Sunday, April 13, 2014

PNN _ It's Bloomin Springtime

PNN 4/13/14

Karina Veaudry
Catherine Bowman
Meredith Ockman
0. Earth Day - Hello to all those who have an Interest in Climate,
I would like to invite you to Florida Earth Festival 2014 at The Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Boca Raton, 2601 St. Andrews Blvd., Boca Raton, FL 33434 on April 19th and 20th. Programming for the festival was developed around specific recommendations of the Southeast Florida Regional Climate Action Plan (Policy Tie-Ins Attached). We hope you will be able to join us. Details on climate programming at the festival on April 19th and 20th can be found here

Please note that we are working to document urban gardening groups that have faced permitting obstacles; in support of recommendations AG-6 and PO-11 of the Regional Climate Action Plan. We have begun a short list as people contact us prior to the festival, but please let anyone you know who has run into problems in this regard to speak to a member of the Green Sanctuary Committee hosting the gardening programming on April 19th or 20th.

If you are able, please make arrangements to support County Staff as they recommend approval of the Southeast Florida Regional Climate Action Plan (RCAP) on April 15th at the Governmental Center, 6th floor Commission Chambers, 301 N. Olive Avenue, West Palm Beach.  You can find the Agenda at this link
The Regional Climate Action Plan is Agenda Item 5A-4 on page 30.

1. Findings That Fracking Causing Quaking Leads to Drilling Shutdown in Ohio
State regulators suspend gas drilling outside of Youngstown
- Common Dreams staff
Responding to geologists who claim they have made direct links between fracking operations and seismic activity in the state, Ohio regulators on Friday pulled permits for at least one drilling operation.
State Oil & Gas Chief Rick Simmers told The Associated Press on Friday that the state has halted drilling indefinitely at the site near Youngstown where five minor tremors occurred in March following investigative findings of a probable link to fracking.
A deep-injection well for fracking wastewater was tied to earthquakes in the region in 2012.
Simmers says Ohio will require sensitive seismic monitoring as a condition of all new drilling permits within three miles of a known fault or existing seismic activity of 2.0 or greater. Drilling will pause for evaluation with any tremor of 1.0 magnitude and will be halted if a link is found.
2. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced a new rule Thursday that withdraws federal water quality standards for Florida. This means polluters will now only have to follow Florida’s rules.
Environmental advocates have been fighting the state’s limits for nutrient pollution in court for years.
Groups like Earthjustice have argued the state’s criteria favors polluters over stricter water regulations. A spokesperson for the EPA said in a statement, however, that “there is no need for overlapping federal criteria.”
Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection said in a statement the decision “paves the way for more protection of Florida’s waters." The state agency also said Florida’s criteria are more comprehensive than the federal government’s.
However, David Guest, an attorney for Earthjustice who has been fighting Florida’ nutrient criteria, said the state’s rules are not good because industries were too involved when the state wrote the standards.
“This is not a good day for us and our hope is that we can get the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta to re-instate federal rules and get this back on track,” he said.
Guest said Florida’s water quality needs stricter rules. He said increasing fish kills, toxic algae blooms, manatee and dolphin deaths, are all signs the state’s water is in trouble.
“In the face of that, the decision of the government is to abandon standard setting to try to stop it,” he said. “This is the worst face of bad government.”
Florida’s Agriculture Chief Adam Putnam said the decision will enable state officials to manage the state’s “unique and diverse waterways.”

davina meriricini public affair specialize - - public affairs specialist

ending little 

federal standards - 
revised their  standard, loop hole 


3. Crude Oil and Natural Gas Waste
Wastes generated during the exploration, development, and production of crude oil, natural gas, and geothermal energy are categorized by EPA as "special wastes" and are exempt from federal hazardous waste regulations under Subtitle C of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA).

4. CIA and White House Under Pressure Over Torture After Leaked Senate Report
By Spencer Ackerman, Guardian UK
11 April 14

Senate committee found CIA interrogations and detentions to be 'brutal' and urges administration to release report as quickly as possible

 leak of the major findings of a landmark Senate inquiry into the CIA’s post-9/11 torture of terrorism detainees led, on Friday, to intensified pressure on the White House and the CIA to release the inquiry speedily and with a minimum of redactions.
The classified study, prepared by the Senate select committee on intelligence, concluded that the CIA’s interrogations, secret detentions and outsourced torture sessions were “brutal, and far worse than the agency communicated to policymakers.”
More suspected terrorists underwent the agency’s post-9/11 treatment, which largely lasted from 2002 to 2006, than the CIA has publicly admitted, according to the report’s findings, which were first reported by McClatchy. Last week, committee chairwoman Dianne Feinstein of California stated that the Senate investigated the cases of 100 detainees – dozens more than previously known to have gone through the CIA’s so-called “interrogation, detention and rendition” programs.
In addition to misleading policymakers, the Senate report charges the CIA with selectively and leaking classified and inaccurate information to journalists in order to portray the program in a positive light.
“The CIA manipulated the media by co-ordinating the leak of classified information, which inaccurately portrayed the effectiveness of the agency’s enhanced interrogation techniques,” the committee found.
The agency also, according to the report, provided factually inaccurate information to Bush administration lawyers, who relied on it to concoct the legal theories that underpinned an apparatus of torturous interrogations and detentions that quickly spread to US military facilities at Guantánamo Bay, Iraq and Afghanistan.
The study took four years and $40m to complete, and has brought the relationship between the CIA and the Senate panel overseeing it to perhaps its lowest ebb in history.
Not only does Langley contend that the committee has developed a factually inaccurate picture of the since-shuttered program, it has appealed to the Justice Department to open a criminal inquiry into Senate staffers for taking a classified agency document out of a secured facility – a move Feinstein has called an attempt at intimidation.
In March, on the Senate floor, Feinstein accused the CIA of breaching a network barrier on a system it set up to allow the agency to share documents with the committee electronically. She said the move meant the agency spied on the Senate staff, which she said violated the separation of powers outlined in the constitution.
Despite the acrimony, the White House announced last week that the CIA will lead the executive-branch panel that will recommend how much of the Senate report’s executive summary, findings and recommendations to make public, a decision blasted by human-rights groups and intelligence scholars as a conflict of interest.
On Thursday, 40 Democratic members of the House of Representatives wrote to President Obama urging him to declassify the committee’s executive summary and major findings “expeditiously and in their entirety.”
“The American people need and deserve a full account of the actions that were taken in their name through the use of torture and enhanced interrogations on detainees. As you have said publicly, the report must be declassified “so that the American people can understand what happened in the past’,” the legislators wrote.
After the committee voted last week to authorize declassification of aspects of its report, Feinstein challenged the administration to release the executive summary, findings and recommendations with minimal redactions and within 30 days. She said that the committee could hold a subsequent vote on declassifying the entire 6,000-plus page study, which some observers understood as a tactic to give the committee leverage in case the CIA’s redactions of the current portions up for review are extensive.
“Some ... do not want this report to become public and are seeking to discredit it,” Feinstein wrote on Thursday in the Washington Post, along with former committee chairman Jay Rockefeller, a West Virginia Democrat.
According to the leaked conclusions, the committee found that that the agency poorly managed its interrogation and detention efforts. It relied extensively on outside contractors for design and implementation, especially “two contract psychologists,” whom an earlier Senate Armed Services Committee investigation identified as Bruce Jessen and Jim Mitchell. Both men were influential in retrofitting techniques that had been designed to train captured US troops to survive and resist torture by foreign adversaries for use on detainees.
“Numerous internal critiques and objections concerning the CIA’s management and use of the Detention and Interrogation [sic] were ignored,” according to the committee findings. Those internal critiques include a now partially declassified 2004 inspector general’s report.
Human rights groups cited the leaked conclusions to pressure the administration to fully declassify the Senate report’s major aspects – and take responsibility for its release out of the CIA’s hands.
"The legal foundation for this program was always broken, but this also shows that it was resting on thin air. These conclusions only reinforce that torture is a brutal, unlawful practice that is unnecessary for protecting our national security,” said former navy general counsel Alberto Mora in a statement released by Human Rights First.
“It’s important to have as much of the report made public as possible to put these findings in context. The White House should lead the declassification process and ensure that the American people can understand the true costs of our experiment with torture.”
In a letter he sent to President Obama on Friday, Senator Mark Udall, a Democrat from Colorado, wrote, "[T]he most pressing reason for the White House to step in and manage this process is the CIA's clear conflict of interest on this issue and its demonstrated inability to face the truth about this program. … The CIA is certainly entitled to issue a public response to the Committee's study, but not to impede the declassification of the study itself."

