National

Teaching peace: Muzzling America’s gun culture

A traveling salesman was lost on a lonely country road and stopped to ask a farmer for directions. The farmer thought a few minutes and finally replied, “You can’t get there from here.”

That conclusion matches how I feel about the current argument over the right to bear arms. Will gun control legislation reduce gun violence? Maybe. Maybe not. The situation is a lot like that farmer’s horses already out of the barn before the door is shut. There are enough guns circulating to give everyone, toddlers and above, at least one. And arguments against gun control laws whittle down proposed legislation using barn-door logic. It’s too late, why try?

Let’s think bigger than magazine capacity and assault weapon necessity. The “gun lobby” is about sales not rights. Just because the Second Amendment is in the Constitution doesn’t mean it is necessary. It is not. The Constitution has been changed 27 times; the Founding Fathers didn’t foresee everything that would require amendment centuries down the road. Excellent arguments have been presented on this opinion page documenting the fact that in 1791 a citizen had to bring his own gun to a militia call-up; one was not provided.

Gun guns and more gunsToday, the Second Amendment is superfluous. Assertions that citizens must be ready to overthrow tyrannical government are insulting to city and state law enforcement, the National Guard, and five branches of the Defense Department. Lost causes like that of rebel states in the Civil War are made by those who despise government in any form, especially the promise in the preamble to the Constitution to provide for a more perfect union. The “militias” of today hide behind stockades out in the woods hoping to evade taxes.

Bigger thinking today requires asking different questions. For example: Why is there a general perception that the NRA has congress by its short hairs? A recent survey shows the NRA’s Victory Fund spent over $11 Million on candidates in the 2012 election, with 0.44 percent supporting winners.

Peace sign - rainbowOr, how about a better question: How do we change our culture of violence? Arguments about gun rights divert our attention for a paradigm shift away from our role as the world’s policeman. Got trouble? Call in the Marines? Need military backup? We’ll build a military base anywhere. And we have. Need to overthrow a tyrant? We’ve got spies for that.

We’re built to fight and we expect to win. Why not? We invest in weapons from pistols to nuclear war heads inventoried by the thousands, enough to obliterate civilization five times over and leave the handful it will take to neutralize minor rogue states.

That farmer wouldn’t puzzle too long before realizing another you-can’t-get-there-from-here conundrum. Our culture is full of violence. Too much of our “entertainment” is based on killing whatever moves. And finally, we talk a lot about mental health, but leave out actual dollars to improve it. Many argue vehemently against a human right to healthcare, a fact staring each of us in the face, while insisting on an archaic right to bear arms and overthrow a tyrant king of the 18th century.

Longmont is a “happy town” because we have been teaching peace since 1996. It can’t be said too many times. The opposite of bearing arms in a culture of violence is community action to steer young offenders to law-abiding lives of peace. We even have a book for that written by Beverly Title called Teaching Peace. It is relevant today and tells the story of our restorative justice program now known as the Longmont Community Justice Partnership (LCJP). And partnership is the key word. Residents like you and me are working now in partnership with our police, our schools, and city government. Longmont is not sitting back waiting for the state of Colorado to act or Congress and the White House to decide magazine size or the necessity of assault weapons.

Here is relevant fact: Each year hundreds of our youths are referred to a community justice circle. They take responsibility and repair any harm done to victims and the community. The success rate is phenomenal. There is a 98% satisfaction rate by all involved in the circle, including community volunteers, offenders, victims, and the police who participate in 85 percent of all circles. This is our teaching peace process. Historically the recidivism, repeat offense, rate is about 7 percent compared to Boulder County’s 50 percent and a national rate much higher at around two-thirds!

Join us, stack arms and learn how to teach peace. Visit www.lcjp.org, or call 303-776-1527.

Bill Ellis is a Longmont Community Justice Partnership volunteer teaching peace.

Diverse Coalition of Coloradans Across State Speak Out Against Fracking


Editor’s Note:

Protect Our Colorado coalition designates February 27th Call-In Day to Governor Hickenlooper opposing the dangerous drilling practice of fracking and calling for a statewide moratorium.

Governor Hickenlooper’s Direct Line: 303-866-2471

To leave a message if the line is busy: 1-866-862-3237



Protect Our Colorado coalition and What the Frack?! Arapahoe deliver over 14,000 signatures to Governor’s office and state legislature calling for a moratorium on fracking

 

Audy delivers petitions to Hickenlooper, 2.27.13
Denver, Colo.— Today Protect Our Colorado, a coalition of more than 30 business, solar, farming, faith, consumer, environmental, grassroots and social justice organizations across the state, and What the Frack?! Arapahoe will deliver more than 14,000 petitions to the Governor’s office and leaders in the state legislature from Coloradans opposed to the dangerous drilling technique. The organizations are calling upon the Governor and state legislature to implement an immediate moratorium on fracking.

“Governor Hickenlooper may be willing to drink frack fluid, but Coloradans shouldn’t have to,” said Zack Malitz, Campaign Manager for CREDO, “Nor should they have to breathe cancer-causing air pollution, cope with toxic wastewater spills, or suffer the effects of fossil-fueled extreme weather. It’s time for the governor and the legislature to protect Coloradans and pass a moratorium on fracking.”

