Environment

Tuesday Morning: Wow, You Survived Business Day 1

The post-holiday season debris field continues to thin out, making its way by the truckful to the landfill. I wonder how much oil the season’s plastic wrappings consumed.

Here’s what the trash man left behind this morning.

Hackers caused power outage — the first of its kind?
Marcy’s already posted about the electrical power disruption in Ukraine this past week, labeled by some as the first known hacker-caused outage. I find the location of this malware-based outage disturbing due to its location in western Ukraine. Given the level of tensions with Russia along the eastern portion of the country, particularly near Donetsk over the past couple of years, an outage in the west seems counterintuitive if the hackers were motivated by Ukraine-Russian conflict.

And hey, look, the hackers may have used backdoors! Hoocudanode hackers would use backdoors?!

Fortunately, one government is clued in: the Dutch grok the risks inherent in government-mandated backdoors and are willing to support better encryption.

‘Netflix and chill’ in a new Volvo
I’ve never been offered a compelling case for self-driving cars. Every excuse offered — like greater fuel efficiency and reduced traffic jams — only make greater arguments for more and better public transportation.

The latest excuse: watching streaming video while not-driving is Volvo’s rationalization for developing automotive artificial intelligence.

I’m not alone in my skepticism. I suspect Isaac Asimov is rolling in his grave.

US Govt sues pollution-cheater VW — while GOP Congress seeks bailout for VW
WHAT?! Is this nuts or what? A foreign car company deliberately broke U.S. laws, damaging the environment while lying to consumers and eating into U.S.-made automotive market share. The Environmental Protection Agency filed suit against Volkswagen for its use of illegal emissions control defeat systems. The violation of consumers’ trust has yet to be addressed.

Thank goodness for the GOP-led House, which stands ready to offer a freaking bailout to a lying, cheating foreign carmaker which screwed the American public. Yeah, that’ll fix everything.

Remember conservatives whining about bailing out General Motors during 2008’s financial crisis? All of them really need a job working for VW.

Massive data breach affecting 191 million voters — and nobody wants to own up to the database problem
An infosec researcher disclosed last week a database containing records on 191 million voters was exposed. You probably heard about this already and shrugged, because data breaches happen almost daily now. No big deal, right?

Except that 191 million voters is more than the number of people who cast a vote in 2012 or even 2008 presidential elections. This database must represent more than a couple election cycles of voter data because of its size — and nobody’s responding appropriately to the magnitude of the problem.

Nobody’s owning up to the database or the problem, either.

Here’s a novel idea: perhaps Congress, instead of bailing out lying, cheating foreign automakers, ought to spend their time investigating violations of voters’ data — those folks that put them in office?

Any member of Congress not concerned about this breach should also avoid bitching about voter fraud, because hypocrisy. Ditto the DNC and the Hillary Clinton campaign.

Whew, there it is, another mark on the 2016 resolution checklist. Have you checked anything off your list yet? Fess up.

Obama’s Terrorism Cancer Speech, Carter’s Malaise Speech

The right wingers who insist on calling any attack by a Muslim “terrorism” — who insist on tying the San Bernardino attack to ISIS, even in the absence of evidence — do it to prioritize the fight against Islamic terrorists over all the other ills facing America: over other gun violence, over climate change, over the persistent economic struggles of most Americans. Theirs is a profoundly unpatriotic effort to put war over every other policy priority, even far more pressing ones. That stance has led to a disinvestment in America, with real consequences for everyone not getting rich off of arms sales.

Last week, President Obama capitulated to these forces, giving a speech designed to give the attack in San Bernardino precedence over all the other mass killings of late, to give its 14 dead victims more importance over all the other dead victims. Most strikingly, Obama called attacks that aren’t, legally, terrorism, something his critics have long been demanding.

It is this type of attack that we saw at Fort Hood in 2009; in Chattanooga earlier this year; and now in San Bernardino.

And he lectured Muslims to reject any interpretation of Islam that is “incompatible” with “religious tolerance.”

That does not mean denying the fact that an extremist ideology has spread within some Muslim communities. This is a real problem that Muslims must confront, without excuse. Muslim leaders here and around the globe have to continue working with us to decisively and unequivocally reject the hateful ideology that groups like ISIL and al Qaeda promote; to speak out against not just acts of violence, but also those interpretations of Islam that are incompatible with the values of religious tolerance, mutual respect, and human dignity.

Not only does this give too little credit for the condemnation Muslims have long voiced against terrorist attacks, but it holds Muslims to a standard Obama doesn’t demand from Christians spewing intolerance.

