Bob Norris

Monkeywrenching Elections

Recalls solely because of votes on one issue are an abuse of the system. We have elections to reject candidates that we do not agree with. Almost every legislator has voted against majority public opinion at least once. Gun legislation is supported by the majority of the public nationwide as reported in Monday’s Times-Call and a poll by the conservative Wall Street Journal.

The writer claims that he wants legislators to vote their constituents’ point of view. If this is what the recall supporters wanted, they would not have gone to court to eliminate mail-in ballots. If mail-in ballots were used, the turnout would not have been greater and the outcome likely would have been different. To have public views dominate, you must have as many voters participate as possible.

The writer complained about outside money from Michael Bloomberg. To be fair, he should have recognized the money from the NRA, which can in large part be traced back to gun manufacturers and NRA members from around the country. A visit to Pueblo would have shown trucks with enormous amount of anti-gun law materials, camped in front of big box stores.

The discussion over gun control and gun rights needs to be balanced. I admit that my thinking is somewhat biased because my cousin was murdered by a person with a handgun. As the parent of a deceased son, I am torn with every death of a child.

In the past, the NRA has supported background checks. Why laws that require background checks at stores but not at gun shows? That combination is worse than useless, as it gives the impression that something has been done.

Responsible gun advocates, of whom there are many, talk about keeping guns away from the mentally ill and convicted criminals. How do you do this without background checks that are effective?

There are many responsible gun owners. Their cause can be helped by increasing efforts to have other gun owners train for safety and keep their firearms where children and unstable individuals cannot access them.

I discount claims that gun owners will have their guns taken away even if the carnage continues to increase. Most law enforcement personnel would not participate. Despite my angst around the proliferation of guns that seem to serve little purpose for community members, I do not support taking legitimate guns away from individuals other than from those who commit crimes using a firearm.

As far as promoting recalls for legislators who vote in opposition to their constituents, I assume that is for issues where the majority of constituents have views, if not strongly held convictions, in opposition to a legislator’s vote on any given issue. That will often lead to a situation where the legislator has voted at times with public opinion and times against.

If we want to recall elected legislators, we can start with Rep. Cory Gardner. Cory voted to shut down the government a few months back. He just this month voted against the strongly supported budget compromise. These are not widely popular votes, especially for those who were financially hurt by the shutdown. To quote House Speaker John Boehner, whose remarks were aimed at tea party congressmen such as Mr. Gardner: “Are you kidding me?”

It appears that Mr. Gardner is also opposed to a path to citizenship for undocumented residents, which the majority of U.S. voters support. We are not sure, because he and his staff are not providing definitive answers and he has not been consistent about his position.

If, as I surmise, Colorado voters are more worried about disenfranchising tens of thousands of voters in order to find a handful of people voting when they are not entitled to (extremely small examples of voter fraud have been documented in all states that have passed or tried to pass voter suppression laws), then should Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler be recalled?

What about hydraulic fracturing? Should an elected official be recalled if she/he votes in opposition to public desires? Of course that depends on which city or county you live in or whether wells are located close to your home. This could lead to some legislators being recalled for supporting fracking bans and other for opposing fracking bans. In any case, I would be more apt to recall legislators who are not being truthful about this or any other issue.

Deadbeat Bosses

Deadbeats in suits.

Deadbeat bosses rip off low-wage earners with impunity.

Imagine what would happen if you did not have much or any savings and your employer failed to pay you for two weeks or longer as happens all too often. What if you could not buy food for your family? What if you missed your rent or payment on your car? People have lost their lease and ended up homeless. Because low wage earners have more than an even chance of not getting their full pay once a year, this is reality for tens of thousands of people in Colorado.

Failure to bring home the paycheck you deserve can cause family tensions. Where is our money? Why do you keep working for that person? It is an insult to hardworking people not to get paid.

Unscrupulous employers have made a covenant either in writing or verbal to pay for what they received, somebody’s time and efforts. The employer has benefited. There are consequences if we do not pay our bills. Your electricity could be shut off; your car could be repossessed; your credit rating could be affected; etc. Currently it is far too easy for unscrupulous employers to steal money from their workers with little chance of recourse.

It is not good for honest employers who face unfair competition. Workers not paid fairly have less money to spend in the local economy. Sales tax collections are negatively impacted. In New York, it is estimated that $427 million in state revenues are lost annually as a consequence of widespread wage theft. Public assistance agencies and nonprofits have a greater burden.

It is upsetting that the problem is so widespread and yet few people know about it. In the U.S., workers lose $19 billion every year. In some locations, 50 percent of restaurants, 74 percent of daycare centers, 50 percent of nursing homes, and 30 percent of hotels and motels violate labor laws. These include failure to pay at all, often for several weeks; not paying over time; not providing lunch or other required breaks; and misclassification (treating a worker like an employee and paying them like a contractor to avoid paying into Social Security and Medicare.)

In Longmont, we have seen complaints from workers at a dairy, a gym, a landscaping company, a bakery and many other businesses. El Comite has a few hundred clients every year come in for help. City of Longmont staff also receives numerous requests for help. Sometimes a phone call to the employer results in payment. If not, the odds of a worker getting paid are dismal.

Surely there are laws that protect workers who have had their wages stolen. Well, actually, for the most part no. Wage theft is not covered under theft of services, so there are no enforceable criminal penalties. Victims can go to small claims court, but few have the time or understanding of procedures to do this. They can hire a lawyer, but that cost is typically more than the unpaid wages. Worse than this, it is possible for the judge to award costs to the employer if the employee loses the case. While there are provisions for the employee to receive money above the actual lost wages, it is necessary to provide the employer with a letter within 60 days of the offense. Few employees know this, and frequent abusers know how to make promises of payment that are never fulfilled and thus the 60-day option is lost.