A dangerous method of extracting oil and gas from rock deep beneath the earth’s surface, fracking uses high volumes of toxic mixtures of chemicals. About 20 percent of those chemicals have been shown to cause cancer and up to 50 percent can affect nervous, immune, respiratory, and cardiovascular systems. A recent University of Colorado-Denver School of Public Health report found that people living within a half-mile of fracking operations were exposed to air pollutants five times above the federal hazard standard, which could increase their chances of developing cancer by 60 percent.

“Drilling and fracking would destroy farms, orchards, and vineyards across Western Colorado,” said Jim Ramey, Director of Citizens for a Healthy Community. “Gov. Hickenlooper should be working to protect our local economy from this dangerous industrial practice.”

With over 47,000 fracked wells throughout the state, and the oil and gas industry looking to substantially expand that number in the next decade, Colorado has become an epicenter of the fight against fracking in the United States.

“Based on the body of evidence, we believe that hydraulic fracturing is an accident prone, inherently dangerous industrial process with catastrophic risks to the future of our children as well as to future generations,” said Ashley Collins with Adams County Unite Now. “As parents, it is our responsibility to ensure the health, safety and welfare of our children as well as to protect the life support systems they rely upon, and for this reason we call upon Governor Hickenlooper and the state legislature to enact an immediate moratorium on fracking.”

What the Frack?! Arapahoe’s petition for a moratorium on all new drilling applications seeks to prevent escalation of harm until the state produces a comprehensive cost benefit analysis and completes health, water and climate impact studies. These common sense steps are necessary so that decisions regarding unconventional extraction from shale can be based on objective cost and risk assessment, rather than vague industry promises. “Current objective indicators point to risk of irrecoverable, irreversible harms to Colorado health, water supplies, and climate change escalation” says founder, Sonia Skakich-Scrima.

Protect Our Colorado is diverse coalition of businesses, farmers, faith groups, solar companies, parents, and social justice, consumer and environmental organizations with members from the West Slope to the Front Range of Colorado. The coalition is comprised of the following organizations: Patagonia, Lighthouse Solar, Colorado Progressive Coalition, Valley Organic Growers Association, 350.org, Food & Water Watch, CREDO, Unitarian Universalist Church of Greeley, Holy Terror Farm, Foodshed Productions, Citizens for a Healthy Community, Our Longmont, Adams County Unite Now, Boulder County Citizens for Community Rights, The Mother’s Project, Frack Free CO, Community for Sustainable Energy, Elbert County Oil and Gas Interest Group, East Boulder County United, Frack Files of Weld, Frack Free Loveland, Conscious Global Leadership, The Question Alliance, Frack Free Boulder, Denver Community Rights, Routt County Frack, Frack Free Fort Collins. For more information, please visit Protect Our Colorado.

Hickenlooper: Colorado’s dishonest governor

As if it isn’t bad enough that our governor is considered a “stud” by the oil and gas industry as he blatantly ignores the health and well-being of Colorado’s residents when it comes to fracking, now he is intentionally misleading the public about the safety of fracking fluid itself.

evil_clownHis recent comments about having taken a “drink of fracking fluid” are completely dishonest and misleading. He implies that because he drank it, fracking is safe. Only when pressed on the issue did he admit that what he drank was not the toxic brew of carcinogenic chemicals that is currently used throughout Colorado, but instead a type of a “green” fracking fluid that is made up of food-grade ingredients.

And to add insult to injury, in his follow-up statements he goes on to imply that this form of fracking fluid is in the “prototype” phase which is also untrue. It’s been around for several years but at a higher price tag than the chemical-laden mixture that is being injected into our lands throughout the state now.

In other words, while the oil and gas industry is making millions of dollars fracking throughout Colorado, they are doing it with toxic fracking fluids even though a green fluid is available now — just because it’s more profitable for them. Hickenlooper and the oil and gas industry should be ashamed of their blatant disregard for our residents’ health and well-being!

Fort Collins Bans Fracking as Democracy Comes Alive in Colorado

We the PeopleAlmost exactly nine months ago on May 22, 2012, I wrote an editorial in the Fort Collins Coloradoan newspaper, Fort Collins Should Ban Fracking. And yesterday, on Feb. 19, a sharply divided Fort Collins City Council voted 5-2 to ban fracking in the City of Fort Collins.

Nine months ago the conversation around fracking was relatively new in Colorado and few people and environmental groups were directly addressing it. Now, nine months later, very much has changed—fracking is in the news constantly, many environmental groups are engaged in the fight to stop fracking and the issue is escalating wildly throughout the public across the state.

What has changed in a mere nine months?

First, the threat of fracking has increased dramatically across the residential areas of the Front Range of Colorado. The Niobrara Shale geological formation underlies much of the landscape from Fort Collins all the way around suburban Denver and 150 miles south to Colorado Springs. The advent of horizontal drilling and horizontal hydraulic fracturing technology has allowed hundreds of thousands of acres of land to be leased and eventually fracked. Much of this land is squeezing up against suburban homes, neighborhoods and even schools, and those residents are speaking out in an increasingly feverish pitch. In fact, one of the biggest segments of the population speaking out as “fracktivists” is suburban mothers. And as we see in many types of politics in a purple state like Colorado, when suburban moms take up an issue, elected officials really start to pay attention.

