Historical

Fracking: Colorado’s dystopian nightmare

Editor’s Note: Phillip Doe leaves no stone unturned in describing the dangers and destruction that arise from every aspect of horizontal fracking. It’s a must-read for anyone who truly wants to understand the devastation that the oil and gas industry is wreaking on the people and resources of Colorado with the collaboration and complicity of the state’s government.

I went to a meeting earlier this winter in the Colorado Governor’s Office. I’m not a regular. The Governor, John Hickenlooper, Hick to his friends, had called the meeting with Boulder County Commissioners to discuss the county’s draft regulations governing the recovery of oil and gas found in the county’s deep underground shale formations. The fact is that most of the state is underlain by these ancient and organically rich seabeds. All are ripe for exploitation through the use of the industry’s new mining technique called horizontal fracking.

Drilling activities along both sides of the Colorado River, Interstate 70, and the Amtrak rail lines in Garfield County, Colorado. Photo courtesy of TEDX The Endocrine Disruption Exchange

Drilling activities along both sides of the Colorado River, Interstate 70, and the Amtrak rail lines in Garfield County, Colorado. Photo courtesy of TEDX The Endocrine Disruption Exchange

In his haste, the governor had apparently forgotten that such meetings require the public be notified at least 24 hours in advance so they can listen in on the public’s business. This law has been on the books since 1972 and is widely used, but imperfectly understood, apparently, by the governor and his lieutenants. Hick was a long-term mayor of Denver before becoming governor. Its use is commonplace in city government.

To an outsider this meeting might sound like a tempest in a teapot, but as in most states with oil and gas reservoirs made recoverable through fracking, the state government of Colorado has said that it, and it alone, has the authority to regulate the oil and gas industry . The counties and cities may write their own regulations, but they must be in “harmony” with the state’s, and can not add conditions or requirements that would harm the industry’s bottom line. They are “preempted” from doing so.

 One of several 400-bed housing complexes (man-camps) for gas field workers. This one is located on the top of Colorado’s Roan Plateau. Photo courtesy of TEDX The Endocrine Disruption Exchange

One of several 400-bed housing complexes (man-camps) for gas field workers. This one is located on the top of Colorado’s Roan Plateau. Photo courtesy of TEDX The Endocrine Disruption Exchange

With the Boulder contingent, Hick started out by telling them that as a businessman and brewpub owner he’d never been sued; that he’d always been able to broker a deal, that he hoped a deal could be made with Boulder County government.

He went on to say, obligatorily, that he thought public health had to be protected, but added quickly that the oil industry’s property rights must also be protected. To this observer most of what he asserted concerning protecting the public’s rights and investigating their concerns is contradicted by the facts.

For example, he said nothing about the fact that he had already sued the city of Longmont , a city of 86,000 within Boulder County, over its regulations. Longmont’s regulations, labored over by a cautious oil lawyer, but eminently decent man, did not ban fracking within the city, as many wanted, but did make residential neighborhoods, schoolyards and the city’s open spaces off-limits to drilling by the industry.

Hick had sued over these regulations for not being in harmony with the state’s, whose only spacing restriction is that wells must be at least 350 feet from any residence or building in urban areas. Rural restrictions are even more favorable to the industry. There, only a 150 feet setback is required. Some wag has observed that under state planning guidelines a rural folk is worth less than half a city folk, less even than the three-fifths slaves were worth in the “original” Constitution.

Fracturing operation on top of Colorado’s Roan Plateau. The green tanks (nearly 100 in this photo) hold the fluids for fracturing and then the fluids that return to the surface after fracturing. Note the tunnel in the upper left, built as a shortcut to a highway. Photo courtesy of TEDX The Endocrine Disruption Exchange

Fracturing operation on top of Colorado’s Roan Plateau. The green tanks (nearly 100 in this photo) hold the fluids for fracturing and then the fluids that return to the surface after fracturing. Note the tunnel in the upper left, built as a shortcut to a highway. Photo courtesy of TEDX The Endocrine Disruption Exchange

In the old days, an oil rig stood 150 feet high, thus the rural setback of 150 feet might protect a house or barn if the rig were to topple. New rigs used in horizontal fracking are sometimes taller according to one retired oil field worker and bitter critic of the industry. The critics are legion. Still, many large, rent seeking ranchers and farmers support the looser rural restrictions.

In reaction to the state’s lawsuit against Longmont, citizens launched an initiative to ban fracking altogether within the city. Operating on a shoestring, and laboring against $500,000 the industry dumped on the city to defeat the initiative, the ban vote carried by a remarkable 60/40 margin, demonstrating, perhaps, the power of a well-organized citizenry over big money, even big-oil money.

On the day of this meeting, Hick had not sued over the ban, though he had threatened to do so. In the end, the industry did it for him, with his blessings and encouragement. Indeed as guest speaker at an oil and gas convention in Denver subsequent to the Boulder commissioners’ meeting, he told the assembled oil men that he would bring the full might of the state to bear on their behalf if the industry were to sue over Longmont’s ban. Some find this bully pulpit cheerleading incredible.

Still, on this day he was most keenly interested in seeing that Boulder County did not also author another ban on fracking or enact something more stringent than the state’s rules. He was not openly threatening, but everyone knew the Longmont background.

One of the county commissioners, Will Toor, told the governor that in his judgment a countywide ballot initiative banning fracking, if there were to be one, would pass on a 60/40 basis, just like in Longmont.

U.S. Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO), a smart politician, added that he thought the state rules should be a floor, not a ceiling, that the local governments should have that prerogative under their charters. Hick, somewhat surprised if not openly flustered, shot back that they weren’t ready to talk about that. Polis said that he thought that was what they were there to talk about. Clearly, deal making was not really on the agenda.

Later, in the hallway outside the governor’s office, Polis told one of the mothers who had attended the meeting that if an oil well were to be drilled in his backyard he would move. Many would agree, but not many are multi-millionaires like Polis. The mass of humanity, if Hick has his way, will have to endure the toxic fume garden the industry is building in neighborhoods across the state.

Two drill rigs working on a pad where ten wells have been previously completed. In the bottom right you can see ten recovery water tanks. Note also the reserve pit by the drill rigs. Photo courtesy of TEDX The Endocrine Disruption Exchange

Two drill rigs working on a pad where ten wells have been previously completed. In the bottom right you can see ten recovery water tanks. Note also the reserve pit by the drill rigs. Photo courtesy of TEDX The Endocrine Disruption Exchange

So what about the contentions of citizens that fracking is unsafe, despite the industry’s bemused denials to the contrary?

The 2005 Energy Act is a good starting point for this discussion. Written only two years after the first horizontally fracked well was successfully drilled, the act was widely reported to have been written by the industry in the comfort of Vice President Dick Cheney’s office, himself the former head of Halliburton Industries, one of the major providers of fracking fluids, an immensely profitable product according to industry observers.

The Act of 2005 is the culmination of a 40-year oil industry lobbying effort in Washington to exempt the industry from practically every foundational health and environmental law on the books. Not even the casino players on Wall Street have been as successful in creating a regulatory world to their liking. The bilking and mayhem are easy thereafter, as we’ve all seen.

Only one reasonable conclusion can be drawn from this sustained lobbying effort, the practice of horizontal fracking is most assuredly not safe. Otherwise there would have been no need to rip out more than 40 years of public health and environmental law from the pages of our civic history.

Drill rig working near Divide Creek in Western Colorado where methane bubbled into the creek during previous drilling activity. You can see two smaller reserve pits and a larger evaporation pit. Photo courtesy of TEDX The Endocrine Disruption Exchange

Drill rig working near Divide Creek in Western Colorado where methane bubbled into the creek during previous drilling activity. You can see two smaller reserve pits and a larger evaporation pit. Photo courtesy of TEDX The Endocrine Disruption Exchange

Notes on the air we breathe, and other acts of faith

Air and water quality issues are so ubiquitous in areas invaded by the industry that summarizing is difficult. Most astonishing, however, is that neither Colorado nor the U.S. has undertaken a systematic examination of the thousands of citizen complaints. With regards to air quality, these complaints run from skin rashes, to open sores, to nose bleeds, to stomach cramps, to loss of smell, to swollen and itching eyes, to despondency and depression, even death.

In this federal vacuum, several smaller-scale studies have been undertaken in Colorado.

The first in time was a health assessment commissioned by Garfield County, a west slope county home to roughly 10,000 oil and gas wells. The Colorado School of Public Health (CSPH) conducted it at the invitation of the county government. That same government curtailed it when the results were thought to be too alarming. Among the findings were high levels of benzene, a known carcinogen, at and near well sites. In fact, the assessment states that even at distances of 2,700 feet from a well site, toxic chemicals were still detectable at levels that would increase the chance of developing cancer by 66 percent based on published health standards.

I asked the authors of this study if the governor or any members of his staff had contacted them to discuss the assessment. Remarkably, they said, no. Strange indeed, since this study figured prominently in Governor Cuomo’s announcement that New York State was placing an indefinite moratorium on fracking until the health and environmental impacts of fracking were better understood.

Only weeks old, a first-of-its-kind study from The Endocrine Disruption Exchange , TEDX, measured more than 44 hazardous pollutants at operating well sites, again in Garfield County. Many of them are known to impact the brain and nervous systems; some are even known to harm the hormonal system of unborn babies. The study found prevalence of the pollutants up to .7 of a mile from the well site.

The lead scientist and head of TEDX, Dr. Theo Colborn , an environmental health analyst, who happens to live in Paonia, Colorado, at the doorstep of drilling in Garfield County to the north, has called for the U.S. to make further studies of these chemicals and their impact on all life, right down to the molecular level. Dr. Colborn even sent a letter to the President Obama and First Lady. Here is a video of Dr. Colborn reading the letter she sent to the President Obama and First Lady:

Another peer reviewed 2012 study out of Cornell’s College of Veterinary Medicine supports Dr Colborn’s results. That study headed by a professor of molecular medicine, Robert Oswald, and veterinarian Michelle Bamberger found significant health links between fracking and livestock exposed to fracking’s air and water byproducts. These animals suffered neurological, reproductive and gastrointestinal disabilities.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has one of its high tech air monitoring towers located outside the small town of Erie, Colorado. There are five nationally. It recently released the results of long-term monitoring of air quality at Erie. The results are alarming and consistent with the TEDX and CSPH studies.

