Interesting war of words between Texas governor Rick Perry and SacBee’s cartoonist Jack Ohman. Perry is demanding the cartonist be fired for his insensitivity to the deaths at the fertilizer plant.

Ohman responded: “When you have a politician traveling across the country selling a state with low regulatory capacity, that politician also has to be accountable for what happens when that lack of regulation proves to be fatal.”


Source: SacBee’s Jack Ohman won’t apologize for Texas explosion cartoon (Poynter)

Category: Current Affairs, Humor, Regulation

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53 Responses to “Business is Booming in Texas: Discuss”

  1. northendmatt says:

    The dignity of the dead is one of the oldest tricks in the book for deflecting criticism from policies that may have been somehow related. The gold standard of course is 9/11, which 11 years hence still makes it impossible to have a discussion on foreign policy withe some people.

    Perry has shown remarkable insensitivity to Texans suffering from unsafe working conditions and draconian cuts to social spending. He shouldn’t expect any sympathy from the Golden State.

    (Note: FWIW, those of us in California are probably more annoyed by this than you might realize, since Perry seems to spend half his time here trying to poach our businesses for his red-state utopia. If Texas is so great, why does it have to try to steal jobs from us?)

  2. Init4good says:

    Seems to me Texas has more than its fair share of fairly large defense contractors, so that sector has been doing well. That and an eco-unfriendly / business favorable regulatory climate, which could have had something to do with that explosion.

  3. Petey Wheatstraw says:

    Rick Perry and the Texas Republican Party should apologize for the deaths at the fertilizer plant.

    What the hell is wrong with these people? The say public safety is the first priority when a terrorist strikes, but when mass murders and deaths by corporate malfeasance — allowed by their over deregulation of industry — takes place, they demand apologies for insensitivity.

  4. wally says:

    It’s just as bad to kill people by illegally storing explosive fertilizer as by deliberately bombing them. The laws are broken by the actions you take, not by the thoughts you harbored when you did those things.
    In the Texas case it apparently wasn’t lack of regulations, it was lack of enforcement. That seems to be a common cause of disasters these days.

    • Crocodile Chuck says:

      I reckon its deeper than this-it wasn’t even lack of enforcement, as regards the zoning laws-there weren’t any in the first place (the school and nursing home sited close to the munitions magazine, erm, fertiliser plant). And no one in the community ever even thought about this, let alone raised an alarm, as these were being built.

    • jhawkins90 says:

      I just want to one up this response. Passing a law is .001% of what goes goes into maintaining a legal system.

  5. capitalistic says:

    As a Boston-based investor, Texas is by far the most business-friendly state in the US. City officials aggressively target non-Texas companies to move in-state. However, I’ve seen abject poverty in Texas. Some parts resemble a third world country.
    Uneven development is a result of hyper-business friendliness.

    • TrainStation says:

      There is a long history of companies and industries leaving high tax and regulation states for low tax states like Texas. For example:

      Exxon (Standard Oil of NJ) left NJ/NY for Texas back in 1975.
      Exxon’s International and Engineering left Florham Park, NJ for Texas back in the early 1990′s.
      Babcock & Wilcox left NY/NJ years ago and now in Charlotte.
      Lummus was in Bloomfield, NJ, now owned by CBI in Texas.
      Kellogg of Kellogg, Brown, and Root was from NY/NJ, now in Texas.
      AT&T almost went defunct in NJ/NY, now the name is owned by an AT&T spinoff in Texas.

      The aircraft industry- Grumman was huge in Long Island, now defunct. Curtiss Wright in NJ was the nation’s, if the world’s, largest aircraft manufacturer- now it’s a shell of its former self- it makes parts. Meanwhile General Dynamics makes its Gulfstreams in Fort Worth and Lockheed also makes jets in FW.


      BR: Grumman is not defunct — they merged with Northrop in 1994 in what was then a big $2B deal

  6. smallcog2 says:

    It is a political cartoon about governor Perry….not about the innocent victims of the West disaster. He is trying to confuse the issue and take the focus off of him and his policies. His sensitivities revolve around covering his buttocks. Of course we readers and voters in Texas have sympathy for the people if West.