Second, a few activists—in part let by retired U.S. Environment Protection Agency “whistleblower” and Gasland movie star Wes Wilson—started touring the state giving dozens and dozens of presentations to local government officials, local homeowners groups and local activists about the threat of fracking. These activists spent hundreds of hours (and miles) pressing the case that fracking is a serious concern, and left unregulated, fracking could turn many suburban communities into mirrors of Weld County, Colorado (in the northern part of the state) which has more active oil and gas wells (more than 18,000) than any county in the U.S. With those wells has come health problems, air quality problems, water pollution problems, water supply problems, social problems, real estate problems and financial problems. No surprise, but this exploitative extractive industry tends to take the oil and gas—as well as all of the money—and leaves local governments and people with pollution and financial trouble in its wake.

logo_our_longmontThird, a small band of fracktivists in Longmont, Colorado, in part led by a very small contingent of activists from the environmental group Food & Water Watch, made national news when they led a successful ballot initiative to ban fracking in the November 2012 election. This ban occurred with almost no financial backing (less than $20,000), with almost no support from other environmental groups, and through the sheer grit and moxy of its leaders. Further, the Big Oil and Gas Industry spent more than a half million dollars trying to defeat this ballot initiative in a town that cast only 42,773 votes—that’s more than $10/vote. And when the vote was final, the result sent shock waves around the state. Longmont is not a raging environmental hotbed—if a ban could pass in Longmont while being outspent 25 to 1, it could likely pass in nearly any city in the state.

Follow the money will billsFinally, Colorado’s Governor, John Hickenlooper (a former oilman), has become a lightning rod who has rapidly escalated the tension around fracking and infuriated local residents and environmental activists. His anti-environmental, pro-fracking actions—too numerous to count and catalogued elsewhere—include starring in a radio ad for the natural gas industry and recently boasting to a U.S. Senate committee that he drank fracking fluid because it is safe and risk free. Every time he speaks about the issue, he just makes it worse both for him and for the issue—his disrespectful and demeaning attitude towards environmentalists seems to be closely matched by his reckless deception of the public. It’s gotten to the point where the best way to fight fracking in Colorado is to just give the Governor the microphone and wait for him to say something inappropriate and further infuriating.

Nine months ago there was little support for banning fracking in Colorado, and there were hardly any organized groups willing to take it on. Nine months later, the situation has completely changed. Cities like Fort Collins are making clear that it makes no sense to put a ban to a vote when it is almost assured to pass, and so therefore a smart and progressive council has the obligation to pass a ban with a simple ordinance. Further, more than a dozen small ad-hoc “fracktivist” groups have sprouted up around the state pushing their local governments hard and publicly. The group that led much of the fight in Fort Collins is Frack Free Fort Collins, while some of the names of other groups around the state have been more creative like Erie Rising (in Erie, Colorado) and The Rio Grande Watchdogs (in the Rio Grande valley).

With fracking, threat has bred opportunity, and democracy has come alive in Colorado. While it’s profoundly unfortunate that thousands of homeowners are now threatened with the impacts of fracking, it’s also deeply important and powerful that these same homeowners and suburban moms and dads learn how to be active and informed citizens in our democracy. Not only the promise of democracy—but the responsibility of democracy—is becoming real to thousands of people who just a year earlier were likely focused on normal suburban activities.

The Big Oil and Gas Industry doesn’t care and will say and do absolutely anything to anyone in order to increase their short-term profits. But the citizens of Colorado—at least in Longmont and Fort Collins, so far—do care and are learning that they don’t deserve what they’re getting, so they’re fighting for what they want.

Stay tuned and keep watching: Democracy in Colorado is coming alive. And it’s beautiful.

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

Gary Wockner, PhD, represents Clean Water Action and Waterkeeper Alliance in Colorado. He lives in Fort Collins—Gary@GaryWockner.com.

Reprinted from EcoWatch with permission from the author.

Oil and Gas: Industry Gone Wild!

Oil drilling is glamorous

Oil drilling is glamorous

You really have to wonder why EnergyfromShale.org recently placed two slick advertisements in the Daily Camera, showing idyllic scenes of a man fishing, with a strategically placed fracked well in the background. Can fishing, requiring fresh, flowing water, exist side by side with toxic, fracked oil wells? This is in North Dakota, home of the biggest domestic oil patch, where tens of thousands of wells are flaring natural gas, visible from outer space.

Flaring natural gas raises atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide, contributing to global warming. Can our planet afford to get any warmer? It seems apparent that warming has contributed to severe drought in North Dakota and the rest of the high plains, leaving everyone very thirsty, while the oil and gas industry continues to destroy precious water by fracking. What about the people, the livestock and the farmland of North Dakota, all suffering the ill effects of an industry gone wild?