Perhaps the study’s most damning finding was that Erie, a bucolic town of roughly 18,000 folk, has air quality spikes, particularly methane and butane spikes, that exceed by 4 to 9 times those of Pasadena, CA, a suburb of Los Angeles, and Dallas, Texas, two cities with some of the worst, health threatening air in America.

NOAA reported that fully 4 percent of the methane gas produced in the Wattenberg field is leaked to the atmosphere and therefore never brought to market. The same NOAA team last year found that 9 percent of the produced gas was being leaked to the atmosphere in a large gas field on mostly Indian land in north central Utah. These percentages do not include gas that is intentionally burned off, called flared by the industry, as an operational prerogative open to the industry without regulatory penalty.

Natural gas processing plant in Ignacio, Colorado. Photo courtesy of TEDX The Endocrine Disruption Exchange

Natural gas processing plant in Ignacio, Colorado. Photo courtesy of TEDX The Endocrine Disruption Exchange

That Erie should share this dubious unhealthy air honor with the likes of Pasadena and Ft Worth can only be explained by the fact that it sits at the western extreme of one of the largest gas fields in the U.S., the Wattenberg Field.

The industry has tried to finesse the NOAA findings by claiming the high readings are from auto emissions along the interstate west of the city. NOAA has correctly pointed out that methane and propane are not auto exhaust products. They are clearly indicators of the massive volume of volatile organic gases escaping from oil wells and pipelines in the Wattenberg.

Adding to the science, a recent article in the journal Environmental Science and Technology , concluded from examining the NOAA data that oil and gas activity in the Wattenberg field “contributed about 55 percent of the volatile organic compounds linked to unhealthy ground-level ozone.”

This field, home to about 20,000 wells, is in Weld County, which Erie straddles. It and Garfield County are the epicenters of drilling in Colorado, but the industry sensing Croesus-like riches is branching ever southward and westward from Weld toward Colorado’s population centers. Like Croesus, the industry may have crossed a river of growing discontent that will eventually prove its undoing.

Glycol dehydrators for five wells. These separation units remove water and noxious gases, such as benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene (BTEX) from the natural gas. The tall pipe is for flaring the BTEX and other unwanted gaseous material. The water is then stored in tanks until it can be trucked to evaporation pits. Some dehydrators are connected to pipelines that carry the water directly to waste processing pits. Photo courtesy of TEDX The Endocrine Disruption Exchange

Glycol dehydrators for five wells. These separation units remove water and noxious gases, such as benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene (BTEX) from the natural gas. The tall pipe is for flaring the BTEX and other unwanted gaseous material. The water is then stored in tanks until it can be trucked to evaporation pits. Some dehydrators are connected to pipelines that carry the water directly to waste processing pits. Photo courtesy of TEDX The Endocrine Disruption Exchange

Too little noted in the Colorado fracking saga is what the NOAA study underscores. Methane, a gas with 105 times the heat capturing capacity of CO2 over a 20-year time horizon, is escaping at alarming rates from oil and gas drilling sites and pipelines.

To even consider methane recovered through fracking as an effective transition fuel in the fight against climate change , natural gas releases would have to be at less than two percent of volume. Presently, scientists at Cornell University estimated releases of methane to be at 4 to 7 percent of product recovered, making it worse, over the critical short term, than coal for climate change. This is of course without regard to the huge quantity of gas that is flared to the atmosphere as CO2.

An effective zero emission standard for health threatening and climate warming volatile gasses such as methane is technologically reachable, but don’t expect it to be part of Colorado oil and gas rule making. Here, the “little guys” in the drilling business are sometimes given exemptions from even the most rudimentary health considerations such as requiring enclosed holding tanks for fracking return water, deceptively called, green completion. The state’s position is that these “small guys” are not technologically equipped to install these tanks, which, in reality, are only a halfway measure, but better than open pits. Such a requirement would put them out of business says the state’s regulatory agency, the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC). This agency has a dual charge. It is also charged with protecting public health.

One activist mother from Erie told me that the COGCC’s environmental exceptions for technologically challenged drillers is like arguing that a person who flunks out of medical school should still be allowed to perform brain surgery because that was his expectation and his monetary well being depends on it. Clearly, public health does not lead the list of governmental concerns at fracking discussions.

Compression station with separation unit. The separation units remove water from the gas as it comes into the facility and before it goes into the pipeline. For safety purposes, the gas must enter the pipeline at a pressure greater than that of the existing natural gas supply line. Huge diesel-driven fans cool the generators that create the pressure. Photo courtesy of TEDX The Endocrine Disruption Exchange

Compression station with separation unit. The separation units remove water from the gas as it comes into the facility and before it goes into the pipeline. For safety purposes, the gas must enter the pipeline at a pressure greater than that of the existing natural gas supply line. Huge diesel-driven fans cool the generators that create the pressure. Photo courtesy of TEDX The Endocrine Disruption Exchange

So, despite all the compelling evidence to the contrary, we are still assured by the industry that all is well. Our air is safe. Hick, like them, is confident in the wisdom of not knowing, though just recently he did make a bow toward sanity by asking for a little over one million dollars for air quality studies. Dr. Colborn, operating on a very tight budget, spent more than $400,000 monitoring the air emissions from just one well in Garfield County.

The governor, however, is not alone in singing the virtues of ignorance. Last year, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) inexplicably eliminated air quality impacts from its long awaited environmental study of fracking. A draft of this study will be released in 2014, with a final promised in 2015 after it has been peer reviewed by industry soldiers, sans air.

Insider review by the industry of its own operations has led my friend Wes Wilson, a retired EPA environmental engineer, to simply shake his head in disbelief. Undue industry influence is what caused him to blow the whistle on EPA’s Bush era white wash of fracking’s potential impact on public health back in 2004.

“We didn’t ask BP to participate in the evaluation of the DeepWater Horizon disaster in the Gulf. That would have caused howls of outrage from the public,” says Wilson. “We should feel the same outrage here, for, in truth, the impacts of fracking, as presently practiced, will have a much greater impact on public health and the environment than DeepWater.”

Three-tiered evaporation pit complex near Interstate 70 and the Colorado River. Photo courtesy of TEDX The Endocrine Disruption Exchange

Three-tiered evaporation pit complex near Interstate 70 and the Colorado River. Photo courtesy of TEDX The Endocrine Disruption Exchange

Notes on the water we drink, and some we shouldn’t

Water use has received more attention, perhaps, than air quality in the Colorado debate over fracking, for after all, you can see it, but still it is in the not-to-worry register of state politics. Water is said to be king in the west, but from a regulatory standpoint it is a true pauper.

In Colorado, water is owned by the public, so says the state’s constitution, but it is treated as private property, most of it controlled by big agriculture and ranching, many of the same rent seekers who champion the irrational 150 foot setback.

Some background information is necessary to understand the potential impact of fracking on Colorado’s water, which, as many know, is projected to be a dwindling resource in the West as a result of climate change.

A grassroots organization, Be the Change , of which I am a board member, has aggregated information from state and federal websites on land leased to the oil industry. Be the Change did this because neither the state nor feds would, though they’ve been asked to do so, repeatedly.

Their calculation shows that at the start of 2012 approximately 9,000 square miles of public land in Colorado had been leased to the industry. This is roughly 10 percent of the state. Private land leases are thought to be greater, realistically much greater since most of the land in the Wattenberg field and on Colorado’s eastern plains is private. Thus, conservatively, 20 percent of the state is effectively owned by the oil and gas industry. Mineral rights overwhelm the rights of surface owners. This, too, is a source of concern and outrage by urban dwellers who never, until now, thought they would have to deal with an oil well as a fire-belching, air-choking neighbor.

The public/private leases combined constitute a landmass greater than that of nine states and rivals the size of West Virginia, a truly unfortunate arithmetic coincidence. But West Virginia will soon be left in Colorado’s exhaust since approximately 70 percent of Colorado is underlain by these deep oil bearing shale formations, and new leasing is continual, perhaps in the 1,000 square mile range annually.

Three-tiered evaporation pit complex for processing water from gas wells. Trucks unload water at the upper tier, allowing it to evaporate as it falls. The white dots in the pits are ‘misters’ to enhance evaporation. Photo courtesy of TEDX The Endocrine Disruption Exchange

Three-tiered evaporation pit complex for processing water from gas wells. Trucks unload water at the upper tier, allowing it to evaporate as it falls. The white dots in the pits are ‘misters’ to enhance evaporation. Photo courtesy of TEDX The Endocrine Disruption Exchange

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM), for example, sold off about 69,000 acres on Feb. 14 of this year. About 25 percent of the parcels went for $2 an acre, a minimum rate established in 1922 and that hasn’t been adjusted since. A quarterly event, dependent primarily on the interest expressed by industry speculators who nominate the land, this sale was originally scheduled for roughly double the acreage, but objections were great from the public, with the result that considerable land was withdrawn, at least temporarily. The BLM, when assessing suitability for oil and gas leasing, is often operating from environmental documents that are more than 30 years old, well before horizontal fracking with its huge water requirements was even dreamt of. These leases are for 10 years. The state has a similar minimum, but its leases are for a shorter five years, with a one year option.

Surely, someone, maybe even the governor, should want to know how this staggering transfer of ownership, for that is effectively what an oil lease is, will impact the state’s land, water, wildlife and recreation base. This knowledge is particularly important if one is interested in the potential water demand of thousand of fracked wells on these ever growing 20,000 square miles of oil leases. By comparison, the Bakken oil field in North Dakota , the new darling of the industry, is thought to measure only about 15,000 square miles.

Governor Hickenlooper at a recent meeting of the big water users and developers in the state said, unremarkably, that water is our most important resource. One could hope he was channeling W.H. Auden who observed, “Thousands of people have lived without love, but no one has lived without water.”

Unfortunately, the evidence suggests that Hick’s recitation was one of those made-for-the-audience statements, containing not even the least notion of what it was going to take to protect Colorado’s water in the face of massive new industrial demands from fracking.