  7. RW says:

    Rick Perry is the one who should be apologizing for the gross dereliction of his government (I use the term loosely albeit not as loosely as Republican governors appear to do): weak regulation is bad enough but when you don’t even enforce the regulations you have (as Wally points out) you’ve pretty much screwed the pooch.

  8. dad29 says:

    Since the regs in question are FEDERAL regs, perhaps Obama should be groveling, eh?

    • Wrong:

      You are seemingly claiming there is no state regulatory apparatus for overseeing companies, and that is simply false.

      While there are always applicable Federal laws, this is about a State that has one of the most broad set of deregulated environmental and construction parameters out there.

      This sort of weakass bensteinery is why comment moderation exists

      • Low Budget Dave says:

        Love the word. Any time an economist or politician attributes an entire problem to 1% of the cause, it should be dismissed as “bensteinery”.

    • morning_star says:

      Zoning laws should have prevented construction of a fertilizer plant within a mile of a home or school. Just no reason for this; if it had occurred during school hours this would have made Sandy Hook look small in comparison.

      • willid3 says:

        i guess no body has lived in Texas (me i have been here for over 20 years) so lets be clear about this.
        In Texas we dont have zoning laws. we may have some in larger cities Houston and Dallas and a few others. but West is a really small town. so no there are no zoning laws. instead there are deed restrictions.

      • rd says:

        Actually the plant was located well outside of town when it was built. The zoning problems occurred in allowing schools, residences etc. being built across the street from a dangerous fertilizer plant as the town expanded. Familiarity does breed contempt; in this case familiarity did mean that people forgot that these things really are dangerous. I shudeder to think of what the toll would have been if the incident occurred during a school day.

        The cartoonist is doing his job exposing the impact that deregulation can have. Texas routinely portrays itself as a law and order state as it executes murderers who have been convicted after poor quality trials. Yet, Texas advertises itself as a low regulation state. The problem with that is that business leaders have the same behavioral economics issues of normal people where they will invariably go for the marshmallow today instead of thinking long-term and getting two marshmallows tomorrow by not eating one today. So short-term cost-cutting, lack of attention to details etc. so that they can be more “efficient” can lead to an unsafe work environment. Regulation and enforcement of it is one mechanism that has been proven to significantly improve saafety and environmental conditions.

        It seems like Texas is proud to advertise itself as having the same working conditions as Bangladesh with similar consequences.

  9. beaufou says:

    After 9/11, the EPA asked to oversee such fertilizer plants, Republicans turned it over to Homeland Security who didn’t have the qualified personnel nor the time to do such a job.
    Maybe Ohman isn’t insensitive to actual responsibility, Perry as an elected official is.

    • willid3 says:

      well it seems that home land security (or maybe it was the GOP) doesnt require business to report that they have 200+ tons of explosive materials on hand. since the fertilizer never told them they had it on hand, no one else did either (seems the state had inspected the plant this year too).

  10. Mike in Nola says:

    I noticed a lack of discussion of the question of whether the owners of the West plant should be Mirandized before being shipped to Gitmo in hoods. Same silence after the BP well killed a number of people and ruined the Gulf Coast.

    Is it worse before God to kill in the name of a genuinely held, though truly erroneous belief, or to kill in pursuit of the almighty dollar?

  11. td says:

    As of yet I don’t believe its been determined that lax regulation caused the explosion in West.

    • Sometimes shit just blows up for no damned good reason. Nothing we can do about it !

      • td says:

        And other times there is human error or equipment failure that falls outside the scope of what any regulation would ever be able to prevent…. seems to me there is prudence in waiting to see what the actual cause is before we start weaving a political narrative out of it.

      • reys says:

        God had gone and done it.

        Damn pyro.

      • Joshua T says:

        You realize that the entire point of safety procedure is to ensure that human or mechanical error do not cause catastrophic explosions… If at any point it is possible for human or mechanical failure to cause this kind of result then the factory should have been shut down until the problem was fixed.

        Regardless of the cause this is the result of poor safety planing, due either to the lack of appropriate safety standards or poor regulation/enforcement of those standards.

      • td says:

        “Regardless of the cause this is the result of…..” I presume you type that with no tinge of irony whatsoever… how much more self righteous do you suppose folks like you would be with actual facts on your side and how much does it cost you to wait for those facts to materialize? Ya know.. if you care about that kind of thing.