The Shilke family, highlighted in The Nation, had 32 fracked oil wells within three miles of their home. The result: a water well contaminated with a brew of toxic chemicals and health issues for Jacki Shilke and her husband, including chronic lung pain, unexplained rashes, loss of fillings in their teeth, body pain. Doctors diagnosed Jacki with neurotoxic damage and constricted airways. Five of her prized Angus cows dropped dead and now they can no longer sell their cattle.

Is this a vision of Nirvana? This story plays out over and over again throughout the oil patch in North Dakota — from cities overrun with man camps and crime, to millions of truck trips disintegrating their roads and billions of gallons of water being destroyed. Is this a wonderful legacy? Or is it destroying our life support system?

The Minimum Wage: How Fear Drives the Republican Party

By Vince Yanez at the Big Slice

Let’s talk about the minimum wage a bit.

Roll of moneyRepublicans are saying that if we raise the minimum wage, it will drive prices up. That’s only a valid argument if we were raising it dramatically. Fact of the matter is, it is only going up about a buck and a half (if we truly raised it to match the cost of living, it would have to go up closer to $21 to $27 dollars an hour).

Now, let’s remember another time when money was given to the poor souls of this country, when those stimulus checks were mailed out. Did that raise prices of products? It did not, in fact, most companies started having sales because they wanted their share of your money. There is NO evidence that prices have EVER gone up when the minimum wage was raised, not once in our history, so your fear is based on no facts, yet again.

Republicans argue that raising the minimum wage will discourage people from further education, by enticing them to entering the workforce with little skills. This is the same party who fights against school loans, education programs, restructuring school loans and affirmative action. So basically, you are saying you don’t want to raise the minimum wage because you want people to pursue a higher education, while at the same time, making a higher education virtually impossible. Thus, you have people who have neither education or decent pay, putting them on welfare programs, which you are also fighting to end.

Does anyone else notice that when you really look at what the Republican Party is doing from all their different angles, one would almost think they were trying to destroy entire communities?

Read the rest at The Big Slice.

Natural Gas: No clean energy future

Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter’s statement on behalf of 
Americans Against Fracking

PrintWASHINGTON – February 13 – ”President Obama was right to proclaim the importance of speeding our transition to a clean energy future last night in his State of the Union Address, but natural gas has no place in that plan. The so-called natural gas boom he described is only locking us into further dependence on dirty, polluting fossil fuels, while destroying our communities and the resources on which they thrive.

“While it is encouraging to hear President Obama declare his commitment to combatting climate change, natural gas will only perpetuate this vexing issue. Extracting, transporting and burning natural gas all contribute significantly to greenhouse gas emissions and worsen global climate change. In addition to the carbon dioxide emitted from burning natural gas, significant amounts of methane leak as new wells are fracked and as natural gas is transported. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas, about 33 times more efficient at trapping heat than carbon dioxide over 100 years, and about 70 to 100 times more potent than carbon dioxide over 20 years according to a 2009 study published in Science. New evidence, including data from researchers at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, indicates that the oil and gas industry and the Environmental Protection Agency have drastically underestimated the extent of methane emissions from drilling and fracking operations.

“President Obama needs to stand up for American communities, not the special interests of the oil and gas industry. He must reject natural gas, as well as plans to export additional supplies overseas. It is true that we need to reinvest in American communities and bolster our green energy infrastructure, but natural gas is not the bridge to a future lit by clean energy. It is, as many have said, a bridge to nowhere.

“Controlling our own energy future means investing in energies that sustain our communities, not the financial needs of the oil and gas industry.”

Americans Against Fracking is composed of nearly 200 groups.:

Rubio’s Sip of the Lip

Great piece by Peter Fegan at The Big Slice:

Sometimes I can’t help but feel just a little sorry for the Republicans. It’s bad enough they had their lunch handed to them in last year’s elections. Despite an avalanche of soft money and an entire cable news channel at their disposal, Barack Obama easily bested Thurston Howell III and the Democrats actually increased their majority in the Senate.

But last night, after the President gave what many have now called his best speech ever, Marco Rubio had the “honor” of presenting the alternate reality that was the GOP response. When it rains, it pours. If this is how the Republicans plan on rebutting Obama in his second term, I’d stay out of Vegas for the foreseeable future if I were them. 2014 is already starting to look bleak.

The fact is, despite all the claims by Rubio and later Mitch McConnell, there wasn’t one single proposal laid out by Obama that wasn’t either practical or popular. The man spent just over an hour throwing down the gauntlet and setting the trap for his opponents. They, in turn, quickly did their best to fall into it. No wonder Rubio reached for a bottle of water. If you had to spit out that much bullshit in that short a time, you’d need a whole damn ocean to wet your whistle.

The major problem for the Republicans is two-fold: they are peddling a message that few outside the converted are buying and they are up against a president who has learned his lesson from his first term and plans on keeping the pressure on. He probably isn’t going to win every battle, but he will win a good chunk of them, and at the GOP’s expense.

Read the rest at the Big Slice.

Shame on Greeley’s Mayor, Council

Robert Winkler

Robert Winkler

As a 30-year risk management professional, I have supported many multi-national organizations in risk mitigation best practices, studies, and programs. Informed by my background and because my family lives in northern Colorado, home of over 19,700 poorly regulated gas and oil wells, I have serious concerns about the effects on our health, our environment, and future property values from gas and oil industry activities.