The estimates for the number of new wells in the state over the long term are dicey, at best. The state has made none and apparently has no plans to do so. Thus, a swipe-at-the-sky estimate using industry statements made in public forums must serve as the basis for an estimate. An industry hydrologist said at a public meeting in Castle Rock, CO, a couple of years ago that they expected 60,000 new wells in the state over the next 20 years. More recently an industry spokesperson said that there could be 100,000 new wells in the state in 30 years. These would be in addition to the industry’s 50,000 presently producing wells in the state. These projections are not out of line with the estimated acreage under lease to the industry.

The 100,000 new well projection also jibes with recent drilling permit data. Last year 3,770 drilling permits were approved. If this number were to be repeated annually over the next 30 years, we might expect at least 100,000 new wells. In 2007, before natural gas prices tumbled from the production glut, 8,000 new well permits were approved. So, a projection of 3,300 new wells a year, where oil is the prize, not gas, is well within historical bounds.

Private evaporation pit for a complex of wells owned by a single company. Notice the white water truck with a red cab, emptying into the pit. Photo courtesy of TEDX The Endocrine Disruption Exchange

Private evaporation pit for a complex of wells owned by a single company. Notice the white water truck with a red cab, emptying into the pit. Photo courtesy of TEDX The Endocrine Disruption Exchange

A wild card factor in the estimate game is the rarely discussed possibility that many of these wells will be refitted to tap different shale formations both above and below the Niobrara formation which is currently the big play—apparently an ersatz gambling term the industry likes to use to describe its development activities. These formations number as many as eight in some parts of the state. Development of these other shale formations would also increase well and water demand numbers.

As a general rule a vertically fracked well, which almost all of the 50,000 presently producing wells are, requires about 250,000 gallons of water in the initial frack. They can be and often are fracked multiple times to keep the oil and gas moving to the surface.

The new horizontally fracked wells take much more water, approximately five million gallons per well for the initial frack. They, too, it is thought, will be refracked, but the frequency is unknown given the activity’s infancy. The head of technical development for Halliburton has said, however, that refracking will require marginally more water with each refrack to be affective.

For purposes of attempting to estimate the overall water demand from fracking over a 30 year planning horizon, we can posit that by the year 2043 about 80 percent of the 100,000 new wells would be horizontally drilled and that the remaining 20 percent would be vertically drilled. This extremely conservative configuration would result in a water demand of 13.4 billion gallons for new wells in that year, or in the language of water planning, 41,000 acre feet. (An acre-foot, af, is 326,000 gallons, the amount of water required to cover an acre of land to a depth of one foot).

It is extremely important to note that water use by the industry is like no other. When they use water, they destroy it for any other use. When cities and agriculture use it, about 50 percent of it is returned to sustain streams and be reused by those downstream. So, while 41,000 af would be enough water for the domestic needs of about 410,000 people only half of it is actually consumed, with the other half being available for, in this example, another 410,000 people downstream.

By comparison, when the industry uses 41,000 af of water it consumes it all; thus, in reality, it is using enough water for the domestic needs of more than 800 thousand people. This consumption calculation is usually overlooked or ignored by industry apologist, both inside and outside government.

And remember something approaching the 41,000 af of annual demand in the 30th year would have been necessary to the industry for many years prior. Indeed, such demand might continue on indefinitely into the future, depending on the industry’s level of success in mining the multiple shale formations that underlie much of the state.

Still, it’s when one attempts to add in the potential water demand from refracking existing wells that the gallons begin to resemble something even Henry Paulson would recognize as really big.

For example, if one fifth of all wells needed to be refracked every year to sustain some level of production in a population consisting of 80 thousand horizontally fracked wells and 70 thousand vertically fracked wells, the annual water requirement, in the 30th year, could exceed 270,000 af annually, or enough water for the domestic needs of over five million people since fracking’s demand is based on 100 percent consumption or destruction as explained above. And here again something resembling this water requirement for refracking would have been required for many years previous and many years following. By comparison Denver’s present annual water demand, both residential and industrial, is approximately 240,000 af, only half of which is actually consumed.

And even if only one tenth of all wells needed to be refracked annually, the demand, based on 100 percent consumption, when added to what is projected for new wells is still staggering. This is particularly so in light of the fact that all of Colorado’s rivers on the front range, generally the rivers draining the east side of the continental divide, are already over appropriated; that is, there are more people with water rights than there is water to satisfy those rights. In fact, the taxpayers of this state have paid hundreds of millions of dollars to neighboring states, either through cash penalties or other forms of compensation, for water the state’s agricultural users have stolen.

Cannons shooting water to increase evaporation at the Ignacio natural gas processing plant. Note the cracks in the dirt berm in the foreground. Photo courtesy of TEDX The Endocrine Disruption Exchange

Cannons shooting water to increase evaporation at the Ignacio natural gas processing plant. Note the cracks in the dirt berm in the foreground. Photo courtesy of TEDX The Endocrine Disruption Exchange

A few years back, the U.S. Supreme Court in ruling against Colorado in the Arkansas River case said, condemningly, that Colorado knew or should have known that it was stealing water that belonged to Kansas. The taxpayers have always paid the costs of reparation, not the farmers who stole the water, but that is old news.

Add to this mix that climate change is predicted to reduce snow pack and runoff in the southern Rockies. In fact, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation in a new study predicts the annual flow of the Colorado River will be reduced by nine percent because of future temperature increases caused by climate change. It did not look at additional decreases that might result if the snow pack were also diminished. But NOAA has added to the grimness of our water future in a new report that projects a 10 percent to 20 percent reduction in Colorado’s snow pack by 2100 if CO2 emissions continue to grow at a modest rate. Thus further diminishing spring runoff to the Colorado and other rivers heading in the state, as well. Always, the Colorado River has been the river the water tycoons have targeted when more is needed, and more is always needed as long as the public can be gulled into paying for development.

One could argue that using some portion of the public’s water for fracking couldn’t possibly be any worse than using it to raise corn which is then turned into ethanol. Ethanol is probably a net energy loser. Some may recall that Cornell’s Professor Pimentel, among others, argued back in 2003 that it took more energy to produce ethanol than it generated. In Colorado, about 86 percent of the public’s water is used by agriculture, much of it to grow corn. Nationally, about 40 percent of all corn is converted to ethanol.

Alas, science-based assertions that ethanol was just another chimera did not stop the U.S. from adding requirements that some portion of every gallon of gas sold in this country has to contain the stuff. This came to be in that glory of American law making, the aforementioned Energy Policy Act of 2005. The virtue of ethanol in our gas tanks was a favorite nostrum of then Senator Ken Salazar. He, advertising himself as the senator for rural America, said ethanol would save the country. Colorado, incidentally, is one of the most urbanized states in the union. Salazar will soon be returning to the state since his resignation as Interior Secretary. The Denver Post is already touting him as a gubernatorial candidate in 2016, presumably after Hick leaves to run for President, an idea floated most recently in a New York Times editorial. He should have the oil industry’s financial backing.

Still if the oil industry wants the public’s water in what, by any reasonable yardstick, will be significant quantities, there should be a wide ranging public discussion of our water dilemma and how best to guarantee a future that protects the public’s water resources and the natural splendors of the state. That discussion does not seem to be on the Governor’s radar. He, in fact, has said repeatedly that he hopes the concept of self-regulation can continue to form the underpinnings for the state’s relationship to the industry.

In Colorado, trucks haul fluids more than 100 miles one-way into Utah on Interstate 70 (where the speed limit is 75 mph) to a large open pit facility. Photo courtesy of TEDX The Endocrine Disruption Exchange

In Colorado, trucks haul fluids more than 100 miles one-way into Utah on Interstate 70 (where the speed limit is 75 mph) to a large open pit facility. Photo courtesy of TEDX The Endocrine Disruption Exchange

Industry self-regulation is self-fulfilling in this instance since Colorado only has 16 inspectors to oversee the states 50,000 operating wells. These inspectors have responsibility over the state’s 80,000 non-operating wells, as well. Further complicating enforcement is the fact the state regulations disallow local environmental, health, and law enforcement staff any independent inspection or enforcement powers. It would seem that we have self-regulation by design.

The potential demands on Colorado’s fresh water should alarm every sentient being in the state. It’s too bad most of them have no recognized rights.

Equally disturbing is the way the industry is allowed to dispose of the polluted water that returns to the surface as part of the initial oil and gas production phase. Most of this flow-back water, as it is termed, is trucked off and reinjected into old wells that have been authorized for the purpose. Called Class II wells, about 200 of them are being used for fracking wastewater disposal , though the COGCC, recognizing the huge long-term demand, has recently drafted new regulations that would allow all nonproducing wells to become disposal wells. As I stated earlier, roughly 80,000 of these wells pock the state.

Some of course probably won’t be tapped, for some are within yards of schools and playgrounds and some others will be reopened given the new technology. Some others as Shane Davis of Fractivist has shown in his invaluable study of wells in Weld County actually are shallowly buried beneath new housing. Their reuse might prove difficult. Some sense of the magnitude of the potential waste-water disposal problem is gained by looking at the situation in Texas. There, according to state data, more than 50,000 disposal wells are used to service 216,000 active drilling wells.

It would be folly to deny, as one bobs down the vast river of deregulation big money and political mendacity have created under the guise of job creation, that the greed heads don’t rule the regulatory world in Colorado, if not the nation. In this regard Colorado looks a lot like Nigeria.

How much frack water is disposed of through the above described process? Well, from information gained from state studies done in North Dakota—there are no comparable studies available in Colorado—early returns of water from a newly fracked well vary from 11 percent to more than 50 percent of the injected water.

In addition to the early flow-back water, other water, called produced water, continues to be carried back to the surface over the operative life of the well, though in much reduced quantities. It too is destined for the reinjection graveyard. Information gathered in Texas, where disposal tracking is valued, suggests as much as 70 percent of the initial frack water volume, eventually, may have to be reinjected into disposal wells.

Although there is some reuse of frack water in the field, whatever is left is ultimately reinjected. Many alarms are being sounded about this practice. The former chief scientist in EPA’s Class II well permitting program has become suspicious of how the program is metastasizing well beyond its rather modest beginnings and has warned that all of these supposedly safe disposal wells will ultimately leak and, therefore, hold the fearful potential of infecting surrounding groundwater.

