Miscellany (pre-2014)

defn. a mixture of various things

12-2-13: One More Spill of Fracked Petrochemicals: this time in Alabama spill1
A train derailment in Alabama on November 7th resulted in a 2.7 Million gallon spill, impacting a creek and adjacent wetlands. Spill contents were hydrofracked North Dakota Bakken Shale ‘crude oil’ being transported for refining near the U.S. Gulf Coast. This news article has much to ponder. It discusses the apparent (and improper) use of water to ‘dilute’ the spill, and the related failure to use technologies that effectively absorb spilled hydrocarbons. The article also presents a concise list (with links) of some of the major pipeline failures, derailments, and other hydrocarbon spills since 2010. As we continue to irresponsibly add even more carbon dioxide to our atmosphere, perhaps the time will soon arrive when we realize we need to stop this mad hyper-consumption of fossil fuels. The problem is not pipeline safety, nor is it railcar safety, both of which have repeatedly proven to be poorly managed by both operators and federal regulators. One good quote near the end of this article sums it up:

Looking at pipelines versus rail tankers is really like asking, “Should I drive the car with bad brakes or the one with bad tires?”

10-11-13: Another Large Pipeline Spill!
A North Dakota farmer began noticing an oil smell while harvesting wheat. A few days later, he noticed the tires on his equipment were oily. Then he found the reason: a spot of ground with oil bubbling up, caused by yet another ruptured pipeline. The spill is estimated at 20,600 barrels, thus four times the size of the spill last Spring that contaminated Lake Conway, in Mayflower, AR. The pipeline, operated by Tesoro, is said to carry fracked crude from the Bakken shale. “Protection and care of the environment are fundamental to our core values, and we deeply regret any impact to the landowner,” Tesoro CEO Greg Goff said in a statement. “We will continue to work tirelessly to fully remediate the release area.” (…Oh, really?) As has been the pattern in recent years, the initial pipeline rupture and environmental contamination is bad enough, but the mishandling by corporate and government officials is arguable far worse. The news stories show that North Dakota government officials dilly dallied, staying quiet for days. While it was first reported on 9/29/13, the Governor first learned of this problem ten days later, on 10/9/13. And, the public was not informed until 10/10/13. Link

9-15-13: Razing the Garden of Eden

Is it fair to suggest we are experiencing the rise of the ‘Ninja Bureaucrat’, and a trend toward overkill where authority is arbitrarily asserted, sometimes to benefit cronies? Check out this short blog by Jim Hightower, about a SWAT raid in Arlington, TX. It has all appearances of a simple story where a local organic farm, named ‘Garden of Eden’, was not properly trimming their lawn and controlling their blackberries, thus failing to comply with local residential codes. So, they were raided by ‘authorities’, and handcuffed while their garden was searched and many plants destroyed. No marijuana plants were found, but ‘authorities’ did seize “17 blackberry bushes, 15 okra plants, 14 tomatillo plants … and native grasses and sunflowers,” according to the property owner.Article image On top of the violation of personal liberties, there appears to be a disturbing trend toward overkill and excessive force. Why is this happening? It just seems too plausible that, as local police authorities build up their assets (such as assembling SWAT units), they create a need to use these new assets, to prove their value and, well, just to have something to do. Sort of like needing to hoe the weeds in your garden, so, gee, why not get the job done with a bulldozer? Not too different from the ‘overkill’ in California, when a volunteer died falling from a National Guard helicopter being used to clean up a remote marijuana grow. One wonders, was the Arlington SWAT unit created using only local Arlington tax money, or did it evolve with substantial state and or federal funding support? In other words, would this SWAT raid (or the helicopter death) have happened, if less money was being directed to create new assets (SWAT units and additional helicopters) with not enough real work to do?

8-28-2013: What the Assault on Whistleblowers Has to do With War on Syria

Norman Solomon opines about how critical Whistleblowers are today, to guard against government PR campaigns (and other propaganda). His Op/Ed is posted at Nation of Change, along with the above artwork by Stephen Pitt, which graphically presents the same message. Solomon’s closing comment: “…real journalism can’t function without whistleblowers. Democracy can’t function without real journalism. And we can’t stop the warfare state without democracy. In the long run, the struggles for peace and democracy are one and the same….”

8-20-2013: The Big Silicon Valley Super Powerball Lottery

Dean Baker’s article touching on redistribution of wealth via crazy stock ideas. An excerpt: “Just as Wall Street is now largely about ripping off suckers, the high tech world of Silicon Valley seems to have evolved into the West Coast version. And it ain’t pretty.”

8-3-2013: Do Some People Want Jobs to Stay Anemic?
Robert Reich’s webpage offers many posts with thought-provoking views and analysis. In this post, he suggests that those with money have a set of incentives to maintain higher unemployment levels. Here are the three incentives he lists in his post:

“…First, high unemployment keeps wages down. Workers who are worried about losing their jobs settle for whatever they can get — which is why hourly earnings keep dropping. The median wage is now 4 percent lower than it was at the start of the recovery. Low wages help boost corporate profits, thereby keeping the regressives’ corporate sponsors happy. “…Second, high unemployment fuels the bull market on Wall Street. That’s because the Fed is committed to buying long-term bonds as long as unemployment remains high. This keeps bond yields low and pushes investors into equities — which helps boosts executive pay and Wall Street commissions, thereby keeping regressives’ financial sponsors happy. “…Third, high unemployment keeps most Americans economically fearful and financially insecure. This sets them up to believe regressive lies — that their biggest worry should be that “big government” will tax away the little they have and give it to “undeserving” minorities; that they should support low taxes on corporations and wealthy “job creators;” and that new immigrants threaten their jobs….”