5.Retiring Obama Administration Prosecutor Says the SEC Is Corrupt
Bloomberg News reported, on April 8th, that a Securities and Exchange Commission prosecuting attorney, James Kidney, said at his recent retirement party on March 27th, that his prosecutions of Goldman Sachs and other mega-banks had been squelched by top people at the agency, because they "were more focused on getting high-paying jobs after their government service than on bringing difficult cases." He suggested that SEC officials knew that Wall Street would likely hire them after the SEC at much bigger pay than their government remuneration was, so long as the SEC wouldn't prosecute those megabank executives on any criminal charges for helping to cause the mortgage-backed securities scams and resulting 2008 economic crash.
His "remarks drew applause from the crowd of about 70 people," according to the Bloomberg report. This would indicate that other SEC prosecutors feel similarly squelched by their bosses.
Kidney's speech said that his superiors did not "believe in afflicting the comfortable and powerful."
Referring to the agency's public-relations tactic of defending its prosecution-record by use of what he considered to be misleading statistics, Kidney said, "It's a cancer" at the SEC.
Two recent studies have provided additional depth to Kidney's assertions, by showing that Obama and his Administration had lied when they promised to prosecute Wall Street executives who had cheated outside investors, and deceived homebuyers, when creating and selling mortgage-backed securities for sale to investors throughout the world.
President Obama personally led in this lying.
On May 20, 2009, at the signing into law of both the Helping Families Save Their Homes Act and the Fraud Enforcement and Recovery Act, Obama said: "This bill nearly doubles the FBI's mortgage and financial fraud program, allowing it to better target fraud in hard-hit areas. That's why it provides the resources necessary for other law enforcement and federal agencies, from the Department of Justice to the SEC to the Secret Service, to pursue these criminals, bring them to justice, and protect hardworking Americans affected most by these crimes. It's also why it expands DOJ's authority to prosecute fraud that takes place in many of the private institutions not covered under current federal bank fraud criminal statutes -- institutions where more than half of all subprime mortgages came from as recently as four years ago."
Then, in the President's 24 January 2012 State of the Union Address, he said: "Tonight, I'm asking my Attorney General to create a special unit of federal prosecutors and leading state attorneys general to expand our investigations into the abusive lending and packaging of risky mortgages that led to the housing crisis.   (Applause.)   This new unit will hold accountable those who broke the law, speed assistance to homeowners, and help turn the page on an era of recklessness that hurt so many Americans. Now, a return to the American values of fair play and shared responsibility will help protect our people and our economy."
However, two years later, the Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Justice issued on 13 March 2014 its "Audit of the Department of Justice's Efforts to Address Mortgage Fraud," and reported that Obama's promises to prosecute turned out to be just a lie. DOJ didn't even try; and they lied even about their efforts. The IG found: "DOJ did not uniformly ensure that mortgage fraud was prioritized at a level commensurate with its public statements. For example, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Criminal Investigative Division ranked mortgage fraud as the lowest criminal threat in its lowest crime category. Additionally, we found mortgage fraud to be a low priority, or not [even] listed as a priority, for the FBI Field Offices we visited." Not just that, but, "Many Assistant United States Attorneys (AUSA) informed us about underreporting and misclassification of mortgage fraud cases." This was important because, "Capturing such information would allow DOJ to ... better evaluate its performance in targeting high-profile offenders."
Privately, Obama had told Wall Street executives that he would protect them. On 27 March 2009, Obama assembled the top executives of the bailed-out financial firms in a secret meeting at the White House and he  assured them that he would cover their backs; he promised "My administration is the only thing between you and the pitchforks". It's not on the White House website; it was leaked out, which is one of the reasons Obama hates leakers. What the DOJ's IG indicated was, in effect, that Obama had kept his secret promise to them.
Here is the context in which he said that (from page 234 of Ron Suskind's 2011 book, Confidence Men ):
The CEOs went into their traditional stance. "It's almost impossible to set caps [to their bonuses]; it's never worked, and you lose your best people," said one. "We're competing for talent on an international market," said another. Obama cut them off.
   "Be careful how you make those statements, gentlemen. The public isn't buying that," he said. "My administration is the only thing between you and the pitchforks."
   It was an attention grabber, no doubt, especially that carefully chosen last word.
   But then Obama's flat tone turned to one of support, even sympathy. "You guys have an acute public relations problem that's turning into a political problem," he said. "And I want to help. But you need to show that you get that this is a crisis and that everyone has to make some sacrifices." According to one of the participants, he then said, "I'm not out there to go after you. I'm protecting you. But if I'm going to shield you from public and congressional anger, you have to give me something to work with on these issues of compensation."
No suggestions were forthcoming from the bankers on what they might offer, and the president didn't seem to be championing any specific proposals. He had none: neither Geithner nor Summers believed compensation controls had any merit.
   After a moment, the tension in the room seemed to lift: the bankers realized he was talking about voluntary limits on compensation until the storm of public anger passed. It would be for show.
He had been lying to the public, all along. Not only would he not prosecute the banksters, but he would treat them as if all they had was "an acute public relations problem that's turning into a political problem." And he thought that the people who wanted them prosecuted were like the KKK who had chased Blacks with pitchforks before lynching.  According to the DOJ, their Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force (FFETF) was "established by President Barack Obama in November 2009 to wage an aggressive, coordinated and proactive effort to investigate and prosecute financial crimes." But, according to the Department's IG, it was all a fraud: a fraud that according to the DOJ itself had been going on since at least November 2009.
The IG's report continued by pointing out the Attorney General's lies, noting that on 9 October 2012, "the FFETF held a press conference to publicize the results of the initiative," and:
"The Attorney General announced that the initiative resulted in 530 criminal defendants being charged, including 172 executives, in 285 criminal indictments or informations filed in federal courts throughout the United States during the previous 12 months. The Attorney General also announced that 110 federal civil cases were filed against over 150 defendants for losses totaling at least $37 million, and involving more than 15,000 victims. According to statements made at the press conference, these cases involved more than 73,000 homeowner victims and total losses estimated at more than $1 billion.
"Shortly after this press conference, we requested documentation that supported the statistics presented. ... Over the following months, we repeatedly asked the Department about its efforts to correct the statistics. ... Specifically, the number of criminal defendants charged as part of the initiative was 107, not 530 as originally reported; and the total estimated losses associated with true Distressed Homeowners cases were $95 million, 91 percent less than the $1 billion reported at the October 2012 press conference. ...
Despite being aware of the serious flaws in these statistics since at least November 2012, we found that the Department continued to cite them in mortgage fraud press releases. ... According to DOJ officials, the data collected and publicly announced for an earlier FFETF mortgage fraud initiative -- Operation Stolen Dreams -- also may have contained similar errors."
Basically, the IG's report said that the Obama Administration had failed to enforce the Fraud Enforcement and Recovery Act of 2009. This bill had been passed overwhelmingly, 92-4 in the Senate, and 338-52 in the House. All of the votes against it came from Republicans. The law sent $165 million to the DOJ to catch the executive fraudsters who had brought down the U.S. economy, and it set up the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, and had been introduced and written by the liberal Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy. President Obama signed it on 20 May 2009. At that early stage in his Presidency, he couldn't afford to display that he was far to the right of every congressional Democrat, so he signed it.
Already on 15 November 2011, Syracuse University's TRAC Reports had headlined "Criminal Prosecutions for Financial Institution Fraud Continue to Fall," and provided a chart showing that whereas such prosecutions had been running at a fairly steady rate until George W. Bush came into office in 2001, they immediately plunged during his Presidency and were continuing that decline under Obama, even after the biggest boom in alleged financial fraud cases since right before the Great Depression. And, then, on 24 September 2013, TRAC Reports bannered "Slump in FBI White Collar Crime Prosecutions," and said that "prosecutions of white collar criminals recommended by the FBI are substantially down during the first ten months of Fiscal Year 2013." This was especially so in the Wall Street area: "In the last year, the judicial District Court recording the largest projected drop in the rate of white collar crime prosecutions -- 27.8 percent -- was the Southern District of New York (Manhattan)."
Another recent report documents lying by the Administration regarding its promised program to force banks to compensate cheated homeowners for fraud in their mortgages, and sometimes even for evictions that were based on those frauds. The investigative journalist David Dayen headlined on 19 March 2014, "Just 83,000 Homeowners Get First-Lien Principal Reductions from National Mortgage Settlement, 90 Percent Less Than Promised." He documented that, "the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development sold the settlement on a promise of helping 1 million homeowners, and the final number missed the cut by over 916,000. That ... shows the essential dishonesty [Obama's HUD Secretary Shaun] Donovan displayed in his PR push back in 2012. ... We're used to the Obama Administration falling far short of their goals for homeowner relief, whether because of a lack of interest or a desire to foam the runway for the banks or whatever. Even still, the level of duplicity is breathtaking." 
Historians will have a hard time deciding whether Obama was the most corrupt President -- even more corrupt than Grant, Harding, and G.W. Bush -- but certainly he is one of the four most corrupt. The evidence that he is presiding over an Administration in which aristocrats can do anything they want and commit any crime with total impunity, extends not just to Obama's protection of George W. Bush from prosecution, but to his protection of Wall Street CEOs from prosecution. Only blue-collar crooks are pursued by him; white-collar ones get off easy, and mega-corporate CEOs (as well as torturers and their masters in the former Administration, and the traitors who lied this nation into invading Iraq) are totally immune from prosecution by him.
Perhaps there will be a positive side to his Presidency, maybe Obamacare or some other major policy he has introduced, but none of the other three super-corrupt Presidents is rated by historians above the very bottom of the U.S. Presidential barrel; and Obama's Presidency seems extremely likely to be rated somewhere in that league: among the all-time worst U.S. Presidents. 
I say this as a historian with the values of a progressive Democrat, and not at all as any sort of conservative. Conservatives favor corrupt leaders; fascism is inherently corrupt and is the extremity of conservatism. By contrast, no progressive can accept corruption. Whereas corruption is acceptable to conservatives, it's a violation of the most basic progressive value, which is accountability. Whereas conservatives believe only in responsibility (such as of employees to their employer), progressives believe in that plus, especially, in accountability (such as of an employer to his employees). In the view of a progressive, obligations run both ways -- up and down the power-hierarchy -- and not only downward. Obama is fundamentally a conservative, who parades in Democratic rhetoric. The reports and studies that have been presented here are convincing proof of that.

