April 11th, 2006

Voted for Dean

Spitzer/Nixon in 2008

Two years ago, on April 17th of 2004, the owner of a junkyard called Bronx Auto Venture, John Chiapperino, and the manager, Sinforiano Calix, ordered one of their employees, Anselmo Alfaro, to go down into an on-site underground toxic waste storage tank to perform maintenance. This was not the first time they had given this order. Every previous time, Alfaro refused. The tank was full of poison gas, as he had repeatedly warned them, and they wouldn't give him breathing apparatus. On the 17th, they told him to do it or they'd fire him. We don't know why, but this time he obeyed. And passed out immediately, and very nearly died. Not only did he immediately almost die, but a New York City fire fighter very nearly died, himself, getting Alfaro out of there.

As must happen by law when a worker is seriously hurt on the job, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration investigated. They rated this as the second-most serious possible violation, "serious." This is not to minimize the finding; they give out the higher level violation fewer than half a dozen times a year, almost always because some inspector is willing to sacrifice his career to get the harsher penalty, because (as the NYT has documented before) virtually every time OSHA fires or otherwise punishes the inspector who rates a violation as "willful." And to show how seriously they took this flagrantly negligent, indeed intentional, near-murder of an employee by his employer, they levied a steep fine ... of $750.00. Which they almost immediately reduced to $562.00 because the company promised not to do it again. And if this were any other of the many, many on-the-job attempted homicides of employees by their managers each year in the United States, it would have ended there.

Instead, New York state attorney general Elliot Spitzer ignored OSHA and took the case directly to a grand jury, not as an OSHA rules violation but as a criminal case. And last week, the judge convicted those involved of a felony and four misdemeanors, fined Bronx Auto Venture $16,000.00, ordered them to pay the full cleanup costs to turn that junkyard into clean land, and sentenced the owner of the company to six months in jail followed by four and a half years of probation. Elliot Spitzer doesn't believe that shooting a convenience store clerk is a worse crime than poisoning one of your own employees, thank Prime ... and neither do the courts, when anybody has the guts to take a case to one. This is the same Elliot Spitzer who didn't trust a Republican-controlled SEC to take shareholder fraud seriously; while they're handing out (or in same cases even still preparing) their slaps on the wrist for people who committed egregious fraud and outright robberies in the dot com bubble, he's been busy getting real jail terms for the perpetrators. Elliot Spitzer doesn't believe that stealing somebody's car is a worse crime than stealing their entire retirement savings, thank Prime ... and neither do the courts, when anybody has the guts to take a case to one.

I wish, semi-seriously, that the man would run for President. I even have a perfect running mate for him. We've got our own only slightly smaller-scale Elliot Spitzer here in Missouri. State attorney general Jeremiah "Jay" Nixon is the most famously respected prosecuting attorney this state has ever had. He's won every re-election campaign since he got the job by huge margins, including large numbers of cross-over votes from Republicans. Why? Because everybody knows, Jay Nixon doesn't care who you are, he only cares what crime you committed. Rich or poor, white or non-white, Republican or Democrat, if Jay Nixon thinks you committed the crime, he's coming after you. And if he comes after you, you better start packing your bags for jail, because he's pretty nearly always right. Which is an even more amazing trick than you realize, unless you also know that the Missouri attorney general's office, like everything else about our state government in the 44th-lowest-tax state in the US, is run on a shoe-string.

How serious am I? I don't know. There's no precedent for anybody making the jump straight from state attorney general to President of the United States without first passing through the Senate or a governor's seat. But Spitzer's got a lot of name recognition, and after the Abramoff scandal, he may just have the right issues to go all the way. Maybe he could do it. I know I'd almost certainly campaign and vote for him.

(Those of you who volunteered for the interview meme, give me a little time, like another day or two. This is hard, because I want to ask good questions.)