Nel's New Day

May 18, 2013

Saturday Catchup: Maps, Police Brutality, Michigan School, Shelter Dumping, Agency Heads

The GOP has obsessed about scandals and President Obama’s failures during the past week, while the media has obsessed about the GOP obsessions. The scandals, much to the GOP dismay because of their hard work, are falling apart, thus today’s blog moves on briefly to other news.

Maps fascinate me, and geography students at Humboldt State University (which is in California’s northern hippie-heaven) have developed a doozey called “Geography of Hate.” They examined more than 150,000 geocoded tweets that indicate the location of the user for the time between June 2012 and April 2013, searching for ones with racist, homophobic or anti-disability words.

After deciding whether the tweets were using the terms in a hateful way, they determined that a majority of hateful tweets come from smaller towns and rural areas. For example, some of the biggest spots for homophobic tweets are along the border of Oklahoma and Texas, and one of the biggest hubs of racist tweets is in a seemingly empty area of western Indiana. Far more racist tweets come out of the middle of North Dakota than in Fargo. Homophobic tweets have a wider spread across the nation than racist ones which are centered in the Southeast. You can pull up the map to find any county in the country.

The project is a follow-up to a similar study on floatingsheep.com that mapped racial tweets after President Obama’s reelection in 2012. In both cases, students used the Dolly Project (Digital Online Life and You), an archive of geolocated tweets, for the data. 

Another map shows the dominant religion in each state: red, Evangelical Protestants; blue, Catholics; yellow, Mainline Protestants; and green, Other (which means Mormon in the three green states). This map of religion has a strong parallel with political “red” and “blue” states. Only four states with an evangelical plurality went for Barack Obama in the 2012 election: Florida, Oregon, Virginia, and Washington. And only four states with a Catholic plurality went for Mitt Romney: Arizona, Louisiana, Montana, and Nebraska.

Largest_religious_plurality_by_state

Because the information from Association of Religion Data Archives is limited to people who belong to congregations, the numbers of “unclaimed” in each state may skew the results. For example, the Pacific Northwest may not be dominated by evangelicals because it has more “unclaimed” people. States with the highest “unclaimed” percentages are Maine, Oregon, Vermont, Alaska, and Nevada. People who want the exact numbers in all the states can go to this Google document.

The point, however, is that the map of religion in the United States looks a lot like the map of politics.

YouTube is inundated with videos of police brutality, and actions of the police trying to prevent this from happening, are backfiring. Makia Smith is suing the Baltimore Police Department, the police commissioners, and police officers for beating her up and smashing her camera because she filmed the officers beating up a man. She claimed that Officer Church said, “You want to film something, bitch? Film this!” Then he reached inside her car, grabbed her telephone-camera out of her hand, threw it on the ground, and smashed it with his foot. Three other officers joined Church in beating up the woman before arresting her.

Church failed to appear for trial, twice, and prosecutors dropped the charges. She still had to hire a lawyer to recover her impounded car.

Last week in Bakersfield (CA), David Silva was beaten to death by eight Kern County police officers. The 911 caller said she taped everything from when the sheriffs arrived until Silva was left dead in the street. A few hours after the death, the police went to the witnesses’ home to confiscate videos. After a witness, Melissa Quair, refused, the police brought a search warrant and took the phone and video. Jason Land, another witness, was arrested.

The FBI is now checking into the death after video footage came up missing on one of the phones. One of the deputies confronting Silva has the same name as a deputy accused in the 2010 death of a man who was struck 33 times with batons and tasered 29 times. The lawsuit resulted in a judgment of $4.5 million for the plaintiffs. The death of a jail inmate in 2005 at the hands of three deputies resulted in a $6-million civil judgement.

Several days after the attack, all the police officers accused of being involved in the beating were still on duty.

Last July, Washington D.C. police confiscated Earl Staley’s smartphone after he photographed a police cruiser hit a motorbike and then hit the rider, who was bleeding on the ground. When he got the phone back, the SIM memory card containing all his data, passwords, and photographs had been removed. The confiscation came one day after police officers were ordered not to take phones from people who were photographing them. Stakey is suing.