6. ship up or sheep out
Bighorn sheep are skilled mountain climbers. But one group recently made it over the peaks of the Sierra Nevada crest in record time.

As part of an ongoing effort to return endangered Sierra Nevada bighorns to more of their historic range, state and federal wildlife workers captured 14 of the animals in the Inyo National Forest and transported them by helicopter to the Big Arroyo area of Sequoia National Park on the range’s west side.

The four rams and 10 ewes, all but one of which was pregnant, were moved in late March to a part of the Sierra that bighorns have not occupied for more than a century.

Before settlement, more than 1,000 of the animals are thought to have roamed high elevations of the range from Sonora Pass in the north to Olancha Peak in the south.

Their numbers plunged when ranchers started grazing domestic sheep in the Sierra, spreading disease to the bighorn herds. Commercial hunting also contributed to their decline and by the 1970s, only three herds could be found in some of the steepest and most rugged portions of the Eastern Sierra.

Sierra Nevada and desert bighorns are the two bighorn subspecies found in California. The Sierra population has grown to about 500 animals from a low of roughly 100 in 1995.

Last month’s operation took place over several days. Workers with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife captured the bighorns one at a time by dropping a net over them from a helicopter.

The animals, which sport large curling horns, were blindfolded, hobbled and transported to a processing site. There they were examined and each sheep was fitted with a radio collar and a GPS collar.

They were trucked in aluminum boxes down Highway 395 to near Lone Pine and then flown about 25 miles over the crest to the release site.

Although rams can weigh more than 200 lbs. and females more than 100 lbs., the bighorns were not sedated after capture. Instead they were  kept calm with blindfolds and hobbles.

Both were removed for the helicopter ride and when the boxes were  opened to let the sheep scamper into their new home, “they’re all just lying in there like there’s nothing in the world wrong,” said Tom Stephenson, leader of the Sierra Nevada Bighorn Sheep Recovery Program.

Despite the drought, Stephenson said there is adequate forage and water for the sheep in their high elevation habitat. And the low snowpack has eliminated the danger of deep snow and avalanches.

7. GMO Labeling Would Be Outlawed by New Bill in Congress
By John Upton, Grist  - April 14
State-led efforts to mandate GMO labels are blossoming like a field of organic tulips, but members of Congress are trying to mow them down with legislative herbicide.
Maine and Connecticut recently passed laws that will require foods containing GMO ingredients to be clearly marked as such — after enough other states follow suit. And lawmakers in other states are considering doing the same thing. The trend makes large food producers nervous — nervous enough to spend millions defeating ballot initiatives in California and Washington that also would have mandated such labels. They worry that the labels might scare people off, eating into companies’ sales and profits.
So a band of corporate-friendly members of Congress has come riding in to try to save the day for their donors. A bipartisan group led by Reps. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.) and G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.) has signed onto legislation introduced Wednesday that would run roughshod over states’ rules on GMO labels. Reuters reports:
    The bill, dubbed the “Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act,” was drafted by U.S. Rep. Mike Pompeo from Kansas, and is aimed at overriding bills in roughly two dozen states that would require foods made with genetically engineered crops to be labeled as such.
    The bill specifically prohibits any mandatory labeling of foods developed using bioengineering.
Large business groups cheered the legislation, which could receive its first hearings in the summer. “The GMO labeling ballot initiatives and legislative efforts that many state lawmakers and voters are facing are geared toward making people wrongly fear what they’re eating and feeding their children,” said the American Farm Bureau Federation’s president.
But groups that believe Americans have a right to know what they’re eating and which farming technologies they’re supporting are of course opposed, characterizing the bill as a desperate salvo by Big Food in the face of overwhelming support for GMO labels. The opponents have dubbed the bill the Deny Americans the Right to Know Act.
“If the DARK Act becomes law, a veil of secrecy will cloak ingredients, leaving consumers with no way to know what’s in their food,” said the Environmental Working Group’s Scott Faber. “Consumers in 64 countries, including Saudi Arabia and China, have the right to know if their food contains GMOs. Why shouldn’t Americans have the same right?”

Whatever you choose to call it, the bill is unlikely to have success beyond the GOP-controlled House.
8. Celebrate Earth Day this year by joining one of the largest environmental battles taking place in Florida today.

Tell Hendry County Commissioners and FPL/NextEra to stop their plans of building a massive fossil fuel power plant in the Everglades.

Monday April 21
Press Conference and Rally, 4am - 6pm
At the Hendry County Courthouse, 25 E Hickpoochee, LaBelle, FL
On the Corner of SR 80 and SR 29.

Tuesday April 22
Rally for International Earth Day, 4pm - 6pm
At the Hendry County Courthouse, 25 E Hickpoochee, LaBelle, FL
On the Corner of SR 80 and SR 29.

All are invited!
Bring signs, banners, bull horns, drums, etc.

These rallies are being called for by members of the Independent Traditional Seminole Nation and Everglades Earth First!

There will be a camp out at Fisheating Creek on Monday night, April 21. Participants must bring their own food, water and tents.

Why we must fight

FPL calls their plan the "Hendry County Clean Energy Center." This is a greenwashing lie. To give some examples, the plant will:
  • Use 22 million gallons of water a day
  • Release millions of tons of pollution in into the air and water
  • Harm the health of neighboring Seminole communities 
  • destroy habitat of the Florida panther

In February, the Seminole Tribe of Florida announced a 68 mile march from the Big Cypress Reservation to the Hendry County Courthouse in response to the County's rezoning of land on the border of Big Cypress. The march was being planned to coincide with an April 21 court date, but the court date has now been changed to July 14 and the march postponed.

A coalition of groups including the Seminole Tribe, the Independent Seminole Nation, Sierra Club, Everglades Earth First!, Save Our Creeks, and others have joined together to support the Tribe's lawsuit against rezoning the land and to build a groundswell of grassroots opposition to this power plant.

Simultaneously, there is a movement growing to oppose the new FPL gas pipeline which would cross Florida from north to south and is needed to fuel such a massive plant.

Here's a bit about the re-framing of Earth Day:

More background with right-wing slant from Fox News.. But still interesting to hear it from another angle:

More on the Sabal Trail pipeline:

Well, you don't have to dream - there is a movement, and PDA is part of it: GDAMS! 
Every year, on April 15th, Tax Day in the U.S., people all over the world take action to educate their neighbors about the reality of runaway, corrupt, wasted military spending. Current U.S. military spending accounts for at least 40% of global military spending, and drives most of the other 60% as other countries try to keep up, so we in this country have a critical role to play in order to change these dangerous, dystopian priorities.

The Global Day of Action on Military Spending (GDAMS) is a special day when we ask you to take action where you live. There are 61 GDAMS actions already planned around the U.S., and more being added all the time. Please click on GDAMS to find an action near you.

PDA's End War and Occupations team works on these issues all year round. We support an immediate return to a peacetime military budget, as in the 1950s, 1970s and 1990s. That would cut 40% or $250 billion per year from our present war budget to create jobs building windmills, solar panels and a new peacetime economy with free healthcare and education for all. Please click here visit our team web page to see what else we're working on. 

Another world is possible!  See you at a GDAMS action on Tuesday!

10. Roberts Court - Ignore Constitution
The Supreme Court's decision in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission was not about aggregate limits on individual campaign donations to candidates in federal elections. The case was about what constitutes a bribe, how big that bribe has to be, and whether an electoral system can be corrupt even in the absence of a legally demonstrable cash payment to an office holder or candidate for an explicitly specified favor. The Roberts court, or five of its nine members, adopted the misanthrope's faux-naïve pose in ruling that private money in politics, far from promoting corruption, causes democracy to thrive because, money being speech, the more speech, the freer the politics. Anatole France mocked this kind of legal casuistry by saying "The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread."

James Fallows has reminded us that during Chief Justice John Roberts' confirmation hearing, the nominee described his own judicial approach as "Humility. Modesty. Restraint. Deference to precedent. 'We're just calling balls and strikes.' " Fallows goes on to say that that Roberts is cynical for adopting that pose to get through the hearing. It is true that he is cynical, no doubt in the same way that prostitutes are cynical women, but I don't think that term quite captures the key quality that makes Roberts decide legal cases the way he does. Nor does his cynicism differentiate him from his jurisprudential clones named Thomas, Scalia, Alito and Kennedy.

There is unquestionably a bit of role playing on the court - Scalia, the opinionated blowhard at your local saloon; Thomas, the total cipher; Alito, the professional Catholic who might have come from the curia at Rome; Kennedy, the guy who purports to be a swing vote when his mind is already made up. Roberts' role is that of chief justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. He can't very well clown around in the manner of Scalia, who acts like Bill O'Reilly in judicial robes. The five justices' bedrock beliefs may well be as identical to one another's as those of the creepy alien children of Village of the Damned. Roberts is different only insofar as he is the more strategic front man.(1)
Roberts knows he was appointed to be a Supreme Court justice for one reason: to decide relevant cases on behalf of corporate interests. This explains why he made a political move to salvage the Affordable Care Act: The case was a matter of partisan politics before the court. 