They can appeal to the U.S. Department of Labor, but they are understaffed (about 1,000 workers for 7 million workplaces) for this and only respond if the employer takes in more than $500,000 a year. (Some big box stores with a presence in Longmont have been guilty.) The Colorado Department of Labor (CDLE) is similarly understaffed, 5,200 claims for a handful of staff to handle along with the other 30,000 calls for other issues. Worse yet, the employer does not have to respond to CDLE, and frequent abusers know this.

Currently, it is much more likely that you will be prosecuted for shoplifting a piece of clothing than if you steal money from a worker and take food off their family’s table or cause them to be homeless.

The 2014 legislative session will be the third year when an attempt will be made to make some changes to Colorado law so that workers will receive a better chance for justice. Currently, FRESC, Centro Humanitario, the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition, 9 to 5, El Comite, the PELA, and others are working in several ways to help workers deprived of their earned wages.

Bob Norris is a member of the El Comite Advocacy Committee.

Finding homes is the next difficult task

Photo by M. Douglas Wray

The emergency’s over, now comes the really hard part.

It has been inspiring that so many nonprofits, churches, individuals and city/county staff and departments stepped up to help flood victims. The real challenges come ahead of us when funds run low and most residents return to normal life.

Normal life is not possible in the immediate future for many, and the solutions to their problems are not going to be easy. Housing has been a challenging issue before the flood and is now a huge problem. Finding a home to rent is proving difficult for those who have the financial resources. For low-income families, it is an almost unimaginable challenge — a challenge made worse by the continuing disparity in income and wealth and widespread underpayment of wages.

Maybe not a great solution, but what about the infamous FEMA trailers that we heard about after Katrina?

The city is looking at buying the property where the Royal Trailer Park was located. We certainly do not want to place low-income or any families in harm’s way. Trailer parks have been an option that has worked for many. Might the city consider trading some open space property for the Royal Trailer Park property?

Are the large chain hotels/motels willing to provide some free rooms for several months?

Adding to the problem is the shutdown of the government, which will reduce incomes and purchasing power of some of our residents and reduce sales tax collections as well as business at most stores. The various types of help that Congressional and Senate offices provide will not be available. It appears that much-needed work on roads conducted by National Guard members might not paid for by the federal government.

One lesson from the flood is that we do need to support the housing and human services nonprofits.

Current economy: unsustainable, unreasonable, unfair

Mind those teeth...

Mind those teeth…

To paraphrase: It is hard to drain the swamp when you are up to your waist in alligators. Much of what we try to address will not in the end be successful unless we deal with root causes. We need to beat off the alligators but this will never end unless we drain the swamp.

Income and wealth disparities have been growing at an alarming rate. Many, including some in Congress, speak out against food stamps and other assistance for the poor (Cory Gardner just voted to discontinue funding food stamps). If workers were paid a living wage, wages were not routinely stolen from workers and corporations would not trim costs by cutting workers, expecting remaining salaried workers to make up the slack, while paying hugely inappropriate salaries and bonuses to top management and board members, there would be less need for assistance.

Eventually, the huge and increasing disparity in earnings and wealth will come back to bite the corporations. Low pay results in less purchasing power for many millions. This reduces sales tax collection, also hurting local governments. Low pay leads to poverty and homelessness. It leads to discouraged portions of the populations. Unemployment among the young leads to crime.

The same people who voted down food stamps and other food assistance while funding large agriculture support tax breaks to big oil at a time when big oil is making incredible profits, while denying small incremental financial support for renewable energy, also brought us Citizens United. The same party continues, in the face of Supreme Court rulings to the contrary, with attempts to make it less likely that minorities, the elderly and some rural citizens will be able to vote (Scott Gessler continues to mislead us on the number of non-citizens voting while proposing to make it more difficult for thousands of citizens to vote.)

The Republican Party should be just as worried as the Democrat Party about Citizens United. Recently the Chinese government offered to buy a large U.S. food processing company. The press talks about worries that the Chinese will reduce food safety. The real concern is that as an owner of a U.S. corporation, the Chinese government will be able to support candidates of their choosing and influence elections and thus laws without having to disclose their hand in this misguided gift from the Bush court.

Historically the robber barons, mining companies, large manufactures, etc., mistreated employees and developed monopolies. Thanks to unions and an informed public, the worst of these abuses were stopped. Unfortunately, income and wage disparity has become a huge crisis. The very wealthy control too much of the wealth and thus power. Greed runs rampant. Every effort seems to be made to receive bigger and bigger portions of the pie at the expense of the many, first the poor and now the middle class. Even athletes and other entertainers fight for obscene salaries while educators, law enforcement and medical professions fall back in real buying power.

Gone are the days when a single salary could provide a comfortable lifestyle. It is not a bad thing that talented people can make more than an average earning, but when taken to an extreme this is not in the interest of collective society. Very high salaries come at the expense of poorly paid workers, workers who need two jobs even with a working spouse to make ends meet.

Too much money from relatively few sources influences elections in a way that defeats the concept of one person one vote. Politicians are frequently unduly influenced by large contributors and special interests group such as big oil, pharmaceuticals and the NRA. These groups spend huge amounts on lobbyists. We have legislators in Washington, D.C., who fight for weapons that the military says its doesn’t need and doesn’t want. We allow pharmaceutical companies to practice “Pay for Delay,” whereby they pay other companies to not produce and sell generics at a lower price. We pay, insurance companies pay and Medicare pays more. This also goes against the basic tenants of patent law.

This is not about a liberal agenda. This is about a better America. It is about living up to our values. It is about long-term sustainability of our economic system. Look around at the unrest in other countries. While there are several reasons for unrest, a good deal of the energy comes from disparity in wealth that leaves many with bare subsistence and little hope for anything better for them or their children.

U.S. checkered immigration history

The U.S. is a land of immigrants, a common saying. Our treatment of immigrants has not always been one we can be proud of, beginning with mostly northern Europeans entering lands populated by a native or indigenous people. Through disease, wars, and policy that population has been decimated and still suffers oppression.

