“Pre-Positioned Weapons of Mass Destruction”

The tenth anniversary of the 9-11 attacks is a bit more than two weeks away.  People in DC and New York were viscerally reminded of this when an earthquake – unusually strong for the east coast – rattled them Tuesday.  Although human-induced climate change may affect hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, droughts and blizzards, earthquakes remain an “act of God” in which God has yet to get an assist.

I guess that means there’s no point worrying, because there’s nothing we can do.  Which is fine, because there are people who fill our worry bandwidth to overflowing and no two people do more in that regard than Charles and David Koch.

You may have heard of them.  They’re the billionaire brothers who own Koch Industries, the second largest privately held company in America.  Their main business is oil, although they take your money for everything from toilet paper to cattle.  Much as they’ve tried to keep a low profile, they’ve been outed in the past few years as funders of the Tea Party movement and contributors to such backward-looking politicians as Wisconsin’s Scott Walker.  A prankster even portrayed the Kochs and Mr. Walker as being controlled from Hitler’s bunker.

If only it were all fun and games.  Sadly, the Koch also control 57 facilities that use dangerous chemicals and present threats to the health and lives of an aggregate 4.4 million people who live near them.  Had the 9-11 terrorists – or a future group of terrorists – targeted one of these facilities, they death toll could have been an order of magnitude higher than what it was.
But wait, it gets worse.  Most of these hazards can easily be avoided.  Having huge stockpiles of volatile, dangerous chemicals on site at production facilities is as obsolete as the adding machine.  While some American technology (thanks, Steve Jobs!) races ahead, system engineering at many manufacturing facilities are still controlled by the best minds of the 19th century.  Since the horrendous attacks a decade ago, a coalition of more than 100 environmental and labor groups has lobbied Congress and the Bush and Obama administrations to get these retrograde thinkers to join the present day, not only to protect lives (because we know captains of industry don’t give a crap about you or me) but at least to keep them competitive on a global basis.

As former Senator Jim Jeffords (I-VT) said, these factories are “pre-positioned weapons of mass destruction,” meaning that if someone sets off a little bomb next to one, the entire facility becomes one big bomb.

This week, not one, but two reports – by Greenpeace and the Center for Public Integrity – detail how Koch Industries has lobbied hard and donated lavishly to politicians to keep in place the antiquated rules that endanger the lives of millions of your fellow citizens (and, depending on where you live, your family).

All the key players blocking legislation to make these plants safer (Republicans and Democrats, but mostly Republicans) take campaign cash from the Kochs.  It’s among the clearest indications that the state of our union is now lower than it’s been since the same late 19th century when we first started collecting huge piles of chlorine, anhydrous ammonia and hydrogen fluoride at factories.  Why?  For money, that’s why.  Charles and David Koch care about two things – money and power in their control – and they don’t care who dies so they can have them.

The robber barons are back and they’ve got a gun to your kids’ heads.

© Mark Floegel, 2011

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