Business interests were roughly divided on the law - some disliked its mandates and provisions that might drive up their costs, while others saw its potential for allowing them to dump insured employees into pools, or, alternatively to benefit from tax subsidies. Still others may have seen it as a license to mint money. ACA was a costly and convoluted way to insure more people, but Republican hacks saw only one aspect: It was Obama's initiative, so it must be opposed. Roberts saw it as a political squabble involving the other two branches, but on which there was no unified business position. It was a law whose philosophy had a Republican pedigree - the Heritage Foundation had proposed something like it more than a decade before. If a Republican were president, he might have proposed a similar bill; after all, the president who nominated Roberts engineered the Medicare Prescription Drug Act.

Roberts perceived the deeper dynamic beneath the ideological posturing over ACA, and that is why he had to be the deciding vote of a divided court to save the act. Overturning it would cause millions to question the court's legitimacy on a matter that was not crucial to business interests. Best to save one's powder for more relevant fights. That said, the four dissenting votes also had to vote as they did to render the decision subjectively moot in the minds of Republican jihadists, who would continue to fight the act tooth and nail. As it was, Roberts threw a valuable bone to the Republicans by vitiating the Medicaid mandate to the states. This made it harder to implement the law and permitted Republican governors and legislatures to work all manner of mischief.

McCutcheon was a more relevant fight, and here we see Roberts the avatar of corporations rather than Roberts the tactician. Viewing other justices' decisions through this lens also tightens the focus on an otherwise blurry image. Observers wondered why, during oral arguments in the Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby case, Scalia’s questions implied he was taking a position on religious views in the workplace opposite to the one he had taken in the 1990 Employment Division v. Smith case. In that case, Scalia ruled against employees whose firing for smoking peyote caused them to sue based on alleged violation of their first amendment right to free exercise of religion. But Scalia was perfectly consistent: In the Smith case, and as he appears likely to do in the Hobby Lobby case, Scalia upholds the rights of employers.(2) Neither one is a case about religion per se; they are cases about the superior prerogatives of employers over employees. In like manner, McCutcheon and Citizens United are not cases about campaign finance laws, nor are they, despite the artful smokescreen about free speech on the part of the court's majority, cases about free speech and whether money constitutes speech. They are cases about upholding the superior political privileges of rich interests in society as opposed to poorer ones.

We now have an algorithm to crack the Enigma Code of the Supreme Court. Once there are five members of the court who accept as self-evidently valid the 19th century concept of "freedom of contract," other issues become subsidiary. This framework explains hundreds of cases before the court and clarifies the seeming anomalies like ACA. It explains the court's position in Vance v. Ball State, which made it more difficult to sue employers for harassment, and Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., which barred remedy for pay discrimination (even Congress subsequently saw fit to redress the bias of the court’s decision). In Wal-Mart v. Dukes, the court rejected a class-action suit of women denied raises and promotions. The Roberts court also took the side of corporations against consumers in Mutual Pharmaceutical Company v. Bartlett and AT&T Mobility v. Concepcion. The Roberts Court declared unconstitutional a 1988 law that subjected corporate officers to fraud charges if they could be shown to have deprived clients of honest services.

As Oliver Wendell Holmes stated in his dissenting opinion on the 1902 Lochner case, which established as virtual court theology the freedom of contract notion (without government restrictions), from which many subsequent pro-corporation decisions have flowed, the court's majority was basing its decision on economic ideology rather than constitutional interpretation. Roberts is wise enough to know that and is wise enough to conceal his hand with occasional strategic references to the free speech or free exercise clauses in the first amendment.
A friend once complained to me about a basketball game in which the referee consistently called fouls on one team where none existed and failed to call fouls on the other team, which blatantly and repeatedly committed them. This being only a high school-level game, I asked him if he thought the referee had taken a cash bribe. "Of course not," was his answer, "he was just blatantly biased." "Is that also corruption?" was my response. Sometimes, like Humbert Wolf's British journalist, judges can be corrupted even in the absence of what Justice Roberts narrowly defines as "quid pro quo corruption." Fallows recommends that Congress enact a fixed term of office for Supreme Court justices. I think that is a good idea, although not just to obviate senescence on the court. It might also wake up citizens to the whole sorry con game if they were forced to contemplate retired honorable justices giving speeches at $500,000 a pop to corporations eager for enlightenment on the finer points of judicial interpretation.

11. The House Appropriations Committee approved a three-part revision of the Florida Retirement System Thursday, along with a plan to give state employees some skin in the game when making their health-insurance choices.
The Senate Governmental Oversight and Accountability Committee, meanwhile, revived a pension bill from last year -- offering new employees a reduction of their pension contributions, if they choose the investment plan. The 2011 Legislature imposed a 3 percent payroll tax on employees in the FRS, but that would be lowered to 2 percent for those who go the investment route.
Monitor 'Pension Reform' and 100+ policy issues with Legislative IQ or LobbyTools. Login or request a demo.
In largely party-line votes, the powerful House budget committee advanced Rep. Jim Boyd's pension bill (HB 7173), which he steered through his House State Affairs Committee last Friday. The bill does three things:
 -- Requires newly hired Senior Management and elected officers to join the 401(k)-style investment plan, rather than the traditional "defined benefit" pension plan.
-- Increases the "vesting" period for benefits in the traditional pension plan from eight years to 10.
 -- Changes the "default" rule so that employees who don't make a pension choice would automatically go into the investment plan rather than the FRS, as now provided. Those employees would have nine months to change their minds and opt into the traditional pension plan, instead of six, but the investment plan would offer vesting in one year rather than 10.
"It's time to modernize our retirement system," Boyd, R-Bradenton, told the appropriations panel. He said the FRS has an "unfunded actuarial liability" (UAL) of about $21 billion, costing taxpayers a half-billion dollars a year to maintain its 86 percent ratio of assets to liabilities.
"Detroit thought its UAL was OK, not a problem," Boyd said. "But this is not about the UAL. This is about modernizing a system that needs to be brought into the 21st century."
Boyd said about 60 percent of public employees don't stay 10 years in their jobs, so most would not get vested even under the current eight-year qualifying period. The investment option would give them some retirement fund they could roll to a new employer's plan, he said.
Democrats on the committee said the FRS is in fine financial shape -- that any funding level over 80 percent is considered healthy.
"There is no issue," said Rep. Mark Pafford, D-West Palm Beach. "There is a system that is not broken. This is a retirement system we should take great pride in, not dismantled."
Boyd and other Republicans emphasized that no current employees would be affected, as the changes would only apply to those hired after July 1, 2015. Also, employees could still take the "defined benefit" pension plan, if they wanted it.
The committee also approved a state employee insurance package (HB 7157) by Rep. Jason Brodeur, R-Sanford, that directs the Department of Management Services to develop a four-tier array of insurance offerings. Brodeur said the state would provide the same per-employee subsidy of premiums, but workers could choose a cheaper policy and use the excess funding for extra benefits -- like optional vision, dental or catastrophic coverage.
They could also shop around for lower hospital charges on common procedures and split the savings with the state.
Earlier Thursday, the Senate governmental operations committee approved a bill (SB 1114) by Sen. Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, similar to Boyd's House measure. In addition to making Senior Management and elected officers sign up for the investment plan, Simpson's bill would give rank-and-file employees the incentive of lowering their payroll deductions from 3 percent to 2 percent, if they choose the investment plan.
Boyd's plan does not have the reduction in the employee payment to the pension fund.
Both of the bills would affect only new hires next year, not current retirees or active employees in the FRS.

no soup for you - you "voters"
Remember how bad the voter lines were on Election Day in 2012? In Florida, some stayed in line for over six hours.
And now, they won’t be able to use the bathroom. The Miami-Dade County Elections Department has quietly implemented a policy to close the bathrooms at all polling facilities.
Make no mistake about it. This is a political scheme to depress voter turnout in a heavily Democratic county, and it’s also probably illegal for violating basic disability law.
Urge U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to investigate this new Florida voting rule which closes all restrooms at polling places on Election Day. SIGN THE PETITION HERE:

pnn 4/13/14
PNN's host and News Director Rick Spisak welcomes three very special guests 

Karina Veaudry, Former Executive Director for the Florida Native Plant Society.  Landscape Ecologist and Landscape designer for 26 years Involved in statewide efforts to balance development with conservation.

Catherine Bowman,  Ecologist and Biologist for 30 years. Former President of the Central Florida Chapter of the Florida Native Plant Society. Ecosystem restoration specialist

And we'll welcome one of our favorite guests:  Meredith Ockman,  Vice President at SoHo Dogs, President of the Board at Women's Health Foundation of South Florida and Vice President at Florida National Organization for Women  who is now in the running for  South East Regional Director for the National Organizatoin of Women.

TUNE IN SUNDAY 7pm [Eastern]  LIVE or Anytime


I apologize for the delay in getting back to you. If you haven’t already done so, I recommend you review EPA’s website for a more thorough history of the agency’s involvement in the numeric nutrient criteria issue in Florida:

Florida has now adopted - and EPA has approved - numeric nutrient criteria for its waters. There is no need for overlapping federal criteria and, on January 7, 2014, the court agreed that EPA is no longer obligated to promulgate such criteria for any of Florida’s waters. 

