Harvey Hollins Is Supposed to Be Leading Flint Response but Snyder Sent Richard Baird Instead

In my posts on Flint, I’ve alluded to a guy named Rich Baird, whom Governor Rick Snyder calls his “Transformation Manager.”

This morning, the Detroit News reported Snyder is sending Baird to oversee his Flint response.

The governor is dispatching his fixer and confidant, Rich Baird, to Flint to help coordinate the state response and to reassure the city’s elected leaders of direct, daily contact with the governor’s office.

Eclectablog has written several important posts on who Baird is and, importantly, how he was originally funded.

Baird, who had recently retired from PricewaterhouseCoopers, set up a consulting firm called MI Partners and took on one client: Governor Rick Snyder. He makes $100,000 year, paid for by unknown donors to the NERD fund, and sits at the right hand of the governor. His office is literally in the governor’s executive office suite. If you look at the Executive Office directory (pdf), there is Richard Baird’s name, listed along with the normal staffers paid like most other government officials with taxpayer money:

The important point though is that Baird, who has been a critical figure in Snyder’s emergency management schemes, started as a public/private fixer, working for private entities we can’t know about. In advance of the reelection campaign, at a time when people were demanding to know who had been paying Baird’s salary, Baird was brought onto state payroll. But he is a key figure in Snyder’s corporate driven effort to loot Michigan.

There are two reasons I’m interested in the report that Baird is overseeing Snyder’s response.

First, back in early December, Snyder’s hand-picked Task Force for responding to the Flint crisis met with him to tell him of their initial observations. One of their key recommendations, as made clear by a meeting summary they shared with him, was that he appoint one single person to handle the response. (See PDF 240ff)

We also believe it important that a single person or entity-potentially independent of any one particular state agency and mutually agreeable to this Task Force and you, Governor-be established to provide effective coordination of ongoing activities and reporting on the status of mitigation measures.

[snip]

Accordingly, in advance of our final report, we would like to ensure the independent coordinator suggest ed above engage trusted community groups to begin rebuildincommunity trust in state actions.

Snyder responded by “appointing” Harvey Hollins, his Director of Urban Initiatives, as that person “independent” of the “involved state agencies.”

You make a solid suggestion about establishing a person who is independent of any one of the involved state agencies to serve as the point person to coordinate t he ongoing work. I am recommending that Harvey Hollins, director of the Office of Urban Initiatives, carry out this effort. Harvey Is wellversed in the issues and the challenges faced by our cities and will be effective in this role. Senior members of our executive team will continue to engage with your task force and provide direction and support to Harvey to ensure you will have continued support and cooperation.

The thing is, Hollins was in no way “independent” of the decisions that poisoned Flint. He has been involved at every phase, down to coordinating Snyder’s hush-hush water filters when he was still trying to cover it up. So basically Snyder just “appointed” the guy he had “appointed” to oversee all the decisions that got Flint poisoned in the first place.

But now he’s putting (or the press is reporting that he already did put) someone else — Baird — in charge of his response.

Which brings us to what Snyder’s emails show about the involvement of Baird.

Now, I hope to get around to posting evidence from his released emails that Snyder has a second email account, and that much of what we see in the released emails are efforts to keep certain things off the books (not just in that second account but in phone or face-to-face conversations). So — as MotorCity Muckraker pointed out — it’s perhaps not surprising that Baird doesn’t appear to send Snyder many emails (on this account) but it is notable.

When he does appear in emails is interesting, however.

Baird appears in emails forwarded with public announcements relating to Flint in 2014.

  • PDF 5: January 15, 2014: Public announcement of federal funding
  • PDF 26: April 30, 2014: Flint EM’s budget talking points

Then Baird didn’t show up in emails again until the shit started hitting the fan in October 2015. It’s quite clear from these emails that Baird had a key role in responding to this crisis, including as the go-between with the Task Force Snyder set up to make the whole problem go away.

