Sacrifice Zone

Is it just me or are America’s priorities seriously fucked-up?

While our feral elite blather on about freedom, democracy, rule based international order, etc., the American people are discovering that they live in a sacrifice zone.

On Monday, President Biden, who has barely mentioned the rail disaster, decided to visit Ukraine instead of East Palestine. During an appearance on Fox News that same day, Mayor Trent Conaway said the president’s visit overseas was the “biggest slap in the face” as his town continues to suffer following a freight train crash carrying hazardous materials, including vinyl chloride. Despite state officials’ claims that air and water in the area remain safe, thousands of fish have died in polluted local waterways and people in the vicinity of the derailment have reported headaches, eye irritation, and other symptoms.

The brutal reality is that a billion dollar rail corporation can cause a chemical disaster and poison 3 states with impunity. Notably, Norfolk Southern announced a $10 billion stock buyback program last March. The company has routinely raised its dividend, rewarding shareholders while refusing to invest in safety upgrades or basic benefits such as paid sick leave. Norfolk Southern, which reported record-breaking operating revenues of $12.7 billion in 2022, originally offered to donate just $25,000 to help affected residents—an amount equivalent to about $5 per person—but recently announced the creation of a $1 million charitable fund instead.

To add insult to injury Norfolk Southern CEO Alan Shaw failed to show up for a town hall meeting, citing “not feeling safe” as his reason for absence. Maybe he didn’t feel safe because of the bright red, pad-locked plastic cages blocking the water fountains with “danger” written on them in seven different languages?  

The juxtaposition couldn’t be clearer with President Biden flying into Kiev to pledge billions more while residents in East Palestine, Ohio were left to suffer. Meanwhile, Secretary Buttigieg and the Transportation Department signaled to the railroads that this type of incident will be tolerated. Here’s what The Boot said when asked about the disaster. “While this horrible situation has gotten a particularly high amount of attention, there are roughly 1,000 cases a year of a train derailing.”

So suck it up losers, a little collateral damage is just the cost of doing business, and our elite have other priorities. They could not give a damn how many people fall sick and even die. Their only concern is protecting profits from any challenge from working-class Americans. Besides, they made it clear what our nations priorities are when Biden and Congress joined forces with rail companies last November to end a rail worker strike over such issues. They forced the railroad workers union to concede in their strike demands, rewarding the exact rail corporations like Norfolk Southern. Despite obvious issues, as pointed out here by Greg Regan, president of the Transportation Trades Department of the AFL-CIO, “The massive reduction in the workforce, attendance policies that encourage people to come to work when they’re sick or exhausted, lack of access to [paid] leave, the stress that is constantly put on workers because of how lean the workforce has become, it creates a negative culture in terms of safety.”

Railroad workers have been warning about the conditions that resulted in the derailment for years. They include the impact of Precision Scheduled Railroading (PSR) and similar attendance schemes, endless cost-cutting by the railroads, a massive reduction in the size of the nationwide workforce, and a relaxation of inspection and maintenance. These have made the trains ticking time bombs. I wonder if there’s a connection between PSR that the unions were so concerned with and the derailment?

Just spitballing here, but maybe this sort of corporate malfeasance ought to have political consequences?

And, that didn’t take long.

“Trump visits East Palestine in wake of train derailment” [The Hill]. “Former President Trump plans to visit the town of East Palestine, Ohio, where a train derailment led to the release of toxic chemicals, next week. Trump posted on Truth Social in response to a report that he was planning to make the trip that the residents of East Palestine are “Great people who need help, NOW!”

Paraphrasing Lambert at Naked Capitalism–These fuckers keep asking for my vote.

On February 19th there was an anti-war demonstration in Washington involving left and right leaning groups uneasily united against America’s endless wars. Since 2001, the U.S. government has spent more than $4.7 trillion waging wars.

It seems obvious that the anti-war forces need to make the connection between the worsening conditions at home with the enormous expenditures abroad on war and destruction. What most Americans fail to recognize is that these ongoing wars have little to do with keeping the country safe and everything to do with propping up a military industrial complex and the aristocratic-financial owners. In America the reality is environmental destruction, economic injustice and inequality. Rentier capitalism. Corruption. Steadily escalating police militarization. Soaring incarceration. Increasing internet censorship. And all while wealth and resources are taken from the people and poured toward global power agendas which do not benefit them, and which in fact impoverish them and endanger them as the empire’s “great power competition” against Russia and China threatens their lives with nuclear brinkmanship.

Going further–the political moment seems ripe for a red/blue convergence to end the American empire and heal our nations sacrifice zones.

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