Therefore, EPA is proposing to withdraw federal numeric nutrient criteria applicable to Florida’s inland and flowing waters. EPA also intends to cease action on two proposed rules applicable to other waters of the state of Florida— one addressing remanded portions of the inland rule and the other for coastal and estuarine waters.

Davina Marraccini
Public Affairs Specialist
U.S. EPA Region 4
404-562-8293 (office)
404-387-4368 (cell)
404-562-8335 (fax)

Sunday, March 30, 2014

PNN - the Waters of March!

Susan Nilon - Nilon Report
Jennifer Rubiello - Environment Florida
Jaime Duran - Golden Gate Home owner
Karen Dwyer - Stone Crab Alliance

1.) Virginia Tech experts pinpoint MCHM odors
By Ken Ward Jr. - March 26, 2014

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Researchers at Virginia Tech believe they have pinpointed a form of the chemical MCHM that could be causing licorice-like odors to linger in the region's drinking water long after the January chemical leak that contaminated drinking-water supplies for 300,000 residents in a nine-county region of West Virginia.
Using specialized equipment, experts at  Virginia Tech's College of Engineering traced the odors to one of MCHM's two chemical structures, or isomers, and analyzed at what levels that form of MCHM could be smelled in the air and estimated what concentrations could be smelled in water.
A team led by Virginia Tech environmental engineer Andrea Dietrich estimated the odor threshold for that form of MCHM at 7 parts per billion. That's 100 times less than the levels the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advised were acceptable for people to drink. However, the CDC's 1-part-per-million number remains controversial, and Dietrich said the continuing odor problems have their own important impacts on residents.
"The toxicity aside, annoying odors have a psychological burden," Dietrich said. "Let's hope this chemical doesn't have any toxicity and the CDC is right, but if people are living with it for two or three months, it imparts a fear and a reminder, and it's a psychological burden. If you can smell it, it's still around."
Dietrich is an expert on water quality and treatment, as well as on taste and odor assessments of water. After the Freedom Industries chemical leak, she received an emergency grant from the National Science Foundation to study MCHM and its potential impacts, and one focus of the Virginia Tech team is the coal-cleaning chemical's odor.
On Tuesday morning, Virginia Tech issued a news release to outline some of its team's preliminary findings.
"Based on our increased understanding of the chemicals involved in the water crisis, the complexities and implications of the spill keep growing," Dietrich said in the release. "People are still afraid to drink the water; odors persist in schools, residences, and businesses; data are still lacking for the properties of the mixture of chemicals in the crude MCHM that spilled."
The Virginia Tech findings come just one day after West Virginia American Water revealed new test results that show low levels of MCHM appear to be leaching from the filters at their Elk River treatment plant into drinking water the company pumps into the region's homes and businesses.
Water company President Jeff McIntyre had said last week that the company didn't think the filters needed changed, but would start doing so on April 1, to address public "perception" that the filters were contaminated. When the new test results were announced, though, McIntyre said it was "not unexpected that MCHM effectively captured in the filter material may show up in trace amounts in water leaving the plant."
In a news release, the water company downplayed the test results - showing MCHM concentrations ranging from 0.42 parts per billion to 0.60 parts - by noting that "one part per billion is equivalent to one drop in a large tanker truck or one second in 32 years."
However, in an interview Tuesday morning, Dietrich said a more complete knowledge of long-standing scientific understanding about chemical odors and about various routes that residents could have been exposed to MCHM from the contaminated water supply might have been helpful in responding to the chemical leak.
Well-established science, Dietrich said, supports the observations of residents who smelled licorice more readily in their showers than from their kitchen taps, and the reactions of public school cooks who complained of odors when they were operating industrial dishwashers. Better flushing guidance that warned residents to open windows or conducting air-quality tests when school employees complained of odors would have been helpful, Dietrich said.  
"One of the points of our research is you have to look at MCHM in its entirety - not just ingestion, but inhalation," Dietrich said. "Our goal is to connect the dots."
Virginia Tech researchers used equipment called "olfactory gas chromatography" to independently measure the concentrations and odors of two isomers found in 4-methylcyclohexane methanol, the main component of the Crude MCHM mixture that leaked from Freedom Industries into the Elk River on Jan. 9.
The 4-MCHM consists of two isomers, called cis- and trans-isomers. These isomers are forms of MCHM that have the same chemical formula but a very slight difference in shape that can have enormous effects on the physical, chemical and biological properties of the substance. Virginia Tech experts said only the "trans" isomer has the stronger licorice-like odor.
In a procedure approved by the university's research review board, Dietrich and her team used a panel of non-experts to smell for MCHM in the air, and determined that the odor threshold for the chemicals trans-isomer is "exceedingly low," at a level of 350 parts per trillion by volume in the air. Using standard chemical formulas, the team then estimated the odor threshold in water to be about 7 parts per billion.
Using a different methodology, the West Virginia Testing Assessment Project, or WVTAP, the independent team hired by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, previously said it had determined the odor threshold for MCHM was 0.15 parts per billion, or about 47 times lower than the Virginia Tech number.
The WVTAP number, though, was for the Crude MCHM mixture -- not for pure 4-MCHM or for the pure chemical's trans-isomer. Also, the WVTAP research, by environmental consultant Michael McGuire, used odor experts who actually smelled water that contained MCHM. The Virginia Tech researchers used lay people to come up with an airborne-odor threshold, and then converted that to a number for odors in water.
On Monday night, WVTAP issued a news release commenting on the Virginia Tech release that had not yet been publicly issued. Dietrich said Virginia Tech had provided a courtesy copy of its release in advance to Tomblin's office.
In its release, WVTAP noted that McGuire's report offered a differing explanation for the licorice odors than the one outlined by Virginia Tech researchers.
"It is important to realize that the odor threshold reported by Virginia Tech was conducted on pure MCHM," McGuire stated in the WVTAP release. "However, pure MCHM has not been causing the licorice odor problem in the Charleston, WV, area."
"We knew that 'Crude' MCHM which consists of a mix of odorous compounds had a sharper licorice odor characteristic than pure MCHM," McGuire said. "We chose to do our testing on the compound that the public experienced and which caused all of the odor problems."
In his report, McGuire wrote that, "Minor components of the chemical compound mix called Crude MCHM could have an impact on the threshold concentrations experienced by panelists and consumers. We are still not certain that only the pure MCHM is responsible for the licorice odor in Charleston drinking water. More research is needed to determine the contribution of the minor components of Crude MCHM to the aesthetic responses experienced by Charleston residents."
Virginia Tech researchers, though, say an important implication of their work is to independently measure the concentrations of the two MCHM isomers. "The licorice odor will be proportional to the amount of the trans-isomer, not the total amount of methylcylohexane methanol," Dietrich said. "While there may be a tendency to measure 'total methylcyclohexane methanol,' this could lead to misleading interpretations."
Reach Ken Ward Jr. at or 304-348-1702.

2.) White foam reported along Elk River
By Ken Ward Jr. - Advertiser

CHARLESTON, W.V.a. -- State inspectors spent the morning investigating a report of a white foam floating along the banks of the Elk River, but by lunchtime still had not identified the material.
Department of Environmental Protection officials say the material appears to have come from upstream of the Freedom Industries tank farm, where January's chemical spill occurred.
The investigation began after a local television station alerted Kanawha County officials to the foam. County officials checked out the report, but were initially unable to find anything, said C.W. Sigman, the county's deputy emergency services director.
County officials alerted the DEP, and state inspectors were on the scene, said Tom Aluise, a spokesman for DEP.
Sigman said DEP inspectors and the county later spotted some sort of foam, but had not yet identified the material. "The DEP is trying to figure out what's going on," Sigman said.
Laura Jordan, spokeswoman for West Virginia American Water, said DEP notified her company of the situation at about 8:40 a.m. Water company staff from the Elk River treatment plant have investigated and "found a white colored foam intermittently along the banks of the Elk River from Coonskin to Queen Shoals, as well as along Big Sandy Creek in the Clendenin area," Jordan said.
In an email message, Jordan said "the appearance indicates that it may be a naturally occurring foam," but that company staff are testing water samples for acidity, solids, and electrical conductivity, as well as for organics.
Reach Ken Ward at or 304-348-1702.

3.) 4 Shocking Examples of Police Militarization in America's Small Towns
Police departments are militarizing even far from urban centers.

