Norfolk Southern Has Bribed A Lot Of Politicians-- Think ANY Will Go To Prison?
Señor Trumpanzee Goes To East Palestine
The derailment catastrophe in East Palestine was two weeks ago. One thing that stands out in my mind was how the Norfolk Southern Chairman James Squires and Norfolk Southern president Alan Shaw, whose annual salaries are, respectively $13,261,278 and $3,777,80, said that neither they nor any of their employees would be attending the East Palestine town hall because they were afraid of the people (whose town they had wrecked with the release of toxic chemicals— including vinyl chloride— into the air, soil and water). The slimy and incompetent little consultant who Biden hired to run the Department of Transportation, Mayo Pete, has also avoided venturing out to East Palestine, although he told inquiring reporters that he would go “when the time is right.”
Speaking fluent McKinseyese— he speaks many languages but that’s always the fallback— he responded a question from a reporter about visiting the site of his departments latest disaster, “I am very interested in getting to know the residents of East Palestine, hearing from them about how they’ve been impacted and communicating with them about the steps that we’re taking. But yes, when the time is right, I do plan to visit East Palestine. I don’t have a date for you right now.”
CNN reported yesterday that East Palestine residents have been critical of the response from Mayo and from the Norfolk Southern brass. Here’s the ass-covering game: “Buttigieg previewed the new rail safety efforts in a recent letter to Norfolk Southern CEO Alan Shaw, demanding accountability and calling for greater safety regulations. And while much of the Department of Transportation’s newly announced efforts focus on calls to Congress and the private sector to work to bolster rail safety, he said his agency will enhance its work as well. ‘We are accelerating and augmenting our ongoing lines of effort on rail regulation and inspection here at the US DOT, including further regulation on high hazard flammable trains and electronically controlled pneumatic brakes— rules that were clawed back under the previous administration— to the full extent of that we are allowed to under current law, and we will continue using resources from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to fund projects that improve rail safety,’ Buttigieg said. A DOT news release states that the agency will continue to press to advance the ‘Train Crew Staffing Rule,’ which would require a minimum of two crew members during most railroad operations. Norfolk Southern has opposed the proposed rule. Buttigieg also said that it’s a good time to evaluate whether the federal government can ‘expand the kinds of trains that count as high-hazard flammable train, so that there’s a higher degree of safety… Let me also mention, though, one of the things you’ll see in the plan that I’m urging the railroads to do is not to wait on us to mandate this,’ he added. DOT is calling on Norfolk Southern and the rest of the freight rail and rail shipping industry to take a number of immediate actions, including committing to phasing in safer tank cars by 2025, the secretary said. The department is also calling on Congress to take up legislation that would increase the maximum fines DOT can issue to rail companies for violating safety regulations.”
Trump, on the other hand, will be gaslighting the East Palestinians in person today. It would be nice if the residents were to recall that Trump reduced rail safety protections, concerning the use electronically controlled pneumatic brakes, insisting that the cost of the electronically controlled pneumatic braking systems outweighed the benefits of accident prevention. I hope he’s asked to explain that today.
On Sunday, Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Will Bunch wrote that in his 2016 GOP convention acceptance speech in Cleveland, just 85 miles northwest of Palestine, Trump promised voters he’d he’d “deliver a better life for the people all across this nation that have been ignored, neglected, and abandoned.” Columbiana County voted for Trump against Hillary, 68.13% to 26.74%. In 2020, the county went for Trump again— despite his lies to make their miserable lives better— this time, 71.51% to Biden’s 26.74%.
“Trump’s 2016 promise to remember “the forgotten Americans” won him Rust Belt states like Ohio and swept the Republican into the White House, where his blue-collar coalition was promptly... well, forgotten,” wrote Bunch. “The signature policy wins by the one-term 45th president— a tax cut that targeted corporations and the wealthy and a deregulation drive to boost profits over the environment— arguably did more to hurt East Ohio than help it.”
The lingering health fears over the Feb. 3 wreck of the Norfolk Southern train carrying cancer-causing chemicals and the ensuing images of a toxic mushroom cloud over East Palestine is a crisis that the Former Guy sees as an opportunity to jump-start his so-far-low-energy bid to return to the White House.
…[T]he truth is that handed the awesome power of the presidency to actually do something for “forgotten Americans,” Trump’s Oval Office actions protected the rich and the powerful— none more so than the nation’s wildly profitable railroads— over the “ignored, neglected and abandoned” everyday people of places like Columbiana County. Any visit wouldn’t be a victory lap, but more like the tendency of a criminal to return to the scene of his crime.
Trump acted specifically to sabotage a nascent government effort to protect citizens from the growing threat posed by derailments of outdated, poorly equipped and undermanned freight trains that were increasingly shipping both highly flammable crude oil from the U.S. fracking boom as well as toxic chemicals like the ones that would derail in East Palestine.
Maybe it was Trump’s bitter spite toward the man who tried to launch that regulatory drive— Barack Obama, the nation’s first Black president. Maybe it was the more than $6 million that the railroad industry, including Norfolk Southern, donated to GOP candidates in 2016, plus millions more spent on lobbying.
Whatever the reason, Trump had been in office for less than a year when he moved to kill the 2015 rule change initiated by the Obama administration that would have required freight trains to upgrade the current braking technology that was developed in the 19th century for state-of-the-art electronic systems. In killing the rule, Trump bought the argument from lobbyists for Norfolk Southern and the rail industry that the upgrade would have cost them $3 billion— six times what the Obama administration found it would cost.