  12. VennData says:

    Texans should KILL Jack Ohmanr, fatwah-like. if you don’t want to kill him, you are NOT truly a Texan! You must suicide bomb all of Californian if you a re a true Texan. All hail the profit!

    It’s kind of amazing Perry actually remembered that this explosion happened in his state.

  13. sbailey says:

    Ohman drew for many years at the Oregonian here in Portland, till the editorial page shifted from moderate R (remember them?) all the way to the right, and he took a severance package. We still miss him, glad he’s doing the job in California.

  14. Can we finally accept that domestic industrial accidents kill more people and do more damage to the nation than terrorist attacks? And that domestic financial shenanigans have done more damage to this country than any terrorist has? In which case, can we re-allocate a few resources to fix the more preventable “self-inflicted” problems? The people of this country can withstand terrorism, and we all recognize that we’re not going to be at peace with the Islamic extremists anytime soon, but we still need to take care of our home front. To let the banksters walk off with trillions, and the industrialists blow up cities and poison the Gulf, isn’t just a minor issue, it’s a historic injustice. And unless we restore some honor and integrity, I fear that the domestic corruption and injustice will do more to destroy the peace of this nation than any terrorist could…

  15. teraflop says:

    Love it when I read of non-residents of Texas sniff snidely at the “whiff of runaway capitalism,” and resorting to calling swaths of the state third-world class. It’s not a disease unique to Texas.

    Connecticut, for all its wealth, harbors areas that compare poorly with well-known blighted regions of this country and yet you can’t say that Connecticut is as tax- or regulation-light as Texas. Ever take a tour around the Great Lakes? By car?

    It’s pithy and easy to blame uneven distributions of “acceptable American norms of conducting business” on all manner of purported “Texan” causes: lack of zoning, lack of personnel assigned to investigate and enforce regulations, lack of taxes, lack of oversight, lack of gun control, lack of water (drought here, but that’s a Texas problem, not yours), you name it. Throwing rocks doesn’t fix the problem. This is a tort-based society and economy and thus we seek to break what’s broken, not pursue some utopian view.

    That being said, Governor Perry has the right to pursue recourse, it’s how Americans roll.

    • Someone should do a study of industrial accidents in Widely deregulated states (like Texas) versus other industrial but more regulated states.

      • rd says:

        I expect it would look doubly bad because many plants relocated to those locations because of looser regulations and are more loosely regulated.

        You can see this occurring in the hydro-fracturing industry. States like NYS are taking it very slowly in evaluating and permitting it on a large scale while some other states jumped in with both feet. Personally, I think it can be done safely, like deep sea oil drilling, but must be done carefully with effective oversight or nasty stuff can occur. Effective oversight needs to be more principles-and process-based instead of lots of mini-rules specifiying the font-size on signs. very fundamental things like design and construction of key elements, lock-out/tag-out procedures, and other processes like those make huge differences in safety and environmental outcomes.

        System with large stored energy like pressurized petroleum reservoirs, oxidizers like ammonium nitrate, dams holding back water reservoirs etc. are huge destructive accidents waiting to happen and need to be watched like hawks with great care. Unfortunately, there is often more attention paid to whether or not a town will regulate pink flamingos and lawn gnomes in front yards than the chemical plant next door.

      • victor says:

        BR: go to Bureau of Labor Stat’s; it’s all there:

        2008/11 average fatal injury rates: TX=4.4, Ca=2.5

        The rate represents the number of fatal occupational injuries per 100,000 full-time equivalent workers

      • Now someone has to crunch all that data, look at it 0on a per capita basis, and rate the relative regulatory imnate of each state

        Unless there is a study showing all of that already . . . ?

    • Low Budget Dave says:

      Teraflop: Just because you say something does not make it true. The lack of rain in Texas can be blamed, at least in part, to global climate change. Even as the Governor denies it, pretty much every real scientist in the world is lining up to tell you that you are wrong.

      If it is just a “Texas problem”, then how, exactly do you propose to fix it? More air pollution? Good luck with that theory.