For nearly half a century, the general trend within America’s police precincts has been toward greater militarization, a transformation initiated by the culture wars of the 1960s and facilitated by the war on drugs, fear of inner-city crime, and anxieties over the threat of terrorism.
Fear of drugs, crime and terrorism have been used to justify the expansion of SWAT programs and the acquisition of military grade weaponry and vehicles in America’s smaller towns. Citing previous work, investigative journalist Radley Balko writes that the number of SWAT teams in municipalities with populations between 25,000 and 50,000 “increased by more than 300 percent between 1984 and 1995,” and that 75% of all of these towns had their own SWAT teams by the year 2000. Small precincts acquired wartime weaponry and a warrior culture was engendered among community police.
The ACLU is currently working on a major investigation to illuminate the extent of militarization across America. Here are four shocking examples of militarized police in America's small towns. 
1. Keene, New Hampshire
A town with a murder count of two since 2009, Keene’s city officials surreptitiously accepted a $285,933 grant from the Department of Defense in 2012 to purchase a Ballistic Engineered Armored Response Counter Attack Truck, or BearCat.
The grant was offered through the 1033 program, which was signed into law in 1997 and created a pipeline for the DOD to pass surplus military gear to local police precincts. It may seem preposterous that a sleepy New England town would need to commandeer a tank intended to withstand IED attacks, but in the post-9/11 era, nearly any degree of militarization can be justified with the threat of terrorism.
“We don't know what the terrorists are thinking,” warned Jim Massery, sales manager for the creator of the Bearcat, Lencor Armored Vehicles, to investigative journalist Radley Balko, before questioning whether residents who took issue with the BearCat “just don’t think police officers’ lives are worth saving.”
A series of town meetings led by city councilor Terry Clark revealed a sizable number of city residents opposed the local SWAT’s acquisition of a BearCat. “This is an agreement between the government and arms dealers, essentially,” noted Clark after a representative for Lencor revealed that the transfers of military equipment allow them to tap into the DOD’s $34 billion terrorism budget.
Despite resistance, the Keene police department put the BearCat to use, starting in the fall of 2012, and it was used 21 times as of summer 2013: 19 times for training exercises, once in response to a barricaded person and once in response to a person threatening suicide.
Surrounding cities have signed pacts with Keene to borrow the BearCat when needed, and support throughout the state for similar vehicles remains strong: A state bill to halt the purchase of military equipment by New Hampshire police departments was shot down in late March, making it likely that more departments will seek BearCats from the DOD, in addition to the 11 that already have them.
2. Ogden, Utah
Ogden, a medium-sized Utah town flanked by the Wasatch mountain range and the Great Salt Lake, was for a long time little more than a junction point for railroads crisscrossing the country. These days, it’s ground zero for the debate over the use of SWAT in Utah, which has pitted fervent proponents of aggressive paramilitarism against those who want alternatives to the hyper-violent police confrontations that have roiled the state in recent years.
The flashpoint for the debate came in January 2011, when members of Ogden SWAT battered down the front door of Matthew David Stewart’s home. When the army veteran awoke to the sound of shouting voices and shuffling boots, he grabbed his bathrobe and Beretta and began exchanging fire with the officers, killing one and wounding seven while sustaining multiple gunshot wounds himself
This disastrous account of law enforcement excess was bookended by death, starting with the raid fatality and ending with Stewart’s own suicide in his prison cell shortly after a judge threw out his self-defense claim. However, the questions raised about the use of military tactics have endured, imbued with urgency by a steady drip of fatal statewide SWAT encounters in the last two years.
Although some in the state advocate more diplomatic means of apprehending drug and other types of offenders, the zeal for Ogden SWAT remains stronger than ever as the institution burrows itself deep into the community’s cultural DNA and swells into nearby jurisdictions. Three separate bills in the Utah legislature would limit the ability of SWAT to serve “no-knock” raids (the deadly kind in which officers barge in the door while bellowing “Search warrant!”) and increase the standard of transparency that SWAT-equipped precincts must meet.
3. Columbia, South Carolina
Richland County, where Columbia is located, caught the attention of some activists in 2008 when its sheriff purchased an armored personnel carrier from the DOD. Police in the area continued buying military-grade vehicles unchallenged. Most recently, the Columbia Police Department purchased a mine-resistant war truck from the DOD in the fall of 2013.
Unlike Keene’s BearCat, Columbia’s “U.N. blue” has a turret that can be armed with a 50-caliber machine gun. It’s also built to withstand any mine blasts it may trigger in the streets of the "Capital of Southern Hospitality.”
The Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicle (MRAP) is valued at $658,000, but was handed off virtually free to the Columbia Police Department under the 1033 program. The Nerve found that the only costs incurred by the Columbia police for obtaining the vehicle in September 2013 came to about $2,800: a $2,000 annual fee for participating in the 1033 program, and $800 to actually transport the vehicle from a military base at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
Under the conditions of the 1033 program, the DOD technically retains ownership of the military equipment it loans out, and recipients must use the equipment for at least one year before it is returned. However, the national ACLU confirmed with AlterNet that they’ve never heard of a department returning equipment to the DOD.
Unsurprisingly, drugs and terrorism were used to justify the presence of the vehicle. The Columbia Police Department’s application for the MRAP explained that the armored vehicle was needed to “protect our officers and the public during high risk counter drug and counter terrorism operations within the city of Columbia and the state of South Carolina.”
Victoria Middleton, executive director of the ACLU-South Carolina, noted that local news outlets failed to commit significant time to covering militarization in Columbia. “There has been a huge distraction,” she wrote to AlterNet in an email, “[with the] search for a new police chief, turf issues with Richland County Sheriff department, [and] city administration problems.”
Documents reviewed by AlterNet reveal that the ACLU-South Carolina sent a FOIA request to the Richland County Sheriff’s office in March 2013, demanding the disclosure of “all 1033 programs inventories created and maintained” by county police departments. The sheriff’s office responded with a warning that fulfilling the ACLU’s request “may result in a charge of several thousand dollars,” which the ACLU immediately countered with another letter.
To date, the Richland County Sheriff’s Department has not complied with the ACLU affiliate’s FOIA request.

4. Paragould, Arkansas
The Paragould police chief attempted to turn a rising crime rate into a carte blanche for sending fully outfitted SWAT teams into communities to ask every single person in public for identification. The population of the town is 27,000. 
"To ask you for your ID, I have to have a reason,” said police chief Todd Stovall at a town hall meeting in December 2012. "Well, I've got statistical reasons that say I've got a lot of crime right now, which gives me probable cause to ask what you're doing out.”
The mayor stood by his police chief. "They may not be doing anything but walking their dog, but they're going to have to prove it,” he added to Stovall’s remarks.
The policy of de-facto martial law captured national attention and inspired an immediate response from the Arkansas ACLU. Stovall  issued a statement justifying police-state tactics as features of “proactive police philosophy dedicated to managing problems before they become unmanageable,” and gave limited lip service to the Constitution and rule of law in general.
The public outrage forced city officials to back away from the Orwellian initiative.

4. McConnell, one week after barring reporter from event: First Amendment 'under coordinated assault'
by Jed Lewison Follow for Daily Kos / Thu Mar 27, 2014 at 02:00 PM PDT
Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell brandishes rifle at Conservative Political Action Conference 2014 on March 6, 2014
McConnell understands the First Amendment about as well as he understands guns
Last week, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell barred a Kentucky reporter from covering one of his news conferences which puts him the position of knowing what he's talking about when he says things like this:

    Last June, I spoke at the American Enterprise Institute and warned of a grave and growing threat to the First Amendment. That threat has not let up.
Mitch need not search beyond the nearest mirror to come face to face with that threat, but as you might have guessed, he wasn't talking about himself. Instead, this is what has him all hot and bothered:
    Our ability to freely engage in civic life and to organize in defense of our beliefs is still under coordinated assault from groups on the Left.
And who are those groups?
    Left-wing groups like Media Matters [who] harass and intimidate conservatives.
Makes sense, except the part about how Media Matters isn't a part of the government and the part about how the First Amendment exists to protect groups like Media Matters from power-hungry politicians like Mitch McConnell.
McConnell might not like Media Matters, but it is literally impossible for them to threaten his First Amendment rights even if they wanted to. But when the Senate Minority Leader bans reporters from covering his events—and then threatens to arrest them if they persist—that is a true threat to the First Amendment, not that Mitch is going to do anything about it.

5. Don’t let polluters poison our water
Don’t let polluters poison our water We shouldn’t have to worry if the water sources we rely on for drinking, fishing, and swimming are polluted. But for 117 million Americans, a legal loophole has undermined the Clean Water Act safeguards that are supposed to prevent big polluters from dumping unsafe amounts of dangerous pollutants in our waters.
The Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers are ready to make important changes to close this loophole—and you can step up to support these changes.
Protect clean water. Tell the EPA and the Corps you support restoring Clean Water Act safeguards for critical streams and wetlands.
Protect clean water. Tell the EPA and the Corps you support restoring Clean Water Act safeguards for critical streams and wetlands.