Mark Williams, a University of Colorado hydrologist studying western energy development is quoted in a recent ProPublica article as saying, “You are sacrificing these aquifers … By definition, you are putting pollution into them. … If you are looking 50 to 100 years down the road, this is not a good way to go.”

The seriousness of his assessment is given new meaning by the fact that in Mexico City deep aquifers, more than a mile deep, are being considered as a new long-term water supply as traditional sources dry up or become overtaxed.

Many other physical scientists have sounded the same alarm about production wells. Perhaps chief among them is Cornell Professor Anthony Ingraffea , himself a former industry scientist. It is his estimation that about seven percent of wells will leak almost immediately, 60 percent will leak in 30 years, and all will eventually leak. His concerns are more than borne out by a Duke University study in the Pennsylvania Marcellus showing remarkably high incidences of groundwater contamination associated with relatively new fracked wells. The industry has rolled up into its traditional pill-bug denial configuration, deflecting all charges.

Despite the industry’s trademark see-no-evil stance, some of the industry’s own studies relate the danger and substantiate Professor Ingraffea’s research. Schlumberger the industry’s clear leaders in fracking technology, along with Haliburton, said early on that under sustained well head pressure five percent of wells would fail within a year, 26 percent of wells at age four and 60 percent would fail at maturity, 32 years.

A 2009 study by members of the Society of Petroleum Engineers reached similar conclusions. Neither of these last two studies could be confused for the ranting of fire-breathing Jacobins.

In Colorado roughly 60 percent of the state’s water is groundwater. Much of it may be at risk if the production and injection free-for-all continues. And if that weren’t enough we can add that we don’t really understand the nature of the risk since we don’t know the chemistry of the water being injected. Yes, this water is largely unmeasured as to it constituents because it is exempt from the requirements of federal environmental law.

But consider this, in Douglas County south of Denver, one of the richest counties in the nation, ground water overdrafting is of epidemic proportions, having fallen more than 300 feet as a result thereof. It may be that in the future, a significant part of the supply for those inhabitants will have to come from even deeper aquifers. Will those aquifers be polluted and rendered unusable by our present shortsightedness?

The governor would do well to recognize that in storytelling the fellow who poisons the well is always the villain. Even the greater villain, in the modern day story, perhaps, is the overlord who accommodates it.

End Notes: Down a very deep rabbit hole

Not long ago a New York Times editorialist asked, given our plodding indifference to climate change, if we were going to be able to “avoid the greatest intergenerational environmental injustice of all time?” The fellow asking the question was Thomas Lovejoy, a professor of science at George Mason University and chairman at the H. John Heinz III Center for Science, Economics and the Environment.

His answer was muffled in doubt. In particular he wondered if we could act soon enough to limit heat-trapping gasses from exceeding the critical threshold of a 2 degrees C increase by 2100. True, many of us will be dead by 2100, I for sure. But my grandchildren and yours might not be if we act quickly to embrace a concept Nathaniel Hawthorne called the magnetic chain of humanity, but, of course, any variation on the notion that we-are-all-in-this-together will do.

Our link in this magnetic chain would be to simply insist that all venting and flaring of gasses at wellheads must cease except in the case of emergency.

As stated earlier, the technology is already developed to accomplish this. In addition, state law forbids waste in the production of natural resources. But that prohibition has probably gone the way of the constitutional prohibition against subsidizing private corporations. They have been overturned by the courts in whack-a-do rulings or simply ignored by the political ruling class armed with internal memos undoing the done.

All wells could not be converted at once, of course. So closures would have to be instituted until they could be. After all, waste of a natural resource, remember, has long been forbidden by our state law, and as the politicians are fond of saying, this is a nation of laws.

This prohibition would also apply to any new wells in that production could only commence once pipelines were in place to capture both the oil and gas. Oil can be stored on site, but gas cannot, at least not without substantial costs to the industry. This is the reason that in North Dakota the natural gas is simply flared and vented. The waste there was recently described as being great enough to power all the homes in Chicago and Washington, D.C. combined.

Norway, for instance, employees the waste-limiting regimen described above. They allow no production until the infrastructure is in place to capture both the oil and gas produced. Another big difference between Norway and the U.S. is that the resource is treated as a national resource, not one to be exploited by every character with an appetite for riches and who happens to own a checkbook, a drill bit, and a pickup. Denmark’s production is regulated as well to serve the national needs and accounts for over 25 percent of national revenues annually, though most goes into a rainy day trust fund for when the oil peters out.

Unlike Norway we continue down a path laid out by the industry. Waste, while illegal, is acceptable as long as it serves the industry’s bottom line. The true extent is unknown because it is unmeasured by the state. Thus, we are reduced once again to making our own calculations. So, if from four to seven percent of the 1,500 billion cubic feet of gas produced in Colorado in 2011 were lost through a leaky process as documented by NOAA and calculated by Ingraffea and others, we, in Colorado, would have wasted between 60 billion and 105 billion cubic feet of methane gas to the atmosphere. This is enough gas to heat between 750 thousand and 1.3 million Colorado homes. According to the census there are 2.2 million housing units in the state.

If we add in the amount of gas that is flared, which is almost certainly a greater amount, we can see that what is wasted in Colorado might not heat all the homes in Chicago and Washington D.C. combined, but is certainly enough to heat all the homes in Colorado.

For the public to regain control of the water it owns, several things need to be done? First, and most importantly, a serious water demand study with projections extending out at least 30 years must be conducted. Factored into these projections of demand must be a realistic examination of the sensitivity of our future water supply to climate change.

The reality of climate change has simply been ignored as the water buffaloes continue to look at the worn out solution of more dams financed by the public for the enrichment of the few, most recently the developers, but now, too, the oil industry. In this regard, know that we already have more than 2,000 reservoirs in this state, over half of them on the Front Range. Many often will not fill if climate change hits hard the southern Rockies as many climate scientists predict.

Water conservation, particularly in the agricultural sector which, as stated earlier, uses about 86 percent of the water, will almost certainly have to become more than a politician’s palliative if we are to realize a rational water future. Future conservation might even include the curtailment of corn-ethanol production, with its high demand for water and petrochemical fertilizers—but only if sanity reigns.

The result of the study will indicate where and how much water might be available to the industry. It is quite possible the study under certain climate change futures might indicate no safe availability. In which case, the industry would have to seek more expensive fracking mediums. In British Columbia, propane is reportedly being used successfully instead of water for fracking. Its use has the beauty of simplicity: gas in, gas out, thus, greatly reducing the wastewater disposal factor, though not the groundwater contamination threat.

Clearly, this sort of analysis needs to be done before more land is leased to the industry or more water destroyed. In a rational world, one in which the planet’s and public’s well being came first, this analysis would have been done already and the consequences understood.

Remember, too, that when the climate-change-denying, job-whores start their whine that jobs come before fustian concerns over our constitutional rights to “public peace, health, or safety,” remind them there will be a host of new jobs available in the oil patch. It will take a lot of people to install the controls needed to curb the huge waste of methane into the atmosphere at wellheads and along aging pipelines.

Because we really have no understanding of what we are doing in this dystopian nightmare of our own making, a moratorium on new leasing and horizontal fracking must be instituted. If Hick and his cohorts in the legislature cannot be made to understand our mutual responsibility in the climate change battle, or more personally our responsibility to the health of our fellows, human and otherwise, the folk will have to invoke its right to direct democracy through the initiative process, which our constitution describes as the “first power … reserved by the people.”

Commercial evaporation pits that accept fluids from independent truckers for a fee. Photo courtesy of TEDX The Endocrine Disruption Exchange

Commercial evaporation pits that accept fluids from independent truckers for a fee. Photo courtesy of TEDX The Endocrine Disruption Exchange

The initiative process is hated by the political elite, but it is the grand gift to us from the writers of our constitution who understood the corrupting power concentrated wealth had in the 19th century over federal and state legislatures, particularly as used by the railroad barons. The oil industry is more than a worthy modern-day replacement.

If we assume that, in the near term, some water might be available to the industry as a result of the comprehensive water supply study, the present free-for-all, in which every petty water provider can sell to the industry on the spot market for a tidy profit, must be eliminated

First, speculation in water as a commodity is forbidden by our constitution. If anyone is to receive the benefit of a market sale it should be the public to which the water belongs constitutionally and, in many cases, has paid for through federal and state subsidized water development programs.

Perhaps no one would be surprised, given the lay of the land in Colorado, that even though the public owns the water, it has never received any monetary consideration for the “beneficial use” of that water. On the other hand, if the public ever needs its water back to satisfy a growing population or to restore a river or stream, it must pay a market rate to reacquire it. The state’s constitution says the right for the beneficial use of water shall never be denied, but it does not say that reasonable compensation cannot be built into the transaction.

Secondly, the oil industry, like every other developer in the state, must be made to demonstrate they have a reliable water supply and identify the source of that supply as part of the leasing and permitting process. Evasion of this requirement, as the BLM and the state have allowed, by pretending that there is no relationship between land leasing for oil development and cumulative water demand is nothing short of idiocy. If they lease, we must assume they intend to drill, at least exploratorily, and that water will be the fracking medium.

Moreover, saving any short-term, fresh-water surpluses by injecting them into our rapidly receding Front Range groundwater reservoirs should always be considered. This water-reserving approach would help provide a long-term insurance policy against an uncertain water future, particularly since underground reservoirs tend to collapse once stripped of the structural equilibrium the mined water provided.

A complication in reclaiming the public’s right to protect its water supply from destruction whether by fracking or any other use is contained in a law the legislature passed in 1979. This legislation took deep ground water out of the public estate and gave it to the state water engineer for his administration. This was done so that developers in Douglas County could continue to over appropriate the groundwater that was otherwise threatened by the constitutional requirement to appropriation, that is, you can’t appropriate something that is already used.