It was a horrible speech. But this line struck me.

I know that after so much war, many Americans are asking whether we are confronted by a cancer that has no immediate cure.

In context, it was about terrorism.

I know we see our kids in the faces of the young people killed in Paris. And I know that after so much war, many Americans are asking whether we are confronted by a cancer that has no immediate cure.

Well, here’s what I want you to know: The threat from terrorism is real, but we will overcome it

But, particularly coming as it did after invoking dead children, it shouldn’t have been. Aside from those whose own kids narrowly missed being in Paris, why should we see our kids in the faces of the young people killed in Paris, rather than in the faces of the young people killed in the Umpqua Community College attack or the over 60 people under the age of 25 shot in Chicago between the Paris attack and Obama’s speech? If we were to think of a cancer with no immediate cure, why wouldn’t we be thinking of the 20 6-year olds killed in Newtown?

We have a cancer, but it’s not terrorism. And it’s not just exhibited in all our shootings. It is equally exhibited in our growing addiction rates, in the increasing mortality in some groups. Obama gave the speech, surely, to quiet the calls from those who demand he address terrorism more aggressively than he address the underlying cancer.

Obama’s horrible, flatly delivered speech made me think — even as I was watching of it — of that far more famous malaise speech, delivered by Jimmy Carter, 36 years ago.

Carter’s malaise speech, after all, was offered at the moment so much of the current malaise, the cancer, started. Inflation-adjusted wages for the middle class had already peaked, 6 years earlier. That was the moment when the rich and the super-rich started running off with greater and greater portion of the benefits of America’s productivity.

Screen Shot 2015-12-12 at 11.56.08 AM

And the overthrow of our client dictator in Iran months earlier would set off our decades-long dance with Islamic extremists. Indeed, just 12 days before Carter delivered what would be dubbed the malaise speech, he authorized covert support for what would become the mujahadeen in Afghanistan. Our entanglement with the Saudis — and with it our refusal to ditch our oil addiction — has disastrously governed much of our foreign policy since, even while the petrodollar delayed the recognition that our economy isn’t working anymore, not for average Americans.

Carter correctly diagnosed his moment. After making an effort to hear from Americans from all walks of life, he recognized that people believed — correctly, we now know — that the future might bring decline, not progress.

The erosion of our confidence in the future is threatening to destroy the social and the political fabric of America.

The confidence that we have always had as a people is not simply some romantic dream or a proverb in a dusty book that we read just on the Fourth of July.

It is the idea which founded our nation and has guided our development as a people. Confidence in the future has supported everything else — public institutions and private enterprise, our own families, and the very Constitution of the United States. Confidence has defined our course and has served as a link between generations. We’ve always believed in something called progress. We’ve always had a faith that the days of our children would be better than our own.

Our people are losing that faith, not only in government itself but in the ability as citizens to serve as the ultimate rulers and shapers of our democracy. As a people we know our past and we are proud of it. Our progress has been part of the living history of America, even the world. We always believed that we were part of a great movement of humanity itself called democracy, involved in the search for freedom, and that belief has always strengthened us in our purpose. But just as we are losing our confidence in the future, we are also beginning to close the door on our past.

In a nation that was proud of hard work, strong families, close-knit communities, and our faith in God, too many of us now tend to worship self-indulgence and consumption. Human identity is no longer defined by what one does, but by what one owns. But we’ve discovered that owning things and consuming things does not satisfy our longing for meaning. We’ve learned that piling up material goods cannot fill the emptiness of lives which have no confidence or purpose.

The symptoms of this crisis of the American spirit are all around us. For the first time in the history of our country a majority of our people believe that the next five years will be worse than the past five years.

He saw the gap growing between Washington’s policy wonks and the people they purportedly served.

Looking for a way out of this crisis, our people have turned to the Federal government and found it isolated from the mainstream of our nation’s life. Washington, D.C., has become an island. The gap between our citizens and our government has never been so wide. The people are looking for honest answers, not easy answers; clear leadership, not false claims and evasiveness and politics as usual.

What you see too often in Washington and elsewhere around the country is a system of government that seems incapable of action. You see a Congress twisted and pulled in every direction by hundreds of well-financed and powerful special interests. You see every extreme position defended to the last vote, almost to the last breath by one unyielding group or another. You often see a balanced and a fair approach that demands sacrifice, a little sacrifice from everyone, abandoned like an orphan without support and without friends.