6. The Reforms Proposed
Reform 1: The NSA, proposes Obama, would end its systematic collection of data about Americans’ calling habits. Well, sort of. First we all just have to trust that what the NSA has been and would have continued to do in secret if Snowden had slept in will just stop. There’s a whopper of a maybe, especially given that these changes come only after the whole evil mess hit the news. Better yet, just because the NSA may not collect data, someone else will, because…
Reform 2: The bulk records would stay in the hands of the phone companies, which would not be required to retain the data for any longer than they normally would. So the data still exists, just reshelved. Most phone companies hold such data anyway for 18 months, plenty of time for some leisurely snooping. And just because the phone companies are not required to hold the data longer, that does not mean some government agency which controls their contracts, licenses, technology and all that will not suggest they hang on to it longer. Hey Verizon, just buy a bigger hard drive, they’re cheap these days. Slap a non-disclosure type order on the phone companies and we’ll never know what they keep for how long. Again, this reform requires trusting organizations that lied to us consistently since 2001 until caught red-handed.
Reform 3: The NSA could only obtain specific records with permission from a judge. I think we all can see through this one like it was as sheer as a Miley Cyrus costume. Likely enter the handy FISA court again, which has a long record of rubber stamping government requests, no doubt in no small part because only the government is allowed to speak to the court (in its entire history, the FISA court denied just 11 of the more than 33,900 surveillance requests put to it.)
In addition, it is unclear what level of detail and introspection the court could apply to what no doubt will be hundreds of thousands of new requests, most of which will no doubt be marked as urgent in response to the endless parade of “imminent threats” only the NSA sees.
Sub-Reform: Obama will ask Congress to convene a panel of public advocates to represent “consumers” before the FISA court. Are Citizens now just “consumers” as far as the government is concerned?
The members of this panel, to be drawn from civil liberties, technology and privacy advocates, will be given security clearances and other benefits. Their job will be to represent Americans, but only when the FISA court faces “novel issues of law.” Left open is who these people will be, who will pay them, who will choose them, and how aggressive the government will be in using the security clearance process to keep true advocates away from the court. Who and how “novel issues of law” will be determined is another question. What rights these advocates will have to see government data is unclear. And of course everything will be secret.
Back to the court orders themselves. These court orders are lined up to be another forward-looking thing: once a phone company starts providing call data on an individual, they would be required, on a continuing basis, to feed the NSA data about any new calls placed or received after the order is received. For how long? Not mentioned in the proposal. Better classify that time period or you’ll alert the terrorists when they can start talking freely again. The court orders would also automatically give the NSA related records for callers up to two phone calls, or “hops,” removed from the number that has come under suspicion. So if they look at your records, they are also allowed to look at the doctor you call and the journalist you call.
Worse yet is the way math works with that two-hop rule. One writer has speculated that if one of those hops includes a popular take-out pizza joint, that hop will automatically link the NSA to a very, very large number of people. Other data suggests a typical two-hops set of links will pull in over 8,000 people. Reconfigure your two-hops to restart with one of those 8,000 and so forth until the set of permissible monitoring grows geometrically.
What’s Missing
The only category of people Obama has specifically exempted from surveillance is allied foreign leaders. He has not extended any exemptions to American citizens.
The reform proposals seem specific only to bulk phone records collected by the NSA under Section 215 of the Patriot Act. They do not appear to apply to any other collections by the NSA (email, Skype, chat, GPS, texts, and so on and on), or any other federal or state agency, or to any programs in place today that we are not aware of or which may be created in the future, perhaps in response to the reforms.
This omission is significant; The Guardian reports the NSA collects each day more than five million missed-call alerts, for use in contact-chaining analysis (working out someone’s social network from who they contact and when), details of 1.6 million border crossings a day, from network roaming alerts, more than 110,000 names, from electronic business cards, which also included the ability to extract and save images and over 800,000 financial transactions, either through text-to-text payments or linking credit cards to phone users. NSA also extracted geolocation data from more than 76,000 text messages a day, including from “requests by people for route info” and “setting up meetings.” Other travel information was obtained from itinerary texts sent by travel companies, even including cancellations and delays to travel plans.
The Obama reforms do not even mention surveillance of Internet communications internationally under Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act; and surveillance of communications overseas under Executive Order 12333.
The reforms do not mention pulling back the NSA’s ongoing efforts to weaken overall internet security, such a demanding companies provide them with backdoors to bypass encryption.
The reforms leave the door open. Obama’s proposal includes a provision asking Congress to validate that Section 215 of the Patriot Act may in the future be legitimately interpreted as allowing bulk data collection of telephone data.
The reforms leave in place far too many secret court actions and loopholes.
The reforms will be changed in the Congressional process and are likely to be further weakened by frightened representatives terrified of being blamed for the next act of terror (or by fear of losing votes for appearing “weak.”)
The reforms, even if enacted exactly as proposed or even slightly strengthened, only alter the security state in some minor and superficial ways. Our Fourth Amendment rights against unwarranted search and seizure remain jackbooted.
Some might even say the reforms are not reforms at all, but just some pretty words like “Hope” and “Change” that a smart politician might toss off to appear to be listening to his People without doing anything of substance.

To review the latest news: Earlier today, the president called the unprecedented program “modest” and insisted that “nobody is listening to your phone calls.” Belcher — who advises the White House on how to frame issues — went even further, casting the program as nothing more invasive than, say, your bank logging your personal financial transactions or a pollster evaluating data.
Before evaluating the legal arguments being made by Obama, Belcher and other administration officials, let me just say for the record that the most grotesque part of this CNN exchange was when Belcher tried to justify the surveillance program on the grounds that it is popular. In a country whose constitution was designed, in part, to prevent majority public opinion from trampling the basic rights of minorities, this is a hideous line of reasoning, to say the least. Similarly hideous is Belcher claiming that mass surveillance is making us safer, but not being able to provide any evidence that such a claim is true.
All of that aside, what’s significant here are the larger legal arguments, because they will likely be used in court cases to cement this and other surveillance programs for the long haul. And the fact is, the White House’s legal arguments are deceptive — and at times, outright lies.
First and foremost, let’s remember that a former FBI counterterrorism agent recently told CNN that the administration is, indeed, listening into phone calls. If that’s true, the president is outright lying (which should no longer be considered surprising, in light of his administration’s blatant — and potentially perjurious — lies before Congress on this issue).
But let’s say that despite this, you nonetheless believe President Obama when he says his administration isn’t listening in on phone calls. The fact remains that, as the New Yorker and Reuters both show, the collection of “metadata” about calls is often just as intrusive as listening into the actual calls themselves. Reuters sums it up this way:
Any suggestion that Americans have nothing to worry about from this dragnet collection of communications metadata is wrong. Even without intercepting the content of communications, the government can use metadata to learn our most intimate secrets – anything from whether we have a drinking problem to whether we’re gay or straight… So we shouldn’t be comforted when government officials reassure us that they’re not listening to our communications – they’re merely harvesting and mining our metadata. In a digital world, metadata can be used to construct nuanced portraits of our social relationships and interactions.
That gets to how Belcher followed up his boss during our debate on CNN today. He argued not only that a program sweeping in data from millions of Americans is modest, but also that it is no different than companies analyzing consumer data. Like so many carefully sculpted political talking points, it sounds logical, except when you remember the key facts being omitted — in this case, the fact that the government is using its law enforcement power to obtain the data without the public’s permission. Yes, that’s right: unlike a company with which you personally do business — and with which you sign an agreement about your personal information — the Obama administration is using the government’s unilateral power to simply grab your information across multiple platforms.
That’s hardly, as the dismissive phrase goes, a “distinction without a difference.” As I noted on CNN, when it comes to civil liberties, the Bill of Rights is all about constraining the power of the government to encroach on our freedoms. It does this because the founders recognized that the government isn’t just another institution in society — it isn’t, say, just a private bank or a polling firm. It is granted special powers (subpoena, warrants, etc.) that those other institutions don’t have — but it was granted those powers in exchange for that authority being properly constrained. When such constraints are removed, our liberties are inevitably restricted (this, by the way, is why Senator Obama sponsored legislation to outlaw what President Obama is now doing).
Belcher and other Obama officials likely know all this, but also know that the best way to at once defang the NSA scandal and normalize the government’s assault on civil liberties is to pretend it’s the same as any other company using data in the creepy ways we’ve all gotten accustomed to. It’s the old “nothing to see here, move along” trick. The only question is: Will America fall for it?

8. NEOLIBERALISM - social darwinism in a party mask
In left discussion the term “neo-liberalism” is often used to refer to a particular pro-free market economic perspective and set of policies that conservatives developed in the 1970’s and 1980’s as an alternative to the New Deal and European social democracy. As Reed uses the term, however, it is generally synonymous with any perspective or policy that supports capitalism in general.

The defenders of the Democratic party cited above tout the recent successes of the sane in temporarily rejecting pieces of the neoliberal agenda. They ignore the many successes of neoliberalism, and its growing future prospects. But none of them discusses the massive amount of political effort that goes into the few temporary successes. Just stopping President Obama’s plan to make sure old people have skin in the game by cutting Social Security and Medicare was a five year effort of organizing phone calls, emails, congressional contacts, demonstrations and constant publicity. The same is true of the effort to derail the Keystone Pipeline and the Trans-Pacific Partnership. We couldn’t even scrape together the energy to insist on extension of long-term unemployment benefits, and were unable to stop cuts to food stamps, among many other failures.
These exhausting campaigns eat time and energy that could be used for positive purposes, if the Democrats had any positive purposes. But they don’t. On every issue, from climate change to judicial appointments to financial regulation to health care reform, the first choices of solutions are neoliberal, and each time we have to start over from ground zero.
There are no Democratic voices for a decent future. Other than the empty platitudes mouthed by Obama and belied by his actions, there is no discussion of a path towards a future in which democracy controls the rich and their corporations. There is only the dead hand of Friedrich Hayek and the bullhorns in the hands of the filthy rich bellowing that markets are god-like and that we proles must serve them to survive. There is only the demand that we support whatever Democrat gets past the money primary and gratefully lick one or two crumbs off the floor.