To accomplish this slight of hand, they created a new class of water, calling it non-tributary groundwater. Apparently, they would have us believe it came from the center of the earth, not from slow surface percolation into deep aquifers. The result of this misbegotten assault on the public’s estate is a 300-foot decline in the groundwater table, as mentioned earlier. Unwittingly their malfeasance has set the stage for a inevitable fight between the oil industry and the developers over who gets the rest, the stuff the legislature apparently thinks came from the center of the Earth.

In this regard, it should not go unnoticed that in the writing of the state’s constitution considerable debate surrounded who should be the owner of the water in Colorado, the state or the public. The Populists won the day, arguing that if they gave it to the state, the state would let the wealthy and the corporations steal it.

We need to take back what is ours, and, despite the framer’s best efforts, perhaps they knew, someday, we might have to seek our own remedies. Perhaps that’s why they reserved for us the “first right” of legislation, the right of direct democracy, the right of the initiative.

As for Hick, he probably doesn’t agree with any of this. Why only last week he was back in Washington regaling Senators with stories of his derring-do in drinking fracking fluid . If it didn’t hurt him, it must be ok, reasoned he. What he didn’t say was that the fracking fluid he was drinking is quite expensive and is not known to have been used anywhere in Colorado. Equally unclear is whether Hick shows any of the signs Dr. Colborn’s studies indicate are associated with breathing fracking chemicals. Among them are a loss of empathy, smaller head size, and reduced cognitive powers.

As an activist told me at a rally against fracking at the state capitol, he wanted Hick to drive up near Longmont, where a spill of more than 80,000 gallons of green fracking fluid occurred last week, and drink a dram or two of that stuff. He said to those gathered, “now folks, that would be an acid test.”

In the end, if Hick and his administration can’t be turned toward defending the public interest, the public will have to go it alone with the support of a growing number of legislators who know their political future may depend on joining this fight against unregulated fracking. In fact, many are beginning to realize it is not so much a question of political well being as being on the right side of history.

In the short term that means every like-minded community, grassroots and public interest group in the state should sign on to help Longmont in defending its right to ban, either materially, with amicus briefs, or simply in letters of open support.

Last month, the city council of Fort Collins , the state’s fourth most populous city, passed a preliminary ban on all drilling within city limits. It also issued a letter of support to the people of Longmont. Can other cities be far behind?

Visit EcoWatch’s FRACKING page for more related news on this topic.

Wes Wilson contributed to this article.

This article has been reposted from EcoWatch.org with permission of Phillip Doe. – FRL

Historic Roosevelt Organ Undergoes Restoration

Boulder, Colorado – First United Methodist Church of Boulder (FUMC) is the proud home to a unique pipe organ, built in 1888 by Frank Roosevelt at the Roosevelt Organ Company in New York City. This year this special instrument, which is cited on the Organ Historical Society’s list, celebrates its 125th anniversary, and at the same time will undergo a major restoration and renovation that will take 18 months, beginning on Monday, February 25th.

The restoration work, which will be performed off site by Denver organ builders, Morel and Associates, includes cleaning and inspecting the 2114 pipes and replacing thousands of small leather and wooden parts and 1,860 pneumatic motors, requires disassembling the organ. Full renovation will take 18 months and is made possible by a generous gift from the Hoover family in honor of their mother Virginia Anderson.

The FUMC organ (Roosevelt‘s Opus 382) was originally built for Grace Methodist Episcopal Church in Denver. It was reinstalled in the First United Methodist Church of Boulder in 1960, having spent some years in storage. Grace’s was one of two Roosevelt organs installed in 1888, the other at Trinity United Methodist in Denver where it is still in use. Pre-electricity, the innovative Roosevelt design utilized electro-pneumatic action with a water wheel providing power to a generator connected to the console. Slightly different from a tracker organ design, when one presses a note on the Roosevelt keyboard, a wooden pin moves upward contacting a rocker arm which opens a valve allowing air to escape from a small pneumatic bellows which pulls open the valve under the pipe, allowing wind to enter and causing it to speak.  
Very few of Roosevelt’s instruments remain intact today, and almost none of those that survive are in original condition. The beautifully maintained Boulder Roosevelt still uses the original console and, besides updating to electric power, has had little other modernization. It even maintains its 19th-century pitch, just under modern day A=440 Hz, adding to its historic value but bringing challenges when accompanying brass or hand bells. It is a valuable example of American Victorian organ building: elegant, full-voiced, and constructed of the finest materials available. In choice of stops and overall tonal design, the organ is an assimilation of American, English, and French Romantic styles as well as more traditional, classic German influences. FUMC’s Roosevelt has 39 ranks, 34 stops, and 2114 pipes.

FUMC’s Director of Music, Evanne Browne, says, “Hearing this fabulous pipe organ played is an inspiring part of our weekly worship. It will be very missed for the next 18 months, but we will adjust to congregational singing accompanied by piano. Doing without the organ will only increase our appreciation of the instrument when it returns.”

The church is planning celebratory organ recitals when the work is completed. 

To learn more about the history of the Frank Roosevelt organ and see photos go to the FUMC website: http://fumcboulder.org/worship-and-music/music/organ.

First United Methodist Church of Boulder is an affirming and welcoming, vibrant church family that truly loves God by loving others. We affirm that the most profound life-changing realities are characterized by words like these: kindness, acceptance, justice, compassion, forgiveness, purpose, generosity and love. We joyfully welcome all people of any race, gender, sexual orientation, and faith traditions

What does it mean to ‘rethink church’? Come and see for yourself.

Birtherism is bull

From Lowering the Bar – Legal humor. Seriously.

UPDATE: Birthers’ Record Is Worse Than I Thought

by Kevin Underhill

Last week I mentioned that the lawsuit (if you can call it that) filed against me, the President of the United States, and a number of other dignitaries by birther/dentist/lawyer Dr. Orly Taitz had been dismissed. I also mentioned having seen a chart purporting to list every court ruling in the many cases that have challenged Obama’s claim to be a “natural born citizen,” and based on that I suggested that Taitz’s record in court on these cases was 0-158. I heard from the person who compiles that chart, who kindly gave me permission to link to it, and after reviewing it again I need to make a couple of corrections.

First, it may not be correct to ascribe all these losses to Orly Taitz. Certainly there are other people involved in filing these things, including Keith Judd, who I mentioned here in a slightly different context, although a context that also involved him being in prison, and also Philip Berg, who I mentioned here. None of these people have ever won a single victory in their “birther” lawsuits, nor has anyone else, and it’s also entirely possible that Taitz is involved in some or all of these other cases behind the scenes. But to be strictly accurate, while Taitz is zero-and-something, it may not be zero-and-158.

Second, the overall record is significantly worse than I thought, according to the “Birther Scorecard.”

This chart, which is currently 70 pages long and lists 175 cases, includes short summaries and also links to almost all the cited orders, where they are available online. It’s an impressive piece of work, created by Tesibria at What’s Your Evidence? According to the Scorecard (last updated October 18), of the 175 cases she thinks can be fairly classified as “birther” cases, birthers have lost 166 and the remaining nine are still pending.

If you add up all the individual rulings, including those in appellate courts and the U.S. Supreme Court, the birther’s arguments have been rejected (or appeals denied) at least 258 times.

As a bonus for me personally, I think I’ve also gotten at least one new entry for the Comical Case Names page from this, because one of these people apparently insists on filing cases as “Annamarie Last Name Uncertain.” Not “Annamarie Doe” or something like that—as this court noted, “In her pleadings, Plaintiff indicates that her first name is Annamarie and that her last name is uncertain.” But the captions actually read Annamarie Last Name Uncertain vs. [Whoever]. Nicely done, Ms. LNU.

In general I support the rights of the uncertain, but nobody seems able to even figure out what this person wants.


Kevin Underhill

Kevin Underhill

(excerpted from “About the Author” at Lowering the Bar)

Kevin Underhill is a partner in the San Francisco office of Shook, Hardy & Bacon, and to the surprise of many, himself included, has been with the firm for over 17 years.  He was a summer associate in 1992 and began his career in the firm’s Kansas City office in 1993.

Kevin’s essay series, “If Great Literary Works Had Been Written by Lawyers,” was published in The Green Bag law journal, and was mentioned in the Wall Street Journal and on National Public Radio, among other places. Kevin has also occasionally been heard on NPR himself, has been blogging and otherwise writing for years, and started this blog, “Lowering the Bar,” in 2006 or thereabouts. He has given presentations on a variety of topics, but all drawing from the stories he posts here, for law firms and legal departments across the country.

Vote YES on on 300

There have been many claims that the dangers of fracking have been overstated. Much of this debate has been confusing to the average citizen. A new study published in Scientific American helps explain how the confusion came about and why it continues. The study’s authors analyzed 194,000 inspection records of “Class 2” wells, also called “injection” wells, which are used to dispose of fracking waste. They also provide a brief history of the regulations guiding these inspections.

A lack of adequate oversight for Class 2 wells was written into successive legislative acts. This was a tale of two political parties, who played their parts counter to type. The original Safe Drinking Water Act was passed in 1974, during the Nixon/Ford era of Republican presidents. In 1980, Democratic Rep. Henry Waxman, a liberal, sponsored legislation that allowed the oil and gas industry to bypass provisions of the Safe Water Act by choosing to be regulated by state oil and gas boards that were more lax. The EPA then attempted to bar underground dumping (injection wells) unless companies proved beforehand that their actions would not be a health threat. In response, Sen. Lloyd Bentsen, a Democrat, led the fight against the EPA’s hazardous waste regulation. Congress redefined any waste that resulted from oil and gas drilling as “non-hazardous.” Voila. Injection wells became safe. From then on, benzene from the fertilizer industry was a hazardous threat to health and water supplies, but the same chemical in the oil and gas drilling process was not hazardous! This is why so many reports on injection wells say that nothing hazardous was injected into the well.

Had enough of legislative double talk? Vote yes on Ballot Question 300 to ban fracking in Longmont. Our health and our future depend on it.

Rocky Flats and the Jefferson Parkway

First posted on The Blue Line.

By

The June-July Arvada Report carried an unsigned article titled “Rocky Flats and the Jefferson Parkway ­ Is it safe?” The article says, yes, it’s “safe.” But “safe” for whom? Certainly not for the most vulnerable among us for at least three big reasons: 1) the danger of plutonium, 2) the inadequacy of official standards for permissible exposure, and 3) uncertainties about environmental conditions at Rocky Flats.