7-26-2013: Despite the BigOil PR hogwash, U.S. hydrocarbon production is in decline

Three charts presented by Tom Lewis at DailyImpact.net argue convincingly that the ads and spin about U.S. energy production and independence are, well, just a lot of hot air. The article notes that hydrofracked wells, on top of their environmental damage, are costly to produce yet last for very few years. The article closes with this:

“…When M. King Hubbert predicted in the 1950s that American oil production would peak in the 1970s, no one believed him. The oil industry made sure of that. Shortly after it did peak — in 1970 — the laughter became a nervous titter until Alaska’s Prudhoe Bay field came on line. Then the idea of peak oil became laughable again because a “new era” of US oil supremacy had begun.
But the new era collapsed and died in a decade. And the heights to which it took the country were not even close to the heights of 1970. The slide to the bottom resumed. To be interrupted in 2005 or so by the “new new era” of fracking. Which now appears — to all observers not working for an oil company, or running for office with oil money — to be another ten-year era that will prove to be just another bump on the downward slide to peak oil, followed by no oil.”

See also an earlier post at DailyImpact.net, with a summary of a new DoEnergy report showing how Climate Change is undermining the entire U.S. energy sector. Some interesting points are made.

7-15-2013: Mix of Arsenic and Estrogen Increases Risk of Prostate Cancer
An article posted at Beyond Pesticides, via EcoWatch.com. Peer-reviewed studies are cited (and linked), discussing the health risks associated with low dosages of toxic, commonly-used chemicals such as 2,4-D and bisphenol-A. As stated by one research scientist: “Only about 5 to 10 percent of cancers are due to genetic predisposition. Science has looked at these chemicals, such as arsenic, and tested them in a lab to find the amounts that may cause cancer. But that’s just a single chemical in a single test. In the real world, we are getting exposed to many chemicals at once.”

7-12-2013: Uranium Titan Tumbles

Geoffrey Sea has written a series of five articles looking at the history of what may be the greatest failure of cronyistic privatization. It focuses on an issue with very serious health consequences, too: the production of nuclear fuel, in Paducah, KY.

USEC’s main facilities are at Paducah and Piketon, KY (this pic).

Back in 1992, Congress approved the sale of federal assets in Kentucky, which enabled a private firm, United States Enrichment Corporation, aka USEC, Inc., to establish a monopoly interest in the uranium enrichment business. The sale/transition was completed in July 1998, with the sale of USEC stock — which has been in a rapid decline the past five years. In the early years, it was a sweet partnership for USEC, which could rely on handsome contracts to do uranium enrichment for the Department of Energy (DoE). This relationship has all but disintegrated in recent years; in fact, USEC filed a lawsuit against DoE on 5/30/13 (see Part IV of this article series). History has shown that the Federal Government can be extraordinarily wasteful. Privatization can work to end that waste … but it can also work to amplify that waste, while feeding a bunch of greedy cronies. Anyone interested in the issue of privatization, and how it can fail, should spend some time reading the USEC story.

6-22-2013: Cranking Up the Washington Lie Machine

Dave Lindorff offers another thoughtful Op/Ed at Nation of Change. He expresses his doubts about claims by both NSA and the administration to defend the wholesale violation of our individual privacy. At first, they came out saying the secret snooping stopped two attacks; then, they quickly said it was fifty. They claim bigger numbers but, of course, they cannot and will not show evidence to confirm their larger claims. An excerpt: “… we don’t get to learn what those alleged busted plots were. If they were as hairbrained as the underwear bomber’s plan, which succeeded only in scorching his own privates, or as poorly conceived as the Times Square bomber’s plot, which succeeded only in burning some of the upholstery in his SUV, we don’t really have much to show for the freedom we’ve had stolen from us….” link

6-20-2013: Rising Seas: A City-by-City Forecast

The Atlantic coast between North Carolina and Massachusetts is at high risk. This Rolling Stone magazine article lists some of the U.S. cities most at risk due to climate change. A companion article offers images of what Miami might look like after a hurricane in the year 2030.

6-20-2013: Warming Ocean Biggest Driver of Antarctic Ice Melt

A recent study assesses rates of Antarctic ice melt in its two primary modes: the calving of large pieces of ice into the sea, and the ‘basal melting’ of ice by warming seawater beneath. The Antarctic ice shelves help hold the massive land-ice in place; faster ice shelf melting may accelerate the flow of the Antarctic glaciers, thus also accelerating sea level rise. Estimates are that if all Antarctic ice were to melt, it would add approximately 200-feet to the average sea level. There is still ample research to be done. If we wait to see how fast it melts, a rise of only 20-feet will flood over many coastal communities, many key airports, and even much of the state of Florida. Bangkok, Thailand will become a small island, until that too disappears; 14 million people live in and around Bangkok.