  • PDF 110: October 06, 2014: Public distribution of water filters
  • PDF 217: November 17, 2015: DEQ’s (significantly misleading) self-report to Snyder’s Task Force
  • PDF 240: December 7, 2015: Task Force (Ken Sikkema)’s formal conveyance of its report to Snyder
  • PDF 243: December 10, 2015: Response to Task Force, reflecting input from Baird
  • PDF 246: December 11, 2015: DHHS testing data
  • PDF 250: December 24, 2015: Office of Auditor General response to State Senator Jim Ananich
  • PDF 252: December 28, 2015: DEQ concurring in OAG’s analysis
  • PDF 269: December 28, 2015: Response to pre-shared copy of Task Force report, reflecting conference call involving Baird, noting a phone call to follow
  • PDF: December 29, 2015: Snyder’s statement about Task Force response, with note that Baird would meet face-to-face with Task Force on follow-up

By late December, it’s clear the governor’s staff was avoiding putting certain things in writing. In some key moments, in fact, Baird was involved in conversations about the response.

None of this is surprising. But it does make it clear that Snyder’s real response here is being led by his public-private fixer.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

Bill Schuette’s Bogus Excuse for His Belated Investigation into Flint

This morning, Michigan’s Attorney General and aspiring gubernatorial candidate Bill Schuette appointed a lawyer who has donated $10,200 to his own state-wide elections and chunks more to other Republicans (as well as a smaller donation to Jennifer Granholm in 2005) to lead the “state” investigation into Flint (this is, of course, an investigation carried out by two private citizens granted the authority of the state, not the state itself — yet more private contractors who will make money off the screw-ups of Snyder’s emergency managers).

Just as interesting as the financial ties Todd Flood has with the Republican party is the excuse Schuette gave for all of a sudden deciding he needed to conduct an investigation just after the story leaked on January 5 that Detroit’s US Attorney, Barb McQuade, is investigating. Schuette said he decided to act in the wake of some resignations from staffers from the Department of Environmental Quality.

Initially Schuette had declined to investigate the Flint water crisis, but said that in early January new information including the resignation of Michigan Department of Environmental Quality officials had changed his mind.

This claim suggests some pretty whacky timing. The DEQ employees who had resigned by the time Schuette announced his investigation on January 15 were DEQ Director Dan Wyant and Spokesperson Brad Wurfel (Snyder subsequently announced the suspension of two unnamed DEQ employees on January 22).

But Schuette sure as hell didn’t sound like he thought Wyant’s resignation merited an investigation on December 29, when he released this statement.

I am saddened to hear of the resignation of Department of Environment Quality Director Dan Wyant. In my 20-plus years of knowing him, Dan has been a hardworking, dedicated public servant. I am committed to working with all parties, including the legislature and Governor, to ensure the public’s health and the well being of Michigan residents.

On the contrary, Schuette sounded like it was a terrible thing that those mean poisoned Flint kids brought about a career setback for his buddy.

Moreover, the emails Snyder released make it clear that the “resignations” and “suspensions” of these DEQ fall guys was very closely orchestrated.

The day before the governor’s Task Force on Water (directed by a GOP partisan but including the leader of an environmental group and some health academics) formally delivered an interim report to Snyder, December 28, someone sent an advance copy to the governor. (See PDF 269 for the advance copy and discussion that followed, and PDF 265 for the formal conveyance of the report to the governor.) Snyder’s Chief of Staff, Jarrod Agen, his legal counsel, James Redford, his Director of Urban Initiatives, Harvey Hollins (who was involved in the Flint issues throughout, and whom Snyder laughably appointed as the “independent” person to oversee the Flint response in December), his privately-paid bully “Transformation Manager” Richard Baird, and his Communications Director Meegan Holland had a conference call to figure out how to respond. Agen’s email to Snyder makes it clear that before that call, there had already been a plan to make “structural changes” at DEQ.

Attached is a letter from the Flint Water Task Force which will be formally sent to you tomorrow. The Task Force then plans to release this letter publicly on Wednesday morning.

You will see the letter is harsh against DEQ.

Rich, Redford, Harvey, Meegan, and myself all just gathered on a conference call to discuss our upcoming actions regarding Flint. While we don’t think this letter should change any of our actions, we agreed we may need to accelerate some of the structural changes at DEQ.