Following independence from England the U.S. purchased lands taken from the indigenous population by Spain, and annexed 55 percent of Mexico following a war. Indigenous people who had crossed the man-made border between the U.S. and Mexico for centuries were eventually not permitted to cross that border.

Various populations were excluded after providing much-needed labor. After building the transcontinental railroad Chinese immigrants were barred from entering the U.S. (Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882). Between 1943 and 1964 the Bracero Program bought in more than 5 million temporary workers. In 1954 Operation Wetback targeted Mexican American communities with nearly 4 million deported, including some U.S. citizens of Mexican descent.

A common practice has been the utilization of Asians and Latinos as a labor commodity rather than as people. (For a local flavor, see “White Gold Labors” by Jody Lopez and Gabriel Lopez, a documentation of the abuse of laborers brought to Greeley to harvest the sugar beet crop.) When the labor is no longer valued, people, including families, are deported.

The immigration situation has never been no more complicated than it is today. For many years the southern border was alternately open and largely closed. When labor was needed in fields and orchards, workers, mostly men, entered with a wink and nod by border enforcement. These workers tended to work for the same farm or orchard year after year, returning home after the harvest season. As the border became more challenging and more dangerous, workers stayed. Some with green cards failed to renew their status or simply overstayed.

Because we have not matched work visas with labor demand, we have many undocumented people here to fill a need. As we saw in some states, tough anti-immigrant laws resulted in large portions of crops rotting in the fields.

Over the years many immigrants brought their children with them or had children here, sometimes with U.S. citizens as the other parent. As we “got tough” on undocumented immigrants we began to deport a large number of people.

Unlike the stated policies of the White House and Department of Homeland Security, many of the deported have nothing other than a minor traffic violation in addition to illegal entry. A very significant number of those deported are parents and breadwinners. Their departure causes huge hardships on those left behind. As a result of the recession here and improving economy in Mexico, a greater percent of those trying to enter (re-enter) are doing so for family reunification.

At the same time the U.S. beefed up border security, spending billions of dollars, cutting through properties of U.S. citizens and creating the largest policing force in the country. The “fence” has been extended farther and farther away from populous centers. What used to require one or two days walking in the desert is now a brutal four-day walk. In 2012 in the Tucson Sector alone, 300 bodies (estimated to be a small fraction of the total deaths) were found. These bodies are those of brothers, daughters, mothers, aunts, grandparents, etc. Their death is not just their death but the loss of someone very important in the lives of those in the U.S. or in their home country.

Many Border Patrol agents are compassionate and rescue as well as capture immigrants in the desert. However, videos document border patrol agents breaking water bottles left out to save lives (killing is not the answer) and treating immigrants inhumanely such as making them walk barefoot. The most egregious examples on film are the beating of a man in Nogales and the shooting of an unarmed teenager who was in the Mexican town of Nogales.

Those of us who participated in the Migrant Trail, a 75-mile, seven-day walk from Sasabe, Mexico, to Tucson watched a film (“The Undocumented”) that showed the finding of bodies, the autopsies and the efforts to let families know the tragic ends of their relatives. We carried crosses with the names of the deceased and called out their names. If we did not relate to the terrible conditions at the border before we walked, we did afterward.

Change: It comes from the bottom up

The deaths in Connecticut brought back the pain many of us have experienced after the death of a child. How much more is that pain when not only your child died but also the children of many of your friends and friends of your children? Those of us who have lost more than one relative to gun violence are sensitized to these violent events.

The responses to this and similar events have raised broader issues.

 

We the PeopleShould large corporations, organizations and people with large amounts of money be able to have more influence than individuals? Should partisan efforts be allowed to limit which U.S. citizens can actually vote? Can we get to the point where people with differing views stop talking past each other? Even within groups of largely like-minded individuals, there is too often disrespect for opposite views on specific issues.

The various responses to mass killings tell a lot about our society. I understand why many people want to own guns. The NRA’s callous response and the repetition of trite slogans have not helped at all. The NRA once supported a ban on assault weapons. Comments about not arming mental health patients, while appropriate, will not be effective. In Connecticut and New York, the weapons were bought by other people. There seems to be a fear that banning assault weapons or large magazines will be a step to ban all firearms. This is an unrealistic concern. The Arizona sheriff recruiting 500 armed volunteers to patrol around schools is much different from having trained and seasoned law enforcement officers, who have even recently killed bystanders. An effective solution requires listening to all positions.

As discussed in the Jan. 2 guest opinion by Gordon Pedrow, big money institutions have the ability to frequently negatively impact all of us, with practical impunity for those running these companies.

Several years ago the CEOs of the largest tobacco companies and large petroleum companies clearly lied to Congress. (Congress does, however, pursue athletes for lying.) Listen to the ads from the American Petroleum Institute and the natural gas industry. When they do not lie, they omit important information.

The banks and mortgage companies allowed home loans to be made that were guaranteed to fail then passed the cost on to others and eventually the taxpayers. Several banks have just agreed to pay billions of dollars for closing on homes that they did not hold the mortgage on or whose owners were not behind on payments.

Wall Street and insurance companies created risky investments whose risks were not always identified. Individual investors and taxpayers paid the cost. A few banks aided the drug cartels by laundering their illegally obtained money and indirectly supported numerous murders. No individuals or banks were charged with criminal behavior.

Thanks to the Supreme Court, large corporations, including those controlled from other countries including China, can now try to buy elections. Large corporations with lots of money, as well as very wealthy individuals, have entirely too much influence in Congress. It is hard to believe that votes that go against the interest of the residents of this country are not directly or indirectly influenced by big money interests.

How you steal and how much you steal is important. If you steal enough money you can afford the very best legal representation. As Mr. Pedrow so aptly pointed out, the very largest companies and their CEOs/board of directors cannot be punished enough to discourage bad behavior.