36 years ago, Carter saw that the nation was at a turning point, a moment where it could choose to continue down the path it was (and remains on) or come together again.

We are at a turning point in our history. There are two paths to choose. One is a path I’ve warned about tonight, the path that leads to fragmentation and self-interest. Down that road lies a mistaken idea of freedom, the right to grasp for ourselves some advantage over others. That path would be one of constant conflict between narrow interests ending in chaos and immobility. It is a certain route to failure.

All the traditions of our past, all the lessons of our heritage, all the promises of our future point to another path, the path of common purpose and the restoration of American values. That path leads to true freedom for our nation and ourselves. We can take the first steps down that path as we begin to solve our energy problem.

There are parts of Carter’s speech that grate, now. Given his singular focus on energy independence, he pushed hard for coal and shale oil exploitation. Carter’s endorsement of saying something nice about America dismisses the possibility some introspection about America’s mistakes was in order.

Moreover, some areas of strength, the areas where Carter believed America would endure, have not.

I do not mean our political and civil liberties. They will endure. And I do not refer to the outward strength of America, a nation that is at peace tonight everywhere in the world, with unmatched economic power and military might.

We still have unmatched military might and the largest economy, but that hasn’t brought us peace or respect for civil liberties. Instead, the monster Carter and his advisor Zbignew Brzezinski first unleashed led us to double down on our own malaise, one which led, after many years, to Obama’s cancer speech.

And while the initial response to the speech was quite positive, Carter squandered the value of the speech.

Obama was, in my opinion, wrong to capitulate to those who want to focus singularly on terrorism rather than on America’s problems more generally. Because both here and abroad, our failure to address the malaise Carter identified decades ago remains the more critical problem.

 

Ten Billion: A Kick in the Ass We’ve Needed

[Note: You can join Professor Stephen Emmott for a @reddit AMA TODAY Friday 04-DEC-2015 at 4:00 pm (UK) / 11:00 am EST.]

If we learned a cataclysmic, extinction-level event was hurtling toward our planet, how would we respond? How should we respond if we know we can minimize the threat?

This is in essence the question asked of us by Ten Billion, a film based on Professor Stephen Emmott’s eponymous book. The film premieres this Saturday at 22:00 UTC on SkyTV.

I was fortunate to screen Ten Billion recently. Crafted by director Peter Webber, it deftly evokes Koyaanisqatsi (1982), its name based on the Hopi word for “life out of balance.” Ten Billion similarly shows us a world even more off kilter, its resources relentlessly consumed by humans. Where Koyaanisqatsi‘s Philip Glass score was reflective and elegiac, Ten Billion‘s Alex Heffes’ score underlines the mounting urgency of crises.

These crises are many, pegged directly to population growth and its corresponding rate of consumption. The film’s use of a timeline depicting past and future projections of population are effective, like watching the tipping point of a virus infecting its host.

Effective, too, are comparisons between recent and archival photos depicting the changes wrought by humans. Evidence of glaciation loss is horrific, as one example.

Photos of earth from the International Space Station remind us that we are all in this together. There is no escape, no way around this; this is home, and we must work together to save it.

My sole critique is about the diversity of “climate migrants” — so-called in the film, but we know now that many who flee political instability are really “climate refugees.” Ten Billion depicts the plight of peoples affected most by climate change. Most live closer to the equator, and are therefore darker skinned. They have been too easily ignored by light-skinned northern cultures. We see that now with the response to Syrian refugees, whose home country began to fall apart due to severe drought long before overt military action began against Bashar al-Assad’s regime and ISIS.

We also see the same blindness in western response to world-record typhoons Bopha, Haiyan, Hagupit, Koppu hitting the Philippines year after year; cyclone Pam nearly wiping away Vanuatu this past March; and the combination of severe drought and catastrophic flooding affecting Chennai, India even now. There is little if any news coverage here in the U.S., and a nominal amount in the U.K. and EU, as if Asians and Pacific Islanders don’t even exist though they number in the billions. We ignore our role in exporting not only manufacturing jobs but associated air pollution to India and China.

Ten Billion would have been more effective holding a mirror up to the pale faces of northern climes, forcing them to see they, too, are affected. Whites fled both New Orleans and the Gulf Coast ahead of hurricanes like Katrina. They fled the coast of New Jersey and New York after Hurricane Sandy — some who stayed and returned to the affected area are still dealing with post-storm damage years later. There will be more internal climate refugees again whenever the next Category 4 or 5 hurricane hits U.S.