They intend to take everything we all work for and pay for, as individuals and families, like our homes and savings; or as a society, for ourselves and each other, like Medicare or the post office, and turn it all into a private revenue stream for the 1%.

who will argue that Bill Clinton deserves his many millions BECAUSE he did away with Glass Steagall which permitted the neoliberal orgy of massive economic collapse that, somehow, spared those who engineered and profited from the fraud. Who will come to argue that Barack will deserve his billion dollar reward for adding more misery for the many but even greater profit for the few … even as the capacity of the planet to support human life is compromised for that profit, even as forever war makes a mockery of life, just as the US legal system, since Bush v. Gore makes mock of justice and truth.
Let us not forget that it is not just the economic system that neoliberalism destroys, as indeed you remind us, it is the actual viability of human life which is on the chopping block, it is the question of what it actually means to be human that is neither asked, permitted to be asked, or even acknowledged as the existential question of our time.
That a single generation of economic “adherents” may hold the fate of humanity in their grubby paws, mindless and careless, obsessed with only themselves and their “ambitions” of wealth and total control … is not merely appalling it is obscene.
That so many citizens are willfully blind, are happy to embrace any evil so long as those who would do their thinking for them tell them it is the thing to do is, simply, heartbreaking, and suggests that the sound-bite philosophy of our time, supplied by “the media”, and enforced by political “operatives” is so thread-bare, so empty and lifeless … as to have NO substance at all.

9. FDL (Podesta attacks / defeats strawmen)

Last week several environmental groups called on the president to not speed up permitting for liquefied natural gas exports. In response White House adviser John Podesta met with reporters and forcefully rebutted arguments they had not made.
“If you oppose all fossil fuels and you want to turn that switch off tomorrow, that is a completely impractical way of moving toward a clean-energy future” he thundered, answering a charge articulated by no one. “With all due respect to my friends in the environmental community,” he continued against his fictional adversary, “if they expect us to turn off the lights and go home, that’s sort of an impractical suggestion.” It was an admirable performance, a rare and special display of the kind of soaring creativity not normally encountered outside of a child’s imagination.

In point of fact, the groups were simply arguing against the latest excuse to ramp up fracking – and they can’t do much more than appeal to conscience. They certainly aren’t in a position to launch primary challenges or force other unpleasant consequences on Democrats. Meanwhile the fossil fuel industry – which, granted, doesn’t wield the fearsome clout inside the Beltway that, say, Friends of the Earth does – has managed to scrape together some meager resources to try to get its message out.
Since the Obama administration is a huge fracking cheerleader – Podesta reiterated that support – I can understand why activism against it is a sore spot. He also was careful to point out that the administration is finalizing plans to reduce methane emissions from fracking. Details to follow, um, later. Meanwhile, the existing dirty practices continue.
Presumably the EPA will be in charge of regulating methane, which doesn’t inspire much confidence considering that the EPA is currently being sued for failing to regulate methane. Podesta’s spiel boils down to a vague promise that eventually a captured agency will do something. In addition, we are to trust that – against all recent experience – the industry won’t dilute to meaninglessness any worthwhile proposal that somehow miraculously emerges.
Since this was a Politico story no pushback like that greeted Podesta, of course. He pretty much got the stenography treatment: An official said something and whether or not it has merit, it’s newsworthy. In a similar vein the article links to a piece with a headline trumpeting popular support of Keystone XL “(Also on POLITICO: Poll: 65 percent back Keystone),” support based largely and falsely on expected job creation. The fact that only 35 permanent full time jobs will be created by Keystone doesn’t reflect on the validity of the poll though. People said they liked it, with or without accurate information, so the result must be reported. Journalism, friends.


Work has been suspended to remove spent nuclear fuel from a storage pool [...] [TEPCO] said an accident occurred at around 9:30 AM on Wednesday when workers started removing fuel units at the No. 4 reactor building [...] a large crane used to hoist a cask containing 22 spent fuel units from the storage pool suddenly halted before lifting the cask. Workers were attaching a hook to the crane’s wire [...] The company says no rise in radiation levels have been observed around the pool. [...]

11.Hanford Workers sickened, hospitalized

Hanford workers sickened by unknown vapors rises to 17 — The KING 5 Investigators have found that six Hanford workers were sickened Wednesday from ingesting chemical vapors at the nuclear facility. [...] This brings the total to 17 Hanford employees who have needed medical care since last Wednesday due to the inhalation of toxic vapors. [...] “Data collection and analysis is underway in the affected (tank) farms to understand what happened and what might be done to reduce the likelihood of future occurrences,” said [Jerry Holloway, External Affairs Manager at U.S. Dept. of Energy’s contractor Washington River Protection Solutions]. [...] The incident Wednesday occurred in yet another location at the Hanford site [...] Sources tell the reporter 17 people were working on the video inspection when three were suddenly sickened by the release of vapors.

Mike Geffre, retired WRPS employee who spent 26 years at Hanford: “It’s pretty scary. It doesn’t usually happen like this. Usually you see four or five a year. But to have this many in eight days is really abnormal [...] Whenever you hear of someone getting tank vapors, you never know what the long term affects are. The affects of exposures like this can show up as health problems years down the road.”

KING 5 News transcript: The King 5 investigators learned that workers at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation have been rushed to the hospital. […] I was in Richland doing an interview on this very topic […] during that interview we got word from sources that right at that time that 3 more employees were either going to the hospital here or taken to the onsite medical facility at Hanford because of another such incident […] In those three separate incidents the workers were all at different locations at Hanford, so this isn’t just one problem area where they’re seeing a repeat problem. [...] Obviously, workers are concerned, feel there’s a problem here, and they want their employer and the Department of Energy to do something about it.

12. Hurricane landfill's MCHM permit 'dead'
By Ryan Quinn  Advertiser

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Waste Management's permit modification allowing it to dump MCHM-contaminated wastewater mixed with sawdust into a Hurricane landfill is "dead," a spokeswoman for the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection said Friday.

Kelley Gillenwater said Waste Management has changed its permit to deposit 700 tons of the material into its Disposal Services landfill in Putnam County. Waste Management changed the date from Oct. 1 to March 26, which was Wednesday, so the approval is now expired.

The company announced March 15 that it would stop dumping at the Hurricane site, following public backlash to the 36,000 to 40,000 gallons the company said it deposited from Feb. 25 to March 13.

However, Putnam County Commission President Steve Andes said he wanted the permit change rescinded so the company couldn't start dumping again.

On Monday, Putnam County and the city of Hurricane asked a Kanawha County circuit judge to force DEP Secretary Randy Huffman "to stop the permitting of the disposal of Crude MCHM-, PPH- and DiPPH-contaminated waste in the landfill.

Circuit Judge Paul Zakaib granted a preliminary injunction blocking the DEP from allowing Waste Management to dump the material, and he scheduled a hearing for Friday to determine whether to make the injunction permanent or not. However, when the DEP's lawyers told Zakaib at the hearing that the permit was now expired, the judge dismissed the case.

Putnam County Attorney Jennifer Scragg Karr wanted to proceed with the hearing, to explain why Waste Management should never have been granted a permit and set precedent "that they not be allowed to do this again with anyone else."

The judge said that wasn't necessary, though, because residents near the Hurricane landfill weren't affected anymore.

"We're concerned with the case of the plaintiffs here," Zakaib said, "not anybody else."

Friday's hearing was supposed to also deal with the county and city's request to force the DEP to compel the remediation of the chemicals already there. Hurricane City Manager Ben Newhouse said the city still wants it all removed.

Karr said the county will have to keep working on that issue, hopefully alongside Waste Management and out of court. If that doesn't work, she said, there could be another lawsuit in circuit or federal court.

Freedom Industries leaked the chemical into the Elk River on Jan. 9, fouling the water of about 300,000 West Virginians.

Diversified Services, the company Freedom hired to clean up the chemical, was depositing the material in the landfill. Hurricane and Putnam County officials complained that neither they nor the public were told the contaminated material would be stored in Putnam County, or that the landfill had applied for a permit modification to accept the material.

Andes said the city and county asked Huffman last week to void the permit, and said they would go to court if the agency did not comply. Gillenwater said minor permits do not require public notice -- and that Waste Management didn't violate the permit -- so the DEP didn't rescind it.

The city and county stated in their complaint that the local health officer for the Putnam and Kanawha-Charleston health departments has advised them that preliminary data "may demonstrate self-reported symptoms associated with inhaling" the chemicals. They state that they first learned about the chemical when residents began complaining about a licorice smell near the landfill.

"The said health officer also advises that the long-term human impact from inhalation of these chemicals is unknown at this time," officials said in their lawsuit. They also expressed concern about leachate coming from the material already in the landfill, adding that the DEP could not have found the landfill to have the means to "store or dispose of this contaminated waste for which no human toxicity tests have been performed to adequately ascertain the toxicity to human health."

The Hurricane landfill was the only site accepting the material, so officials aren't sure what will happen to the approximately 700,000 gallons of it the DEP says is now sitting in a tank at the Freedom Industries tank farm along the Elk River. Aluise said the site cleanup must ensure that MCHM doesn't get into waterways, so any rainwater or snow melt that runs across the site is being collected.

He said earlier this week that Freedom was negotiating with two industrial/commercial wastewater facilities in Ohio and one in North Carolina to take the wastewater.

Reach Ryan Quinn at or 304-348-1254. 

from UN
Water is the essence of life. Safe drinking water and sanitation are indispensable to sustain life and health, and fundamental to the dignity of all. 

In order to address this crisis, the international community has increasingly recognized that access to safe drinking water and sanitation must be considered within a human rights framework