6-20-2013: Monsanto’s Website Hacked After Two Million March

The ‘Hacktivist’ group Anonymous reportedly hacked into the website just days after more than two million people protested against GMO’s and Monsanto’s anti-small-farmer practices. The frequency of this type of activism appears to be on the rise. And, it sure feels like many more people appreciate the work, as a brave and necessary push-back. Sixty years ago, the whole country would have freaked out. Let’s hope the balance of power shifts so that these activities can become unnecessary. [Link to article at Nation of Change]

6-2-2013: Greyhound Therapy

Here’s a disturbing story. This is not about taking care of dogs. This is about taking care of the problem of homeless people, by shipping them off to another city. In its earliest forms, this tactic involved one-way tickets on a Greyhound Bus, hence the name.

Of course, this is no way to ‘take care’ of problems such as homelessness and mental illness (which two problems often coincide for the same impoverished individual).


click on the picture to read the 4-14-13 Sacramento Bee article

An example of this disturbing practice is provided in a Sacramento Bee article by Cynthia Hubert, Phillip Reese and Jim Sanders. The reporters reviewed bus receipts kept by Nevada’s mental health division, and found that in the past five years, the Rawson-Neal Psychiatric Hospital in Las Vegas has sent away more than 1,500 patients. Many were sent to California cities, via Greyhound Bus one-way tickets. Typically, they were put on the bus with enough food to last a couple days. Also, they were routinely provided with a dosage of the appropriate medication to control their disorder for a few days … which of course ran out, soon after they arrived at their new ‘home’.

I did say this was a disturbing story, right? It is a sick system, that would treat people so poorly, and create so many huge problems for others. On 4/30/13, Dr. Ami Bera and twenty other Congressional representatives from California sent a letter to Eric Holder and HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, requesting a full investigation. A 5/1/13 Op/Ed in the Oakland Tribune amplified their concerns. Judge it yourself. Here is a collection of links:

…hover over the green-box links below for brief descriptions…
  • 3-15-2013Editorial: Is ‘Greyhound therapy’ the norm in Nevada?
  • 4-7-2013Cast out of Nevada, mentally ill man tells story of finding kindness in Sacramento
    …The detailed story of how Nevada mental health system mishandled the case of James Flavy Coy Brown. And, his case appears to be just the tip of the iceberg for a larger problem … a system that fails to manage mental illness.
  • 4-15-2013“Greyhound Therapy” for Nevada Mental Patients?
  • 5-3-2013Man With Psychosis Recalls Nevada ‘Patient Dumping’
  • 5-9-20133 things you need to know about ‘Greyhound therapy’ aka patient dumping
    …A good article, with many links. Focuses on the larger history. This problem has roots in the Kennedy administration, and was compounded during the Reagan administration. Also notes the connection with similar policies for handling illegal immigrants.
    • movie websiteWebsite for the 2012 movie, ‘Greyhound Therapy’
    • 5-7-2011‘Greyhound Therapy’ Makes Issue of Homelessness Matter to America Again
      …An entertainment article about the movie, ‘Greyhound Therapy’, by director/writer Steven Oakey and starring JohnJay Fitih This is an independent film, out of Atlanta.
…When a society fails to properly treat the mentally ill, it pays a higher cost later, with incidents like we saw at Newtown, Aurora, Santa Cruz, Tucson and so many other places…

6-2-2013: Unrest in Turkey

Tens of thousands occupied Taksim Square in Istanbul for three days, and faced teargas from police. A NYTimes article with numerous photos calls it a fight for identity, where the Turkish government is rapidly displacing residents to develop malls and other projects.

Interestingly, conflict boundaries appear to align with age, with both older and younger generations protesting the abuse of power by middle-year generations. Protest ideals appear to come from the oldest generation (many in their 80’s), while protest actions come from the young (mostly in their twenties, as happened in Egypt and elsewhere). The target of the protest is clearly the generation in power: those in their 40’s through 60’s, who are perceived to be abusing their power to implement projects for personal financial gain, much as happened with the bank collapse five years ago.

Some excerpts…

Edhem Eldem, a historian at Bogazici University in Istanbul, has criticized the government for undertaking large-scale development projects without seeking recommendations from the public. “In a sense, they are drunk with power,” he said. “They lost their democratic reflexes and are returning to what is the essence of Turkish politics: authoritarianism.”

Ara Guler, who is 84 and Turkey’s most famous photographer, having produced volumes of black-and-white photographs of Istanbul’s cityscapes, sat in a cafe that bears his name. He said there was only one neighborhood left that reminded of him of his city and where he still liked to take pictures: Eyup, a waterside district that is home to a famous mosque and many conservative Muslim families. “The Istanbul that we grew up with is lost,” he said. “Where is my Istanbul? It’s all about the money.” A government plan to convert Taksim Square, historically a place of public gathering, into a replica Ottoman-era army barracks and shopping mall — what Mr. Eldem, the historian, called “a Las Vegas of Ottoman splendor” — is what incited the demonstrations. But there are many other contentious projects that have drawn public outrage. The city’s oldest movie theater was recently demolished for another mall, raising howls of protests, including an objection from Turkey’s first lady, Hayrunnisa Gul, the wife of the Turkish president, Abdullah Gul. A 19th-century Russian Orthodox Church may be destroyed as part of an overhaul of a port. And in ghettos across the city, the urban poor are being paid to leave their homes so that contractors — many with ties to government officials — can build gated communities. The neighborhood of Avcilar, near the airport and historically a place for Bulgarian immigrants, is another area where residents are being uprooted. As the process unfolds, it has become complicated by opaque property records in which it is sometimes impossible to determine ownership. “One day we just got a notice, and bam, before we could put up a proper fight, 300 to 400 police came and held us back from intervening with the bulldozers that knocked down our restaurant,” said Coskun Turan, who owned a fish restaurant. “They said we didn’t have deeds for the property, but we do. We showed them. They argued that we only had a deed for part of the property, so they knocked the rest down.”