And there will be refugees from drought, when the need for water in states like California finally exceeds the ability of other states to sell and ship enough to meet the shortfall. We are not prepared to deal with this generation’s version of the Okies fleeing a new Dust Bowl.

Until the west — especially the U.S. based on its consumption habits and political reach — realizes its own pale skin is invested in these crises, it may continue to look the other way while making idle greenwashed gestures like COP21 in Paris this week.

I am on the fence about Emmott’s understatement about his own background in this film. If he had been more explicit about his role as a scientist, would the public take his plea in Ten Billion more seriously?

It’s important to note this film may be part of a growing trend — scientists bypassing the suffocation of politicized corporate media, in order to reach the public.

We’ve seen this recently with the op-ed by NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory/Caltech senior water scientist Professor Jay Famiglietti, warning California only had one year of water left in its reservoirs. Famiglietti didn’t wait for a report issued from either NASA or academia to filter its way into the stultifying news reporting process. He cut out the middle men and wrote an op-ed for the Los Angeles Times to convey urgency and effect immediate action.

Some will criticize this film as expository and hortatory, failing to provide solutions to the crises we’ve created. This is not that film. This is not meant to guide us toward help, when so many other scientists have already told us for decades what is wrong and what action we must take to minimize the threat to our planet and ourselves.

This film is meant to be a much-needed kick in the ass, to propel us to action appropriate to a cataclysmic, extinction-level event.

Because as Emmott says, in concise terms familiar to civilians and scientists alike, we’re fucked if do not take immediate, appropriate action.

You can join Professor Emmott for a @reddit AMA TODAY Friday 04-DEC-2015 at 4:00 pm (UK) / 11:00 am EST. Emmott also has an op-ed today in The Guardian.

Timeline: Is Volkswagen’s ‘Bug’ an EU Feature? [UPDATED]

[photo: macwagen via Flickr]

[photo: macwagen via Flickr]

Reports this last week that Volkswagen deployed “defeat devices” — software designed to cheat diesel passenger vehicle emissions controls tests — revealed more than an automobile manufacturing group run amok. One might suspect European Union’s emissions governance after looking at a timeline of events.

NOTE: This timeline is in progress and is subject to updating as new items are identified. [Update 7:00 pm EDT – note added about translation, and note added to citation [4]]

— 1970 —
February 1970 — The Council of the European Communities issued the Council Directive 70/156/EEC, which established a mutual baseline for technical specifications of vehicles sold across the member states. This included 3.2.20. Measures taken against air pollution.

— 1992 —
July 1992 — The first standard for passenger vehicle emissions, Euro 1 through 6, is implemented. Level Euro 1 for new diesel-fueled vehicles limited emissions of carbon monoxide (CO) to 2.72 grams per kilometer, with no initial limit on nitrous oxides (NOx) alone, but a combined limit of hydrocarbon+nitrous oxides (HC+NOx) at 0.97 g/km.

— 2004 – 2009 —
Dates Vary — Vehicle manufacturers phased in the remaining Euro 4 through 6 emissions standards.

19 October 2004 — European Environment Agency published a press release, Poor European test standards understate air pollution from cars, which summarized the problem:

Inadequate test standards are underestimating emissions of harmful air pollutants from new cars and evidence indicates that many diesel car owners are making things worse by modifying their engines to increase power, the European Environment Agency warned today.

No specific orders or directions were offered to resolve the problem with emissions test standards.

— 2007 —
(Month TBD) — Volkswagen subsidiary Audi launched its “Truth in Engineering” ad campaign. This tagline remains in use to present.

— 2008 —
(Month TBD) — VW announced its “Clean Diesel” (TDI model) technology, and began selling it in 4-cylinder diesel Jetta, Beetle, Audi A3, and Golf cars to the US market.

(Month TBD) — Green Car Journal named VW’s 2009 Jetta TDI “Green Car of the Year.”

— 2009 —
September 2009 — European emission standard Euro 5a for diesel passenger vehicles enacted, limiting CO to 0.50 grams per kilometer, NOx to 0.180 g/km , and HC+NOx to 0.230 g/km.

