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KLRU-TV, Austin PBS, creates innovative television that inspires and educates. KLRU-produced programs that air statewide on kirutO Texas PBS stations include Central Texas Gardener, Texas tv and beyond Monthly Talks and The Biscuit Brothers. Check your local listings. klru.urg Bailing Out Bankers At least one Wall Street investment house is stepping up to help some of the people who’ve been squeezed by the financial crisis that Wall Street caused. The Goldman Sachs Grouponce considered the “star of the Street” before it crashed in a pile of greed and had to be salvaged by a multibillion-dollar bailout from you and meis this angel of mercy. It has announced a loan program to assist folks who lost money because of their investments with Goldman. What an altruistic gesture! Before we give the bank a gold star, let’s note that regular folks do not qualify. For example, maybe you lost a chunk of your retirement money because of the firm’s collapse. Sorry, no loan for you. This beneficent program is reserved for Goldman’s own senior bankers! These special ones were paid millions of dollars in the golden years, and they invested wads of that cash in a couple of the bank’s elite investment pools. One of the perks of being a high-ranking Goldman Sachs-er was that you got access to the funds. ButOh, cruel fate!even these have plummeted in value, and many of the bank’s 100 top executives are reported to be down to their last $5 million. Given their gilded lifestyles, this leaves them scrambling to meet payments. One example of their cash crunch is that they have to pay taxes on fat bonuses paid early last year. Back then, they were riding high, and they thought the party would never end, so they spent their bonus money on assorted toys. That means they don’t have enough money today to cover their tax obligations. I know how bad you must feel for them, but not to worry, for Goldman is galloping to their rescue with loans ranging up to hundreds of thousands of dollars. See, Wall Street takes care of its owneven if they have to use our bailout dollars to do it. For more information on Jim Hightower’s workand to subscribe to his award-winning monthly newsletter, The Hightower Lowdownvisit . His latest book, with Susan DeMarco, is Swim Against the Current: Even a Dead Fish Can Go With the Flow. 111 EITOINER the holy grail of fire investigation. But Lone Star Guns wasn’t the typical multiple-origin scene. “Usually what we mean by multiple origins is, you go to a house, and there’s a fire in the bedroom in the back, and there’s a fire in the living room in the front, and there’s no connection:’ Hurst says. Fire origins in multiple rooms with no connection: That’s arson. At Lone Star Guns, the supposed three points of origin were in the same room and within about eight feet of each other. In Hurst’s and Lentini’s views, it’s likely that an aerosol-can explosion, especially one with at least 10 cans involved, could spew flaming liquid seven or eight feet across a room and start separate fires with no obvious connection to the original blaze. Agent Steele would later testify that he didn’t examine how the spray cans he saw littering the scene might have contributed to the fire. He didn’t inspect them, didn’t seize them as evidence, didn’t take them for testing. “This must be the first fire I’ve ever seen where no chemical analysis was done Hurst says. Steele didn’t mention the aerosol cans in his arson report. Though photographs of the scene show exploded cans strewn everywhere, no one documented where they were or what condition they were in. “They were a non-issue Steele testified at trial. “With my explosive experience and the fire experience, I know they will heat up and they will burst. … [But] you don’t get projectiles from the can or anything like that. … It would immediately vaporize into a cloud and burn if it was in the fire. … It would not shoot” Steele also testified that, by his reading of the burn patterns and the amount of char on the workbenches and bookcases, the three areas of origin had burned about the same length of time. To Steele, that meant Severns had set the three fires at the same time. Estimating burn times is a highly inexact science, Hurst says, because some materials burn faster than others. It’s nearly impossible to discern if one area burned, say, five minutes longer than another. \(Still a fire investigator with the ATF in North Texas, Steele It wasn’t just the ATF picking through the scene at Lone Star Guns. Investigators hired by insurance companies also traipsed through the shop in late August 2004. The first was Mike Makela, an investigator hired by Severns’ insurance company. Insurers have an obvious financial incentive to find arson, which shifts the financial obligation from the company to the arsonist. Still, Makela determined that the fire was accidental. Makela reported finding one point of origin: a bench near the center of the back room, where he found a frayed electrical cord attached to the desk fan that Severns had left running. Makela theorized that the cord had shorted and sparked the fire. His opinion wasn’t popular. The ATF examined the fan’s wires wasn’t big enough to start the fire. Hurst calls that junk science, saying there is no good research on how big a short has to be to spark a fire. After Makela left his fire-consulting firm late in 2004, his boss rewrote his report on the Severns case to concur with the ATF’s finding of arson by multiple origins, according to 12 THE TEXAS OBSERVER APRIL 3, 2009