The danger of plutonium

The principal contaminant of concern at Rocky Flats is plutonium. An unknown quantity of plutonium in the form of minute particles remains in the environment at the site. The determining factor in whether to build the Jefferson Parkway along the edge of the Rocky Flats site should be the plutonium that is known to be there. Scientists from the Atomic Energy Commission (predecessor to the Department of Energy) produced the map below in 1970. It shows where plutonium released from Rocky Flats up to that time was deposited on and off the site. The proposed Jefferson Parkway, indicated as a dotted red line, would pass through the heart of the contaminated area.

In September 2011, independent scientist Marco Kaltofen of the Boston Chemical Data Corp. sampled soil along the route of the proposed highway. He found that the plutonium contamination in this area now is roughly equivalent to what it was in 1970. (See http://www.boulderblueline.org/2012/02/04/plutonium-the-jefferson-parkway-report-on-recent-soil-sampling-at-rocky-flats/ and http://www.boulderblueline.org/2011/12/23/plutonium-and-the-jefferson-parkway-another-look/ )

Plutonium’s half-life of 24,000 years means that after 24,000 years its radioactivity will have been reduced by half, each additional 24,000 years reducing it by yet another half. From a human perspective plutonium thus remains radioactive essentially forever. If a particle too small to see is inhaled or otherwise internalized, it can lodge in a lung or elsewhere in the organism. For as long as it resides in the body, very likely for the remainder of one’s life, it continually irradiates surrounding tissue. The star formation in the picture below is a magnified image of alpha rays emanating from a single particle of plutonium in the lung tissue of an ape over 48 hours. The alpha rays do not travel very far, but once inside the body they can penetrate more than 10,000 cells within their range. The eventual result of this constant irradiation could be cancer or some other ailment. (Photograph by Robert Del Tredici, At Work in the Fields of the Bomb, 1987)

Read the rest at The Blue Line.

American Exceptionalism?

Signing the Declaration of Independence

Government, of by and for the people.

In the late 19th Century, there was a Frenchman (who may or may not have actually lived) named Nicolas Chauvin, a zealous nationalist who believed everything French was superior, merely by virtue of it being French. From his name, was derived the word chauvinism. When I hear conservative talkers and Fox News anchors drone on about “American Exceptionalism,” it makes me cringe. They are the modern-day Nicolas Chauvins, only they aren’t French, they’re Americans. And as was Chauvin, they’re wrong. Dead wrong.

A few months ago, I met with some friends over dinner at an extremely busy restaurant. The place is always packed, with a line of people lined up outside, waiting to get in. In my party of 9, was a couple from Wales, here visiting friends and touring the states from coast to coast. After we finished our dinner, we all walked outside to say our goodbyes, where I spotted a man sitting in a concrete divider in the middle of the street. He only had one leg. Laying beside him was a pair of crutches, and he was muttering to himself incoherently. He was obviously mentally troubled, and the people milling about in front of the restaurant completely ignored this derelict of a human being wasting away before them, as if he were part of the landscape.

And indeed, he was. For me personally, this was mortifying. As for my friends visiting from Wales, it was embarrassing enough to me that they witnessed it, but to have them also see how unremarkable it seemed to the passersby, the shame of it all seared into my brain. I’ve been to Europe several times, and with the exception of the more third-world ex-communist bloc countries, you rarely see beggars anymore, and you never witness a disabled person discarded like a piece of trash. If someone in France, England or Germany has problems as horrendous as this guy apparently did, they’re generally scooped up by social services, and given the appropriate help. This guy could have keeled over and died there that night, and nobody would have known about it until the vultures started circling.

So when I hear this term; American Exceptionalism, being bandied about by the right-wing (and in truth, by some on the left who are too cowardly to refute it and call it what it is: patriotism on steroids), it boils my blood. In truth, the term is a thinly disguised euphemism for American superiority. This is all part of the flotsam and jetsam leftover from the 2000 election, and the hubris that emerged from the neocons after 9/11. That period when “Freedom Fries” replaced French fries, when restauranteurs all across the country were pouring Bordeaux wines into gutters, to protest that nation’s refusal to participate in our little Iraqi adventure, and as a way of poking our collective finger in the eyes of all the other countries who doubted America’s military and political hegemony.

The truth is, American superiority is 100% pure, 24 karat bullshit.

Is America exceptional in many ways? Absolutely. Our national parks, our beautiful coastlines, our rivers, our mountains, the Bill of Rights… I could go on for hours. But could anybody say that our national parks are more beautiful than those of say, Canada? Our coastlines are more beautiful than those of Brazil, Italy or Turkey? Our mountains are more beautiful than the Swiss Alps or the Andes? The Bill of Rights is superior to the Magna Carta? No. Every nation on the planet can in some small way claim to be exceptional. Even the most poverty-stricken nations of the third world have at least one or two unique bragging rights, and NONE of them suggest superiority over all others. Only Americans do that. We just love to remind everyone that we have the most powerful armed forces and the biggest arsenal ever known to man. Yet in all our boasting, we’re quick to skirt such stories such as how our military was misused by its civilian leadership to invade and utterly destroy a nation of 25 million people who posed no threat to us. And, in all our “superiority,” we brush aside as unimportant, the fact that we allow disabled, mentally disturbed citizens to rot in the gutters of otherwise pristine cities.

A truly enlightened nation would have very different priorities. The feeding of our poor and infirm should be at the top of that list. Healthcare for citizens lying in the street, should come before tax breaks for billionaires and subsidies for oil companies. Universally available and affordable education for our children shouldn’t come at the expense of a fleet of stealth aircraft that will (hopefully) never be used. And, perhaps unique amongst us, any truly exceptional nation would NEVER have adopted an electoral process that relies so heavily on electronic voting machines provided by partisan corporate interests!

The fact is, this country now has the highest healthcare costs, the highest infant mortality rate, the worst gender inequality, the highest murder rate and the highest incarceration rate of any developed nation on the planet. Exceptional, indeed. Where do these defenders of American superiority stand on that?

At one time or another, many empires, monarchies and nations have laid claim as the most powerful on Earth. Babylon, Egypt, Greece, Rome, France, Great Britain, Spain, Portugal, Holland, and probably a half-dozen others whose names are lost to history. And the one thing they all had in common, is that not a single one of them could ever conceive of a time when they weren’t the most powerful, or they didn’t have the biggest armies, or their armadas didn’t rule the Seven Seas. Yet, their power did indeed wane, as will ours. I would argue that the process has already begun, but the folks on the wacky right who measure America’s strength via military prowess, aren’t looking at the big picture. They’re only looking at who has the most muscle, while ignoring — or indeed, causing — our withering backbone.

No nation can survive with an undereducated populace, or with a two-class system; the haves and the have nots… or by spending nearly 60% of its discretionary budget on military hardware. As surely as Rome fell, so too will we one day. And for those who yammer on about American Exceptionalism, in this case, I would tend to agree; we’re exceptional amongst the nations today due to our path of self-annihilation. And I find it ironic beyond words that the right mistakes such obvious weaknesses as strengths.

I love this country, warts and all. But when these faux patriots boast of our power and pressure our politicians to co-opt their talking points, it shames me to have to acknowledge them as compatriots. Is America great? Yes, it is. Are we exceptional? Yes we are, in many ways — as is Guatemala, Bhutan, Gabon, Peru and Laos. But are we superior to any other country on the planet, by any sense of the word? No. And it’s high time we call out this American Exceptionalism meme for what it is; a pompous, overbearing display of nationalistic arrogance, bordering on fascism. American Exceptionalism as defined by the right is a bald-faced lie.

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.

Michael Caddell: Shameless

STOP ROMNEY!

Romney’s just another elephant fart salesman.

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach recently declared to the press that lawyers were ‘shameless’ in requesting fees in excess of $675,000 from the federal judges who drew up the redistricting maps that Gov. Brownback and the state legislature could not produce on time.

I would like to remind readers of the more than $640,000 in lawyers fees to defend the unconstitutional and draconian abortion clinic regulations passed by our “free market” loving lawmakers in 2011.

We should not forget the final bill yet to come for Dear Old Phill Kline and his the revolving door of lawyers that is piling up in his defense as former attorney general. The great defender of the “preborn” has been throwing Kansas taxpayers money to his cronies toward keeping his lapsed Kansas law license. The bill isn’t in yet, but coupled with the millions he expended while in office to persecute women and their doctors for legal abortions it promises to be sizable. A fact most Kansas reporters have yet to get paid to find out the figure.

Paraphrasing Donald “Rummy” Rumsfeld we do have a “known unknown.” That is the $75,000 to Art Laffer for his layover in the flyover zone of Topeka. Good Old Boy Art on his way to Tennessee declared Gov. Sam a genius in cutting state jobs, eliminating income taxes, etc. Bush #41 called Laffer’s methods ‘voodoo economics.’ Art declared victory and announced to the country that Kansas is having a “revolution in a corn field.”

Then there is the $31 million Gov. Sam sent back to DC over the health insurance exchange program, and the million or so lost from matching grants for the arts, a small matter for people who only see golf courses. He informs all that the future of the Supreme Court tested Affordable Care Act hinges on the November election and running out of office what many Kansans call “that n-word socialist in the White House.”

Now with 60 and more Kansas counties declared drought disasters there will be lines of heavily subsidized livestock feed farmers with their hands out for federal loans and crop insurance claims. Hateful of the federal government this somehow rings of hollow hypocrisy.

Then our Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer, a plastic surgeon, travels to DC to testify, at taxpayer’s expense, against “Obamacare” before a partisan stacked committee in the House of Representatives. He won’t benefit from “Obamacare”, not one cent as a cosmetic surgeon. What does he care if the poor get health care?

Then he returns with Sam who is fresh from the air fair in Great Britain to crank out a press release, lauding the virtues of K. U. Med becoming a national cancer research flagship, as a “job creator” of all things. Of course, they forget to mention just how much hated federal money is pumped each year into the place.

And they want us to vote for that Bozo with the car elevator in one of his mansions? I smell a big, stinking elephant fart coming our way from Topeka again, and we must pay for it.