6-2-2013: Obama’s Covert Trade Deal

An op/ed in the NYTimes by Lori Wallach & Ben Beachy highlights the contradiction between the oft-stated ‘transparency’ goals of the Obama administration and the reality of non-transparent performance. The example cited is the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), “…the most significant international commercial agreement since the creation of the World Trade Organization in 1995.” Some excerpts:

Although Congress has exclusive constitutional authority to set the terms of trade, so far the executive branch has managed to resist repeated requests by members of Congress to see the text of the draft agreement and has denied requests from members to attend negotiations as observers — reversing past practice. There is one exception to this wall of secrecy: a group of some 600 trade “advisers,” dominated by representatives of big businesses, who enjoy privileged access to draft texts and negotiators. This covert approach is a major problem because the agreement is more than just a trade deal. Only 5 of its 29 chapters cover traditional trade matters, like tariffs or quotas. The others impose parameters on nontrade policies. Existing and future American laws must be altered to conform with these terms, or trade sanctions can be imposed against American exports.

(…that is to say, the decisions made in TPP will impact how we live in the TPP countries; so, how is it appropriate that corporate interests are involved as ‘trade advisers’, while common citizens are kept in the dark?)

So why keep it a secret? Because Mr. Obama wants the agreement to be given fast-track treatment on Capitol Hill. Under this extraordinary and rarely used procedure, he could sign the agreement before Congress voted on it. And Congress’s post-facto vote would be under rules limiting debate, banning all amendments and forcing a quick vote. Ron Kirk, until recently Mr. Obama’s top trade official, was remarkably candid about why he opposed making the text public: doing so, he suggested to Reuters, would raise such opposition that it could make the deal impossible to sign. Whatever one thinks about “free trade,” the secrecy of the Trans-Pacific Partnership process represents a huge assault on the principles and practice of democratic governance. That is untenable in the age of transparency, especially coming from an administration that is otherwise so quick to trumpet its commitment to open government.

5-29-2013: Global Citizen Media Project

It is nice to find there are people in this world who move beyond words and take action. One such person is Diana Gross. A teacher in Maryland, she started to travel in 2011, using an iPad and other digital technologies to connect students between classrooms in distant corners of the world. ‘The Traveling Teacher Project’ includes workshops and classroom participation, where she is primarily teaching Citizen Journalism, while also seeking to engage citizens in a global discussion. Diana has taken her program to sixteen nations, and currently resides in Cambodia…

“This past week, temperatures were over 42 degrees celsius (110 degrees fahrenheit), but it didn’t diminish the enthusiasm in the room as we published, student by student, their first WordPress-based websites and blogs. Before pressing ‘Publish’ on each account, I asked the student, “Are you ready to share your ideas with the world?” “Yes,” each one answered. And after pressing, ‘Publish’, the room erupted in cheers. And the look of pride on the students will stay with me for a lifetime.”

Here are some links:

Traveler of the Year, 2012
— Diana received National Geographic Magazine’s annual award.
— After a year and a half, her program continues to evolve. Next stop may be Africa.

5-13-2013: Atlas Shrugged Off TaxesArticle image

An Op/Ed piece by Paul Buchheit appears at Nation of Change. It is an interesting read, and opens with: “Ayn Rand’s novel “Atlas Shrugged” fantasizes a world in which anti-government citizens reject taxes and regulations, and “stop the motor” by withdrawing themselves from the system of production. In a perverse twist on the writer’s theme the prediction is coming true. But instead of productive people rejecting taxes, rejected taxes are shutting down productive people.” He also comments about the appearance that the very corporations who dodge taxes and use off-shore shelters, those same corporations get a lot of support from FAA and others in government: “…corporations use highways and shipping lanes and airports to ship their products, the FAA and TSA and Coast Guard and Department of Transportation to safeguard them….”

5-9-2013: Carbon BombsCarbon bombs map

This diagram shows the location and relative impact of fourteen giant-scale projects aimed at tapping and consuming coal and other carbon sources. Some would argue that the principal beneficiaries are a few energy companies, who gain financially while the rest of the world loses. Not just in terms of land destroyed, but also in terms of pollution, global warming, sea rising, …the list goes on and on. Is there something within the human DNA that we MUST extract and consume every hydrocarbon molecule? Is there some way to tame our addiction, so as to avoid the demise that inevitably follows such behavior? Would it be reasonable for a federal government to declare it illegal to remove the coal layer that lies under two-thirds of Illinois — to declare that, all things considered, that coal is best left under that farmland?

