Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for December 7th, 2012

“You can trust businesses”: Fracking division

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I will long remember a comment on this blog in which a reader informed me that we could trust businesses to do the right thing (presumably because the Invisible Hand of the market would slap them senseless if they didn’t). Yet, weirdly, businesses continue to do wrong things unless restrict by law and alert enforcement. Here’s an example, reported in the Guardian by James Gibson of how a North Dakota ranching family fared at the hands of businesses:

In 1979, Brenda and Richard Jorgenson built a split level home in the midst of a large ranch outside the tiny town of White Earth, North Dakota. Richard’s family is from the area – his grandfather started homesteading on the plains in 1915 – and the couple’s affinity for the area runs deep. They love the land they live on: the epic sky and seemingly endless grasses of the prairie, the White Earth River meandering through a tree-lined valley. For most of their lives the landscape of the region has been dominated by agriculture – wheat, alfalfa, oats, canola, flax, and corn. The Jorgensons always figured they would leave the property to their three children to pursue the same good life they have enjoyed.

Then the oil wells arrived. They began appearing in 2006, and within just a few years dominated the area landscape. Today at least 25 oil wells stand within two miles of the Jorgensons’ home, each with a pump, several storage tanks, and a tall flare burning the methane that comes out of the ground along with the petroleum.

Like most people in North Dakota, the Jorgensons only own the surface rights to their property, not the subsurface mineral rights. So there was nothing they could do when, in May 2010, a Dallas-based oil company, Petro-Hunt, installed a well pad on the Jorgensons’ farm, next to a beloved grove of Russian olive trees. First, heavy machinery brought in to build the well pad and dig a pit for drilling wastes took out some trees. Then the new hydrology created by the pad drained water away from the olives, while others became exposed to the well’s toxic fracking fluid. Some 80 trees were dead by the summer of 2011.

On February 2, 2012, drilling started on a second well even closer to the Jorgensons’ home. “The smell of ammonia permeated the house,” Brenda says, “and the yard was thick for quite a while too. The workers told us the smells came from corrosion inhibitors and biocide.” Indignant, Richard called Governor Jack Dalrymple’s office. A North Dakota health inspector arrived – but not until days later, after the drilling had stopped and trucks had left, and when neither of the Jorgensons were home. “We knew he’d come only because we found his card on our door,” Brenda says drily. She tried contacting the county to see if they could re-zone their land as industrial, which they hoped would lead to closer regulation. County employees referred her to the North Dakota Industrial Commission, which regulates oil drilling. When she got ahold of staffers at the industrial commission, she was told she needed to talk to the county.

The chemical trucks returned on February 9. Brenda emailed the governor’s office asking for air quality monitors. There was no response. That night, their seven-year-old granddaughter, Ashley, who lives on the same road less than a mile away, woke up screaming from a headache. On February 10, the governor’s office called, saying the governor would speak to the head of the Industrial Commission’s Department of Mineral Resources, Lynn Helms. Nothing happened. The fracking started on February 18. Brenda quit hanging out laundry to dry because the clothes smelled so bad and the air burned her nostrils.

Then, in August of 2012, the Jorgensons had their worst scare yet. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

7 December 2012 at 1:49 pm

Hono­lulu after Pearl Harbor: A report published for the first time, 71 years later

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Somewhat delayed, a report by Elizabeth McIntosh from December 14, 1941, published yesterday (for the first time) in the Washington Post:

On Dec. 7, 1941, when Japanese planes attacked Pearl Harbor, I was working as a reporter for the Hono­lulu Star-Bulletin. After a week of war, I wrote a story directed at Hawaii’s women; I thought it would be useful for them to know what I had seen. It might help prepare them for what lay ahead. But my editors thought the graphic content would be too upsetting for readers and decided not to run my article. It appears here for the first time.

For seven ghastly, confused days, we have been at war. To the women of Hawaii, it has meant a total disruption of home life, a sudden acclimation to blackout nights, terrifying rumors, fear of the unknown as planes drone overhead and lorries shriek through the streets.

The seven days may stretch to seven years, and the women of Hawaii will have to accept a new routine of living. It is time, now, after the initial confusion and terror have subsided, to sum up the events of the past week, to make plans for the future.

It would be well, perhaps, to review the events of the past seven days and not minimize the horror, to better prepare for what may come again.