In a good news/bad news story, the Buena Vista School District (MI) has re-opened after closing on May 7 when it ran out of money. It took over a week for the state to release enough money to recall 27 laid-off teachers and let the 430 students finish the current school year. The irony of the situation is that the teachers offered to work for no pay until something could be worked out, but Gov. Rick Snyder, responsible for $1 billion cuts to education, refused to let them despite the fact that the state constitution guarantees every child a free education.

Again on the good side, Nevada’s health department is no longer sending psychiatric patients on a one-way bus trip out of state in an action called “shelter dumping.” Over 1,500 patients had been sent from Rawson Neal hospital (Las Vegas) before the policy was changed.

The Sacramento Bee broke the story, using James Flavy Coy Brown as an example. He arrived from Southern Nevada Adult Mental Health Services (Las Vegas) with his walking papers, a schedule detailing his 15-hour bus ride from Las Vegas to Sacramento, a three-day supply of medication (including one for schizophrenia), and directions to call 911 for help. His “address at discharge” read “Greyhound Bus Station to California.” Officers took the confused man to Loaves & Fishes which provides daytime services to homeless people.

The most amazing news of the past week is that the Senate approved President Obama’s nominee to head up Medicare and Medicaid, Marilyn B. Tavenner, by a 97-7 vote. The agency will now have its first confirmed chief in six and a half years since Dr. Mark B. McClellan left in October 2006. The agency spends more than $800 billion a year, more than the Defense Department.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), still working for his re-election, voted against Tavenner. The other Republicans opposing Tavenner were Sens. Michael D. Crapo (ID), Jim Risch (ID), Ted Cruz (TX), Ron Johnson (WI), Mike Lee (UT), and Rand Paul (KY). The president’s first choice who was never confirmed, Dr. Donald M. Berwick, was a temporary recess appointment for 17 months in 2010-2011.

In even more astounding news, the Senate unanimously confirmed a new Secretary of Energy, Ernest Moniz. It’s understandable that the conservatives would support him because of his love for coal mining, oil drilling in the Arctic, and fracking everywhere. The Senate Energy Committee has also cleared Sally Jewell, the former CEO of outdoor retail giant REI and friend to fracking, to lead the Interior Department.

Next week, however, the conflicts and the GOP’s manufactured scandals will return, including the discussion of Gina McCarthy, nominee for the EPA head, and Richard Cordray, nominee for director of the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The GOP has sworn that they will never vote for anyone for that position—it’s like “no new taxes.” If the GOP frustrates the Dems enough, it could bring the end to the filibuster.

April 22, 2013

Conservatives Aim to Destroy the Environment

For the past two Earth Days I have posted Ann Hubard’s rich photographs showing how special the planet can be. This year, she is on vacation in parts of the Southwest that has kept its beauty. Therefore today, I will write about one of the greatest potential disasters in the United States, and tomorrow I will post photographs of how conservatives want our country to look. When Ann returns, I’m sure that she will provide more gorgeous photographs to give us hope.

Today is the 43rd annual celebration of Earth Day. It was also supposed to be  the last day that the government took public comment on the proposed Keystone Pipeline that would move tar sands oil from Canada through Texas to the Gulf of Mexico. The State Department plans to post all 800,000+ comments and and has decided to permit further public comment during the National Interest Determination period. During the one public hearing on the pipeline project, hundreds of opponents attended the central Nebraska meeting and begged for the pipeline’s rejection.

The Keystone Pipeline is a very bad idea.

  • Oil companies are gutting Canada’s boreal forest, one of the last wild places on the planet; they have already created a waste zone the size of Chicago.
  • Oil companies have to mine at least two tons of sand to get just one single barrel of tar sands crude called bitumen that requires extensive refining to be converted into fuel.
  • Producing tar sands crude generates up to 4.5 times more climate-changing carbon emissions as the production of conventional crude oil, as much as putting 4.3 million more cars on the road.
  • The pipeline would carry and emit 181 million metric tons of CO2 every year, equivalent to 37.7 million cars or 51 coal plants.
  • The pipeline would cut through states with more than 250,000 ranches and farms and cross nearly 1,500 American waterways from the Yellowstone River in Montana to Pine Island Bayou in Texas.
  • Oil companies have had 5,611 pipeline failures that have killed 367 people, injured nearly 1,500 more, and spilled more than 100 million gallons of oil into our waters and over our lands.
  • Oil companies would create only 3,900 short-term jobs during construction, and only 10 percent of those would employ people living in the area of the pipeline. Following construction, the pipeline would require 35 jobs.
  • Most of the oil doesn’t stay in the United States. it will be exported.
  • The ten spills (or more!) during just the last month have been largely not covered by the media.