    • willid3 says:

      probably not. seems like those who are public figures dont have as much right to sue as you think.
      and we do have that drought going on. its so bad we are suing other states to get water.

      and its odd that we will sue about water, but if some one gets badly injured by their doctor, they are just out of luck. but that didnt do what was promised either,. health care is still out of control

  16. Chad says:

    I will take a few more regulations and slightly higher taxes. Of course, this creates the problem of inefficiency and waste, such as California experienced.

    This all comes back to fixing our political system. We need to figure out how to keep guys like Rick Perry (and 80-90% of the other politicians) out of office and make it more inviting to those that are actually qualified and less like politicians (probably impossible, as most CEO’s end up the same way).

    Not having regulations or not funding enforcement agencies is fine if the people of the state are willing to shoulder risks like the recent explosion in order to be more “business friendly.” But, if you take this route you can’t yell at a cartoonist when Rick Perry’s real response should be, “We had decided to increase our risk/reward ratio by using less regulations, which, in turn, reduces our taxes and paperwork. Thus, we can expect more of these issues than states with the opposite strategy.”

  17. Moss says:

    Don’t think the Governor, in this case Perry matters. Texas is a right-to-work state so all that other stuff zoning, safety, OSHA, etc does not matter. I have had a number of dealing with Texas ‘people’ and they hate Obama, love religion and are full of BS.

  18. A says:

    The press has always had a responsibility to assist the voting public in (hopefully) staying linked to what elected officials are doing. As well, the press, when doing its job effectively, should be providing truthful disclosure of political behavior, both good and bad.

    Political cartoonists have always been admired for using a short, visually oriented process to unmask the hypocrisy and corruption that are always present in politics. In other words, they are challenged to use get a message through using limited space and content.

    As with advertising, you have an audience with an attention span of nano-seconds. The message has to be direct, hard hitting and quick. And yes, the cartoonist may ‘cross the line’ to make the graphic effective. The fact that Ohman is in the hotseat proves a couple of points.

    One, regardless of how people feel about his process and content, he hit the bulls eye in telling the truth. Two, the fact that the state’s corrupt governor is so upset also proves that the truth (in relatively short supply in American politics) is the only thing that seems to get elected officials motivated.

  19. 873450 says:

    A corporate threat to expatriate jobs if politicians don’t gut safety regulations constitutes an act of economic terrorism. Politicians gutting safety regulations in response to the corporate threat betray their constituents.

  20. JMelville says:

    I am a north Texan and have been stopping in West for years to pick up the baked goods on the way to and from Austin/San Antonio. I never knew the plant existed. My initial reaction was and remains that this tradgedy was a systematic local and state regulatory failure. I am a registered republican but no fan of Gov. Goodhair. The new book “Big, Hot, Cheap and Right” could probably prompt a new discussion thread, but the author has stated that for as much as Texas has got going for it, it needs to step up and address issus such as this to become all it claims to be. I agree. I am watching to see if the state press investigates this to the hilt (say like the Texas A&M bonfire tragedy).

    As far a poaching businesses from California, the local business rountable stated that it has been inundated with inquiries the 1st quarter about relocations from all locales. I am seeing more and more out of state license plates daily in my commute.

  21. WFTA says:

    I’m in the industry so feel a little defensive about this incident. The light I can shed on this is that had this facility been located on navigable water, this tragedy would almost certainly not have occurred. The Coast Guard has been all over ammonium nitrate since Oklahoma City. There would have been a security plan and an emergency plan and the responders would have known what was on site and how to treat it. There simply is no regulatory equivalent on the land transport and storage side of the business.

    One other thing: you know how they say that a “ballplayer’s ballplayer?” Rick Perry is an asshole’s asshole.

  22. dsimmons says:

    If the plant blew up and nobody died, the cartoon would still be valid. Cartoons though are meant to evoke something. For some, the emotional part of the response seems to have overwhelmed the logical part. In case we hadn’t muddied the waters, Perry offers us the victims to illicit an irrational response. I’d say it is smart albeit unfortunate politics except he’s proven how clueless he is.

  23. DeDude says:

    That cartoon is very sensitive to the victims of that disaster. It points out the connections between their suffering and the policies of their government. On the other hand it is not very sensitive to the right wing policies that put top priority on company profit and don’t care about worker safety. That is the real reason Perry is so upset. If he instituted policies that don’t care about worker safety, he really don’t care about workers (dead or alive) as anything else but tools that can produce fat profits for his fat campaign donors. This incidence points to the right wing rethoric about horrible gobinment regulators hurting business as a smoke screen for cutting corners to make more profit at the expense of workers safety – and the people who put up smokescreens always get upset when someone try to blow the smoke away.