I have a story to tell, as a reporter, that I think the women of Hawaii should hear. I tell it because I think it may help other women in the struggle, so they will not take the past events lightly.

I reported for work immediately on Sunday morning when the first news — Oahu is being attacked — crackled over the radio, sandwiched in a church program.

Like the rest of Hawaii, I refused to believe it. All along the sunny road to town were people just coming out of church, dogs lazy in the driveways, mynas in noisy convention.

Then, from the neighborhood called Punchbowl, I saw a formation of black planes diving straight into the ocean off Pearl Harbor. The blue sky was punctured with anti-aircraft smoke puffs. Suddenly, there was a sharp whistling sound, almost over my shoulder, and below, down on School Street. I saw a rooftop fly into the air like a pasteboard movie set.

For the first time, I felt that numb terror that all of London has known for months. It is the terror of not being able to do anything but fall on your stomach and hope the bomb won’t land on you. It’s the helplessness and terror of sudden visions of a ripping sensation in your back, shrapnel coursing through your chest, total blackness, maybe death.

The vision of death became reality when I was assigned to cover the emergency room of the hospital.

The first victims of the Japanese-American war were brought there on that bright Sunday morning.

Bombs were still dropping over the city as ambulances screamed off into the heart of the destruction. The drivers were blood-sodden when they returned, with stories of streets ripped up, houses burned, twisted shrapnel and charred bodies of children.

In the morgue, the bodies were laid on slabs in the grotesque positions in which they had died. Fear contorted their faces. Their clothes were blue-black from incendiary bombs. One little girl in a red sweater, barefoot, still clutched a piece of jump-rope in her hand.

Firefighters from the Hickam Air Force Base carried the victims in. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

7 December 2012 at 1:38 pm

Posted in Media, Military

The Atlantic lists top ten legal stories of the year

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Take a look. On marijuana legalization, three recent polls have found that a majority now believes that marijuana should be legal, with majorities of 54%, 57%, and 58%, depending on the poll.

Written by LeisureGuy

7 December 2012 at 1:25 pm

Posted in Law

The FCC doesn’t want transparency

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The FCC is failing in its responsibilities. See this report in ProPublica by Justin Elliott:

When the Federal Communications Commission passed a rule earlier this year to require TV stations to post political ad buying information online, public interest groups (and ProPublica) welcomed the policy as a means to get an unprecedented look at how billions of campaign dollars flow around the country.

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski called the rule a victory for transparency, saying the disclosure requirements are “part of the public’s basic contract with broadcasters in exchange for use of the spectrum and other benefits.”

But, in practice, attempts to create a full picture of political ad spending from the TV station files exposed deep flaws in the FCC’s effort as well as spotty compliance by the stations themselves.

“The reviews are abysmal,” says Campaign Legal Center Policy Director Meredith McGehee, who has been tracking the issue closely as a member of the Public Interest Public Airwaves Coalition.  “The information posted has not been as helpful as expected.”

Now, the commission is refusing to even talk about the future of its own transparency initiative.

The key to fulfilling the system’s potential is to require stations to submit political ad data in a consistent format making it actually sortable. Such a requirement would allow for a truly useful database that would show in unprecedented detail how ad money is spent in local, state, and federal campaigns. That was the recommendation of an FCC working group last year.

Speaking at a public forum in July, the head of the FCC office overseeing the rule, Bill Lake, called making such improvements the “long-term goal.”

But it’s not at all clear when, or if, that will happen.

We repeatedly asked commission officials about their plans for the site, but our interview requests were denied and FCC spokeswoman Janice Wise declined to comment.

When the Campaign Legal Center’s McGehee proposed to FCC staff during the campaign that the system should move in the direction of “a searchable, sortable, downloadable database … they looked at me like I was a wild-eyed Stalinist,” said McGehee, who still praised the FCC for getting its system up just a few months after finalizing the new regulation. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

7 December 2012 at 12:59 pm

GOP continues its efforts to rig elections

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The GOP is well-known for passing laws aimed at preventing Democratically inclined voters from being able to vote—indeed, the GOP party chairman in Florida admitted it. Now they have a new effort underway. (BTW, isn’t it time to retire the Electoral College?)

In September, top Pennsylvania Republicans shocked the nation by proposing a change to the state’s election rules that would have rigged the Electoral College in favor of Mitt Romney. Facing a nationwide backlash, the state’s GOP backed down—but not beforeWisconsin Republicans considered a similar plan. With the old rules still in place, President Barack Obama won a 332-206 electoral college victory over Romney.

