Category: Corruption

Texas bill will forbid towns and cities from banning fracking


Click to enlargeSpencer Platt/Getty ImagesTrucks near a fracking site in Odessa, Texas

Last time I was in Odessa I commented on the absence of birds on the prairie – dotted with pumpjacks and pipelines. Bubba said, “Smell that air. That’s the smell of money. Of course, it killed all the birds.”

A bill supported by energy companies that prevents cities and counties from banning the practice of fracking on their land has been passed by the first tier of state legislators in Texas and is on course to become law.

The proposed law would stop municipalities and other local authorities from enacting their own bans on the practice of hydraulic fracturing and drilling for crude oil and natural gas. The state would have the power to override any such efforts and give gas and oil companies the access they desire to extract resources, against the wishes of voters and politicians at local level if necessary.

The bill was approved by the Republican-controlled Texas House…and will now proceed to the Senate, where it is expected to be approved, and then to Governor Greg Abbott. Abbott has previously decried the level of regulation placed on such companies by local authorities.

Abbott fears democracy as much as any of his peers. As much as Republicans lie about reining in the power of the state – using that power to benefit corporate greed is OK.

The move came in response to a recent decision by Denton, a college town about 30 miles from Dallas, to ban fracking inside its city limits over concerns about recurring small earthquakes and other safety worries linked to deep gas wells. Denton sits on a gas-rich shale formation that stretches across 24 counties in north Texas…

Moves by local authorities to try to keep fracking out of their backyards are afoot in other parts of Texas. Opponents of the bill now going through the Texas legislature complain that the state is grabbing power from local government and say the new law will jeopardise safety close to homes and schools.

Some of the most archaic laws this side of sharia are still on the books in this land of freedom, the American West. They were written by the owners of extractive industries like mining and logging, by the patrons of Spanish land grants who wished sole governance over access to water.

The best any ordinary mortal can generally hope for is a pittance of the profits or an even smaller fraction of water rights, surface water or ground water. Our bought-and-paid-for politicians – especially at the state level – play all the traditional games, dance the traditional dances. Hallowed ancestors, freedom-loving settlers is one of the most hypocritical concepts – generally describing someone who stole this land from Native Americans.

Just one more trick bag Americans have to get mad enough to tear up and scatter to the wind – like all baronial declarations.

Republican supply-side economics bring doom and gloom to Kansas

Every year, right after the April 15 tax deadline, the U.S. Census releases its data on the prior year’s state tax collections. It is a fascinating document, filled with great data points for tax and policy wonks. It reveals a good deal about the state of local economies, economic trends and results of specific policies. In broad terms, the financial fortunes of the states are improving.

State government tax revenue increased 2.2 percent…according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2014 Annual Survey of State Government Tax Collections.

General sales and gross receipts taxes drove most of the revenue growth…

Let’s focus on Kansas, because of all the states its tax data reflects conscious policy choices as opposed to larger economic forces, such as falling oil prices.

Under the leadership of Republican Governor Sam Brownback, the state radically cut income taxes on corporations and individuals. Going on the assumption that this would generate a burst of economic growth and higher tax revenue, no alternative sources of revenue were put into place. Similarly, the state failed to lower spending.

Alas, reality trumps theory. As we have seen almost every time this thesis has been put into practice, it fails. The tax cuts don’t magically kick the economy into higher gear and the government ends up short of money…

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Court upholds racial profiling charge against Arizona sheriff

An appeals court has upheld key findings in a 2013 ruling that deputies under Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio systemically committed racial profiling of Latinos

It wasn’t immediately known whether the ruling by the three-judge appeals panel would affect a contempt-of-court hearing scheduled by Judge Snow…on Arpaio’s acknowledged violations of court orders in the case.

Arpaio’s appeal didn’t contest Snow’s ruling on the immigration patrols known as “sweeps” in which deputies flooded an area over several days to seek out traffic violators and arrest other offenders. Instead, the sheriff appealed the judge’s conclusions on only regular traffic patrols…

The decision by Snow marked the first time that the sheriff’s office known for immigration enforcement had been found to have racially profiled people. The judge is requiring Arpaio’s officers to video-record traffic stops, collect data on stops and undergo training to ensure they aren’t acting unconstitutionally.

Hard for some folks to admit; but, creeps like Arpaio stay in office through the grace of voters supporting the bigoted practices of sleazy coppers. Arizona remains the Mississippi of the West for good reason.

Sprint to reimburse $15.5 million to snooping coppers

The office of U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag announced Thursday that Sprint Communications has agreed to pay $15.5 million to settle allegations that it overcharged law enforcement agencies for carrying out court-ordered wiretaps and other surveillance activities.

Lawyers from Haag’s office sued Sprint in March, alleging that from 2007 to 2010 the telecommunications giant overcharged law enforcement agencies to the tune of $21 million. They were seeking triple-damage compensation and additional civil penalties under the U.S. False Claims Act.

Telecommunications companies are permitted under federal law to bill agencies for “reasonable” expenses incurred in accomplishing a court ordered wiretap.