Our suggestions:

1) Make structural changes at DEQ as early as tomorrow: The recommendations in this letter suggest profound change at DEQ and openly criticize Director Wyant. If this is the path that the Task Force is on, it is best to make changes at DEQ sooner rather than later. That likely means accepting Dan’s resignation. It also means moving up the termination of the 3 DEQ personal previously planned for Jan 4 to tomorrow.

His notes also make it clear that there was already a plan to terminate 3 other DEQ personnel on January 4 (which presumably would be Wurfel and the two staffers who got suspended on January 22).

There’s no indication that Schuette was involved in these discussions (though given that he was already defending Snyder in multiple lawsuits, you would think he was in communication with Redford).

Still, it’s quite clear that the “resignation” of DEQ staffers was planned well in advance.

So why wasn’t Schuette’s investigation planned before it became clear that the US Attorney is also investigating?

At a time when MI is facing a $1.9 million bill for Schuette’s personal tirade against equality and can’t pay to fix its roads, Schuette has launched this private investigation that will need a separate appropriation to compete with the pre-existing federal one.

He did not put a timeline or cost estimate on the investigations, though he said he was in discussions with legislative leaders regarding a possible need for additional appropriation to fund the operation.

Schuette’s belated interest in seeing if any laws have been broken sure does stink.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

The Circumstantial Case for Flint River Water and Hot Water Tanks Leading to Flint’s Legionnaires’ Oubreak

Although the progressive community has been aware, for more than a year, of the water quality crisis in Flint that was created when the state-appointed emergency manager switched Flint from Detroit’s water system to a supply from the nearby Flint River, national attention is only now starting to focus on it. Today’s New York Times features an editorial denouncing the “depraved indifference” Governor Rick Synder’s administration showed toward Flint as the crisis unfolded.

The basics of what happened are clear. Water from the Flint River is much more corrosive than that from the Detroit water system (from Lake Huron). Even though this water leaves the Flint processing facility fairly clean and appearing to meet most standards, its corrosive nature results in the pipes in the aged Flint distribution system corroding. Both iron and lead leach into the water as a result of this corrosion, leaving the water with a reddish-orange tint and unsafe levels of lead. Children in the area have already shown elevated levels of lead in their systems. Sadly, lead damage is irreversible.

A bit of digging shows that the corrosive nature of the Flint River water comes from its high chloride content. [Note: free chloride ions (Cl) are distinct from intact molecular chlorine (Cl2) and have very different chemical effects in the systems being described here. For brevity, they will be referred to as chloride and chlorine, respectively.] That high chloride content very likely results from heavy application of salt to roads during winter and subsequent runoff of the salt into tributaries and the river. The Flint River has a chloride content about eight or nine times higher than Lake Huron.

Technical documentation of the Flint water crisis is almost entirely the work of a group of researchers directed by Professor Marc Edwards of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Virgina Tech (frequently updated at their website, flintwaterstudy.org). As the Times editorial noted, the Snyder administration tried to dismiss one group of critics as “anti-everything”. That won’t work with Edwards, who won a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship (often called a Genius Grant) in 2007 for his work on water quality.

One very simple and elegant study carried out by Edwards and his team is described in this post from August 24 of last year. The team took a clean-looking sample of Flint water and put it into a glass jar along with a piece of iron. The iron is present to mimic the effect of the Flint water coming into contact with iron pipes as it flows through the distribution system into people’s homes. An otherwise identical sample was prepared with water that came from the Detroit water system. After only five days, the jars looked dramatically different:

Flint water that has been in the presence of iron for five days takes on a reddish cast while Detroit water does not. Image is Figure 3 found at http://flintwaterstudy.org/2015/08/why-is-it-possible-that-flint-river-water-cannot-be-treated-to-meet-federal-standards/ by Dr. Marc A. Ewards and Siddhartha Roy.

Flint water that has been in the presence of iron for five days takes on a reddish-orange cast while Detroit water does not. Image is Figure 3 found at http://flintwaterstudy.org/2015/08/why-is-it-possible-that-flint-river-water-cannot-be-treated-to-meet-federal-standards/ by Dr. Marc A. Ewards and Siddhartha Roy.

The water in the Flint jar looks just like what we have seen in countless photos of exasperated Flint residents wanting something done about the poor quality of the water coming out of their taps. Leached iron by itself could well be the cause of this discoloration that is common in Flint. We will come back to this same study in a bit.

