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 
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