Writings and observations

rainey BARRETT


One of the thorny issues in our world these days is trying to define the words “terrorism” and “terrorist.” Our federal government hasn’t done that successfully, either. One department has a definition – two others have their own “unique” meanings. Since we appear headed to court soon, we need to have some clarity on these words.

While no one in our little Oregon burg-in-the-woods would try to affect thinking at those rarified, higher bureaucratic levels, we would like offer a definition of terrorist no one along the Potomac seems to have considered.

How about someone – or anyone – who violates a minimum of more than three dozen federal/state laws while running a fertilizer plant near the center of a small Texas town? How about an ownership that deliberately stored on site 1,350 times the amount of ammonium nitrate at the plant in violation of operating and licensing agreements? How about owners who knew – HAD to know – the last OSHA inspection was in 1985 but never – never – contacted OSHA or Dept. Of Homeland Security when their inventories increased as required by federal law?

How about three federal agencies that failed to inspect a West, Texas, plant under their purview – the lead office for more than three decades? How about two state agencies that virtually ignored what was going on at the plant for years and years? How about local elected officials who watched the fertilizer operation grow and grow for 60 years without considering more than just the economic benefits of larger payrolls?

How about the anonymous (aren’t they always?) federal bureaucrats who decided such companies – dealing in amounts of explosives to guarantee catastrophe in event of a major accident – would be tasked with “self-reporting” when increasing on-site storage capacities or letting regulators know of leaks, accidents or other anomalies? Or the federal cabinet officers up the chain who signed off on such stupidity?

This nation did everything but stand on its head for 10 days when a couple of guys set off two bombs that killed three people. But the Texas blast killed five times as many and decimated a small town. For several days, we found details on page 12. Or buried – if not ignored – in the TV news.

Now, let’s talk about the word “terrorism” from this perspective. How about applying that word to the constant political B.S. we hear about needing to reduce regulations on business? “Political B.S.” because repeated surveys have shown politicians do the most complaining – not the guy along Main Street. Repeated surveys have shown, more often than not, business people see regulation as leveling the playing field – as assuring the competition across town is playing by the same rules. Those that do complain to the politicos are far over-represented in the resulting specious, campaign-solicitation dialogue.

There are many, many legitimate reasons for regulation. Food safety – aviation safety – banking – water and air quality – hazardous chemical controls and more. Without ‘em, our world would be much more personally dangerous than it already is. Can there be too much regulation? Yes. Can regulation be overdone? Sure. Can regulation be applied unfairly? Of course. When so, specific issues need to be addressed regularly to assure they don’t happen again. But the real need for regulation is to assure necessary oversight of basic conduct of any regulated business or service to do what it’s supposed to do. Legally. Properly. Safely.

Two political factors helped West Fertilizer exist. First, federal and state regulating agencies have been starved nearly to death by politicians cutting and gutting operating budgets. Not just OSHA and EPA. FAA, banking, Wall Street. All of them. And more. Even before our current national madness called “sequestration.” Too many politicians have responded irresponsibly to favored, monied constituent claims of alleged “over regulation” and “government interference.” Their self-serving response has left our nation woefully at risk in a lot of areas.

The second political factor is allowing too many business and corporate entities to become “self-regulating.” Poorly written regulations – some with huge loopholes – left up to companies to “enforce.” And Wall Street is only the first example that comes to mind. While most businesses will do the right thing and will operate within the letter and spirit of regulation, West Fertilizer is exhibit “A” of those that don’t. And won’t.

West Fertilizer will never operate again. Owners will likely take out bankruptcy and whatever remains of insurance and other assets will be parceled out to those who win the many lawsuits to come.. Given the normal operation of Texas politics, odds are no one in the company’s ownership or employ will ever do a day of jail time.

Terrorists. Terrorism. A couple of guys with two pressure cooker bombs? Sure. How about a company that illegally piled up 540,000 pounds of unreported ammonium nitrate in one building also housing anhydrous ammonia and other chemicals? How about a Pentagon estimate that the 270 tons of nitrate on that Texas site could – had it all gone off – cause an explosion dwarfing any weapon in the nation’s nuclear arsenal? How about a company that amasses such destructive power and ignores the legal – if not moral – obligations to report it under its licensing agreements?

No one knows how all this will work out. But I’d sure like to see the feds settle on an over-arching definition of the words “terrorism” and “terrorist” with sufficient subcategories to guarantee each of us the safety we think we already have. And I’d like to know that – in the end – not only will those two brothers be included. But Sandy Hook, too. And Aurora, Colorado. And Clackamas Mall. And the streets of Chicago. And corporate terrorists as well.

Share on Facebook


ridenbaugh Northwest

From the IdahoEdNews site, a post by Kevin Richert.

The governor’s education reform task force wraps up its statewide road show Thursday night in Boise.

If this listening session goes like the preceding six, it’s likely that the testimony will focus on funding and Idaho Core Standards, the state’s version of the multistate Common Core effort. Those have been two recurring themes from the other sessions, including Tuesday night’s session in Pocatello.

But this task force tour has been nothing if not unpredictable.
Nampa forum

Richard Westerberg of the State Board of Education kicks off the task force forums April 10 in Nampa.

Crowds have varied widely from city to city, from sparse in Lewiston and Twin Falls to near capacity in Idaho Falls. And the testimony has taken on an open-ended feel. Task force members have heard everything from the heartfelt (from parents who question whether schools can adequately teach children with autism) to the offbeat (from a speaker who said Idaho should encourage the use of e-readers, so kids aren’t overburdened with heavy backpacks).

Ask Idahoans how the state should improve its education system, and you’re apt to get any number of responses. Especially when the Common Core controversy has taken on a talk-radio life of its own in recent weeks.

So let’s go back to where the task force started, two weeks ago, when these forums began.

The task force posed eight questions designed to get people talking. They’re on the State Board of Education’s website, but let’s save a keystroke. Here they are:

What is the basic amount of funding needed to adequately educate a student in Idaho?
˜Given the finite amount of funding, how would you like it spent in your school?
˜How should/could we balance a decentralized model with the Constitutional requirement for a uniform, thorough, common system of education?
Is funding based on attendance an appropriate model?
˜What should be the measure(s) to hold schools and districts accountable?
˜What should we be measuring with respect to student achievement?
˜What should be done about schools/districts that continually underperform?
˜What professional technical education skills would you like to see taught in high school?

Yes, you see several questions about funding. And why not? Education funding is a perennial Idaho issue. And in theory, the task force could have some say over where education dollars go (see Question No. 2). The Legislature earmarked some $34 million in one-time money for schools in 2013-14 — temporary spending on merit pay, professional development and technology, designed to free up money in 2014, at the task force’s disposal.

But you don’t see a question that addresses Common Core, even obliquely. And here’s a possible reason: It’s a settled issue. The State Board approved the math and English language arts standards in November 2010. And the House and Senate education committees approved the standards in January 2011 — amidst the heated debate over the Students Come First bills. Schools will begin teaching to Idaho Core Standards in 2013-14, four months from now.

So the task force has some pretty clear ideas of what it wants to talk about. Whether these topics come up Thursday night is another matter entirely.

Share on Facebook