and another oil guy. And now we have the Oil Geyser.

It could be said of course that, hey, your guy’s in charge now, so you can’t blame the Busch. But blaming this guy or that guy, that’s not the point I’m making here. Hell, if I’m blaming anyone, I’m blaming Ronald Raygun, who was inarguably the most effective catalyst in bringing forth this culture that demonizes government regulation at every level. Obama is starting to wake up to it; starting to speak out against it, but only mostly in response to this ridiculous T Party**. But, sadly, his political stance in this political environment prevents him from attacking the Big Problem, industry’s 30-year street-level war on sensible government regulation and enforcement.

As I indicated, I am horrified at the Oil Geyser and what it might mean for these Untied States of America, and that we are not having a serious discussion about the possible consequences. This is the kind of event that can derail economic recoveries. It is the kind of event that is likely to destroy hundreds, maybe thousands of miles of coral reef. It is unlikely to only affect the Gulf; it is likely at this rate that the goo will make its way around America’s Dong and will cause problems up and down the east coast. Our fishing industry is screwed, are you looking forward to a $12 Filet-O-Fish? How many other industries will be tanked by this, and just wait to see what this does to the price of gasoline this summer.

And nobody is discussing this.

It is, as Chazz of Blades of Glory would say, mind-bottling.

*OSHA was brought into existence on December 29, 1970.

** Mr. Bonk refuses to any longer acknowledge these folks as the “Tea Party” because it is about as relevant to the events of December 1773 as “Reno 911” is to law enforcement.