Michael Caddell is a writer living in Nortonville, KS who runs Fightin’ Cock Flyer.

Falling Through the Cracks

STOP ROMNEY!

The 1% are the real poor – spiritually bankrupt.

From my years of work in providing care for disabled people. I am well aware of the number of people who “fall through the cracks” of our vaunted welfare system. When one is disabled and cannot work, for whatever reason, it is “the Christian thing to do” for society to help them avoid the inevitable ruin for them and their families. However, for many the system as it currently exists falls far short of that target.

One family man of my acquaintance has fallen through that proverbial crack and, as the result his very life and the continuation of his whole family is endangered. As the result of construction work injuries that broke his back, coupled with the extreme hard physical effort expended in working as a roustabout in the gas fields, he could no longer do that kind of work and had to give it up.

As a man who was only in his thirties, he determined to make a living by doing odd jobs, which he did for a period of years as his health continued to decline. As the recession crept up, it was harder to make enough money to support his family so his wife of twenty years began working in the office of a provider of services for the disabled and, for a few years, made enough money to sustain the family while he played “Mr. Mom” for their two sons and worked part time at any odd jobs he could get.

They managed quite well for a few years but, eventually, the strain began its own vengeance and he developed ulcers which sometimes caused him intense pain. The recession deepened and his odd jobs became harder to find and ceased. His wife’s employer, a contractor for the state, began to be squeezed by state budget cuts until they were forced to cut the salaries of their employees. She helped her husband apply for his Social Security disabilty benefits. His application was denied because he had not been working under “covered” employment for too long. Then application was made through the Social and Rehabiliation offices. There they were told that the wife’s income alone would only allow them to receive food stamps.

Then their oldest son turned eighteen, graduated from high school and then left home. With one less person in the house, the food stamps disappeared! This year, the younger son turned eighteen and then graduated from high school. Now he can’t even qualify as a dependent for tax purposes unless he goes to college, which he would love to do. However, in the process of evaluation, it was learned that this proud graduate of the special education classes of our school system failed the entrance examinations because of a “reading comprehension problem.” Sorry, but the scholarships and additional fees paid by his parents are non-refundable!

As problems are wont to do, they keep getting worse. Two days after he finally received a diagnosis of duodenal ulcers, the kind that are prone to rupture and cause one to bleed to death internally, he was moving a very heavy object in his own yard and caused a groin rupture. So, here they are with no medical insurance coverage, a gross family income which cannot pay all their expenses, and the threat of death hanging over them. Unless they take the option offered by the Republican politicians by showing up in a hospital emergency room and “free-loading” the necessary treatment, proving that it is no answer at all, the man is simply living on borrowed time. They know that the collection agency will hound them until hell freezes over in their efforts to collect every single dime. The irony of this situation is that, except for the fact that our Governor has stated that he would not accept the offer made by “Obomneycare” to increase the levels of poverty in Medicaid adjudications, they could, at least, receive the needed medical care under its provisions.

Is it the prevailing theory of the Republicans that this is the way our America should run? Should we give tax breaks to the filthy rich and let the poor just die because they are not able to do sufficient work to maintain life? Is this what the many generations of my family, including five of my brothers, fought and many died, to preserve for posterity? Is this the society we want to leave for our own descendents? If this is not a nightmare, I never want to wake up.

This writer is an octogenarian who has spent a half century working with handicapped and deprived people and advocating on their behalf while caring for her own working-class family. She spends her “Sunset Years” in writing and struggling with The System.

Doug Graham: What’s the connection?

Rightwing loonies attack anything in sightI think it’s terribly cute how the Times-Call tries to pretend it’s a real newspaper then turns around and publishes attack articles about Free Range Longmont. The most recent screed by Doug Graham pretty much calls out by name the entire Progressive community in Longmont and tries to claim FRL is some sort of nefarious ringleader. Hey, I’m delighted to be associated with Progressives – FRL is a progressive publication. And should we play a leading role in things progressive, local or beyond, we wear that badge with great honor and satisfaction. Free Range Longmont was born of the need to counter heavily biased reporting of the Times-Call as well as the Times-Call’s failures to cover information that was not in line with its right-wing agenda.

So sure, FRL is Progressive and we’re PROUD OF IT. Our masthead proclaims it clearly: Progressively Better News.

Not surprisingly, Mr. Graham gets a bit crumbly as he whines about FRL’s moderation policies:

They “nuke” what they don’t like but otherwise reuse, edit and republish your comments as they please, then throw the T-C under the bus implying it encourages libel, which is ironic considering how often members of the “team” submit opinions to the T-C.

Right there, in one line is classic TC distortion. FRL doesn’t “nuke” things “we don’t like” we delete comments that come from fake email addresses, attack our authors or use hate speech of any kind. The Times-Call could benefit from such a policy since their comments are routinely full of anonymous hatred, bile and sometimes just plain incomprehensible lunacy – some of which could be Mr. Graham (wearing a stylish mask provided by TC’s own IT team). Oh, and how dare any of FRL writers use their First Amendment rights to send LTEs to the newspaper. The temerity!!

Free Range Longmont’s ‘ends’ are quite simple: we want to give Longmont the information the T-C tries (and routinely fails *arf*arf*) to suppress and allow the Progressive community in Longmont to have a clear voice in the public square. We want citizens to be able to speak out against the extreme right-wing power base that’s slowly but surely wrecking our home. Lastly we intend to provide that forum without the barrage of lies and libels routinely seen among the T-C comments. Let the rabid right seek and destroy elsewhere.

Doug Graham, VP of IT at MediaNews GroupFree Range Longmont is here and here to stay. Newspapers loss of influence is already well-documented and it’s time for the fishwrap factories and their corporate owners to wake up and realize the game has changed.

There is a “Doug Graham” listed on LinkedIn but he claims he’s ‘never read the Times-Call’ – which is odd since he was IT VP for their parent company. I leave that conundrum for the reader to solve.

Setting history straight

Jerry Day accused Tom Lopez of rewriting history for criticizing Republicans and went on to accuse five Democratic presidents of starting wars. Such nonsense must be answered. World War I started in Austria in 1914 with an assassination. The U.S. entered in 1915 after German submarines sank unarmed passenger ships, primarily the Lusitania, with Americans on board. Woodrow Wilson did not start the war.

We owe to the victims to get the story straight.

World War II started with the invasion of Poland by Germany in 1939. The bombing of Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, and invasion of the Philippines with the loss of thousands of Americans brought us into the war. The total was much greater than on 9/11. Franklin Roosevelt did not start the war.

North Korea invaded the South in 1950, threatening to drive American and South Korean troops into the sea. Harry Truman did not start the war.

John Kennedy was considering withdrawal from Vietnam when he was assassinated. I will pass on the rest of this one, including Nixon’s secret bombing of Cambodia.

The Bosnian War started in 1992. Clinton did not get involved with the NATO bombing campaign until 1995. Clinton did not start the war.

Daddy Bush invaded Kuwait and Iraq in 1990 to save American oil interests from Saddam, who had invaded Kuwait, but failed to completely crush his war machine, allowing him to fully recover and slaughter thousands of his people after Daddy Bush urged them to revolt in 1991, and they did. They were hung out to dry.

Junior finished the job, at horrendous cost, by invading Iraq in 2002. It was justified by claiming Saddam was involved in 9/11 and possessing WMDs. Both have been proven to be lies.

Indeed, Mr. Day, some people do try to rewrite history.

45 years of occupation with no end in sight

The Israeli attack on Egypt that began the Six-Day War occurred 45 years ago on June 5, 1967. This attack was followed by an Israeli attack on Syria and fighting with Jordan. As a result of its attack, Israel took control of the West Bank including East Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip, part of the Golan Heights in Syria, and the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt.

Some supporters of Israel claim that the attack was necessary. However, leading Israeli leaders clearly reject that claim. For example, former Israeli Prime Minister Begin admitted: “In June, 1967, we again had a choice. The Egyptian army concentrations in the Sinai did not prove that Nasser was really about to attack us. We must be honest with ourselves. We decided to attack him.”

In 1968, Yitzak Rabin, chief of staff of the Israeli military in 1967, said: “I do not think Nasser wanted war. The two divisions he sent to the Sinai in May [1967] would not have been sufficient to launch an offensive against Israel. He knew it and we knew it.”

In a 1972 interview, Mordechai Bentov, a former member of the Israeli ruling coalition during the June war, said: “This whole story about the threat of extermination was totally contrived and then elaborated on afterwards to justify the annexation of new Arab territories.”

As a price for peace with Egypt, Israel returned the Sinai Peninsula. However, Israel’s military occupation of the Palestinian West Bank and Gaza Strip and the Syrian Golan Heights continues to this day. Some may claim that Gaza is no longer occupied, but the U.N. and the U.S. still recognize Gaza as being an occupied territory.

The Israeli occupation of the West Bank has increased in brutality and harshness over time. Palestinians rights are constantly violated. Living conditions in the West Bank are horrible and are even worse in Gaza, particularly due to the ongoing siege by Israel. For more on this siege, see http://imeu.net/news/article0019152.shtml.

Israel continues its theft of Palestinian lands and places illegal settlements throughout the West Bank including East Jerusalem. As of December 2010, there were an estimated 520,000 Israeli settlers living illegally in the West Bank including East Jerusalem.

Israeli expansion and construction of settlements has essentially eliminated the two-state option for a just peace. Israel must now choose between apartheid and democracy.

Memorial Day 2012 – A three star family’s tribute

Three stars in our window

Three stars in our window

I was born in 1957 in San Diego, California. My father, George Wray had served in the Armed Forces as did numerous relatives. The Korean war had been over for four years, the Vietnam War was three years away. Eisenhower was President and America was catching her breath and leaning into the race to the future. John F. Kennedy was eyeing the White House.