Rep. Markwayne Mullin (R-OK) thinks that “Exxon should be patted on the back for the way they handled [the spill.]” The back pat would be for refusal to pay for the cleanup, the pittance ($10,000 house cleaning) allocation per household affected for weeks with their land permanently destroyed, and the inability to use anything except paper towels to wipe up the oil. He continued with the usual ignorant statement connecting the Boston bombing to the pipeline:

“I mean, would we rather buy oil from the Middle East that sponsors the acts that we see like at the Marathon that we just saw yesterday? I don’t know if that was actually sponsored by them or not but that’s the acts that they support.”

A Department of Energy analysis noted that Keystone XL will have virtually no impact on Middle East imports to the United States. And oil companies are the top donors to Mullin’s campaign.

Another buy-in to the oil industry is the company that Arkansas’ Attorney General Dustin McDaniel hired for the “independent analysis of the cleanup” of the Mayflower oil spill. Witt O’Brien has participated in most recent high-profile oil spills, all of them botched up—Exxon Valdez, the BP Deepwater Horizon spill, the Enbridge tar sands pipeline spill into the Kalamazoo River, and Hurricane Sandy.

After 1 million gallons of tar sands dilbit spilled into the Kalamazoo River, Witt O’Brien covered up the disaster by thinning out the oily debris and mixing mud into it. Witt Obrien ordered its employees: “Rake it into the soil. Cover it with grass. Cover it with leaves. I want you to hide it–to dupe the EPA and the [Michigan Department of Natural Resources].”

Witt O’Brien also worked with the BP Deepwater Horizon dispersant cover-up. They applied 1.1 million gallons of surface dispersant in the Gulf and another 720,000 gallons of subsea dispersant, claiming that it would change the oil into something edible for Gulf creatures. It doesn’t, but Witt O’Brien did the PR spin for damage control.

Five years ago, Witt O’Brien also got a $300,000+ contract “to develop a Canadian-US compliant Oil Spill Emergency Response Plan for TransCanada’s Keystone Oil Pipeline Project.” Many of Witt O’Brien’s employees have worked for Shell Oil, Exxon, etc. Former Florida governor Jeb Bush is also part of Witt O’Brien.

One of Witt O’Brien’s former clients is IFC International, a consulting firm hired by the U.S. State Department to do the Keystone XL Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement. Energy Secretary nominee Ernest Moniz was paid over $300,000 and given 10,000+ shares for two years on IFC’s board of directors.

An open supporter of nuclear power and fracking for shale gas, Moniz worked as a long-time corporate consultant for BP. He also accepted millions of dollars to sponsor studies at MIT. Under the auspices of the MIT Energy Initiative, the report, “The Future of Natural Gas,” was funded by the front group for Chesapeake Energy, the shale gas industry’s number two domestic producer. Of course, the report was extremely positive about gas as a “bridge fuel.”

Steven Colbert best summed up Exxon’s mishandling of the Mayflower debacle:

“Why haven’t we heard anything about the cleanup of that rupture in the Pegasus pipeline that spilled 150,000 gallons of tar sand oil? Well, that’s because Exxon has contained the cleanup [pause] coverage by threatening to have reporters arrested for trespassing.”

Showing workers power-washing oil into storm drains, Colbert said, “Of course the oil is going into the storm drains. They’re just putting back in the ground where it came from. It’s called recycling, duh.”

About the common 21st-century practice of cleaning up oil spills with quilted paper towels, he said:

“See, Exxon is employing a time-honored cleanup technique pioneered by drunk guys. You just throw some paper towels down on whatever you spilled and just get out of there. Of course, there are other drunk guy options like hiding the spill with a strategically-placed coffee table, or better yet, just flip Arkansas over like a couch cushion.”

