Friday Jam – relevant in multiple ways edition

Not only do I have tickets to see Living Colour in concert tonight, their song “Wall” is extremely relevant to our political, cultural, ethnic, and spiritual divisions. I’ve listed the lyrics below.

We hate each other ’cause of race and religion
We hate each other ’cause of class and position
We want to know why is love so hard to come by
Give me a reason why you love so hard to try

The walls between us all must fall
The walls between us all must fall

We hate each other ’cause we dance to different music
We hate each other ’cause we think we know it all
We hate each other ’cause that’s what our parents taught us
We hate each other for no reason at all

The wall between us all must fall
The wall between us all must fall

We teach our young men how to kill and name and torture
We teach our young men how to make their mothers cry
We want to know why is love so hard to come by?
Give me the answer, why is love so hard to try?

The wall between us all must fall
The wall between us all must fall

This is how our world breaks down…
The wall between us all must fall
This is how our world breaks down…
The wall between us all must fall

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As long as the crime is big enough, you don’t have to worry about doing time

Since the financial collapse of 2008 a Jean Rostand quote keeps coming to mind (the quote was also used in the song “Captive Honour” by Megadeth, which is where I first heard it):

“Kill one man, and you are a murderer. Kill millions of men, and you are a conqueror. Kill them all, and you are a god.”

In terms of what Wall Street has been doing, it might now be re-worded as:

“Rob one man, and your a criminal. Rob millions of people, you’re a success. Rob them all, and you’re a big bank.” (maybe robbing them all makes you Goldman Sachs)

Last year the federal government, 49 state attorneys general, and the banking and mortgage industry struck a $26 billion settlement on charges of mortgage and foreclosure fraud.  The banks who signed onto the deal are Bank of America, JPMOrgan Chase & Co., Wells Fargo & Co., Citigroup Inc, and Ally Financial Inc. The agreement protected banks and lenders from criminal prosecution, meaning once again no one on Wall Street would spend a day in prison. If you smoke a joint in the vast majority of the country, you will do time if caught. Rob millions of people, including taxpayers through bailouts, you won’t even be indicted.

But this week it got worse. The minuscule checks sent to some victims, part of a measly $3.6 billion in restitution, bounced. Yep, you read that right, they bounced. From the New York Times:

Many struggling homeowners got exactly that this week when they lined up to take their cut of a $3.6 billion settlement with the nation’s largest banks — lenders accused of wrongful evictions and other abuses.

Ronnie Edward, whose home was sold in a foreclosure auction, waited three years for his $3,000 check. When it arrived on Tuesday, he raced to his local bank in Tennessee, only to learn that the funds “were not available.”

Mr. Edward, 38, was taken aback. “Is this for real?” he asked.

It is unclear how many of the 1.4 million homeowners who were mailed the first round of payments covered under the foreclosure settlement have had problems with their checks. But housing advocates from California to New York and even regulators say that in recent days frustrated homeowners have bombarded them with complaints and questions.

This is in addition to the many reports of banks not abiding by rules and consumer protections laid out in the settlement. The Los Angeles Times reported two weeks ago that:

Banks aren’t living up to pledges they made as part of a $26-billion settlement of government investigations into mortgage servicing and foreclosure abuses, according to an advocacy group’s survey of California housing counselors and lawyers.

The survey, the ninth in a series conducted by the California Reinvestment Coalition, also found that providers of mortgage customer service are violating consumer-protection provisions in the California Homeowner Bill of Rights, the package of foreclosure-prevention laws sponsored last year by state Atty. Gen.Kamala Harris.

To top it all off you have the incredible scene of Elizabeth Warren, Senator from Massachusetts, nailing federal regulators, getting them to admit that they are hiding information from victims, and the public, that describes the criminal behavior of banks:

Only a few members of Congress are asking the right questions and seeking to make information public on what is going on. Members and their staff are hearing it from lobbyists, on a daily basis, that efforts to more strictly regulate or hold them accountable will devastate the financial markets, destroy thousands of jobs, and wreck the economy.

We have to change this paradigm and the best way is to free elected officials from ever having to raise a dime. That would be something.

Put down the VHS tape and stop remaking 1980’s films before someone else gets hurt

The big, bold minds in Hollywood are at again, announcing their intent to remake a beloved ’80’s movie because they are out of ideas and want the cash.

From Deadline.com:

Universal Pictures and Silver Pictures will remake Weird Science, the 1985 ultimate nerd wish fulfillment comedy that was written and directed by John Hughes. The film will be produced by Joel Silver, who made the original with Hughes at Universal.Michael Bacall will write the script. He scripted the sleeper Project X for Silver Pictures and wrote the script for 21 Jump Street, another 80’s-centric property that became a hit for Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill.

And let’s not forget the imminent release of the Carrie remake, after having its release pushed back, again:

Kimberly Peirce’s remake of Carrie, starring Chloë Grace Moretz as the bloody and bullied telekinetic teen, has been moved out of the (thematically relevant) prom season and into the (also thematically relevant) Halloween season. Wrapped last September, the film was originally slated for release on March 15, but the MGM/Screen Gems production has been pushed back seven months to Oct. 18 to better capitalize on the pre-holiday horror season. That gives it a week’s head-start on the other major horror release, the now-annual shaky-cam spookery of Paranormal Activity 5.

Sometimes an older film calls out for a remake. It contains a timeless core story that if updated and done well, produces a great movie experience. I’m thinking in this case of “3:10 to Yuma” (a remake of 1957 original), “The Departed” (a redo of the international 2002 hit “Internal Affairs”), and “The Fly”, David Cronenberg’s update to the 1958 version.

