Nel's New Day

November 5, 2013

Election 2013–Tea Party Loses

I voted last week although today is the official Election Day of 2013. Nothing much important—a city vote about building a new swimming pool and a county one about whether the county commission should be elected on a nonpartisan basis. My state has mandatory mail-in voting, so I vote any time within a couple of weeks before the deadline—unlike the rest of the nation except for Washington.

In Texas, lots of people, including the 90-year-old former House Speaker Jim Wright, were blocked at the polls because of the new voter ID law. Even the gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis was challenged when she went to vote. By some coincidence they are both Democrats.

While, the U.S. House of Representatives wallows in ennui and obstructionism, millions of people across the United States are setting trends with today’s election. Some of the results are almost sure before people go to the polls: abrasive Chris Christie got another term as New Jersey governor, and progressive Bill De Blasio became the first Democratic New York mayor in two decades. New Jersey may have wanted to want Christie, but they didn’t want his veto of the minimum wage. Voters overturned this veto to bring the minimum wage to $8.25, still lower than in many other states.

The nail-biter happened in Virginia where a far-right, anti-sodomy, anti-woman, pro-fraud Ken Cuccinelli lost to Democrat Terry McAuliffe, a fundraiser who’s never held elected office. Not since 1977 has a governor in the sitting president’s party won a Virginia governor’s race. Extremist E.W. Jackson, vying for lieutenant governor, was called nothing but a sideshow but still pulled in 45 percent of the vote against Ralph Northam.

The office of attorney general still hasn’t been called with Democrat Mark Herring a few hundred of votes from “Cuccinelli’s clone,” as the conservative Washington Post called Mark Obenshaim. He has been behind not only the loss of jobs in Virginia but also the suppression of voters and establishment of “personhood” legislation to eliminate any abortions. He even attempted to force women to report miscarriages to the police. Another of his bills would allow campus groups to ban LGBT people.

When Cuccinelli’s ratings started to tank, he tried to have 57,000 voter names purged from the lists and succeeded in 38,000 cases. The state gave lists of purges to local registrars who were told to use their “best judgment” in deciding who to remove with no standards for reviewing the names. Registrars received the lists just a few days before Election Day, and at least two of the officials said they would wait until after today to start the process after finding a large percentage of mistakes. Even the purging wasn’t enough to stop the election of Democratic governor and lieutenant governor.

In mayoral business, financially beleaguered Detroit ended up with the first white mayor in the majority-black city since Roman Gribbs (1970-1974). The city’s finances are still controlled, however by Kevin Orr, the emergency manager who Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder appointed.

With 12 candidates for mayor, Boston elected Marty Walsh, supported by organized labor, after Tom Menino finished his 20-year run as the first non-Irish mayor since 1930. Minneapolis has almost three times that number, 35, on its ballot for mayor. No results planned until tomorrow.

Annise Parker, Houston’s first lesbian mayor, regained her position. Seattle has two Democrats running for mayor. At this time, State Sen. Ed Murray is ahead at 57 percent, but Washington mail-in votes will come in during the next several years. Murray led efforts to legalize gay marriage in the state and, if elected, would be Seattle’s first openly gay mayor.

Most of the 31 ballot measures in six states are fairly ho-hum. New York does have one that, if approved, would permit casinos state-wide and another that would allow a mining company to do its work in a “wild forever” preserve of Adirondack Park if they promise to put the land back when they’re finished. No results for those yet.

The most important initiative in the nation may be Measure 522 in Washington state that requires labeling on genetically-modified foods. A similar measure failed last year in California. The question in this vote is whether the big money will win. Of the $22 million fighting against the labeling, $550 came from Washington state residents. Even a win from the pro-labeling group could lead to a federal court challenge with the food industry’s claim that its rights are violated through “coerced speech.”

Over 90 percent of people in the U.S. want labeling of genetically-engineered foods, and Connecticut having passed a law to require this. Vermont, Maine, and New Hampshire, are also considering similar bills. The industry promises people that these foods are safe but don’t allow the products’ independent test. Seeds are engineered to produce their own insecticide or survive treatment with an herbicide. For example, a farmer can spray their fields with Monsanto’s Roundup to kill the weeds but not the crop. The USDA is currently considering the approval of carcinogenic chemicals.

The 522 opposition claimed that grocery prices would increase because of the labeling which has been shown to be false. Virtually all the money for No on 522 came from the Grocery Manufacturers Association and five chemical and biotechnology corporations: Monsanto, DuPont, Dow, Bayer, and BASF. These groups used an “Astroturf” strategy in publicizing donors to conceal the source of the donations. Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson said that the sum is “the largest amount of money ever concealed in an election.”

A group called Moms for Labeling sued to find out GMA’s donors. After the suit was thrown out, Washington’s Attorney General filed his own suit. Public health watchdog Michele Simon, wrote that the secret fundraising actually broke the law because the tactic was specifically intended to “better shield individual companies from attack.”

With half the votes counted, the measure is down by about 10 percent. The next few days will show whether the $22 million paid off.

The GOP hopes that an early primary in Alabama sets the tone for those pitting far-right Republicans against Tea Party extremists. Big business funded anti-Tea Party Bradley Bryne who defeated Ted Cruz-loving Dean Young. The Tea Party isn’t giving up: yesterday Tea Party Leadership Fund Treasurer Dan Backer announced the group’s plan to target the 87 GOP congressmen who voted to stop the government shutdown with Tea Party candidates.

Smaller elections may cast larger ripples. For example, SeaTac voters may have approved a $15-an-hour minimum wage and sick days for workers. This would cover workers at Washington’s Seattle-Tacoma International Airport and nearby large hotels. Currently the state has the highest minimum wage at $9.19. And right now, the measure is winning!