These levels are a reduction from Euro 4 standard implemented in January 2005 (CO=0.05, NOx=0.25, HC+NOx=0.30). Continue reading

John Galt Faces Prison For Contaminating West Virginia Water

Back in January, John Galt proclaimed his independence from pesky regulatory oversight in West Virginia when he contaminated the drinking water supply of over 300,000 residents. Recall that Galt did his damage through his appropriately named corporation, Freedom Industries, where he was using the contaminant to magically make coal “clean”. In a remarkable development, though, we learned yesterday that a federal grand jury has indicted six people associated with Freedom Industries:

A federal grand jury on Wednesday indicted four owners and operators of the company whose toxic chemical spill tainted a West Virginia river in January, forcing a prolonged cutoff of drinking water to nearly 300,000 residents in and around Charleston.

Each was charged with three counts of violating the Clean Water Act, which bars discharges of pollutants without a permit. Their company, Freedom Industries, and its owners and managers did not meet a reasonable standard of care to prevent spills, the indictment stated.

One of those indicted, Gary L. Southern, the company’s president, was also charged with wire fraud, making false statements under oath and bankruptcy fraud. Freedom declared bankruptcy days after the spill.

Actual prison time is at stake in these charges:

Besides Mr. Southern, of Marco Island, Fla., the indictment named three other owners and operators: Dennis P. Farrell, 58, of Charleston; William E. Tis, 56, of Verona, Pa.; and Charles E. Herzing, 63, of McMurray, Pa.

Two others were also charged: Robert J. Reynolds, 63, of Apex, N.C., and Michael E. Burdette, 63, of Dunbar, W.Va. Mr. Reynolds was Freedom’s environmental consultant, and Mr. Burdette managed the tank farm. Mr. Herzing, Mr. Tis and Mr. Farrell sold the tank farm to a Pennsylvania company about a month before the accident.

All six were charged with the negligent discharge of a pollutant, negligent discharge of a refuse matter and violating an environmental permit. The violations carry a maximum penalty of three years in prison, according to a statement issued by the United States attorney for the Southern District of West Virginia.

Southern, on the other hand, faces up to 68 years when the additional ten charges he is facing are factored in.

This is a truly remarkable development. Recall that John Galt got away with killing Texans in the massive fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas that caused over $100 million in property damage in addition to killing 15 and injuring over 200. That investigation was stymied at almost every turn, and no criminal charges were ever filed unless you count the strange prosecution of one of the first responders for possession of homemade bomb-making materials.

But recall that this is Eric Holder’s “Justice” Department that we are talking about here, so it is worth drilling down below the headlines. If we move to more local reporting on the charges, we find typical Holder behavior when it comes to how the company is being treated:

Also, U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin charged Freedom Industries, the bankrupt company, with the same three counts of criminal water pollution violations. The company was charged through a document called an information, rather than an indictment, a move that usually indicates the defendant has reached a plea deal with prosecutors.

Mark Welch, Freedom’s chief restructuring officer, confirmed that the company had entered into a plea agreement with federal authorities and said the move was aimed partly at limiting the possible fines and criminal defense costs if the company were to be indicted. Welch, in a prepared statement, said the plea agreement also stipulates that the U.S. Attorney’s Office will not seek restitution from Freedom for victims of the company’s crimes, because of the company’s ongoing bankruptcy proceeding.

“This will permit Freedom to focus its time and limited resources on its environmental cleanup obligations and addressing the claims of its creditors,” Welch said.

In the world of Eric Holder (and John Galt), any claims by creditors who helped Freedom Industries to contaminate the Elk River have higher standing than any mere citizen who was harmed by Freedom.

John Galt Contaminates West Virginia Water Supply Because Industries Demand Freedom

Structure of 4-methylcyclohexane methanol via Wikipedia.

Structure of 4-methylcyclohexane methanol via Wikipedia.

Some of the more than 300,000 residents of West Virginia who could not drink or bathe in their tap water derived from the Elk River have been told that it is now safe to do so. Considering how flawed the process was for coming up with the standard for a safe level of the contaminant, 4-methylcyclohexane methanol (MCHM), it should come as no surprise that residents are not buying the claim that the water is now safe:

Eric Foster got the call last night. West Virginia American Water said the water at his South Charleston home is safe.

But that doesn’t mean he’s ready to use it again.

“The water smells like licorice, and I don’t really think that’s safe,” Foster said. “I’ll never drink it again.”

Five days after a chemical spill into the Elk River left water unusable for 300,000 West Virginia American Water customers in nine counties, some residents are still wary of using the water even after officials say it’s safe again.

Water company and state officials say the water consistently tested below 1 part per million of the chemical, and have been lifting the water-use ban zone by zone. Six zones, mostly in Charleston and South Charleston, had been lifted as of Tuesday evening.