5-8-2013: In Praise of Richard Falk

Connecting to the issue of what we need to do to prevent future terrorist attacks like the Boston Marathon bombing, this opinion piece by Lawrence Davidson discusses Richard Falk. Mr. Falk is a professor emeritus of international law at Princeton University and the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in the Palestinian territories. He applied his expertise and offered some suggestions shortly after the 4/15/13 bombing. This article effectively presents Mr. Falk as speaking up, from a position of authority and with a valid concern, but with the misfortune that his words offend those in power; i.e., Mr. Falk shows the same pattern of speaking up and thus triggering suppression, as happens against whistleblowers. Here are a few excerpts:

…It seems obvious that if Washington wants to prevent future attacks, it is not enough to pursue alleged terrorists and beef up “homeland security.” It seems logical that one needs to also perform a foreign policy review, preferably in a public manner, to determine if any American policies or behaviors are unnecessarily provoking animosity. …?
…Back in 2009 Obama went to Cairo and made a speech which suggested that a rethinking of American relations with the Muslim world and the Middle East in particular, was in order. Yet the theory represented in the speech was never turned into practice. Why not? ….
…The ugly fact is that, most Americans have been kept dangerously ignorant of the wanton damage caused by their government’s foreign policies, and those who would prevent them from knowing the truth are, at the very least, indirectly responsible for terrorist attacks launched in reaction to those policies. Richard Falk’s crime is to be a person of note, an esteemed academic and a respected servant of the United Nations, who is trying to break through with the truth. ….

5-8-2013: EPA Approves Sulfoxaflor

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) approved the unconditional registration of the new insecticide sulfoxaflor, which the agency classifies as highly toxic to honey bees. Despite warnings and concerns raised by beekeepers and environmental groups, sulfoxaflor will further endanger bees and beekeeping. The U.S. EPA continues to put industry interests first to exacerbate an already dire pollinator crisis. Sulfoxaflor is a new active ingredient, whose mode of action is similar to that of neonicotinoid pesticides—it acts on the nicotinic acetylcholine receptor in insects. Even though it has not been classified as a neonicotinoid, it elicits similar neurological responses in honey bees, with many believing that sulfoxaflor is the new generation of neonicotinoid. Sulfoxaflor will be registered for use on vegetables, fruits, barley, canola, ornamentals, soybeans, wheat and others. Neonicotinoid pesticide use was recently suspended by the European Union for two years, as a measure to arrest declining bee health. The EPA also approved new pollinator label language it believes to be “robust” to protect pollinators. Sulfoxaflor labels will state language such as:

“Do not apply this product at any time between 3 days prior to bloom and until after petal fall.”
…and advisory pollinator statement:
“Notifying known beekeepers within 1 mile of the treatment area 48 hours before the product is applied will allow them to take additional steps to protect their bees. Also limiting application to times when managed bees and native pollinators are least active, e.g., before 7 a.m. or after 7 p.m. local time or when temperature is below 55oF at the site of application, will minimize risk to bees.”

So, clearly EPA recognizes the hazard of this chemical they have now approved. But, how about a dose of reality here? How in the hell does EPA expect to ensure farmers comply with these guidelines? Farmers (and the laborers they hire) lack the flexibility to ‘wait’ until the right application conditions. And, how will they enforce non-compliances? Well, they won’t. The short answer is simple: EPA has again proven they exist only to provide cover for the pesticide industry. Dow (and others) have the backing of EPA to protect them from consequences of their chemical designs; EPA has some well-paid civil servants building their retirement pensions while pretending to protect the environment; farmers have the new chemical that they can misapply for short-term gain but long-term disaster; consumers have one more layer of oblivion; and the bees and other vitally needed insects face collapse and/or extinction.

5-6-2013: Boston Marathon, this thing called terrorism, and the United States

An interesting opinion piece by William Blum; here are a few excerpts:

…What is it that makes young men, reasonably well educated, in good health and nice looking, with long lives ahead of them, use powerful explosives to murder complete strangers because of political beliefs…?
…It would be most interesting to be present the moment after a jihadist dies and discovers, with great shock, that there’s no afterlife. Of course, by definition, there would have to be an afterlife for him to discover that there’s no afterlife. On the other hand, a non-believer would likely be thrilled to find out that he was wrong….
…Let us hope that the distinguished statesmen, military officers, and corporate leaders who own and rule America find out in this life that to put an end to anti-American terrorism they’re going to have to learn to live without unending war against the world. There’s no other defense against a couple of fanatic young men with backpacks. Just calling them insane or evil doesn’t tell you enough; it may tell you nothing….

5-3-2013: Coal…

…Let’s be done with it. Coal kills in so many ways: during its extraction, with the pollutants from its use, and in the massive toxic waste disposal. Show me a pile of coal and I will show you an ongoing conflict that will never go away … where money buys mine disasters, corrupt officials, land despoliation, air and water pollution, health declines and early death. Plunder, really, so that the resource extractor may make a small profit.

Coal. Let’s be done with it.


“At weekends, he enjoys jolly camel rides with debonair military officers and secret policemen and lavish parties with the superrich in their guarded desert condominiums. And at dawn, after flirting with their glamorous daughters, drives home with car windows closed to keep out the stench of burning plastic and rotting food as the ragged ghosts of children and their shrouded mothers forage for scraps in filthy acres of unsorted rubbish at the city’s edge.”