Under the Communications Assistance in Law Enforcement Act (CALEA), however, telecom companies are required to cover the finance of upgrading their equipment and facilities to ensure that they’re “capable of enabling the government … to intercept and deliver communications and call-identifying information,” according to the U.S. Attorney.

WTF?

Sprint allegedly defrauded federal law enforcement agencies by billing them for those expenses while recovering the otherwise legitimate costs of carrying out court-ordered wiretaps — which was prohibited by a 2006 ruling from the Federal Communications Commission, according to the U.S. Attorney.

So, bad enough our government uses the War on Terror, the War on Drugs, every other war popular with politicians to snoop on us. They require the communications companies they order to snoop – to upgrade their equipment to do the best possible job of snooping.

Sprint tried to sneak the cost into charges for individual snooping jobs – whether court-ordered or “other surveillance activities”. The Feds bagged ’em for it.

Either way, we’re screwed.

Mark Bittman – Making sense of water

kanro-almond-sweets

Almost every number used to analyze California’s drought can be debated, but this can be safely said: No level of restrictions on residential use can solve the problem. The solution lies with agriculture, which consumes more than its fair share.

That doesn’t mean homeowners can’t and shouldn’t cut back.

But according to estimates by the Public Policy Institute of California, more water was used to grow almonds in 2013 than was used by all homes and businesses in San Francisco and Los Angeles put together. Even worse, most of those almonds are then exported — which means, effectively, that we are exporting water. Unless you’re the person or company making money off this deal, that’s just nuts.

California produces more than 400 commodities in many different climates, so it’s difficult to generalize about agriculture. Many farmers are cutting back on water use, planting geographically appropriate crops and shifting to techniques that make sense, like “dry” farming. Others, however, are mining water as they would copper: When it runs out, they’ll find new ways to make money.

So the big question is not, “How do we survive the drought?” — which could well be the new normal — but, “How do we allocate water sensibly?” California grows fruits and vegetables for everyone; that’s a good thing. It would be an even better thing, however, if some of that production shifted to places like Iowa, once a leading grower of produce. That could happen again, if federal policy subsidized such crops, rather than corn, on some of that ultra-fertile land…

The system is arcane, allowing some people and entities to get surface water nearly free. (This system, involving “senior,” as in inherited, water rights, has never been successfully challenged.) Others, sometimes including cities, can pay 100 times more.

In most areas, groundwater for landowners is “free,” as long as you can dig a well that’s deep enough. This has led to a race to the bottom: New, super-deep wells, usually drilled at great expense, are causing existing shallower wells, often owned by people with less money, to run dry…

Wise use and conservation — not new dams, not desalination — are the answers, and conservation means common sense should take precedence over profiteering.

People interested in wise use and conservation, democracy in economics instead of might makes right, don’t have million-dollar lobbying firms on retainer. It will take grassroots organizing in the most traditional sense to overcome the poeple who treat agriculture as simple commodity production where it produces the most profit. Often that is determined by how many politicians you own – not the quality of arable land.

DEA sex parties go back to 2001


Anything else you think I should ignore – besides the NSA?

The chairman of the House Oversight Committee called…for the head of the Drug Enforcement Administration to step down amid allegations that DEA agents attended sex parties with prostitutes while stationed overseas.

Republican Rep. Jason Chaffetz of Utah said DEA chief Michele Leonhart has allowed problems at the agency to fester for more than a decade…

If Leonhart does not step down, President Barack Obama should fire her, Chaffetz said.

Chaffetz made the comments after a 3½-hour hearing Tuesday that focused on the sex party allegations, which date back to 2001. Leonhart has led the DEA since 2007 and was sole deputy administrator for three years before that.

An internal report said government money was used to pay prostitutes at a farewell party for a high-ranking DEA official in Colombia.

DEA agents also rented undercover apartments in Colombia and used them for parties with prostitutes, the DEA said in an internal report…

The Justice Department report recounts allegations that DEA agents attended sex parties with prostitutes, funded by local drug cartels, in a foreign county. The report does not identify the country where the alleged sex parties occurred, but the DEA report released Tuesday identified it as Colombia.

The report came after a separate 2012 prostitution scandal in Colombia involving the Secret Service drew attention to questionable behavior by law enforcement officers while stationed overseas. Those allegations prompted Congress to order a review of other agencies’ practices. DEA agents who were accused of misconduct in the wake of that scandal were recalled from Colombia and put on limited duty.

Ten DEA agents were accused of wrongdoing; seven were issued suspensions ranging from one to 10 days…

My only suggestion – in addition to endorsing the firing of the DEA Chief who did nothing – is to bring the former DEA head(s) back to Congress for questioning about the how and why of starting this criminal behavior. Then, sue them for the return of their paychecks.

Somehow – in 2001 – it became clear to agents of a number of police operating for the United States outside our borders that accepting gifts and prostitutes from drug gangs was acceptable. That’s not an easy decision even under Emperor Nero or Reichsführer Cheney, I imagine.

Japan court blocks restarting Takahama nuclear reactors

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A Japanese court has blocked the restarting of two nuclear reactors in the western city of Takahama, after local people raised safety concerns.