But now that Romney has been defeated, prominent GOPers are once again mulling rule changes that could make it harder for Democrats to win the White House—and easier for Republicans to claim Electoral College votes in states where they lose the popular vote.

Remember, the presidential election isn’t a nationwide contest, it’s a state-by-state fight, with each state worth a certain number of electoral votes (the District of Columbia gets 3, too). There are 538 electoral votes total; if you win 270 or more, you’re headed to the White House—even, as George W. Bush can assure you, if you don’t win the popular vote. The Constitution allows each state to allocate electoral votes however it wants, but in every state except for Nebraska and Maine, the contest is winner-take-all. If you get the most votes in Pennsylvania, you get all of its electoral votes.

Republicans want to change that. On December 3, Dominic Pileggi, the powerful Republican majority leader of the Pennsylvania state Senate, announced that he plans to introduce legislation that would change how the state allocates its electoral votes. This shouldn’t be a surprise: Pileggi was one of the Pennsylvania politicians behind the pre-election plan to change Electoral College rules.

Before the election, Pileggi’s plan (backed by a mysterious dark-money group called All Votes Matter) was to allocate electoral votes by congressional district, with the winner of each district receiving one electoral vote and the statewide winner getting a two-electoral-vote bonus. That might not seem like a big deal. But Pennsylvania, like other blue states in the upper Midwest, was subjected to a very effective Republican gerrymander after the 2010 midterm elections. Republicans won 13 of its 18 districts in 2012, so if Pileggi’s pre-election plan had been in effect, Obama could have been awarded as few as 7 of Pennsylvania’s 20 electoral votes, despite winning the state.

Pileggi’s post-election scheme has a new twist. Instead of awarding electoral votes by congressional district, it would . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

7 December 2012 at 12:46 pm

Posted in Election, GOP, Government

Sounds like an excellent game for five or more

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It’s a Cool Tool and sounds like a lot of fun.

Written by LeisureGuy

7 December 2012 at 12:20 pm

Posted in Games

Mitch McConnell filibusters against his own proposal

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This is getting weird. Andrew Rosenthal describes in the NY Times the latest GOP idiocy:

Does the United States Senate actually serve any purpose these days beyond providing material for Jon Stewart? Apparently not under Senator Mitch McConnell, the Republican minority leader.

You may recall that after the election of the nation’s first African-American chief executive and commander in chief Mr. McConnell made it clear he planned to make Barack Obama a one-term president.

Obviously he failed at that, but he did turn the Senate into a mockery of a legislative body by using parliamentary rules written when Senators wore powdered wigs and brocaded coats. (At least they dressed better than the current ones.) Mr. McConnell and his Republican colleagues filibustered pretty much anything President Obama wanted, especially if it had to do with promoting economic recovery, making taxes fairer and putting the middle class back to work.

Virtually every matter, no matter how routine, requires 60 votes in the Senate, enough to overcome not just a filibuster or actually these days the mere threat of one.

Yesterday, Mr. McConnell filibustered his own bill.

Here’s how it happened: In the morning, Mr. McConnell went to Harry Reid, the Senate Majority Leader, and asked him to take a vote on a bill that would allow the president to raise the debt ceiling. That’s the artificial limit imposed by Congress on how much money the government may borrow to make good on past debt. (Please note here: “imposed by Congress” and “past debt.”)

Mr. McConnell’s clever plan was that the Democrats would not be able to muster a regular majority to pass the bill, thus proving to the world (or at least the 18 people who still have the patience to pay attention to Congress) that the Democrats don’t really want to end the pointless fight over the debt ceiling Mr. McConnell cooked up in 2011.

But Mr. Reid consulted with his caucus and found support for the bill, so he went to the floor, offered it and scheduled 20 minutes of debate before an up or down vote.

And that’s when Mr. McConnell may have made Senate history. He rose in objection to his own bill. “Matters of this level of controversy always require 60 votes,” he said. Using the Senate’s phony politesse, he added that he wanted “my friend, the majority leader, to make it 60 votes.”

Mr. Reid said no. “The republican leader objects to his own idea,” he said. “We have a filibuster of his own bill.”

Senator Dick Durbin, the Illinois Democrat who is the Majority Whip, was incredulous. “This may be a moment in Senate history, when a Senator made a proposal and when giving an opportunity for a vote on that proposal, filibustered his own proposal,” he said.