Try not fully paying your employees (an all-too-common practice) and you will not face any serious consequence other than paying the employee what they are owed, with a small penalty. However, the odds greatly favor that the result will be that the employee and her family will never see all or even any of what they worked for. (By the way, they will not be able to spend that missing money at local businesses including sales tax.)

These endemic problems are all too obvious. The solution is not. There are some things we can do. We can look at where candidates are getting their support from. We can learn who makes direct sizable donations and who is contributing to their PACs — oops, we cannot do that. Too bad. We can look at the behavior of the large banks and other companies to choose where we do business. If they have paid a fine, they are probably still behaving badly.

Collectively we can promote change.

Lessons to Be Learned

I think one of the factors in passing Initiative 300 to ban fracking is that many in Longmont are tired of having out-of-town big businesses spending large sums of money to influence Longmont issues. This would not have been so bad had the oil and gas interests made any attempt to provide pros and cons and state their positions and the reasons for their position. Instead, just like the telecom industry on the fiber optics issues, glossy fliers inundated our mailboxes with very little truth.

Certainly there are many things to consider in a complex issue. The oil and gas industry, in the fliers they mailed, and by their compliance, the seven former mayors, failed to take seriously the considerations of the community. No mention of lost property values and quality of life. These cannot be denied. One council person said it affects only a few people, something like a tax paid by the few and the unwilling. I don’t think that is how we should support our neighbors.

It remains a question as to whether the former mayors just signed on without a chance to vet the fliers or whether they agreed with everything that was contained in each flier. I do not have a problem with former mayors or city managers joining in the debate as long as misinformation is not part of the discussion.

The argument that the fracking process has not caused any contamination or harm to people is totally misleading. Contamination has occurred right here in Longmont. It is a distinction without a difference. Whether the contamination occurred because of deep underground activity or at the surface does not change the pertinent facts. Any industrial process is prone to mishaps. Having the mishap occur next to homes of schools is not acceptable.

Benzene exposure may not be any greater than that encountered at a service station, but we all should have the right not to be exposed by the actions of others. What is a real concern is the undisclosed other chemicals. While some companies are willing to disclose, most are not or only under very limited circumstances. My guess is that no one knows the toxicity of many of these chemicals and certainly not the toxicity of the mixtures. This is already an issue with Longmont water and other water departments when they try to plan for response to a release that affects our water. You cannot plan to treat chemicals whose identity you do not know.

I am glad Longmont stood up on principle. It is a principle the 81 other communities that have objected to fracking in their communities should also stand up for. Personally, I believe fracking can be a viable process when done correctly and in appropriate locations. Accidents will happen, but strong precautions are needed and easily afforded by this extremely profitable industry. We must insist that Oil and Gas Conservation Commission act in a responsible manner that makes decisions in the interest of all Colorado residents.

It was particularly grievous that threats of increasingly large dollar amounts were presented for loss of mineral rights and used at the last minute as a scare tactic. Nowhere was the loss of surface value and property values discussed. Nowhere was it mentioned that some families would be unable to move because they could not get enough money for their homes to buy an equivalent house somewhere else. It was also not lost on many of us that none of the former mayors, the governor, members of the Oil and Gas Commission, or drilling companies management volunteered to live near a fracking site.

Maybe there is a lesson somewhere in this. If you want to gain public support, be straightforward and discuss pros and cons. Do not tell mistruths or half-truths. Then you may have a better chance of gaining the outcome you desire. This should also apply to commercials for and against candidates. Are we teaching our young that telling lies to get a desired outcome is acceptable?

There are maybe other lessons to be learned from this year’s elections. In a large number of elections, money did not win the election, but it did smear the democratic process. Unfortunately this money was used to smear candidates and mislead voters and non-voters alike. I saw in this paper a few days ago that it is illegal in Colorado to provide false information to influence the outcome of initiatives, and I assume, selection of candidates.

Bob Norris has lived in Longmont since 2000. He has spent 30 years as an environmental consultant and a long time ago did research on hydraulic fracking leading to two U.S. patents.

One person, one vote

Open, transparent, fair and just Elections?

Voter suppression always hurts those that need the vote the most.

One person, one vote. We all learned that in school. Then we learned that initially it applied only to white male landowners. It took amendments to the Constitution to get non-whites and women the right to vote. Those rights took years and much effort to secure. Now some in this country are trying to limit these rights, claiming they are combating voter fraud. Laws have been passed in many states that require picture IDs to vote. Study after study in state after state has failed to identify a significant number of cases of voter fraud. Instead, large numbers of legitimate voters will be disenfranchised.

These laws have a consequence. People of color, the elderly and poor, especially rural poor, are less likely to be able to obtain picture IDs because they cannot get or have difficulty getting birth certificates or other documents. Courts have ruled these voter suppression efforts to be illegal because they disproportionately affect minorities.

People are losing a right that we hold so dear, a right protected by the many who have served in the military, many of whom lost their lives. Take the case of Viviette Applewhite, a 93-year-old U.S. citizen who has voted in nearly every election since 1960. She lost her birth certificate and Social Security card when her purse was stolen. A new law in Pennsylvania denied her right to vote. She has filed a lawsuit, which is pending. She finally received a replacement birth certificate but will need to visit a Social Security office in her wheelchair. Not everyone who is denied their right to vote will be able to obtain the needed documents. Many were not issued a state birth certificate, including those born at home with the assistance of a midwife.

Certainly many will be discouraged and not willing to make the extra effort. But is this unfortunate consequence of disenfranchising these particular groups of underserved people an accident? I don’t believe so. These laws are introduced by Republican legislators and passed by Republican-controlled legislatures. The affected people are less likely to vote for Republicans.

One person, one vote. Should it not mean that we all have the same ability to influence who is elected and what laws are passed? We are rapidly moving away from anything that looks like this.