  24. Slash says:

    As someone in Texas, I can tell you to never doubt that Rick Perry is a jerk (and apparently his administration is quite corrupt) and if he’s “offended” by something, you probably shouldn’t be.

    He’s doing that politician thing where he pretends to be offended by the wrong thing. Deliberately misinterpreting something so as to be able to yap about how deeply offensive something is instead of acknowledging the actual point, that might make him look like the douche he actually is.

    I have a feeling that the copious lawsuits sure to come out of this will show him as (as usual) on the wrong side. Not that he cares. As long as he and his buddies are getting paid, I honestly don’t think he cares what anybody else thinks, much less an editorial cartoonist from an out-of-state paper.

  25. lapdog4 says:

    I was the “WhistlebloIwer” against Peanut Corp in Texas and also used to work for the state (yes I am sorry I am from Texas. 1st being a WB, pure retaliation. They found 355 food facilities that were never inspected did not fine a single one. (try to say they did not know Peanut Corp was even there so they did not inspect. But I speed I bet I get a ticket, Food manufacture breaks the law, nothing.
    2nd( The unemployment #s are a lie and Perry knows it, he Contracts out unemployment agencies by region and they the #s are a lie to make him look better.
    3rd) (yeah I can remember my 3 points) I my last job (that was cut) just above minimum wage, I was wrote because I had my legs crossed wrong and part of show was touching the chair. Also got wrote up because i stood up 90 seconds, typical treatment if you work in Texas. I have to fight to even find a min. Wage job now. I get 68 a week in unemployment, and I am literally starving to death (from 156 pds to 118 pds) This regulatroy state has turned us into a minimum wage, 1920 era of employee treatment. Corp. are not held accountable, but the people are. And Taxes, yeah right., We own a house outright, (was my wife’s moms old house as I lost my home) worth about 25K, and will loose it soon as we can not pay the Taxes on it. Hey Rick, go to hell you corrupt SOB, and keep lining your pockets with corp money while I starve to death for telling the truth about Peanut Corp of America. The food poisoning, this explosion, workers treated like slaves and min wage jobs (and I know he does not like that there is a federal min wage) He is a disgusting man, and the families at the plant need to hold the state accountable.

    • lapdog4 says:

      Oh yeah, and today I get that nice red piece of paper that Texas is going to take my house for taxes. (my 25k home) to bad I am not a crp. they get tax free property.

  26. kek says:

    I guess this is a good post to deflect the economic/fiscal rot that is taking place in the provincial states (and state of mind) of most of the posters.

    • Biffah Bacon says:

      Well, Alaska is in a race to be like Texas. The superior funding of the people who enjoy the benefits of race to the bottom policies have allowed them the luxury of funding think tanks, propaganda producers, candidates and infrastructure.
      Sarah Palin did one good thing in her half term-passed ACES, upgrading the oil revenue taxation program and bringing us up to California levels of revenue and helping Alaska avoid the worst of the recession. Her Lt. Governor, representing Conoco Phillips, had his corrupt bastards club cronies crush it and put us a billion dollars in the hole for next year. In the meantime, BP’s maintenance policies are still a disaster, Exxon oil still bubbles up on the beach, and no gas line.

  27. Frilton Miedman says:

    I can see it now,

    In, say, five years after the Neo-cons have manipulated more Federalist judges into the SCOTUS, a case like this makes it’s way there, Justice Scalia is the pivotal decision – stating that any speech that hinders “corporate personhood” is a threat to Democracy, therefore First Amendment free speech does not apply if it hurts corporate profits.

  28. petessake says:

    Barry @ 7:19 – red Wyoming has among the worst, highest rates of worker deaths and has for years. High school dropouts and their families appear to be “cost of doing business.”

  29. victor says:

    BR: go to Bureau of Labor Stat’s; it’s all there:

    2008/11 average fatal injury rates: TX=4.4, CA=2.5

    The rate represents the number of fatal occupational injuries per 100,000 full-time equivalent workers