Here’s a summary of the flawed process for coming to that one part per million “safe” standard:

Unfortunately, the science behind this standard remains unclear.  Based on what we do know, there are good reasons to believe that officials are overlooking significant health risks.

We know, for example, that the manufacturer’s Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) that officials say they are using as their primary source lacks any information about chronic health impacts. The major federal databases we consulted suggest such data simply do not exist for this chemical.

It also appears that officials made significant leaps in their calculation of a “safe” exposure level – including assumptions that deviate from generally accepted practices.  As a result, these estimates fail to adequately account for either acute or chronic health effects from ongoing exposure to water contaminated at the 1 ppm level.

At a bare minimum, the public deserves to know a lot more about the calculations behind officials’ insistence that a 1 ppm level in drinking water is safe.

But how did we get to this situation in the first place? The event that caused the ongoing contamination of the Elk River was a leak of thousands of gallons of MCHM from a facility owned by a company with the wonderfully Galtian name of Freedom Industries. Of course there is a bald eagle anchoring their website! Would you expect anything else?

How is the chemical used? It is used to perpetuate the myth of “clean coal”. Our government is even a leading crusader for this myth and boasts a nifty gif to show us how coal can be “cleaned”.

Scrub that coal!

Scrub that coal!

One of the main methods of producing “clean coal” is to remove particles of sulfur. From the DOE website with the nifty gif:

Take sulfur, for example. Sulfur is a yellowish substance that exists in tiny amounts in coal. In some coals found in Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and other eastern states, sulfur makes up from 3 to 10 percent of the weight of coal.

/snip/

One way is to clean the coal before it arrives at the power plant. One of the ways this is done is by simply crushing the coal into small chunks and washing it. Some of the sulfur that exists in tiny specks in coal (called “pyritic sulfur ” because it is combined with iron to form iron pyrite, otherwise known as “fool’s gold) can be washed out of the coal in this manner. Typically, in one washing process, the coal chunks are fed into a large water-filled tank. The coal floats to the surface while the sulfur impurities sink. There are facilities around the country called “coal preparation plants” that clean coal this way.

It appears that the MCHM is used sometimes instead of water in this process. But even after this “washing”, the coal is far from clean: Continue reading

April Snows Bring May Outrage: Record Flooding Ahead

[Map, national hydrologic assessment via NOAA-NWS]

Map, national hydrologic assessment via NOAA-NWS

In contrast to headline news today, the weather seems perfectly harmless — until one looks carefully at these maps.

Though increased soil moisture levels may be a big improvement over this past summer’s drought, a serious problem remains: there’s been too much late snow and it’s going to melt quickly.

Based on the 21-MAR-2013 hydrologic map above, conditions along the Red River basin were quite bad; changes of major flooding were already predicted at that time. Since that report, the State Climatology Office at University of Minnesota recorded 4 inches of water (which includes 13 inches of snow) at their Twin Cities campus. This same station, however, received between 6-15 inches less snow over the last month than Fargo, North Dakota, located on the Red River.

The data used for the Percent Chance of Flooding map below is dated 15-APR-2013, before the final snowfall tally after The Weather Channel-branded winter storm “Xerxes” on 16-APR-2013. The area between Bismarck and Fargo received at least two feet of snow.

[Graphic: NOAA Nat'l Operational Hydrologic Remote Sensing Center]

Graphic: NOAA Nat’l Operational Hydrologic Remote Sensing Center

I’m no meterologist, climatologist, or hydrologist, but it sure looks to me like the chances of major flooding have increased from 80% to 100%. Just an uneducated guess on my part; I’ll also speculate flooding will accelerate within the next week-10 days without doing any additional research into the subject. (Hint: It’s called “spring.”) Continue reading

Bureau of Prisons Can’t Decide Whether There Is, Or Is Not, a First Amendment

Apparently, when the Bureau of Prisons released environmental activist Daniel McGowan back to his halfway house last week (after having first detained him for writing a post at HuffPo), they made him sign something saying he wouldn’t do anything radical like write another HuffPo post.

McGowan was forced to sign a document stating that “writing articles, appearing in any type of television or media outlets, news reports and/or documentaries without prior BOP approval is strictly prohibited.” Violating that agreement, which he signed under duress, might mean going back to jail.

Well, now they seem to have rethought this whole Constitution thing, because when HuffPo called BOP on the document, BOP said McGowan could write something without being detained again.

When HuffPost contacted the Bureau of Prisons’ regional office in Philadelphia, however, they quickly backtracked on the agreement.