Greeley Mayor Thomas Norton and his city council failed to consider these issues in their excessive support of an economy based on oil and gas. They persist in viewing oil and gas activities solely through a prism of arguable economic perspectives.

On 1/14/2013, the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES), CU Boulder, and NOAA concluded that “oil and gas activity contributed about 55 percent of the volatile organic compounds linked to unhealthy ground-level ozone.” The study was published in the prestigious journal Environmental Science and Technology. In early 2012, the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Agency (NOAA) stated that well pad equipment leaked or vented an estimated 4 percent of natural gas produced to the atmosphere.

The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission’s (COGCC) database reveals that 60 of 1,000 spills reported in Weld county last year comprised 824,000 gallons of spilled and “unrecovered” oil, 383,000 gallons of “spilled” and “unrecovered” water and up to 547,000 gallons of “spilled” and “unrecovered substances labeled “other,” including fracking fluids.

And if Greeley’s elected officials are so concerned with economics, they should also consider recent real estate data that states that property values in and around oil fields typically depreciates 25% and up to 75% when the area is completely industrialized.

Mayor Norton fails to address any of these concerns when objecting to proposed COGCC setback rules. Instead, the mayor and council members should consider why citizens who live amongst over 400 wells within the city limits are concerned about adequate setbacks. Our elected officials should be concerned with making their community a healthier and safer place to live, both now and for future generations.

In addition to a minimal half mile setback from single and multiple family homes, churches, schools, community centers , and medical facilities, the City of Greeley should immediately institute an indefinite moratorium on gas and oil development until scientific analysis and assessments determine that these processes are safe.

A Health Impact Assessment would identify and describe the effects of gas and oil development on health. Minimal increases in incidences of chronic health problems could impact thousands of people and create escalating health care costs. The assessment should emphasize segments of the population most vulnerable, specifically infants, children, pregnant women and the elderly. It should also examine occupational risks to workers and to those living closest to drilling, fracking, and completed well sites.

weld-county-gas-rig, Colorado IndependentBecause the gas and oil industry is well aware of the risks of its heavily industrialized operations, it successfully lobbied for exemption from provisions of the federal Safe Drinking Act, Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act, National Environmental Policy Act, Super-Fund Act, Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liabilities Act (CERCLA), Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, Toxic Release Under Emergency Planning and Community Right To Know Act (known as the “Halliburton Loophole”).

The list of mitigations that the City of Greeley should require to protect all taxpaying citizens is more substantial that space here allows. Minimally, it should:

  • Retain independent inspectors to monitor the operations for abuses. Seventeen inspectors for entire state with only one for Weld County is ludicrous.
  • Regulate and control the complete filtration and disposal of all fluids and mud’s used in drilling and extraction of resources for contaminants.
  • Monitor Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) toxic vapor leakage around well sites with infrared photography.
  • Assure that adequate fire protection and mitigation resources are in place and regularly rehearsed in all communities to respond quickly to chemical and other disasters related to the industry’s activities.
  • Initiate industry impact fees for independent testing of all wells for aquifer depth, bore seal integrity, and water quality before, during, and for a minimum of five years after the well has been drilled and fracked.
  • Hold gas and oil companies accountable for construction, maintenance of roads and bridge infrastructure.
  • Monitor truck traffic and the behavior of transient workers employed and associated with the industry by local, county, and state law enforcement.

It’s well past time that our elected officials honor their oaths to guarantee citizen health, safety and welfare.