Money plays a large role in elections. Every campaign for public office takes increasingly large amounts of money. While the best-funded campaign does not always win, having a large campaign treasure chest is a huge advantage.

It is bad enough that individual candidate supporters can contribute large amounts to campaigns, because these large donations are likely to influence how winning candidates vote on legislation. Minimally, they provide great access.

It is abundantly clear that large investments in candidates by interest groups influence legislation. Now, thanks to the Citizens United decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, corporations have the same rights as citizens to contribute to PACs that support or oppose candidates. Corporations can spend huge amounts of money and gain huge amounts of influence. These donations are not required to be made public. Stockholders don’t have the right to know how their money is being spent.

Now we have two problems: disenfranchised voters and unequal opportunity to influence laws. Republicans support the Citizen United decision. Why? It appears to be because corporations largely support Republican candidates who are then expected to vote “correctly.” Many Democrats also benefit from PACs.

Should we care? Damn right! Republicans have consistently opposed regulation of business. While it is true that overregulation can be bad for business, and thus the economy and the rest of us, lack of appropriate regulation has led to scandals at the large banks, insurance companies, mortgage companies and Wall Street companies. Abuses have hurt all of us. The real estate, banking and Wall Street crises are the prime reasons for the recession. Even after those debacles we still have the greedy and loosely regulated fools behaving badly.

Publicly funded state and local elections have worked well in a few states. It is time to take personal and corporate money out of the process of electing those who are supposed to represent us and make laws in the public interest.

Balance needed

U.S. National Archives’ Local Identifier: 412-DA-3630

Oil Seepage in Pond (Foreground), Olin-Mathieson Plant in Background 1972

Most of us take a pretty one sided view of many issues.  A balanced view should be better.

Where is the balance with respect to hydraulic fracking.?  On the one hand we as a nation (and world) are a consumer of fossil fuels and will continue to be until alternate energy sources combined with greater efficiency meets our needs.  On the other hand there are risks associated with this process.  The risks are largely encountered by one group of people while very significant profits are realized by a much smaller group.

Drilling and production of oil and gas has increased dramatically over the last few years.  Currently we both import oil and export refined products.  There are advantages to not importing oil, especially from countries with limited stability.

What are the facts?  The oil and gas representatives that support hydraulic fracking appear to have either avoided some information or intentionally been misleading.

Claims that there has not been a single case of ground water contamination from hydraulic fracking are misleading.  There are several examples where groundwater has been contaminated from the necessary activities that are always associated with the process.  Where groundwater has been contaminated, the distinction is not important.

It is often stated that fracking chemicals are only 0.5 percent of the injected fluid.  This appears to be deliberately misleading.  The risk is a product of the inherent toxicity and concentration of the compound, and exposure (for example amount of water consumed over what period of time).   A concentration of 0.5 percent is 5,000 parts per million (ppm) or 5,000,000 parts per billions (ppb).  The maximum concentration limit (MCL) for benzene in groundwater set by the US EPA is 5 ppb.  We do not know the toxicity of many of the fracking chemicals, or even what they are and it may be that toxicity has not been determined for many of them.  Furthermore, the risk of a mixture may be even greater.

An article in the Times-Call claimed there was no problem because benzene and propane were well below the levels for a 10 hour exposure.  While propane has low toxicity it is ludicrous to talk about a 10 hour exposure rather than a longer term exposure.

Benzene, is a carcinogen as might be other compounds in the fracking fluid.  There is no threshold limit for carcinogens.

The proponents of hydraulic fracking have not in my experience acknowledged the disruption of the lives of families living close to the drilling sites – or the impact on schools for that matter.  Decreased home values are another problem.

It is difficult for most of us to believe what we are being told when so many obviously misleading statements have been made.

The argument has been made that the fracking industry would be challenged to operate under a different set of rules in each community and thus the need for state control.  Of course many housing contractors do operate in a number of communities with differences in construction code.  But if you do allow for some benefit for uniformity, that does not negate the need for communities to protect their own citizens, real-estate values, and schools when state organizations do not.

The state group controlling fracking (Colorado Oil and Gas Commission) has historically been largely controlled by oil and gas interests.  As a result, it is hard to see how that group will not focus on profits over other considerations.  It does not appear to me and many others that  the need for energy sources and profits has been fairly balanced with the health, safety and welfare of the residents of the communities being impacted.

We are now producing more refined fuels than we need and are exporting record amounts helping the balance of trade.  Concern has been raised that the US is likely to have insufficient storage capacity for natural gas by the end of the year.  Then why the need for drilling close to homes and schools?  Why not limit fracking to less hazardous locations including those with minimal potential for groundwater impact?

Why indeed!  Oil companies realized profits in the tens of millions of dollars. The “realized” pay for the CEO of Exxon/Mobile for 2011 was 24.6 million dollars or three times that in 2009 and four times that in 2006.  By how much has your pay increased over this time? By what factor is his pay greater than yours?   CEO pay should be higher than that for most people, but by how much?  Where is the balance?

Bob Norris
Longmont

Bob has lived in Longmont since 2000 and has been active in community issues including having served on the Longmont Board of Environmental Affairs.

Cory Gardner’s narrow view of “freedom”

Cory Gardner’s recent guest opinion piece [in the Times-Call] displays a very narrow view of freedom. We are very fortunate in this country to have the right to vote and (mostly) free speech, as well as many other rights. We do not all have the same ability to share our views.

Free speech and equal speech are not the same things and the increasing difference is alarming. The Supreme Court ruled in the Citizens United case that money equals free speech. Now corporations can spend as much as they want to influence public opinion and elections. You and I do not have the same voice as corporations. Even stockholders have no say in what views corporations expound.

It is hard to feel completely free when comparably few people pump large sums of money into misleading advertisements to influence elections and referendums (Comcast). It would be a little bit more palatable if there wasn’t so much misinformation and mud slinging in paid political advertisements.