And speaking of bribes, the local ABC News station reported yesterday that about a month before the derailment Norfolk Southern “gave the maximum $10,000 to help bankroll Gov. Mike DeWine’s inaugural festivities [and that] is part of $29,000 the Virginia-based corporation has contributed to DeWine’s political funds since he first ran for governor in 2018, is merely one piece of an extensive, ongoing effort to influence statewide officials and Ohio lawmakers. In all, the railway company has contributed about $98,000 during the past six years to Ohio statewide and legislative candidates, according to data from the secretary of state. Virtually all went to Republicans. In addition, the company filed more than 200 state-required quarterly reports disclosing lobbying of state officials or legislators in the same period. A total of 39 of those public disclosures showed that DeWine or another statewide official was the lobbyists’ target, while another 67 were aimed at state lawmakers. Most of the disclosed attempts to influence Ohio leaders came on generic rail or transportation issues. Some efforts, however, were devoted to defeating legislation that would have established tougher safety standards for rail yards and train operations.”
Ohio politicians are among the most corrupt in America— and always have been. Warren G. Harding’s Ohio Gang may have been the most corrupt GOP political machine in history, notorious for using bribery and intimidation to control elections and government. It was composed of Harding's cronies and political allies from Ohio who were appointed to high-level government positions, despite most of them lacking any relevant qualifications. They were all about soliciting kickbacks and selling government influence. One of the most notorious members was Harry Daugherty, Harding’s campaign manager and Attorney General and was solicited bribes from bootleggers during Prohibition. He was charged with corruption several times andwasfinally fired by Calvin Coolidge in 1924.
Once Harding got to the White House, corruption kicked into high gear, the Teapot Dome bribery scandal— which saw Harding’s Secretary of the Interior, Albert Fall, go to prison for selling Wyoming oil and gas leases— being merely the best-known. Harding also had a scandal in the Veterans Bureau, which was rife with corruption. An inordinate number of Harding appointees were accused of embezzling funds meant for veterans. One, Harding’s close friend, Charles Forbes, his director of the Veterans Bureau, was convicted of fraud and bribery in scandals involving kickbacks from building contractors, embezzling immense amounts of Bureau funds, selling millions of dollars of hospital equipment and supplies, featherbedding political cronies… etc. Basically, the Harding scandals were not just among the most serious in U.S. history but also contributed to a widespread sense of disillusionment with the federal government in the 1920s.
More recently, Ohio has been rocked with corruption scandals involving a political class that believes elective and appointive office entitles the holder to graft and bribes. House Speaker Larry Householder is just the most recent, arrested by the FBI in 2020 on Federal RICO charges in a $60 million bribery case involving 2 nuclear plants— supposedly "the largest bribery scheme ever perpetrated against the state of Ohio”— and expelled from the House the following year. He was a great followup act to Governor Bob Taft, the first Ohio governor to be convicted of taking bribes while still in office!
Let me go back to Will Bunch: “Given that dismal track record (pun intended), why have some of the loudest voices on the Ohio train wreck been far-right Republicans like [Marjorie Traitor] Greene who— with stopped-clock correctness— has been tweeting about the “ecological disaster,” or the state’s new GOP Sen. J.D. Vance, who told Fox News’ Tucker Carlson that America’s leaders “have decided to disregard the people of East Palestine?” Never mind that Vance himself said nothing about the accident for 10 days or that, when he did, he claimed his office was working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency when that office hasn’t even been involved. In fact, Republicans aren’t wrong to point out that areas like East Ohio have been treated very badly, by government (and also industry, which they don’t mention). And the Biden administration has also given them an opening with its response that has both been too slow and in some ways underwhelming. Team Biden’s recent moves to amp up testing and send the EPA administrator are a late start. But it’s still baffling why a Democratic administration hasn’t fought or looked for a way to reimpose the tougher safety rules that Trump killed. It’s beyond hypocritical for Trump to bring his Harold Hill-huckster shtick to East Palestine when residents are still experiencing headaches and breathing foul air from the kind of catastrophe he didn’t lift a finger to stop from the Resolute Desk. But also it’s a bit baffling why Biden or his Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg— who seems to be channeling his inner McKinsey & Co. these days— haven’t gone to Ohio.”
ABC News further reported that “Lawmakers are now scrambling to make sure the railroad is held accountable… Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Maria Cantrell is seeking detailed information about Norfolk Southern. Over the past five years, the Democrat from the state of Washington noted that large railroads ‘have cut their workforce by nearly one third, shuttered railyards where railcars are traditionally inspected, and are running longer and heavier trains. Thousands of trains carrying hazardous materials, like the one that derailed in Ohio, travel through communities throughout the nation each day.’”
Union members, who vocally supported past legislative attempts to increase rail safety, are especially outspoken after the derailment.
“Even as the trains have gotten longer, the workforce supporting them has gotten smaller. All of this is done by rail corporations in pursuit of lower operating costs, higher profits, and a better return for shareholders,” said Jeremy Ferguson, transportation division president of the Sheet Metal, Air, Rail Transportation Union, based near Cleveland.
The bottom line of such deference to operating ratios over safety conditions “has led us to the point where fewer railroaders with less training are taking longer trains made up of more hazardous materials down tracks with more wear and tear. As the heartbreaking images from East Palestine show, this is a recipe for more catastrophic consequences.”
The liberal nonprofit ProgressOhio, pointing to Norfolk Southern’s extensive record of trying to influence state decision-makers, drew a parallel between those completely legal efforts and the illegal activities testified about in an ongoing federal corruption case:
“As the trial of former Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder and FirstEnergy has shown us," the organization said in a statement, "corporate giving to campaigns occasionally comes with a clear expectation of favorable policy outcomes. And in Ohio, Norfolk Southern got what it wanted.”