In addition to the dire issue of unsafe lead levels in homes (and subsequently documented in children) that received Flint River water, another problem may relate to the changed water source. Writing at Huffington Post earlier this week, Erin Schumaker documented an outbreak of Legionnaires’ Disease in Flint. Remarkably, in a graphic created by Alissa Scheller, we see that the outbreak coincides quite precisely with the change in water source:

Huffington Post graphic depicting Legionnaires' Disease cases in Flint and their correlation with the water source. Link: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/flint-water-legionnaires-lead-crisis_us_569d09d6e4b0ce4964252c33 Graphic by Alissa Scheller.

Huffington Post graphic depicting Legionnaires’ Disease cases in Flint and their correlation with the water source. Link: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/flint-water-legionnaires-lead-crisis_us_569d09d6e4b0ce4964252c33 Graphic by Alissa Scheller.

How could there be a pathway connecting the water source to a Legionnaires’ outbreak? Read more

Many years ago, Jim got a BA in Radiation Biophysics from the University of Kansas. He then got a PhD in Molecular Biology from UCLA and did postdoctoral research in yeast genetics at UC Berkeley and mouse retroviruses at Stanford. He joined biosys in Palo Alto, producing insect parasitic nematodes for pest control. In the early 1990’s, he moved to Gainesville, FL and founded a company that eventually became Entomos. He left the firm as it reorganized into Pasteuria Biosciences and chose not to found a new firm due a clash of values with venture capital investors, who generally lack all values. Upon leaving, he chose to be a stay at home dad, gentleman farmer, cook and horse wrangler. He discovered the online world through commenting at Glenn Greenwald’s blog in the Salon days and was involved in the briefly successful Chris Dodd move to block the bill to renew FISA. He then went on to blog at Firedoglake and served a brief stint as evening editor there. When the Emptywheel blog moved out of Firedoglake back to standalone status, Jim tagged along and blogged on anthrax, viruses, John Galt, Pakistan and Afghanistan. He is now a mostly lapsed blogger looking for a work-around to the depressing realization that pointing out the details of government malfeasance and elite immunity has approximately zero effect.

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.

Blogger since 2002, political activist since 2003, geek since birth. Opinions informed by mixed-race, multi-ethnic, cis-female condition, further shaped by kind friends of all persuasions. Sci-tech frenemy, wannabe artist, decent cook, determined author, successful troublemaker. Mother of invention and two excessively smart-assed young adult kids. Attended School of Hard Knocks; Rather Unfortunate Smallish Private Business School in Midwest; Affordable Mid-State Community College w/evening classes. Self-employed at Tiny Consulting Business; previously at Large-ish Chemical Company with HQ in Midwest in multiple marginalizing corporate drone roles, and at Rather Big IT Service Provider as a project manager, preceded by a motley assortment of gigs before the gig economy was a thing. Blogging experience includes a personal blog at the original blogs.salon.com, managing editor for a state-based news site, and a stint at Firedoglake before landing here at emptywheel as technology’s less-virginal-but-still-accursed Cassandra.

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.

 

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

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.

Blogger since 2002, political activist since 2003, geek since birth. Opinions informed by mixed-race, multi-ethnic, cis-female condition, further shaped by kind friends of all persuasions. Sci-tech frenemy, wannabe artist, decent cook, determined author, successful troublemaker. Mother of invention and two excessively smart-assed young adult kids. Attended School of Hard Knocks; Rather Unfortunate Smallish Private Business School in Midwest; Affordable Mid-State Community College w/evening classes. Self-employed at Tiny Consulting Business; previously at Large-ish Chemical Company with HQ in Midwest in multiple marginalizing corporate drone roles, and at Rather Big IT Service Provider as a project manager, preceded by a motley assortment of gigs before the gig economy was a thing. Blogging experience includes a personal blog at the original blogs.salon.com, managing editor for a state-based news site, and a stint at Firedoglake before landing here at emptywheel as technology’s less-virginal-but-still-accursed Cassandra.