“He’s not prohibited from doing that, and we’re going to address it with the (halfway house) contractor,” said Lamine N’Diaye, a BOP public information officer. If McGowan wrote another HuffPost blog today, said N’Diaye, “he’s not going to be punished.”

Once upon a time foundational concepts like the First Amendment didn’t used to be so confusing.

The Price One Pays to Post at HuffPo

For a while, there was a big debate on the left on whether it was okay to post, for free, at HuffPo or not. Many argued that someone choosing to post at HuffPo without pay was being exploited, or exploiting others, by working for free.

Except now it appears that posting at HuffPo can get someone jailed for two months.

Daniel McGowan is one of the Environmental Liberation Front-tied activists branded as a terrorist for arson committed in Oregon in 2001. He wrote this post yesterday at HuffPo, describing his time in the Marion, IL Communication Management Unit, and his Center for Constitution Right lawsuit against the government for the CMUs.

What’s also notable about the CMUs is who is sent there. It became quickly obvious to me that many CMU prisoners were there because of their religion or in retaliation for their speech. By my count, around two-thirds of the men are Muslim, many of whom have been caught up in the so-called “war on terror,” others who just spoke out for their rights or allegedly took leadership positions in the Muslim community at other facilities. Some, like me, were prisoners who have political views and perspectives that are not shared by the Department of Justice.

[snip]

The following speech is listed in these memos to justify my designation to these ultra-restrictive units:

My attempts to “unite” environmental and animal liberation movements, and to “educate” new members of the movement about errors of the past; my writings about “whether militancy is truly effective in all situations”; a letter I wrote discussing bringing unity to the environmental movement by focusing on global issues; the fact that I was “publishing [my] points of view on the internet in an attempt to act as a spokesperson for the movement”; and the BOP’s belief that, through my writing, I have “continued to demonstrate [my] support for anarchist and radical environmental terrorist groups.”

The federal government may not agree with or like what I have to say about the environmental movement, or other social justice issues. I do not particularly care as the role of an activist is not to tailor one’s views to those in power. But as Aref v. Holder contends, everything I have written is core political speech that is protected by the First Amendment.  It may be true that courts have held that a prisoner’s freedom of speech is more restricted than that of other members of the public.  But no court has ever said that means that a prisoner is not free to express political views and beliefs that pose no danger to prison security and do not involve criminal acts.  In fact, decades of First Amendment jurisprudence has refused to tolerate restrictions that are content-based and motivated by the suppression of expression.  And courts have recognized that when a prisoner is writing to an audience in the outside world, as I was, it’s not just the prisoner’s First Amendment rights that are at stake: the entire public’s freedom of speech is implicated.

His lawyers have sent out a statement reporting that Marshalls detained him at the halfway house he was supposed to serve out the end of his sentence yesterday, reportedly because of his post.

Daniel McGowan is back in BOP custody.  He was taken by federal marshals from his halfway house this morning, and brought to the Metropolitan Detention Center.  We have received information that this was triggered by an opinion piece he published on the Huffington Post Monday, and we are currently trying to confirm this and learn more about the situation.  We were unable to meet with him today because, we were informed, he was being processed. We will seek to meet with him tomorrow and follow all avenues to secure his release. The name of the piece is “Court Documents Prove I Was Sent to Communication Management Units (CMU) for My Political Speech.” If this is indeed a case of retaliation for writing an article about the BOP retaliating against his free speech while he was in prison, it is more than ironic, it is an outrage.

In his HuffPo bio, McGowan described himself as an environmentalist and former political prisoner.

It sure looks he spoke too soon.

Dick Cheney’s Biggest Strategic Failure

Screen shot 2013-03-19 at 12.15.49 PMDick Cheney’s biggest failures are surely moral. The hundreds of thousands of Iraqis killed, senselessly. The thousands of Americans killed, senselessly. The hundreds of thousands, perhaps over a million, on both sides, maimed and poisoned and scarred both physically and mentally.

Senselessly.

See Juan Cole and Tomas Young (who will shortly die from wounds suffered in the Iraq War) for an accounting of that cost.

But there has been far too little accounting of the cost of Dick Cheney’s strategic choices.

Dick Cheney spent the first several months of the Bush Administration assessing where the US would get its energy in future years and how that would sustain our hegemonic role in the world. In his autobiographical novel, published in 2011, he had this to say about his Energy Task Force.

The report is one I am very proud of. I commend it to anyone looking to understand America’s energy challenges still today.