– the life of a British foreign agent assigned to Egypt, in John le Carré’s latest novel, ‘A Delicate Truth’

…a new novel, as reviewed in NYTimes. It ponders ‘…the virus of shortsightedness, hypocrisy, lies and unfettered greed that plagues the “post-imperial, post-cold-war world”…’

3-22-2013: The Veal Pen

David Pardo at MSPBWatch has proven to be something of a lightning rod among whistleblowers. He has done some brilliant work, and is strongly dedicated to transparency, but he has also at times engaged in battles with people like Tom Devine at GAP. I am not going to try to judge the right or wrong of those battles, but I think it is fair to say: it is a frustration to all of us in the whistleblower community that these battles keep happening. In the latest flare-up, David is expressing concerns about GAP’s Jesselyn Radack and a blogger for FireDogLake, Kevin Gosztola. Generally, I choose to not even start to read these exchanges, as I have enough work to do related to FAA failures and whistleblowers. But, this time, my eye did catch one reference that piqued my curiosity: the VEAL PEN. A quick online search reveals a 2009 article, with an explanation of the VEAL PEN, as a symbol of failure within modern politics. A fascinating read (here’s the link), not just for what it was articulating in the fall of 2009, but even more so because it appears, in three and a half years, not much has changed.

…the VEAL PEN persists, as a symbol of Progressive failure…

Back to David Pardo and MSPBWatch, and maybe some closure…. Much of my respect for David is rooted in his having pushed back against my agency, the FAA. David hired on in late 2009, and worked at FAA’s General Counsel office, headed by David Grizzle at FAA Headquarters. He saw problems in how FAA was handling rules related to fatigue, and he spoke up. This remains a big issue at FAA; there was and is a lack of regulation for hours worked by pilots, mechanics, rampers, schedulers, and this has created a history of many fatal accidents over many decades. David spoke up, and he was terminated near the end of his probationary ‘first year’. I first learned of David’s case because he exercised his right to free speech and created a blog, which essentially provided a real-time insight into the retaliation FAA was taking against him. He had the guts – and the heart – to speak up on his way out; he was still employed by FAA, yet was posting online for all to see: “…hey, look at what FAA is doing now … how wrong is this?” The very core of being a whistleblower is allowing your instinct toward truth and transparency to prevail over your narrow self-interest. This quality is a threat to others, as it undermines the absolute authority of abusive corporations, agencies and/or bureaucrats. David followed his whistleblower instinct, and he went even further by adding a layer of internet transparency. His work helped many whistleblowers to deal with their own harsh situations.

Thanks for your work, David, but I do hope we can all quit expending too much energy on attacking other members of the whistleblower community. And, I also hope that GAP and others will work hard to prove they are not in the VEAL PEN business.

3-1-2013:. Will Newest National Park Be Marred by Oil Drilling?

Pinnacles, a rugged area an hour south of San Jose, serves as home to condors, but is under threat of oil development, including possible fracking. Article from Earth Island Journal, as posted at EcoWatch. New Study of Ice Age Bolsters Carbon and Warming Link

One strategy used by those who deny mankind’s role in climate change (hey, all that fossil fuel burning produces huge quantities of CO2, which has to go somewhere!) has been to claim there is no link. Even more, they discredit the science that has been done, by acting like there is a real significance to the timing… which came first, the temperature rise or the CO2 rise?…of course, this whole ‘issue’ is just a distracting non-issue… the important point is, irrefutably, we ARE consuming fossil fuels excessively, and we ARE seeing unprecedented rises in atmospheric CO2 concentrations. They make a big deal out of an alleged 800-year gap, in which temperatures lead CO2. Now, a new study is proving the 800-year gap may be closer to 200-years, and may not exist at all. The theory to explain the gap is that air bubbles trapped within crystallizing glacial ice do not become fully ‘trapped’ for decades or even centuries; thus, the composition of that air reflects air qualities from the later time … hence, a delay. Of course, delay or no delay, it is irrefutable that we create one helluva lot of CO2 (and other pollutants) due to our modern, consumption-focused lifestyles. [NYTimes article]*[JunkScience.com article]

2-22-2013: Instead of Trying to Feed the World, Let’s Help it Feed Itself.

An opinion piece by Shannon Hayes, in Yes! Magazine. She works on a family farm in upstate New York and advocates local sustainability. Here is an excerpt…

World War II, with the onset of the “Green Revolution,” feeding the world became a national mantra. It was a ubiquitous “good” that handily justified the discovery that the petrochemicals used in warfare could find postwar applications if dumped on our food supply.

Article image

“Feeding the world” consoled farmers as they incurred mountains of debt to afford the fossil-fuel-intensive machinery and expansive acreage that would enable them to crank out tons of food for which they would garner increasingly lower prices.“Feeding the world” was the elixir offered as our grandparents attempted to adjust their palates to a food supply that was suddenly tasteless as local food disappeared from the market. “Feeding the world” was the slogan tossed about as rural people the world over surrendered ties to the land, moved to cities, and trusted that the food system would take care of itself. “Feeding the world” was the background tune playing in the bank, on the car radio of the seed salesman, in the office of the accountant as farmers were counseled to “get big or get out,” to expand their production and change their growing practices to participate in a global food supply, rather than a regional one. “Feeding the world” was the motto that let Americans turn their heads and not notice the polluted waters, the increasing severity of floods, soil loss, or the fact that the little farm next door had suddenly disappeared. [link to full article]

2-21-2013: Fracking Our Farms: A Tale of Five Farming Families

An article by Alexis Baden-Mayer of the Organic Consumers Association. Includes brief case summaries where fracking has caused health issues on family farms. [link to article]


“Everyone is talking about reform, but in fact everyone has a fear of reform.”
QUOTATION OF THE DAY, in the New York Times. By Ma Yong, a historian at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, on the conflicting messages delivered by China’s Communist Party officials on their commitment to reforms.