Like most of Colbert’s and Jon Stewart’s shows, there’s as much fact as comedy in their reporting.

Evidencing the growing polarity in the United States is the contrast between the first Earth Day in 1970 under President Nixon and the current attitudes in the country. Although fewer people place importance on environmental issues than 42 years ago, more people are trying to protect the environment through limiting electricity use, eating organic food, and recycling. In 1971  88 percent of the poll’s respondents said it was important to restore and enhance the national environment compared to 80 percent now. The “very important” category dropped from 63 percent to 39 percent.

The New York Time is a reflection of this growing indifference to the destruction of the environment: last year they cut their Green blog and the reporters to cover this subject. Fortunately, smaller organizations are continuing to pursue news about  the subject. Inside Climate News is one of the best, and three of their reporters—Elizabeth McGowan, Lisa Song, and David Hasemyer—were recognized with a Pulitzer this year for their national news reporting. Their coverage of the recent Exxon spill in Mayflower was superb, especially considering the way that the oil company tried to keep anyone outside the corporation away from the site.

Exxon has also kept the pressure on the media by preventing the Little Rock television stations from running advertising critical about their actions.

Conservatives want the teenager who allegedly set a bomb in Boston last week to be treated as an “enemy combatant.” Conservatives want everyone to have easy access to as many guns and as much ammunition as they wish. Conservatives also wish to kill the country and its people by shipping Canada’s tar sands product across the entire nation so that oil companies can send it out of the country.

February 19, 2013

Fracking: The Good, the Bad & the Ugly

After waiting for months, New York activists have learned that the decision about whether to lift the state’s moratorium on fracking has been further delayed because the public health review of high-volume hydraulic fracturing has not been completed. The review of respiratory diseases, accidents and injuries, and birth outcomes is monumental because it is the first comprehensive studies of fracking health impacts at either state or federal level.

At the same time that officials are considering the serious health effects of fracking, President Obama may appoint pro-fracking Ernest Moniz to head the Department of Energy. Moniz has promoted natural gas as a “bridge fuel” to lower carbon pollution while new innovative forms of energy are being developed. Almost two years ago, he told the Senate Energy committee that water and air pollution risks associated fracking were “challenging but manageable.”

Fracking gets natural gas out of rock formations by bombing them with chemical-loaded fluid, leaving behind foul water, the water that goes to crops and animals that humans consume. But there’s another food/fracking connection. Because cheap synthetic nitrogen fertilizer require natural gas to be synthesized, an increasing amount of this fertilizer will come from fracked natural gas. Farmers will then become powerful allies in overriding regulations and fighting back opposition to fracking.

During the past decade, the U.S. fertilizer industry was offshored to places like Trinidad and Tobago, but the supply of natural gas there is disappearing. Fracking in the U.S. has made natural gas here abundant, driving prices drastically down, 75 percent less than in 2008. Fertilizer prices remain high because of high crop prices so fertilizer companies have hit a bonanza.

At the same time, taxpayers are paying for corporation profits. In Iowa, for example, huge fertilizer industries received over $70 million in tax incentives from Iowa and $161 million in property taxes rebates from the county where it is located. Another company is investing $1.2 billion to build a nitrogen plant in North Dakota. The company can sell a ton of anhydrous ammonia for $800, which costs about $82 worth of natural gas.

While taxpayers at local, state, and national levels pay these corporations to make this money, they taxpayers receive environmental liabilities from excess nitrogen seeping into streams and rivers that feed a massive algae bloom that erases sea life; emissions of nitrous oxide, 300 times more potent than carbon; and the elimination of organic matter in soil.

Practical farming could prevent this destruction. Adding “small grain” (oats or wheat) plus nitrogen-fixing cover crops, farmers can drop their nitrogen needs up to 80 percent. Corn is the most nitrogen-intensive among major field crops; crop rotation can solve most of their problems. But Big Ag is becoming as powerful as Big Oil, and the American Farm Bureau Federation wants fracking.