The plant had already obtained approval from the country’s nuclear watchdog.

But locals had petitioned the court in Fukui prefecture, where Takahama is located, to intervene, saying it would not withstand a strong earthquake.

All 48 commercial reactors in Japan remain offline following 2011’s Fukushima disaster…

The court agreed with nine local residents who filed an injunction, and ruled that the company had been overly optimistic in assuming that no major quake would hit the region…

It also criticised the Nuclear Regulatory Authority safety standards as “lacking rationality“.

As much as corporate flunkies whine about over-regulation, they’re perfectly happy to face a body like Japan’s NRA. Rubber-stamp oversight is OK with profit-hungry utilities.

Judge says uranium mine meets 1872 standards – can open by Grand Canyon

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This was up to Arizona standards in 1872, as well

Environmental groups plan to appeal a federal judge’s decision that would allow a uranium mine south of Grand Canyon National Park to operate.

In 2012, the Obama Administration passed a 20-year ban on new mining claims on more than a million acres of land surrounding Grand Canyon National Park.

Environmental groups recently sued the Forest Service saying it violated federal law by allowing the Canyon Mine, an old mine, to reopen without going through a new environmental permitting process, coming up with a cleanup plan and consulting with the Havasupai Tribe.

U.S. District Court Judge David Campbell rejected those claims saying the old mining right is valid under the 1872 mining law.

The Grand Canyon Trust’s Roger Clark is concerned about water contamination. He pointed to studies that found contamination in 15 wells and springs near Grand Canyon.

“All of this information is since the 1986 decision by the Forest Service to allow Canyon Mine to mine without any kind of ground water monitoring,” Clark said.

Energy Fuels plans to open Canyon Mine this spring. The price of uranium has picked up to $39 a pound after it dropped to a multi-year low.

That’s all that really counts with extractive industries. How much profit can they make for the number of dollars of effort they invest in their project. Health of the ecosystem, the people, future generations, all are meaningless.

These creeps would pay miners to extract the minerals from your bones if they could get away with it and it was profitable.

The Large Hadron Collider is switching back on – What do scientists hope to learn?

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The Large Hadron Collider — the particle accelerator used to discover the Higgs boson in 2012 — is being fired back up after a two-year break.

The gigantic collider (which includes a 17-mile-long underground tunnel that runs between France and Switzerland) was shut down in February 2013 so engineers could make upgrades. Now, physicists are starting it back up for a new series of experiments intended to push the laws of physics to their limits…

In essence, these experiment involve shooting beams of particles around the ring, using enormous magnets to speed them up to 99.9999 percent of the speed of light (causing them to whip around the ring about 11,000 times per second), then crashing them together. Sophisticated sensors capture all sorts of data on the particles that result from these collisions.

The huge amount of energy present in these collisions leads the particles to break apart and recombine in some pretty exotic ways. And these conditions can reveal flaws in the standard model of physics — currently our best formula for predicting the behavior of all matter.

Physicists want to do this because, as accurate as the standard model seems to be, it’s still incomplete…

The LHC’s biggest finding so far was the July 2012 discovery of an elementary particle called the Higgs boson.

Since the 1960s, the Higgs boson was thought to exist as a part of the Higgs field: an invisible field that permeates all space and exerts a drag on every particle. This field, physicists theorized, is why we perceive particles to have mass…

On paper, the Higgs field and boson both made a lot of sense — all the equations of the standard model pointed toward their existence. But we had no direct physical evidence of them…

After several years of upgrading the LHC’s magnets (which speed up and control the flow of particles) and data sensors, it’ll begin…a new series of experiments that will involve crashing particles together with nearly twice as much energy as before.

These more powerful collisions will allow scientists to keep discovering new (and perhaps larger) particles, and also look more closely at the Higgs boson and observe how it behaves under different conditions…

Once upon a time, it looked like a truly gigantic accelerator would actually be built in the US. In 1989, Congress agreed to spend $6 billion to build the Superconducting Super Collider: a 54-mile-long underground ring in Waxahachie, Texas, that would have produced collisions with five times as much energy as the LHC’s. But in 1993, with the costs rising to a projected $11 billion, Congress killed the project — after $2 billion had already been spent on drilling nearly 15 miles of tunnel.

Just in case you thought stupid was a new definition of Congressional priorities.

Invading other countries because liars in the White House say we must; building new fleets of fighter jets and ships to protect landing craft for future invasions because liars in the military-industrial complex say we must; building bridges to nowhere instead of repairing and improving our nation’s infrastructure because powerful members of Congress say we must – are the kinds of commitments to increasing the national debt that our politIcians adore, the average American loves. The size of the “Boom” is sufficiently impressive to draw everyone’s attention away from the results of science and studies headquartered outside our borders.

And TV news-as-entertainment gets to fill the space where conversation used to get in the way with beaucoup footage of all the people around the world who love Americans more than ever.

Who needs science, anyway?

Addendum: Ursarodinia sent me this link this morning – before the LHC post; but, I didn’t get round to checking my email until late this afternoon.

Art meets the science of the Biggs Boson