2-12-2013: Happy to be Here

Steve Stockman, a Republican representative from Texas, invited 64-year-old rockstar Ted Nugent as a guest to President Obama’s State of the Union address. He happily accepted. Well, sort of…As described by Jonathan Weisman at the New York Times, “…in a House chamber filled conspicuously with the victims of gun violence and family members still grieving for lost loved ones, Mr. Nugent seemed like a provocation, a saber-toothed tiger invited to a garden party.”

2-6-2013: Drones to be Discussed During CIA Confirmation Hearings

New York Times has published an article, Drone Strikes’ Dangers to Get Rare Moment in Public Eye, written by Scott Shane, Robert Worth and Mark Mazzetti. It outlines the impact of drones being used to assassinate targets in places like Yemen, with mounting collateral damages. John O. Brennan, the White House counter-terrorism adviser, faces a Senate confirmation hearing to become the new CIA director. Domestically, drones are regulated by FAA. Drones have potential to have both positive and negative impacts. On the positive side, they are a very energy-efficient means of assessing surface conditions, toward land monitoring and management. But, on the negative side, when the ‘herd’ being monitored and managed consists of homo sapiens, drone usage becomes a gross violation of privacy rights. [link to article] Update on Boeing and the 787 Battery Fires Leeham News and Comment has again compiled a solid update, with links. UBS is estimating a writeoff by Boeing of at least $6 Billion, due to the battery problems. A link to a copy of a 6-12-05 Press Release is provided, showing the award of the Li-ion battery contract to GS Yuasa (that was two years before manufacturers gained FAA approval for use of the Li-ion technology). An 11-14-12 presentation by a Boeing official discusses Li-ion designs, cargo hazards, and more. Lastly, there is a link to a 4.7Mb color PDF study prepared in July 2011, by the Fire Protection Research Foundation; the title is Lithium-Ion Batteries Hazard and Use Assessment. [link to LeehamNews]

2-5-2013: Acceptance of Climate Change through Anecdotal Evidence

To many of us concerned about Climate Change, there is a grave concern at how quiet the media and our political leaders have become. We witness an incessant onslaught of climate change denial by specific corporations, paid hacks and political leaders (pardon the apparent redundancy!), while watching so many leaders with real power and potential simply shy away. So, a mere mention of this issue by President Obama in his acceptance and inaugural speeches, stirs hope for change. Maybe, just maybe, he will shoot down Keystone XL, for example. Reflecting on this past year, it seems the denial efforts are losing. The acceptance that ‘yes, we have a problem’, is slowly growing through anecdotal evidence. Last summer’s parched American midland, the late-season Hurricane Sandy, the diminishing Arctic ice, the record average temperatures, and now news from the Iditarod. Big Carbon and its allies spend millions of dollars to confuse and convince, but much of this spin is undone by straight comments from a sled-dog racer. The area north of Fairbanks, where mushers train, has a snowpack at 21% of normal. Daily temperatures in the 30’s and 40’s are producing rain, not snow. Other races have been cancelled. Dog owners are breeding dogs that have thinner coats, more suitable to warmer weather. The leaders may be quiet, but the evidence declares that ‘yes, we have a problem’. [link to article]

1-29-2013: The Hypocrisy of Drone Warfare

I enjoyed most of the Inaugural speech, but came across a harshly negative view on that same speech today. Dave Lindorff wrote an opinion piece that appeared in Nation of Change: Hey, Hey, Barack, what do you say, how many kids have you killed today?He explains his disgust for the speech, pointing to the hypocrisy he sees; we have billion dollar contracts producing drones and other weaponry being used to kill innocents far from home. He notes that Obama has been President for 310 of the 362 drone strikes on Pakistan. More than 3,000 have died, and of those, at least 172 were reportedly children. Yeah, I can see some hypocrisy, a basis for disgust there. Troubling. And worth thinking about. Not necessarily attributable to the man in the White House, given the layers within our government and the complexity of the world, including the distortions of the media (including the internet). But, it also presents a great opportunity to lead. How do we change courses, and stop the killing? [link to article]*[link to org.]


photo copied from ‘Deadly Riots Erupt Across Egypt on Anniversary of Revolution’ (1-25-13, NYTimes article)

The human spirit is indomitable.

Like ants, we will build and move what we must, to live our lives.

But one thing that has changed is that technology enables those few in power to scale up their defenses (such as these massive concrete blocks), as well as their offensive weaponry (such as fighters, missiles and now drones).

The ancestors of these young men built the pyramids. It is debated whether they were slaves. Today, enraged by a sense that they lack liberty, they employ the same tools — not to build pyramids, but to remove the obstacles emplaced by the few in power. It is (again) debated, whether they are slaves.


[link to NYTimes article]



I stumbled into this 8-9-12 NYTimes article by Thomas Fuller. My country first applied Agent Orange in Vietnam in 1961, and continued for a decade, dropping 20 million gallons of various herbicides. Five decades later, the rates of local birth defects remain extraordinary. The reality of this tragedy was amplified for me, since I recently viewed the documentary about Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers. 1961 was three years before Tonkin Gulf; here, in the homeland, we were eating Wonderbread and Sunny Jim, oblivious to the fact we were so deeply engaged in Southeast Asia. Would it be too strong for me to question: “what the hell was wrong with us?” It all drives home the absolute point: we can not afford failures where these atrocities become revealed decades later. If a government official (or a private employee) is going to screw up, at least be open about it. We must have far greater transparency and accountability.