25 Ridiculous Conservative Ideas In Their Own Words

By WynnWoods at The BIG Slice

  1. Armed rebellion is a viable alternative to elections: ”Our nation was founded on violence. The option is on the table. I don’t think that we should ever remove anything from the table as it relates to our liberties and our freedoms.” —Tea Party-backed Texas GOP congressional candidate Stephen Broden, suggesting the violent overthrow of the U.S. government if Republicans don’t win at the ballot box, interview with Dallas’s WFAA-TV, Oct. 21, 2010
  2. Banning abortions for high-risk pregnancies can be a positive experience for women: “I have been in the situation of counseling young girls… who have had very at risk, difficult pregnancies. And my counsel was to look for some alternatives, which they did. And they found that they had made WHAT WAS REALLY A LEMON SITUATION INTO LEMONADE.” — Sharron Angle on abortion
  3. Bringing your gun to crowded public events is normal: “It’s not unusual in political rallies, it’s not unusual in parades, to see that type of thing.” — Joe Miller on guns at his rallies
  4. Carbon Dioxide is safe: ”Carbon dioxide is portrayed as harmful. But there isn’t even one study that can be produced that shows that carbon dioxide is a harmful gas.” —Rep. Michelle Bachmann
  5. Climate change is a myth: “I absolutely do not believe in the science of man-caused climate change. It’s not proven by any stretch of the imagination…It’s far more likely that it’s just sunspot activity or just something in the geologic eons of time. Excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere ‘gets sucked down by trees and helps the trees grow.”’ – Ron Johnson
  6. Corporations are people: ”Corporations are people, my friend… of course they are. Everything corporations earn ultimately goes to the people. Where do you think it goes? Whose pockets? Whose pockets? People’s pockets. Human beings, my friend.” —GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney
  7. Discrimination on the basis of race is desirable: “I don’t want to be associated with those people, but I also don’t want to limit their speech in any way in the sense that we tolerate boorish and uncivilized behavior because that’s one of the things freedom requires is that we allow people to be boorish and uncivilized, but that doesn’t mean we approve of it.” —Rand Paul, taking issue with the Civil Rights Act of 1964 while arguing that government should not prevent private businesses from discriminating on the basis of race
  8. Evolution is a myth: “You know what, evolution is a myth….Why aren’t monkeys still evolving into humans?” —Christine O’Donnell
  9. Geography is not important: ”I’m ready for the ‘gotcha’ questions and they’re already starting to come. And when they ask me who is the president of Ubeki-beki-beki-beki-stan-stan I’m going to say, you know, I don’t know. Do you know?” —Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain
  10. Government has no role in job creation: “People ask me, ‘What are you going to do to develop jobs in your state?’ Well, that’s not my job as a U.S. senator.” —Sharron Angle
  11. Higher education is elitist: “President Obama wants everybody in America to go to college. What a snob … Oh, I understand why he wants you to go to college. He wants to remake you in his image.” –Rick Santorum
  12. Hitler coined the phrase “separation of church and state”: “The exact phrase ‘separation of Church and State’ came out of Adolph HItler’s mouth, that’s where it comes from. So the next time your liberal friends talk about the separation of Church and State, ASK THEM WHY THEY’RE NAZIS.” — Glen Urquhart
  13. Inciting violence is acceptable: “I hope that’s not where we’re going, but you know if this Congress keeps going the way it is, people are really looking toward those Second Amendment remedies and saying my goodness what can we do to turn this country around? I’ll tell you the first thing we need to do is take Harry Reid out.” —Nevada GOP Senate candidate Sharron Angle, floating the possibility of armed insurrection in a radio interview
  14. Intelligent Design is a viable scientific theory: “There are hundreds and hundreds of scientists, many of them holding Nobel Prizes, who believe in intelligent design.” – Michele Bachmann
  15. Lawyers are Un-American: “the ABA is about as far left as the Communist Party, so those who usually get those awards are lawyers committed to socialism, not freedom.” – Tea Party Nation Founder Judson Phillips
  16. Marriage is related to national security: ”Isn’t that the ultimate homeland security, standing up and defending marriage?” —Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA), on congressional efforts to pass a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage (July 2004)
  17. The media is a threat to national security: “The greatest threat to America is not necessarily a recession or even another terrorist attack. The greatest threat to America is a LIBERAL MEDIA BIAS.” — Lamar Smith
  18. Minimum Wage created unemployment: “If we took away the minimum wage-if conceivably it was gone-we could potentially virtually wipe out unemployment completely because we would be able to offer jobs at whatever level.” —Michele Bachmann
  19. Most Americans cannot accept gay marriage: “Gay marriage is probably the biggest issue that will impact our state and our nation in the next, at least, thirty years. I AM NOT UNDERSTATING THAT.” — Michelle Bachmann
  20. Obama is the enemy: “He has no place in any station of government and we need to realize that he is an ENEMY OF HUMANITY.” — Trent Franks on Obama
  21. The rise of the Soviet Union is cause for concern among Americans: ”What people recognize is that there’s a fear that the United States is in an unstoppable decline. They see the rise of China, the rise of India, the rise of the Soviet Union and our loss militarily going forward.” —Michele Bachmann (R-MN), unaware that the Soviet Union collapsed more than two decades ago (August 2011)
  22. Sexual Revolution created AIDS: “We had the 60s sexual revolution, and now people are dying of AIDS.” —Christine O’Donnell, Politically Incorrect. August 1998
  23. Trees have a proper height: ”I love this state. The trees are the right height.” —Mitt Romney, campaigning in Michigan (February 2012)
  24. We should use prisons for low-income housing: “THESE ARE BEAUTIFUL PROPERTIES with basketball courts, bathroom facilities, toilet facilities. Many young people would love to get the hell out of cities” — Carl Paladino on housing poor people in prisons
  25. Women are disposable: ”She’s not young enough or pretty enough to be the wife of a President. And besides, she has cancer.”’ —future House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA), reportedly speaking to a friend in 1980 about why he was divorcing his first wife

Agenda: wreck the train to narrow the tracks

Wreck the train to narrow the tracks.

Wreck the train to narrow the tracks.

In Latin “agenda” means things [to be, or being] done. So some of our elected representatives in Washington have an “agenda?” I don’t think so.

First, the zeal on the part of some extremists, especially on the House side of Capitol Hill, for shrinking government is said to constitute (oh, THAT word!) an agenda. It certainly does appear they would wreck the train in order to narrow the tracks. Imagine, no FAA to ground the new plastic airliner. Note: the biggest customer for the Boeing 787 is the Japanese, who will soon and again be the country’s biggest creditor. Maybe we can get them to bomb us again, or threaten to. Say, a small island in the Aleutians as a shot across the bow? Don’t miss a payment, and don’t mess with Mrs. Watanabe.