These same forces have resulted in the average CEO’s wages increasing by 20 percent over the last year to over $10 million per year and as high as $85 million while the average wage of the middle class increased by about 0.5 percent. The same forces have resulted in tax loopholes for corporations.

Corporations, banks, and Wall Street have the freedom to make some very bad decisions. If these only hurt them, that would be one thing, but their behaviors have badly hurt almost everyone but their executives who supported the bad decisions.

It is hard to feel free when you have been unemployed for a long time. Corporations that are hoarding over 2 trillion dollars are at the same time paying enormous salaries and bonuses to top executives rather than investing in jobs. Do they not understand that in the long run, they need unemployment to shrink?

It is hard to feel completely free when it is increasingly difficult to support your family and provide adequate access to health care. Too many people can not access health care even though they work two or more jobs. It is increasingly hard to feel totally free when you or a family member is seriously ill and you can not get the health care you need.

Mr. Gardner’s support of reform to Medicare addresses a real problem. Much of our health care dollars go to insurance companies that all too often deny coverage. He supports giving money to individuals to buy health care insurance rather than the current system. Who will benefit from a plan that provides future Medicare recipients money to enrich health insurance companies?

If you were brought to this country as an infant or small child without proper paper work, it is hard to feel free when as you get older you can not get a driver’s license, can not work legally, and can not afford college. It is hard to feel free when at anytime a family member can be deported at any time. It is hard to feel free when a parent or spouse is in detention and ICE makes if difficult to find out where that person is. It is hard to feel free when parents are taken at public celebrations such as the Strawberry festival in western Colorado.

It is hard to feel free when you come to the US on a H2A visa to do work in the farm fields, landscape industry, etc. and can only work for one employer. Too often some employers mistreat visa holders, with hold pay, and then tell the worker that if they complain that will call Homeland Security and have them sent home.

Farmers depend on labor to harvest their crops. Even in this economy they can not get US citizens and other documented workers to do this back breaking work. In Georgia the recent anti immigrant laws have deprived farmers of over 20,000 needed workers and as a result they will not be able to harvest all their crops. How free do these farmers feel?

We need to address these issues for the good of all. In the mean time we need to enjoy the freedoms that we do have, such as the freedom of religion separated from government at all levels, freedom to associate with whom we wish, freedom to work for the changes we want while working to protect those things that we cherish.

These views are entirely my own and not those of any agency or group to which I belong.

Shed no tears for Big Oil

Our financial challenges can not be solved by government alone. In response to very high gasoline and diesel prices, the president is talking about more drilling for oil and opening up areas to drilling that could lead to environmental chaos. Any impact on oil prices would not incur for a long time and does nothing for the large increases in energy demand in China and India.

Oil production in the US has the benefit of reducing our dependence on other countries. On the other hand, oil that remains in the ground is something of a long term investment. The longer we wait to produce our own oil (ours, not big oil’s) the more valuable it will be when we do.

Much of the talk about oil prices has ignored what was presented in an article in the May 15 Times-Call; “Speculation explains oil price hikes”. Speculators have had a large impact in the market place and thus on prices. An increasing percentages of oil is “purchased for resale” by speculators. They buy and sell oil and make hundreds of billions of dollars. Their dollars come from you when you fill up. These speculators are the Wall Street companies and big banks that were central to the market fall and current recession. Speculators purchase about 70 percent of produced oil. Speculators provide a useful service to a point. At 30 percent or less of the produced oil, it apparently does not allow for bilking the rest of us so easily. While this is not the whole story around oil prices and the value of the dollar has a significant impact, it is absolutely not irresponsible to talk about this contribution to oil prices, inflation, and impact on the poor.

Big oil has benefited from this unbalanced market place. So have some foreign countries that do not have our interests at heart (we don’t like it so much when the shoe is on the other foot.) Republicans and Democrats are now arguing about ending a $2 billion a year tax break for big oil. Big oil claims they invest in renewable energy and make a relatively small percentage on income. Well that depends on what you calculate, but to me, the tens of billions of quarterly profits derived from the rest of us does not create much sympathy.

I remember in school learning about the robber barons and what a terrible thing that was. Interestingly the grandson of one of the robber barons is among those trying to bring some sanity into the discussion.

One might think of price gouging as a form of taxation with little or no benefit to the larger public. It is also worth noting that the same people who want to keep giving $2 billion per year to big oil want to defund early childhood education, public television, Planned Parenthood, etc. based on “purely budgetary considerations”. Brooklyn Bridge anyone?

Not all of our economic woes can be blamed on big business. However, many large businesses appeared to be governed foremost by maximizing short term and sometimes midterm profits. Businesses do need to turn a profit long term. However, there is a responsibility to the country and its residents. This includes jobs, jobs security, and living wages. It is hard to act in a socially responsible way with the primary, and sometimes only, focus on maximizing profits. Especially, when strategies include overworking reduced staffs, avoiding taxes with zeal, lobbying for still another tax break, off-shoring jobs, hiding money in overseas accounts, and sometimes just plain fraud. Salaries and bonuses of many large companies including banks and Wall Street firms grossly exceed what is necessary to provide economic security for one’s family including the next several generations.

It is unlikely that much of this will change any time soon. One step would be to reverse Citizens United and only use public money for elections. The money spent on campaigns and lobbying far exceeds the monies that benefit the poor and lower income that are the victim of the last round of budget negotiations. Both parties are playing a game that is very destructive to the future of our country.

If big businesses operated in a more balanced fashion, we would have less need for entitlements and there would be substantially more fair tax revenues.

Beware legislation that is sold for one purpose but benefits the few, such as some of the proposed changes to Medicare.

Resolve to support the DREAM Act

A recent blog posting seen on the web contains a number of errors or assertions that are at least in conflict with more reliable sources than were cited. According to the Immigration Policy Center, the report from the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) cited on the blog “paints a misleading financial portrait of the DREAM Act.”