1-23-2013: Climate Change: How to Tackle the Most Pressing Challenge Facing Humanity. A brief article at EcoWatch summarizing the present state of affairs with the climate change issue: what we know, what is being challenged, who is challenging it, etc.

1-18-2013: A 21-count indictment has been filed against Ray Nagin, New Orleans mayor from 2002-2010, accused of receiving numerous kickbacks related to the rebuilding after Hurricane Katrina.

1-17-2013: A new gyre of plastic debris has been located, the first to be found in the southern hemisphere. Located west of South America.

1-14-2013: A trio of photos, showing how bad recent smog was in Beijing. Pollutants were reported as 40-times maximum safe levels.

1-11-2013: A Cancer Cycle, From Here to China; NYTimes Op-Ed by Dan Fagin. interesting article relating a recent carcinogen spill in China to aniline contamination and cancer clusters decades ago, at Toms River, NJ. Fagin has a forthcoming book, after years of research.

1-10-2013: Just a few months before accepting President Nixon’s request to become a Supreme Court Justice, Lewis F. Powell, Jr. wrote a memo to an official at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, entitled ‘Attack on American Free Enterprise System’. It took this slow learner forty years to even know about it. Fascinating perspective by an important U.S. legal mind, at a critical juncture in U.S. history. This was during a short period when Congress was passing lots of laws to save our environment, though at the time there was virtually no comprehension of an eventual CO2 problem related to our accelerating fossil fuel consumption. It was also a volatile time: we were mired in a war in Vietnam; clandestine release of the Pentagon Papers; covert illegalities by our President, such as Watergate; and, setting the roots of today’s Mideast tensions. What most impressed me about Justice Powell’s memo were two things: first, the clearly articulated perception of the problem of dissidents within our society (along with the need to manage those dissidents); and, second, that more than forty years later, it looks like nothing has changed. Nada.

1-2-2013: David Suzuki’s recent article, It’s Time to Stop Spinning Our Wheels, is well worth reading. He points out that we are failing to address the CO2 problem. He presents details of the 1988 climate change conference in Toronto, attended by hundreds of scientists and policymakers. In 1988, George H. W. Bush was seeking election, on the promise to be an ‘environmental’ president. A photo-op of Margaret Thatcher picking up a piece of litter was ‘proof’ that she was a ‘greenie’, too. Twenty-five years later, as we crush the North American geology above and below the surface, desperate to produce both shale-gas and frack-gas, it appears we have done virtually NOTHING to meaningfully reduce our fossil fuel addiction. This needs to change.

12-22-12: Liberal Kansas Dunes, 1936Interesting article by Janet Larsen, Director of Research at the Earth Policy Institute. Looks at the 1930’s U.S. dustbowl, the Soviet dustbowl of the 1950’s and 1960’s, and two new dustbowls in NW China and south of the African Sahara.

12-15-12: “I like my cases to age as long as possible, like a fine wine.”

The Legal Aid lawyer was articulating a basic principle of criminal defense practice: delay helps the accused. People forget, they get scared, they move, and things get lost. [link to NYT Op/Ed]


“You cannot underestimate the importance of truth-tellers in our society in an age when the truth is swept under the bed, kept in the closet, or recycled to come out as government spin and corporate propaganda.”

– Journalist Bill Moyers, speaking about the importance of the Center for Media and Democracy’s work, at a reception for CMD in April 2005

[link to CMD’s PRWatch.org]


A time-lapse video of five hours of arrivals at San Diego International Airport, condensed into 26-seconds. Put together by Cy Kuckenbacker, using a camera shooting the sky upward from near/under a bridge, on ‘Black Friday’, 11/23/12.


The Union of Concerned Scientists has a “Half the Oil Plan“, presented in June 2012 as “…a practical plan to dramatically reduce U.S. oil consumption, save consumers billions of dollars, and position the United States as a global leader in transportation technology.” Emphasis is on fuel efficiency and the development of biofuels, to reduce the projected 2035 U.S. oil consumption of 22 million barrels/day. It appears the plan does not include savings that might result from altering consumption habits, such as getting Americans to cut in half the number of car-miles or air-miles consumed per capita. Here are the savings estimates, borrowed from the UCSUSA.org webpage:

Oil Savings Strategies Oil Savings (millions of barrels per day) in 2035*
Double the fuel efficiency of new cars and light trucks by 2025. 4 mbd
Double the fuel efficiency of most commercial vehicles (delivery trucks, buses, and big rigs) by 2030. 1 mbd
Make planes, trains, and ships more fuel-efficient. 0.5 mbd
Retrofit buildings to use less energy, make boilers more efficient, and adopt substitutes for oil to heat our homes and manufacture goods. 2 mbd
Unleash the full potential of electric vehicles so that more than 40 percent of new vehicles sold by 2035 run on electricity instead of oil. 1.5 mbd
Produce 40 billion gallons of better biofuels from non-food sources like perennial grasses and waste products. 1.5 mbd
Expand transportation options. 1.5 mbd

Total Oil Savings: Roughly 12 million barrels per day by 2035

‘Miscellany’ Posts after 2014 are viewable at: aiREFORM link