How about no FCC to make sure television commercials are no louder than the programming? I’m not the first to point out that hasn’t worked. Neither does the “no call” list, but that’s a story for another day. In either case, what’s the difference?

These legislators SAY they hate debt. How many of them have a mortgage? Ah, ah, ah, ah; you freaks can’t use a credit card, either. If you’re gonna talk the talk, then walk the walk. All that “debt” verbiage is just garbage designed to strike fear into you and me. I’ll show you fear, when the Social Security checks stop arriving. These “lawgivers” would blackmail and bankrupt us all to prove their point. And if the USA goes down, we’ll take the rest of the world with us. But don’t worry. Your congressperson or US senator will set up food lines, man the electric plants, run the water and sewage treatment facilities, fix the roads, protect our borders, in short fill in everywhere. They have our backs. So what’s the worry? After all, we elected them; didn’t we?

‘Seems Pogo must have been right after all.

Change: It comes from the bottom up

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Collectively we can promote change.

Boenhner smoke

By Justin K. from Flickr

By Justin K. from Flickr

Mr. Chris Douse wrote a letter lambasting Senate leader Harry Reid for a pork-laden Sandy relief bill. I agree that there should be no pork in the relief bill. But let us take a closer look. Money appropriation bills like this are supposed to originate in the House. Speaker Boehner is led around by the nose by the tea party fanatics and did exactly nothing, leaving it to the Senate and Harry Reid to help the victims.

Reid can do nothing without the approval of Republican leader Mitch McConnell or he will be filibustered. McConnell filibustered 60 times in the 111th and 48 times in the 112th Congress. He even filibustered one of his own proposals when he proposed it and Reid then offered to vote on it. So the pork-laden bill had his full approval.

Reid was forced to buy the votes of some senators by their demands for a favorite pork project in order to get enough votes to pass the bill. Mr. Douse found a list of the pork projects, but failed to go further and obtain the names of the people who demanded the pork. If he had done so, I’ll wager that at least half were from Republican senators. In the meantime, Speaker Boehner fulminated and chain-smoked in the House instead of doing his job of helping the victims of Sandy.

Tell the truth, Wendy.

As a native of Boulder County, and as the son of a man who worked in the oil and gas industry for 35 years, I feel compelled to respond to the hyperbole and melodrama of Encana Oil and Gas’s Wendy Wiedenbeck’s guest editorial (“Anti-fracking activism,” Op/ed Dec. 29). And, as the Colorado director of the national group Food and Water Watch that Wiedenbeck smears, I feel compelled to set the record straight about my organization and the community members that Wiedenbeck depicts as “extremists.”

Being almost completely devoid of facts, Wiedenbeck’s article uses emotional pleas and exaggeration. But what about the peaceful, earnest community members who she derides as “fringe activists?” These are mothers, fathers, teachers and small business people who have, until now, had no say to whether or not the oil and gas industry can put our air, water, soil and property values at risk by dangerous drilling practices like fracking.

Wiedenbeck wants sympathy, but it’s our health, our families’ safety and our communities that are threatened. Let’s examine the factual record.

There are 45,000 fracked wells in Colorado. Increasingly, the oil and gas industry — with the blessing of Governor Hickenlooper — is drilling merely a stone’s throw from our homes, schools, public parks, rivers and streams.

Warning sign on oil and gas condensate tank near homes in Evans COFracking and its associated activities threaten our health. Nearly 25 percent of the chemicals used in fracking could cause cancer; 40 to 50 percent could affect the nervous, immune and cardiovascular system; and more than 75 percent could affect the skin, eyes and respiratory system. With these scientifically documented dangers, why is Governor Hickenlooper’s state regulatory agency permitting companies like Encana to drill wells next to elementary schools in Erie, where data from a recent NOAA study found levels of propane ten times higher than in Los Angeles?

Fracking contaminates groundwater. According to an analysis done by the Denver Post of the state’s own regulator agency’s data, oil and gas has contaminated groundwater over 350 times in the past 5 years. On average, there is more than one spill a day across the state.

It takes 1-5 million gallons of water to frack a well. Each well can be fracked multiple times. Multiply that across the 45,000 wells in Colorado and you get a sense of the sheer volume of water that is being laced with thousands of gallons of toxic chemicals and pumped into the ground. In effect, this water is removed from the hydrological cycle forever. Having just experienced one of our state’s most severe droughts, when 62 out of 64 counties were declared in a state of disaster, it seems unconscionable to continue such wanton destruction of our precious water resources.

Fracking drives down property values. There have been reported cases of home values dropping up to 75 percent due to nearby fracking activity. Increasingly, banks are not granting mortgages to property owners whose land carry oil and gas leases.