[snip]

The environmental groups that criticized the report are all too often, in my experience, opposed to any increase in the production of conventional sources of energy. They don’t want to drill anyplace. They don’t want to mine coal anyplace. They seem to believe we can depend on alternative sources of energy, such as solar or wind. It’s my view — and it’s the view reflected in the report — that while we should develop alternative sources, in the final analysis, we can’t effectively address our energy problems in the near term nor can we remain competitive in the global economy unless we also produce more energy from conventional, domestic sources.

Right now, none of the alternative sources of energy can compete economically with petroleum and coal and other conventional sources. It’s also the case that time and time again, we have found that developing alternative sources has undesirable, unanticipated consequences. The push for ethanol fuel produced from corn, for example, resulted in driving the price of a bushel of corn up significantly. This had a huge impact on people who used corn for purposes other than fuel — purposes that weren’t subsidized. Cattleman, for example, were suddenly faced with significantly higher feed prices. [my emphasis]

While Cheney’s report did have a chapter on “Nature’s Power,” (which is not, interestingly, one of the two he accused critics of having not read), just one paragraph on any alternative source of power but hydropower shows up on the chapter on “Energy for a New Century.”

Hydropower is, to date, the most successful form of renewable energy. However, some forms of renewable energy generation—wind, geothermal, and biomass— have the potential to make more significant contributions in coming years, and the cost of most forms of renewable energy has declined sharply in recent years. The most important barrier to increased renewable energy production remains economic; nonhydropower renewable energy generation costs are greater than other traditional energy sources. The following chapter discusses renewable and alternative energy in greater detail

Never mind that Cheney’s understanding of the competitiveness of alternatives by 2011, particularly with coal, which the report boosted aggressively, was badly mistaken.

He argued in 2011 — 10 years after 9/11 and 7 years after the Iraq War had descended into a clusterfuck — that alternative energy has some nasty unintended consequences (he might have a point if he talked about how Ethanol contributed to increase food insecurity for actual human beings, which contributes to political instability, but apparently he sees feeding Americans cheap grain fed beef to be a higher priority).

And of course, the nasty unintended consequence that is climate change did not show up in this discussion in the least.

On May 16, 2001, Dick Cheney released a report declaring (based partly on a shortage in CA artificially caused by Enron) an energy crisis, and proposing recommendations to bring more fossil fuels online quickly, as well as nuclear power.

America in the year 2001 faces the most serious energy shortage since the oil embargoes of the 1970s.

[snip]

This imbalance, if allowed to continue, will inevitably undermine our economy, our standard of living, and our national security.

[snip]

Present trends are not encouraging, but they are not immutable. They are among today’s most urgent challenges, and well within our power to overcome. Our country has met many great tests. Some have imposed extreme hardship and sacrifice. Others have demanded only resolve, ingenuity, and clar­ ity of purpose. Such is the case with energy today.

We submit these recommendations with optimism. We believe that the tasks ahead, while great, are achievable. The en­ergy crisis is a call to put to good use the re­sources around us, and the talents within us. It summons the best of America, and offers the best of rewards – in new jobs, a healthier environment, a stronger economy, and a brighter future for our people.

Four months later, 19 Arabs, 15 of whom were Saudis, destroyed the World Trade Center and damaged the Pentagon. All of them were motivated, in part, by America’s increasing presence in the Middle East.

Continue reading

Emptywheel Twitterverse
emptywheel 60 Minutes: Where John Brennan goes to fearmonger without any risk of questions about spying on the Senate. https://t.co/LbltYlTvqL
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emptywheel @ncardozo But what if it might advance your career? Isn't that what Bloomberg is for, anyway? @jvagle
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emptywheel RT @MicahZenko: In 56 cases of states using refugees as weapons (1951-2006), coercers partially succeeded 73% of time, fully 57%. https://t…
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bmaz @JayAckroyd @billmon1 Precisely
50mreplyretweetfavorite
bmaz @adamwinkler Would sure spice up the already boiling conversation though!
53mreplyretweetfavorite
bmaz @adamwinkler Yes, think fair to say that. But is Obama really going to recess appt before Scalia even buried? Just don't see him doing it.
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emptywheel RT @NotoriousRBG: RBG's statement on late friend, Justice Antonin Scalia https://t.co/m1ImFrWEz4 https://t.co/SDpmx3fMCr
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bmaz @MonaHol @billmon1 I actually think the backlash would make later confirmation much harder.
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bmaz @adamwinkler Right. But finding it impossible to see Obama pulling the trigger this fast.
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