My childhood memories start when I was four, that’s the earliest I can recall clearly. The town I grew up in, Apollo, was deep in rural Pennsylvania northeast of Pittsburgh; squarely in the middle of the Rust Belt. Allegheny Ludlum’s Vandergrift steel manufacturing plant was still running and nightly ‘slag dumps’ into the Kiskiminetas River were still popular evening entertainment. Cautionary tales by relatives in the steel industry made it clear that men were ‘consumables’ and only the vigiliant and the lucky survived unscathed. At age six I was quite familiar with amputation scars and missing limbs – most of the adults I knew had one or the other. Coal and cargo trains ran regularly and I walked railroad tracks virtually every time my friends and I went hiking. The sound, smell and feeling of huge trains rumbling or roaring by fill my memories of that time. When I saw the movie Stand by Me I could empathize closely with the boys as they crossed a railroad bridge. Memories of the smell and feel of wood, creosote and hot metal come back sharply.

My memories of childhood are also littered with the jingo and propaganda of the Cold War. We heard in school what monsters the Communists were and television brought images of nuclear bomb tests – horrifying that our enemies had such things. More horrifying was the fact that such things existed at all. I was a smart kid (or so my teachers kept telling me); I understood what “10,000,000 degrees Fahrenheit” meant. Hot as the surface of the sun, literally ‘hell on Earth.’ Even as a boy I realized no human being should wield such force and knew without a doubt that if we ever actually used them in earnest, we’d strip this beautiful world down to naked molten rock – a giant slag dump. So I grew up living in fear that one day the madmen ‘running the world’ would go wild and kill us all. I still remember the ‘duck and cover’ drills that I knew abundantly well meant absolutely nothing – there’s no escape from an atomic attack.

My brother in law David Hill served in the Vietnam war. I remember his visits when he finished basic training and before he left to go overseas. When he came home he dealt with PTSD (usually during thunderstorms) and the depression that accompanies it. He died recently of cancer induced by exposure to Agent Orange.

In recent years I lost my wife Marilyn to lymphoma as well as my parents to aneurism and heart failure. Things weren’t going well at all. Then I met my future wife and life started getting better again.

My fiance had four children and had lost her husband to a heart attack triggered by a congenital condition likely caused by prenatal prescription drugs whose effects on mothers and children were not yet known. So death-by-industry was a very personal experience for us both.

When we decided to live together, one of the items she brought with her was a Service Flag with three stars on it- one for each family member serving. It hangs in our front window, slightly lower than our American flag as per tradition. There is no question in our home about ‘honoring the troops’ – those ‘troops’ are our family members.

To all the families in Longmont, Colorado and the rest of the United States who have family serving in the Armed Forces, you have our tribute and our comradeship. When our government decides to send troops or bring them home, we feel as you do – grief or relief since it could mean the loss or rescue of our dearest hearts.

On this day I pay homage to all my family and friends that have served our Nation – as well as the millions of servicemembers and their families. We remember you every day but most especially today – when the United States stops briefly to bow its collective head and say a prayer for the lost and those in harm’s way.

God bless the service families today, we stand with you.

May they all come home soon and may we ‘study war no more.’

You Might be a Conservative If — 2012 Edition

  1. You think that if the government is forced into another shutdown scenario this summer — again — it’ll be the fault of the president — again — and not due to John Boehner and Eric Cantor playing the same game they played last year which resulted in the nation’s credit rating being reduced. And you believe this, in spite of the evidence, because Sean Hannity said so last week — again.
  2. You believe President Obama’s support for gay marriage will weaken the sanctity of your own marriage. And the two babes you’re banging on the side down at Bubba’s Busty Bistro both agree with you.
  3. In the Trayvon Martin-George Zimmerman case, you immediately took the side of Zimmerman, because Martin was wearing a hoody and had no business being out at night in a gated community. But you still insist your position has nothing to do with race.
  4. You bristle whenever someone reminds you that today’s recession began during the George W Bush administration, and have even developed a talking point to combat it; “Bush is gone, It’s Obama’s presidency now!” Except of course, when president Obama killed Osama bin Laden, then suddenly Bush did it.
  5. 2012 is already trending to be the warmest year in recorded meteorological history, followed by 2011, 2010, 2005, 1998, 2003, 2002, 2009, 2006, 2007, 2004 and 2001. But because 2008 didn’t make the grade, you’re quite certain climate change is bullshit.
  6. You’re convinced that there’s massive voter fraud going on in the African/American community, because you saw 13 “New Black Panthers” looking mighty intimidating at a polling station on Fox News once. Even though, those 13 jokers make up the entirety of the New Black Panthers, and Fox News played that footage more times than they played the Rev. Wright tape. Oh, but don’t you assume from this that Fox is appealing to racist voters.
  7. You take Mitt Romney at his word when he said “Of course I would have given the order [to go after bin Laden in Pakistan], even Jimmy Carter would have.” Even though Mitt Romney previously said “Osama bin Laden is not worth moving heaven and earth spending billions of dollars just trying to catch. I do not concur in the words of Barack Obama in a plan to enter an ally of ours.” But hey, this is all academic anyway, because everyone knows President Obama was only following Bush’s strategeiry.
  8. You think the recall movement going on in Wisconsin is un-American, and Scott Walker is only doing what the voters of his state demand. And that recording of Walker taking a phone call from a bogus David Koch was overblown… He just thought it was a courtesy call to discuss their mutual love of cheese.
  9. You think Romney will be a better president than Obama, because he’s made it crystal clear that he wants nothing to do with those creepy gays. Well, except for that one time, when he was running for governor of Massachusetts (link).
  10. You believe the debt is at $15 trillion today, primarily due to Barack Obama’s failed policies, even though it was at $11 trillion when he was inaugurated, and the tax cuts and wars had yet to be factored in during the Bush years. You also believe George Bush’s role in doubling it was necessary, because he had to combat a Democratic-controlled congress… the very Democrats that voted 126 to 81 against the Iraq War. And the two tax cuts became law by Bush using reconciliation, against the will of the Majority. Together, these made up the bulk of Bush’s spending spree, because after all; “Deficits don’t matter.” ~ Dick Cheney
  11. You tout the concept of “American Exceptionalism,” because America’s the bomb! We’ve done it all, we do it right every time (unless a Democrat’s in power) and those stupid European socialist twits would have been lost decades ago, if not for us. And anybody who says our claims of American Exceptionalism are really just arrogant boasts of “American Superiority,” is just jealous, because they know we’re the best. Booyah!
  12. Even though Rush Limbaugh called a young birth control activist a slut and nobody within the GOP condemned him for it, the Komen Foundation was infiltrated by a mole whose intent was to defund Planned Parenthood, the governor of the state of Virginia proposed a bill that would have required a trans-vaginal probe against her will before being permitted to have an abortion, Planned Parenthood itself has been under attack by Boehner’s congress, and most Republicans voted against the Lilly Ledbetter Law, a bill guaranteeing equal pay for women — you still deny that there’s any sort of “War on Women,” because Gretchen Carlson said so on Fox & Friends. And she’s a woman, so case closed!
  13. You think Mitt Romney would make a better president than Barack Obama, because he’s had hands-on experience in the business world. And who was the last president who ran on his record of business experience? George W. Bush. So there.
  14. You think Barack Obama broke the law by backing the NATO mission to support the Libyan rebellion, which ultimately toppled a true supporter of international terrorism, but Bush’s invasion of Iraq … which wasn’t condoned by NATO or the United Nations, was just swell.
  15. You believe teachers, firemen and cops are overpaid, and that’s a better place to make budget cuts than asking millionaires and billionaires to pay the same tax rate they did under Clinton… when times were good, and the budget was balanced.
  16. You’re a big supporter of Free Speech, but nothing ruins your day more than when some immigrant says Sarah Palin was dumb. How dare they? If that’s what they think, then they should go back to Russia. Then Sarah can wave at them from her porch.
  17. You think Citizens United was the best thing to happen to Democracy since Glenn Beck, because finally, those poor downtrodden corporatists will have a say in who represents their interests… just as poor Siemens, Mengele GmbH, IG Farben and Bayer were finally permitted to do what they do best, once freed of those pesky, restrictive regulations. Because nothing says “Freedom,” better than a government kept in check by industry!
  18. You were shocked, SHOCKED when the Romney campaign suggested Barack Obama might try to use Romney’s Mormon faith as a wedge issue in the coming months, even though there are no such plans to do so. What sort of sick, anti-American commie party would ever use religion to divide America? After all, who’s ever done that?

Afghanis and Americans deserve better

Pentagon Releases Photos Showing U.S. Casualties

The price of Afghanistan

Lt. Colonel Daniel L. Davis wrote an article, “Truth, lies and Afghanistan: How military leaders have let us down“, in a recent issue of the Armed Forces Journal. The article summarized some material from a longer classified report he provided to several members of Congress.

Davis’ article is incredibly important as it sets the record straight on the ongoing disaster in Afghanistan as well as pointing out the huge disinformation campaign being waged by the military, politicians and the corporate-dominated media.

According to his article, Davis interviewed or had conversations with more than 250 soldiers in the field, from the lowest-ranking 19-year-old private to division commanders and staff members at every echelon. He also said he spoke at length with Afghan security officials, Afghan civilians and a few village elders. These conversations took place over a twelve-month period, mostly in 2011, during which Davis traveled over 9000 miles throughout Afghanistan.

Davis said that what he saw bore no resemblance to rosy official statements by U.S. military leaders about conditions on the ground. Instead, he said he witnessed the absence of success on virtually every level.

Davis concluded his article by saying:

“When it comes to deciding what matters are worth plunging our nation into war and which are not, our senior leaders owe it to the nation and to the uniformed members to be candid — graphically, if necessary — in telling them what’s at stake and how expensive potential success is likely to be. U.S. citizens and their elected representatives can decide if the risk to blood and treasure is worth it.

“Likewise when having to decide whether to continue a war, alter its aims or to close off a campaign that cannot be won at an acceptable price, our senior leaders have an obligation to tell Congress and American people the unvarnished truth and let the people decide what course of action to choose. That is the very essence of civilian control of the military. The American people deserve better than what they’ve gotten from their senior uniformed leaders over the last number of years. Simply telling the truth would be a good start.”

For another vital but seldom-heard perspective on the impacts of the failed U.S.-led occupation of Afghanistan, visit http://vcnv.org/afghan-screams-aren-t-heard. This link provides information about the impacts of war from the perspective of Afghani civilians.