In a classic understatement, he added: “It really calls into question whether or not this was the kind of offer that would be considered to be good faith.” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

7 December 2012 at 12:19 pm

Posted in Congress, GOP, Government

This will be a stretch for Tom Cruise

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They are (finally) going to make a movie about Jack Reacher, protagonist of a series (17 so far) mysteries/thrillers by Lee Child, and Tom Cruise is to play the role of Reacher. This will be quite literally a stretch: Reacher is 6’5″ and Tom Cruise is… well, quite a bit short of that. Here’s the story in the NY Times, and it includes the reason why a Jack Reacher movie has not been previously made:

Mr. McQuarrie . . . knows his way around Hollywood and has a very simple explanation for why it took so long to get a Reacher film made. “There are no transforming robots,” he said in a telephone interview. “There is no paranormal activity.”

He added: “The problem is that Jack Reacher is not 22, and he doesn’t have superpowers. He appears in novels that are detective thrillers, and that’s a sort of movie they don’t make anymore. How do you market it?”

The story goes on to include Lee Child’s reasons a movie’s not heretofore been made.

Written by LeisureGuy

7 December 2012 at 11:50 am

Posted in Books, Movies & TV

Feds consider what to do about legal marijuana

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Alternet’s Lauren Kelly reports, including a link to an interesting NY Times story:

Since it became clear last month that recreational marijuana initiatives would pass in Colorado and Washington, the big question has been: Will the Feds come after these states?

Under federal law, recreational marijuana use is still illegal. But now that the American people (in two states, at least) have made it clear they support legal recreational marijuana use, the Feds have to make a choice about whether to lay down the law – the federal law, that is — or respect voters’ choices.

The New York Times had a story [3] yesterday about this issue. It noted that “the Obama administration has been holding high-level meetings since the election to debate the response of federal law enforcement agencies to the decriminalization efforts.”

Marijuana use in both states continues to be illegal under the federal Controlled Substances Act. One option is to sue the states on the grounds that any effort to regulate marijuana is pre-empted by federal law. Should the Justice Department prevail, it would raise the possibility of striking down the entire initiatives on the theory that voters would not have approved legalizing the drug without tight regulations and licensing similar to controls on hard alcohol.

Some law enforcement officials, alarmed at the prospect that marijuana users in both states could get used to flouting federal law openly, are said to be pushing for a stern response. But such a response would raise political complications for President Obama because marijuana legalization is popular among liberal Democrats who just turned out to re-elect him.

Indeed, legalizing marijuana for recreational use is popular among Democrats, but also among the majority of citizens as a whole in at least two states. It was controversial enough when the Feds were raiding medical weed facilities in California; just imagine the outcry if they try to go after full marijuana legalization that the citizens of Colorado and Washington voted for.

Meanwhile, legal marijuana advocates are waiting for the ruling to be handed down in the Americans for Safe Access v. DEA case, which went to the Federal Appeals Court back in October [4]. According to Americans for Safe Access, the case “is an appeal of the DEA’s rejection of a petition filed in 2002 seeking to change the placement of marijuana as a Schedule I drug per the Controlled Substances Act. Based on the scientific evidence, ASA and our fellow plaintiffs feel that it is simply untrue that cannabis is a drug with a ‘high potential for abuse’ and ‘without accepted medical use in treatment in the United States.’” The case represents [5] the first time in two decades that the science of medical marijuana has been considered by federal courts, and the ruling could have huge implications: The loser is expected to appeal to the Supreme Court, which could lead to huge changes in federal marijuana laws.

So will the Feds accept that the tide is turning? It looks like we’re about to find out.

Written by LeisureGuy

7 December 2012 at 11:42 am

Posted in Daily life

Indefinite Detention and the NDAA

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Cora Currier reports in ProPublica where we stand on the ability of the US government to lock up its citizens indefinitely with no charges being filed:

On Tuesday, the Senate passed the National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA, a yearly military spending bill.

Last year, the bill affirmed the U.S.’s authority to hold suspected terrorists indefinitely and without charges. The provision had generated plenty of controversy, particularly about whether U.S. citizens could be detained indefinitely.  This year, the Senate bill says that citizens can’t be detained in the U.S. – but concerns remain about the scope of detention powers.