A 2010 study by the UCLA North American Integration and Development Center estimates that the total earnings of DREAM Act beneficiaries would range from $1.4 trillion to $3.6 trillion. The amount of taxes paid at all levels is in the hundreds of billions of dollars, not to mention the money spent in local economies. This projection does not include the taxes that students pay from part time jobs while in college.

DREAM Act applicants will be required to pay fees to cover the cost of processing. Students would only be eligible for federal loans, which would have to be repaid, and federal work-study programs. They would not be eligible for any federal grants including Pell Grants.

Institutions of higher education overwhelmingly support the DREAM Act. Many conservative Republicans, including presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, Colin Powell, Carlos Gutierrez, and Jim Edgar. Military leaders including David S. C. Chu, Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness under George W. Bush, called for action on the DREAM Act to strengthen the Military.

The independent Colorado legislature function that attaches fiscal notes to bill stated that tuition equity would have been a net positive cash flow to the state of about $500,000. Recently the California Supreme Court upheld the legality of tuition equity, ruling that it does not violate federal prohibitions of giving educational benefits to resident illegal immigrants who attend state schools for three years. California is one of ten states, including some of the most conservative states, that have tuition equity laws. The writer of the blog believes SB 1070 would have violated federal Law. I opt to side with experienced conservative jurists. By the way, none of these states have experienced a large influx of students who have displaced other students.

Racism need not be introduced into the DREAM Act discussion. About 70 percent of undocumented students are Latino the other 30 percent are African, Asian, or European. The DREAM Act would apply equally to all. If one wants to be technically correct, for the most part only the African and Asian students are non-Caucasian.

It is interesting that some on the web refer to me as a “local race activist.” Is this disapproval of the fact that I oppose racism? The fact that I see the need to raise the issue about the needs of the under served seems to bother some. Why else draw attention to the number of Latinos at Pubic Invited To Be Heard? Can some in Longmont not see these young people simply as human beings?

It is also disturbing is that there are those who think that it is a “waste of council time” to express an opinion on something that affects the lives of Longmont residents. What is more important than the future of our youth and the benefits of a more highly educated citizenry?

Interesting that the word ‘polarization’ appears in one recent article, especially considering all the “negative current” being pumped into the pubic square by the same source of distortion. -ed

Immigration: It’s the economy, not ideology

Irish immigrants

Irish immigrants, one of America's largest immigrant groups, were also disparaged. Businesses in New York routinely displayed 'No Irish Need Apply' signs.

Among the least well understood impacts of immigration are its impacts on economics, taxes, and jobs of native-born Americans. This is a complex subject and details will vary from location to location. It is certainly complicated by the current economic conditions in the US and around the globe. The causes of the current economic conditions are also complex but often linked to the risky investment policies of banks and Wall Street, as well as, a real estate market that was unsustainable and suffered from the issuance of loans that were certain to fail.

The over all impact of immigration policy options was evaluated by the Immigration Policy Center using historical data. They concluded that enforcement only policies have been counter productive having a negative impact on wages and that a comprehensive policy would “raise the wage floor for the entire US economy – to the benefit of both immigrant and native-born workers.”

The Policy Center used a computable general equilibrium model to arrive at their estimate of the economic ramifications of three scenarios.

Scenario 1 is comprehensive immigration reform. This scenario is estimated to result in an increase in GDP of at least 0.84 percent. This is equivalent to 1.5 trillion dollars over ten years. Additionally wages are increased for native-born and recently legalized immigrants.

Scenario 2 is the temporary worker program. This scenario is estimated to result in an increase in GDP of at least 0.44 percent. This is equivalent to 794 billion dollars over ten years. Additionally wages decline for native born and recently legalized immigrants.

Scenario 3 is mass deportation. This scenario is estimated to result in a decrease in GDP of 1.46 percent. This is equivalent to 2.6 trillion dollars over ten years. Additionally wages would increase for less-skilled native-born workers and decrease for higher-skilled native-born workers. Additionally a wide spread decrease in jobs would result.

Analysis by the New Policy Institute shows that high levels of immigration have not had an adverse effect on wages of native-born workers. On the contrary, long term effects have been to raise wages in part because of increased capital expenditures made to take advantage of the labor pool. While the average wages have increased due to immigration, there are exceptions where low income wages have decreased in locations with the presence of large numbers of immigrants. This later concern has been shown to be reversed if immigration reform was to be implemented. This would allow immigrants to move from high immigrant locations. It would also lessen the practice of some employers to pay less than the minimum wage and to withhold earned wages. This alter practice is illegal, is not limited to immigrant workers (60 to 70 percent of low wage earners in the US have been either not paid or under paid), and not only hurts the directly effected worker, but reduces money being spent in the local economy and the subsequent loss of sales tax which many communities depend on.

Immigrants are 30 percent more likely to start new businesses than native-born Americans. Many of the very large high tech businesses have been founded by immigrants. Latino owned businesses in Colorado had sales of 5.1 billion dollars in 2002 and employed 34,000 workers. The numbers have only continued to increase.

Immigrants accounted for 11.4 percent of the work force in 2002. If all undocumented immigrants were removed from Colorado the state would lose 8 billion dollars in expenditures and 3.6 billion in economic output according to the Perryman Group.

Analyses show that immigration does not over the long term adversely impact local, state or federal budgets. In locations where there are large numbers of immigrant children there is typically a net financial burden for schools and for medical care. On the federal level there is not a net burden. Immigrants pay federal taxes and have Social Security and Medicare withholdings for which they have largely not receive any benefit. Dynamic models show that over long times there are substantial net gains from the life time earnings of immigrants, many of whom arrive post school age without elderly parents.