Ban Fracking NowSadly, it’s not just Wiedenbeck who’s obedient to the business objectives of the oil and gas industry — Governor Hickenlooper is astonishingly out of touch with Coloradans on this issue too. He has refused multiple requests to meet with Coloradans who are concerned about fracking taking place near their homes and children’s elementary schools. He has locked citizens out of “public meetings” that he has convened to discuss the issue while gladly keynoting at the oil and gas industry’s annual summit, starring in pro-fracking advertisements, and to suing the citizens of Longmont for attempting to protect their health, safety and property from fracking.

Wiedenbeck’s attack should be seen for what it is: A desperate attempt to cover up the fact that Coloradans don’t want fracking. This was made clear when citizens in Longmont voted overwhelmingly to ban this dangerous, industrial activity next to their homes and schools last November. The vote was a resounding mandate. It was especially notable because the oil and gas industry raised over half-a-million dollars to defeat the measure, including $30,000 from Wiedenbeck’s employer.

It’s unfortunate that Wiedenbeck finds it necessary to defame Colorado citizens, but it’s understandable. It’s less understandable — deplorable actually — that Governor Hickenlooper continues to dismiss, discredit and even sue mothers, fathers, teachers, farmers, nurses, retirees and business owners in Colorado who do not want fracking next to their homes and schools. These are the voices of reason and common sense.

Sam Schabacker is the Mountain West Region Director for Food and Water Watch.

Some call them banks. We call them criminals.

Photo courtesy http://www.sxc.hu/photo/1136585In case you failed to notice, 2012 ended just like it began for many global too-big-to-fail banks: scandalously. Too-big-to-fail banks are those entities deemed so large that their failure could plunge the global economy into depression. Many of these players are the ones that allowed greed and compulsive gambling with borrowed money to nearly wreck the global financial system in 2008. Saving the system required U.S. taxpayers to bail out numerous big U.S. banks. Unfortunately, since the bailouts, these behemoths have become even larger, with more concentrated power over the global financial system. Therefore, too-big-to-fail banks are an even larger threat to international financial stability than in 2008. After you read the next paragraph, it will be clear that as they have become larger, the too-big-to-fail banks have also become too big to indict, even for the most egregious illegal and fraudulent behavior.

For those of you who have not followed the long parade of big banks that agreed to pay fines to avoid prosecution in 2012, here is a small sample of names, settlement amounts and offenses for which they settled. As you recognize these well-known names, remember, these are the large financial institutions on which the global financial system depends for economic growth and stability. The following are listed in the chronological order in which the settlements occurred: 1. Bank America, JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Citigroup and Ally Bank ($26 billion), fraudulent foreclosure practices; 2. Citigroup ($158 million) and Bank of America ($1 billion), misleading the Department of Housing and Urban Development; 3. Deutsche Bank ($200 million), misleading HUD; 4. ING ($619 million), money laundering; 5. Barclays ($450 million), interest rate rigging; 6. Capital One ($210 million), deceptive marketing credit cards; 7. Standard Chartered Bank of England ($340 million), laundering money for Iran and lying to regulators; 8. Bank America ($2.43 billion), misleading investors; 9. Goldman Sachs ($12 million), a “pay to play” scheme with a public official; 10. JPMorgan and Credit Suisse ($417 million), bundling and selling troubled mortgages to investors; 11. HSBC ($1.9 billion), money laundering for drug traffickers and terrorist institutions; 12. Morgan Stanley ($5 million), violating securities laws; and 13. UBS ($1.5 billion), manipulating interest rates. Only UBS was forced to admit guilt as part of its settlement. Although the settlement agreement shielded its charter to operate, UBS admitted guilt for a single act of felony wire fraud on behalf of its Japanese subsidiary. The remaining offenders were allowed to settle without admission or denial of guilt. Many of these banks are recidivists.

Prosecutors in the Justice Department and other bank regulators chose to settle these cases instead of prosecuting for fear conviction might cause the banks to fail, thus triggering a collapse of the global financial system. Therefore, with a slap on the wrist, the too-big-to-fail banks were not held accountable for charges of fraud, misleading federal regulators, money laundering, interest rate manipulation, deceptive marketing, misleading investors and violating securities laws. With prosecution off the table, big banks have no incentive to change their behavior. Settlement payments are just another cost of doing business. The U.S. banks named above were all considered too big to fail in 2008, so they received billions of dollars in TARP bailout support. These same banks are now spending huge sums to ferociously resist reasonable regulation under the Dodd-Frank financial reform act.

Since the global financial system is so dependent on a small group of large, interconnected banks (oligopolists) that are too big to fail, indict or prosecute, these institutions have no fear of being held accountable for the most egregious acts of lawlessness and fraudulent behavior. Therefore, they are too big to exist in their current form and must be right-sized into smaller entities. A large number of right-sized banks will ensure a vigorous, competitive financial sector that can efficiently provide the wide range of financial products necessary to support business formation and job creation. Officials at the big banks claim their institutions must be gargantuan to efficiently finance the economy. Empirical data to support such claims is hard to find; however, proof that too-big-to-fail banks are detrimental to global financial stability is abundant. Numerous banks agreeing to pay millions or billions of dollars to settle charges of outrageous illegal behavior in 2012 alone is quite telling. Until we eliminate too-big-to-fail banks, the world will constantly be on the edge of the next greed-induced financial calamity like we experienced in 2008.