Voters in South Portland (ME) failed to ban the flow of tar sands oil from western Canada to the city by 192 votes out of the 8,837 turnout. Businesspeople wanted the the thick, gooey oil; the opposition didn’t want its harmful chemicals and greenhouse gases. Its neighbor, Portland, approved legalized recreational marijuana for residents 21 and older. It is the first East Coast city do to so.

In Colorado, voters in 11 rural counties decided whether they wanted to secede from the state that has legalized LGBT civil unions and marijuana. One of these would like to join Wyoming, which would ruin the nice square look of that state. At this time, four counties rejected the proposal, four approved it, one has incomplete returns, and two others are saying how they voted. Even if the counties request secession, the state and Congress would have to approve a 51st state. Good luck on Congress approving anything these days!

In Whatcom County north of Seattle (WA), voters picked four county council candidates in an election that will determine the future of a proposed coal-export facility, which, if built would be the largest terminal facility like that on the West Coast. Environmentalists need at least four councilors to oppose permits for the facility, and, at this time, the election appears to be providing these opponents to the facility.

A great victory today, too, is the decision of the Illinois legislature to pass marriage equality. Gov. Pat Quinn has promised to sign the bill, making the state the 15th in the nation to legalize same-sex marriage.

What does today’s election tell the people in the United States? The Democrats have one more state governor, 21, compared to the 29 that the GOP has. The newest one defeated his opponent in spite of his strong belief in gun control. A Southern primary defeated a Tea Party member. Pot and same-sex marriage are becoming more accepted, and the climate issues might be getting closer to a win but not yet there—especially with corporation money pouring into elections.

Chris Christie gave what sounded like the first campaign of his presidential campaign, especially when he said that he might not finish this term as governor of New Jersey. Most ironic was his bragging about the respect he has shown people, when one thinks about his bullying tactics toward anyone who might ask him questions. Either he’s moving forward or hoping that no one watches reruns of those videos.

And it’s 364 days until we do this again in November 2014.

April 23, 2013

All the United States Could Look Like This

ED athabasca River 2 This is the  Suncor Energy upgrading refinery on the banks of the Athabasca River.  [Copyrighted photo; photographer not identified.]

You can see more photos of the tar sands oil destruction in Canada at this website.

ED tar sands

Located in northern Alberta, Canada, within boreal forest and peat bogs, the Athabasca Oil Sands covers 54,000 square miles, an area larger than England. It is the world’s largest biome, stretching across Alaska, Canada, Sweden, Finland, inland Norway, Siberia, Northern Minnesota, Upstate New York, New Hampshire, Maine, northern Kazakhstan and Japan. The conifers such as fir, spruce, and pine are vital to our ecology because they provide carbon, regulate climate, and prevent mud slides and flooding. The history of these trees goes back over 300 million years, twice as long as flowering plants. These two photos demonstrate a before-and-after view.

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Imagine going to work and coming home to find this in your yard. That’s what happened in 22 households in Mayflower (AK) in mid March when the Pegasus pipeline broke. None of the people had any idea that there was even a pipeline in the vicinity.

ED Sludge in the Driveway at Mayflower

They found this when they drove into their subdivision.

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ed best paper towels

Exxon used paper towels to clean up the horrible mess–the same process BP used on the Gulf Coast after the its oil spill disaster.

ed gulf cleanup

Three years after BP’s Deepwater Horizon spill, people are still finding hundreds of beached dolphin carcasses, shrimp with no eyes, contaminated fish, and ancient corals caked in oil. More photos.

ed even  messier in wilderness

Outside Mayflower near the highway.

ED Nancy ZornOne of the best photos of the Keystone pipeline is of Nancy Zorn, a 79-year-old Oklahoma grandmother, who locked her neck to a piece of heavy machinery to protest the Keystone XL Pipeline. She said: “There is the Cree Indian prophecy, which inspired Greenpeace. ‘There will come a time when the Earth grows sick and when it does, a tribe will gather from all the cultures of the world who believe in deeds and not words.’”

Update: Yesterday, the EPA provided its report on the  State Department’s Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS); it rated the statement as having “Insufficient Information.” That means that the agency doesn’t know enough to assess the pipeline’s environmental impact. The EPA gave these reasons:

Increased carbon pollution: The EPA noted that the statistics for this are alarming and questioned the State Department’s assertion that the increase is inevitable even without the tar sands project.

Not inevitable: The State Department claimed that the oil would come out of the ground no matter what. EPA disagreed, stating that the report is incomplete, using outdated modeling. It also fails to consider the expense and infeasibility of rail shipping as an alternative to the pipeline.

Need for renewable energy to power pumping stations on pipeline: If this is not used, the pipeline itself will actively emit GhG emissions.

Difficulty in cleanup: Because diluted bitumen is extremely dense and sinks to the bottoms of lakes and rivers, tar sands oil is particularly dirty to clean up. The EPA notes that diluted bitumen is very dense and sinks to the bottom of rivers and lakes. Normal cleanup methods don’t work, and the highly toxic dilbit “could cause long-term chronic toxicological impacts” to wildlife. EPA wants a revised, rethought response plan before any permit is issued for a pipeline.

Affect on drinking water: The pipeline was moved away from the Nebraska Sand Hills, but it is still scheduled to cross the Ogallala Aquifer. The State Department’s report did not address any alternative paths to avoid the water pollution.

The difference between the assessments by the State Department and by the EPA are the same as the difference between a report prepared by a firm paid by the pipeline’s owner and by officials with environmental concerns.

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