Recently, however, there has been a run on remaking movies from the 1980’s. There was the abomination that was the “Footloose” (the Kevin Bacon version is what corny looks like done well), “Hairspray” (the 2007 version makes John Water’s fans cry), “The Karate Kid” (a horrible waste of time designed to promote Will Smith’s son), “Red Dawn” (the original was bad but had a heart and some emerging stars), and “Total Recall” (Arnold’s version came out in 1990 but come on, it was an 80’s movie).  Oh, and I almost forgot, they are remaking “Robocop” for crying out loud.

Each of the remakes was a total flop with audiences and critics (or will be in the case of Robocop). Why?

Because the original movies, for the most part, captured the mood of the country. Yes, the stories are the same ones as have been told for a very long time, but they were bundled in a particular way and unfolded in a fashion that was the 1980’s. Paul Verhoven’s critique of American culture just drips off Robocop, for example.

There have been a ton of good films made in the last few years, it is a shame that some of these hacks are ruining it. On behalf of humanity and someone who loves 80’s movies, please put down the VHS tapes of Sixteen Candles, Streets of Fire, Project X, and walk away from the film room before anyone else gets hurt.

Huge explosion, many casualties, and a town nearly destroyed. Not terrorism, just possibly lax regulations

Late last night/early this morning, a fire erupted at a fertilizer plant in West, a small town just north of Waco, Texas. The fire is suspected in a subsequent explosion, which was so large it was measured as 2.1 earthquake by the USGS, that has killed 5-15 people, wounding around 160 and destroying many homes, apartments, and businesses. Danger is still present as toxic fumes are drifting across the area, threatening the lives and health of residents. After all of this I was stunned to read this passage from the New York Times this morning:

Because it was built in 1962, the facility was grandfathered into state regulations, Mr. Covar said. The company was supposed to get reauthorized in 2004, but failed to do so. Mr. Covar would not speculate on the reason they failed to do it.

He also said that currently the agency did not detect health concerns in the air near the facility.

Governor Perry, in response to questions, declined to speculate about whether the regulatory financing and oversight was adequate.

Records from the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration record that the agency’s last inspection of the facility occurred 28 years ago, in 1985. The agency found five violations that were considered “serious,” including some improper handling of anhydrous ammonia. The company was fined $30.

So this company was producing highly dangerous fertilizer without a permit? And it was doing so in close proximity to homes and schools?

Oh, wait, the company said something like this could never happen. The Dallas Morning News dug into the company’s EPA filing and here is what they reported:

West Fertilizer Co. reported having as much as 54,000 pounds of anhydrous ammonia on hand in an emergency planning report required of facilities that use toxic or hazardous chemicals.

But the report, reviewed Wednesday night by The Dallas Morning News, stated “no” under fire or explosive risks. The worst possible scenario, the report said, would be a 10-minute release of ammonia gas that would kill or injure no one.

The second worst possibility projected was a leak from a broken hose used to transfer the product, again causing no injuries.

The plan says the facility did not have any other dangerous chemicals on hand. It says that the plan was on file with the local fire department and that the company had implemented proper safety rules.

It appears the volunteer fire fighters who were killed at the scene died because they didn’t know what chemicals were being used and stored at the plant. Again, according to the Dallas Morning News:

Advisories on safe handling of anhydrous ammonia generally state that the chemical is not considered an explosion risk when in the air as a gas. They add, however, that it can explode in certain concentrations inside a container.

“Emergency responders should not mix water used for firefighting directly with anhydrous ammonia as this will result in warming of the product, causing the liquid to turn into a vapor cloud,” says the website of Calamco, a growers’ cooperative in California.Explosive hazards with fertilizer are more commonly linked to ammonium nitrate, which is widely used both in agriculture and as an explosive in construction and mining. A mixture of ammonium nitrate and fuel oil was used to make the bomb that destroyed the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City 18 years ago Friday.

President Ronald Reagan was fond of a phrase first coined by Vladimir Lenin, “trust but verify”, and used it to describe how he dealt with Soviet leadership during the 1980’s. It seems to me no one from the EPA or the state of Texas verified what was on this site. An inspection might have verified they were full of it. Most companies do the right thing, but regulation and thorough inspections are necessary because of the dangerous few who don’t care about safety and human life, just profits.

I’m holding out hope that reporters continue to dig into this story and grill local, state, and federal officials about what happened here.

*Update: this extraordinary video of the explosion was just put up:

Gohmert Strikes Again. Is he pulling an Andy Kaufman?

My favorite crazy member of Congress is at it again, positing the notion on CSPAN that radical islamic terrorists have set up camps in Mexico, working with drug cartels, and have been trained to act “hispanic” and cross the border into the United States. The video and a transcript were posted by the Huffington Post:

“We know Al Qaeda has camps over with the drug cartels on the other side of the Mexican border,” he said Wednesday on C-Span. “We know that people that are now being trained to come in and act like Hispanic [sic] when they are radical Islamists. We know these things are happening. It is just insane not to protect ourselves, to make sure that people come in as most people do … They want the freedoms we have.”

Sometimes I think Congressman Louie Gohmert’s comments and claims are so ridiculous that he can’t possibly believe them. I’ve recently come to the conclusion he is simply pulling off a political Andy Kaufman.

For those of you who don’t know, Andy Kaufman was a comedian and actor who specialized in performance art as comedic entertainment. He is famous for wrestling women and getting into a fight with professional wrestler Jerry “The King” Lawler on the David Letterman Show. It was performance art at its finest.

I hope to learn one day that Gohmert was pulling our leg all along.