It is clear that immigrants have made strong contributions to the economy. Decisions that are made around immigration need to be based on more than philosophical grounds. Like any other issue it is best to have as many facts as possible. Decisions made around immigration not only impact the immigrants and their families, as well as, employers who have depended on immigrants to grow and maintain their businesses. Decisions will have many other consequences, especially as age demographics continue to change leaving more and more need for younger workers.

Economics provide another reason for implementing immigration reform this year.

Arizona law is not best approach

From the Longmont Ledger:

Immigration status is one of a number of topics about which people have strong opinions, but not always strong knowledge.

Not everyone with concerns about immigration is biased, but groups identified as hate groups consistently have the same views on immigration. Many seem unaware that 30 percent of undocumented immigrants in the United States are not from Hispanic nations.

Latinos and other people of color have been ill treated by many sectors of society for many years. Some decades ago in Longmont, Latinos were told that they could not live west of Main Street. Latinos are not always treated with respect and they are virtually unrepresented in elected and appointed positions in Boulder County and elsewhere.

Having experienced racial profiling most of their lives, Latinos should worry about the impacts of the recently passed Arizona law that requires police to ask for identification of those they even suspect of being illegal immigrants — even if Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer naively thinks the law will not increase profiling.

One only has to look at who wrote the law. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, “Arizona’s controversial anti-immigrant law was written by a lawyer at the legal arm of the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), which the Southern Poverty Law Center has listed as an anti-immigrant hate group since 2007. FAIR has an extensive track record of racism and bigotry.”

It is easy to understand why people in Arizona have concerns about activity around the border. Drug smugglers responding to the huge demand for illegal narcotics in the United States have created a hugely profitable business, which they are willing to defend with violence. Much of the violence on both sides of the border is supported by firearms smuggled from this side of the border. No one wants these violent drug smugglers, as we do not want the illegal drug trade to flourish anywhere. Nor does anyone want individuals who traffic in human beings.

But the new Arizona law is more likely to affect documented immigrants and U.S. citizens than it will drug smugglers. It is imperative that dialogue around immigration not confuse working families with drug smugglers or terrorists. Doing so denigrates hard working families and detracts from the important work of fighting terrorism and drug smuggling.

Read the rest at the Longmont Ledger

Arizona’s immigration law: Bad idea, bad solution

Immigration status is one of a number of topics that people have strong opinions about but not always a strong knowledge base.   It is a topic that is also complicated by the potential for ethnic bias.  Not everyone with concerns about immigration is biased, but groups identified as hate groups or nativists group consistently have the same views on immigration.  Many seem unaware that 30 percent of undocumented immigrants are not from Hispanic nations.

Latinos and other peoples of color have been ill treated by many sectors of society for many years.  Some decades ago in Longmont, Latinos were told that they could not live West of Main Street.  Latinos in Longmont were expected to step off the sidewalk when a white person passed. These practices no longer hold, but still Latinos are not always treated with respect.  Representation in elected and appointed positions is dismal in Boulder County and elsewhere.

Having experienced racial profiling most of their lives, Latinos should worry about the impacts of the Arizona law even if the Arizona Governor naively thinks the law will not increase profiling. A federal grand jury investigation is under way amid a slew of complaints that Sheriff Joe Arpaio used racial profiling techniques to round up suspected undocumented immigrants

One only has to look at who wrote the law. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center “Arizona’s controversial anti-immigrant law was written by a lawyer at the legal arm of the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), which the Southern Poverty Law Center has listed as an anti-immigrant hate group since 2007. FAIR has an extensive track record of racism and bigotry. FAIR has been dominated for much of its life by its racist founder and current board member, John Tanton, who has written that “for European-American society and culture to persist requires a European-American majority, and a clear one at that.””

It is easy to understand why people in Arizona have concerns about activity around the border.  Drug smugglers responding to the huge demand for illegal narcotics in the US have a hugely profitable business which they are willing to defend with violence.  Much of the violence on both sides of the border is supported by fire arms smuggled from this side of the border.  No one wants these violent drug smugglers as we do not want the illegal drug trade to flourish anywhere.  Nor does anyone want individuals who traffic in human beings.

One issue with the new Arizona law is that it is more likely to hassle documented immigrants and US citizens than it will drug smugglers.  It is imperative that dialogue around immigration not confuse working families with drug smugglers or terrorists.  Doing so denigrates hard working families and detracts from the important work of fighting terrorism, drug smuggling, and the devastating impact of illegal drugs on our population.

Most undocumented immigrants are here because the US for the last two decades has not matched the number of work visas with the demand for labor.  The Colorado Agriculture industry has requested and supported the AgJobs bill that allows for undocumented Ag workers who meet certain requirements to have a path to citizenship.  Undocumented immigrants have allowed agricultural and other industries to thrive while paying taxes including Social Security and Medicare payments that they will never collect.  The Colorado ski industry has also required workers that they can not find from the native population and consistently complain that the number of work visas is inadequate.  A situation that is worse for tourist businesses that need workers in the summer.  Both industries have failed to attract sufficient numbers of native workers who will stay on the job.

Many undocumented immigrants would not have left their homeland were their jobs not destroyed by US policy and practices resulting from the unintended consequences of NAFTA.  Sale of subsidized corn in Mexico undermined many farmers.

Yes, the issue of undocumented immigrants is complex and views will vary, but one’s views should consider how we got where we are today and who all contributed to the situation and who all benefited.  Maybe more importantly, we should consider all of the impacts that would occur if all of the undocumented immigrants left the country.  While philosophically this might either please or disappoint you, it would be damaging to many sectors of the economy.  It would reduce tax collections although it would reduce some costs.  It would continue to separate families.

Comprehensive immigration reform is needed.  What we have now is not working for immigrants as well as many citizens.  The reform being proposed by some US senators has something for everyone.  This package as well as all others that have been proposed includes border enforcement, employer sanctions, deportations, paths to citizenship, and the DREAM Act.  Urge our President and our Senators to move quickly.