We’ve taken a step back, run through the controversy, and laid out what’s new.

What does the law currently say about military detention?

Section 1021 of last year’s National Defense Authorization Act affirms the military’s ability under the law of war to detain people “without trial until the end of hostilities.”

It also says they can be tried at a military commission, transferred to another country or to “an alternative court” – leaving open the possibility of civilian trials.

Who can be detained?

Anyone who “planned, authorized, committed, or aided” the 9/11 attacks, or “harbored those responsible.” Also, anyone who been “part of or substantially supported” Al Qaeda, the Taliban, “or associated forces that are engaged in hostilities against the U.S. and its coalition partners.”

Does that include U.S. citizens?

Congress left that deliberately unspecified last year, essentially punting the issue to the courts.

The language in the bill didn’t outright permit or prohibit indefinite detention of U.S. citizens. The act stated that it wouldn’t affect “existing law or authorities relating to the detention of United States citizens, lawful resident aliens of the United States, or any other persons who are captured or arrested in the United States.”

But existing laws and authorities don’t actually give a definitive answer. There were cases involving U.S. citizens held by the military under President George W. Bush, but no precedents were established. The Supreme Court ruled only narrowly on the case of Yaser Hamdi, on the basis that he was captured on the battlefield in Afghanistan. (Hamdi was released and went to Saudi Arabia in 2004.)In a second case, Jose Padilla was transferred to a civilian court. (For more legal details, see these backgrounders from the blog Lawfare and the Congressional Research Service.)

In signing the bill last year, Obama said that his administration “will not authorize the indefinite military detention without trial of American citizens.” Critics were quick to point out that this was a non-binding policy, and that the law left the door open for future administrations to interpret it differently.

But this year’s bill fixed all this confusion, right?

Kind of. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

7 December 2012 at 11:05 am

Posted in Congress, Government, Law

An outrage, and harm to US citizens

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Paul Krugman has another good column in the NY Times, of which I’ll quote only the conclusion:

. . . So why aren’t we helping the unemployed? It’s not because we can’t afford it. Given those ultralow borrowing costs, plus the damage unemployment is doing to our economy and hence to the tax base, you can make a pretty good case that spending more to create jobs now would actually improve our long-run fiscal position.

Nor, I think, is it really ideology. Even Republicans, when opposing cuts in defense spending, immediately start talking about how such cuts would destroy jobs — and I’m sorry, but weaponized Keynesianism, the assertion that government spending creates jobs, but only if it goes to the military, doesn’t make sense.

No, in the end it’s hard to avoid concluding that it’s about class. Influential people in Washington aren’t worried about losing their jobs; by and large they don’t even know anyone who’s unemployed. The plight of the unemployed simply doesn’t loom large in their minds — and, of course, the unemployed don’t hire lobbyists or make big campaign contributions.

So the unemployment crisis goes on and on, even though we have both the knowledge and the means to solve it. It’s a vast tragedy — and it’s also an outrage.

Read the whole thing.

Written by LeisureGuy

7 December 2012 at 10:58 am

Posted in Congress, Daily life, Media

The new iKon and Wild Orange

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SOTD 7 Dec 2012

First, a wonderful morning lather from the Wild Orange shave stick, generated by my bone-handled High Mountain White Plisson (knot size: 12). I do like the QED shave sticks and will be using others soon. As you have observed, I’m on a shave-stick kick.

The new iKon is quite handsome: stainless steel, of course, with a satin finish. Somewhat unusual for recent iKon razors, it’s a symmetric design: a straight-bar razor on both sides (a comment not required for other makes of razors). One nice touch is that the head is slightly wider than normal, so that when you grasp the short ends of the head between thumb and forefinger, you don’t feel the blade at all—but it’s done to a nicety, so that when the head is removed from the handle, and the baseplate from the head, it’s quite easy to grasp the ends of the blade to remove it. Very nice.

I used a Lord Super Platinum blade, just for a change. I’m not sure it’s the right blade for me in terms of cutting ease, but I did end up with a BBS shave, so who’s to complain? I really liked the feel and balance of the razor and look forward to using it again tomorrow, but with a different blade.

I have a sample of Saint Charles Shave Bulgarian Rose with Lemon aftershave, and it’s a delight. I chose it on a citrus theme, and I like it a lot.

Great way to start the day.

Written by LeisureGuy

7 December 2012 at 9:20 am

Posted in Shaving

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