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). Read more

Blogger since 2002, political activist since 2003, geek since birth. Opinions informed by mixed-race, multi-ethnic, cis-female condition, further shaped by kind friends of all persuasions. Sci-tech frenemy, wannabe artist, decent cook, determined author, successful troublemaker. Mother of invention and two excessively smart-assed young adult kids. Attended School of Hard Knocks; Rather Unfortunate Smallish Private Business School in Midwest; Affordable Mid-State Community College w/evening classes. Self-employed at Tiny Consulting Business; previously at Large-ish Chemical Company with HQ in Midwest in multiple marginalizing corporate drone roles, and at Rather Big IT Service Provider as a project manager, preceded by a motley assortment of gigs before the gig economy was a thing. Blogging experience includes a personal blog at the original blogs.salon.com, managing editor for a state-based news site, and a stint at Firedoglake before landing here at emptywheel as technology’s less-virginal-but-still-accursed Cassandra.

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.

Many years ago, Jim got a BA in Radiation Biophysics from the University of Kansas. He then got a PhD in Molecular Biology from UCLA and did postdoctoral research in yeast genetics at UC Berkeley and mouse retroviruses at Stanford. He joined biosys in Palo Alto, producing insect parasitic nematodes for pest control. In the early 1990’s, he moved to Gainesville, FL and founded a company that eventually became Entomos. He left the firm as it reorganized into Pasteuria Biosciences and chose not to found a new firm due a clash of values with venture capital investors, who generally lack all values. Upon leaving, he chose to be a stay at home dad, gentleman farmer, cook and horse wrangler. He discovered the online world through commenting at Glenn Greenwald’s blog in the Salon days and was involved in the briefly successful Chris Dodd move to block the bill to renew FISA. He then went on to blog at Firedoglake and served a brief stint as evening editor there. When the Emptywheel blog moved out of Firedoglake back to standalone status, Jim tagged along and blogged on anthrax, viruses, John Galt, Pakistan and Afghanistan. He is now a mostly lapsed blogger looking for a work-around to the depressing realization that pointing out the details of government malfeasance and elite immunity has approximately zero effect.

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: Read more

Many years ago, Jim got a BA in Radiation Biophysics from the University of Kansas. He then got a PhD in Molecular Biology from UCLA and did postdoctoral research in yeast genetics at UC Berkeley and mouse retroviruses at Stanford. He joined biosys in Palo Alto, producing insect parasitic nematodes for pest control. In the early 1990’s, he moved to Gainesville, FL and founded a company that eventually became Entomos. He left the firm as it reorganized into Pasteuria Biosciences and chose not to found a new firm due a clash of values with venture capital investors, who generally lack all values. Upon leaving, he chose to be a stay at home dad, gentleman farmer, cook and horse wrangler. He discovered the online world through commenting at Glenn Greenwald’s blog in the Salon days and was involved in the briefly successful Chris Dodd move to block the bill to renew FISA. He then went on to blog at Firedoglake and served a brief stint as evening editor there. When the Emptywheel blog moved out of Firedoglake back to standalone status, Jim tagged along and blogged on anthrax, viruses, John Galt, Pakistan and Afghanistan. He is now a mostly lapsed blogger looking for a work-around to the depressing realization that pointing out the details of government malfeasance and elite immunity has approximately zero effect.

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.”) Read more
Blogger since 2002, political activist since 2003, geek since birth. Opinions informed by mixed-race, multi-ethnic, cis-female condition, further shaped by kind friends of all persuasions. Sci-tech frenemy, wannabe artist, decent cook, determined author, successful troublemaker. Mother of invention and two excessively smart-assed young adult kids. Attended School of Hard Knocks; Rather Unfortunate Smallish Private Business School in Midwest; Affordable Mid-State Community College w/evening classes. Self-employed at Tiny Consulting Business; previously at Large-ish Chemical Company with HQ in Midwest in multiple marginalizing corporate drone roles, and at Rather Big IT Service Provider as a project manager, preceded by a motley assortment of gigs before the gig economy was a thing. Blogging experience includes a personal blog at the original blogs.salon.com, managing editor for a state-based news site, and a stint at Firedoglake before landing here at emptywheel as technology’s less-virginal-but-still-accursed Cassandra.