All over the country, people are screaming about the need for fracking because we’re short on fuel. But prices are too low here for the greedy corporations so gas companies want authorization from the Department of Energy to export more of it overseas. They already have permission to export the gas to the nation’s free trade partners, but these aren’t major potential customers.

Wanting bigger profits, companies need permission to sell the gas to such non-free trade countries as South Korea, India, China, and Japan. Sixteen gas producers are working to get this permission, and companies are getting permits to build huge facilities to convert the gas to liquid by chilling it to -260 degrees F. to ship it overseas. Thus far, just one state, Pennsylvania, has about 6,000 wells. Permission for exporting could build that number to 50,000 wells.

If the agency approves the permits, gas equal to over one-fourth of current U.S. consumption will leave the country. A year-old study published by the Energy Department’s Energy Information Administration published in January 2012 concluded that domestic natural gas prices would rise dramatically if the U.S. began exporting.

In North Dakota “oil patch” boom towns, fracking has caused a spike in serious injuries and health problems—burns from hot water, hands and fingers crushed by steel tongs, injuries from whipsawing chains, bodies brought in from accidents on roads where truck drivers know that time is money. The impact of working outside in freezing weather, emotional isolation, poor nutrition, drug use, and heavy drinking combines with highly increased numbers of rapes, sexual assaults, and domestic violence.

Both workers and local residents suffer from the toxins related to oil and gas extraction. Doctors in Pennsylvania are now under a “gag rule” that keeps them from telling their patients about the chemicals that make them sick. A large number of workers lack health insurance, causing local hospitals and government providers to absorb the enormous costs from uncompensated treatment. The debt in just one hospital increased 2,000 percent to $1.2 million in five years.

If workers and residents survive the injuries, their health still isn’t safe. A byproduct of fracking is silica dust which, if inhaled, can cause lung inflammation leading to silicosis, an incurable respiratory condition known as silicosis. Or the inflammation can cause lung cancer, chronic pulmonary obstructive disorder, kidney disease, and autoimmune conditions. The situation is reminiscent of workers with health problems related to asbestos and coal exposure.

Fracking causes even more impacts:

Methane: Natural gas is a significant contributor to global warming pollution; scientists report alarmingly high methane emissions from these fields.  

Water Pollution: Methane released during fracking also ends up in the water. That’s how people living near gas drilling operations can light their tap water on fire. And companies aren’t required to inform people about all the chemicals used in their fracking process. Thanks to Dick Cheney, fracking is exempt from the Safe Drinking Water Act.

Water Consumption: Using between 2 million and 13 million gallons of water to frack a single well plus more to drill the well, fracking will make water shortages occur more rapidly than the crisis predicted by 2030. Most of this water is either not recovered or unfit for use, requiring disposal in an underground injection well. Texas and Pennsylvania already have water shortages.

Trucks: Drilling and fracking just one well can require 1,000 truck trips, causing pollution, accidents, wear and tear on infrastructure, and big bills for taxpayers.

Economic Fallout: Taxes pay for repair to the infrastructure and the health issues of uninsured workers. Beyond that taxpayers lose personal insurance. The Huffington Post reported, “Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co. has become the first major insurance company to say it won’t cover damage related to a gas drilling process that blasts chemical-laden water deep into the ground.” Their memo said, “Risks involved with hydraulic fracturing are now prohibited for General Liability, Commercial Auto, Motor Truck Cargo, Auto Physical Damage and Public Auto (insurance) coverage.”

The cost doesn’t end with the health and insurance issues. Studies have begun to show a link between pollution, including gas, and crime.

Therefore huge corporations want to make huge profits selling gas offshore and driving United States prices up while destroying the environment and costing taxpayers a fortune. After the corporations have finished raping the land, the short-term jobs will disappear along with all the farming, tourism, dairy, and other jobs that vanished because of fracking. As Tish O’Dell, co-founder of the Cleveland-area group Mothers Against Drilling in Our Neighborhoods, said,

“If water is contaminated and fish die, what are the fishermen going to do? If you have parks where people go for peace and quiet, what happens when you turn it into an industrial landscape? If you have an organic dairy and the soil is polluted, what does that mean? These are all valid questions.”

And all this because the conservatives lie to the people about fuel and energy.

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