Archive: February, 2010
In my cover story last week ("Drill Baby Drill"), I described, among other things, the potential for wastewater spills from hydraulic fracturing, the process used to drill for gas in the Marcellus Shale.
In the latest news of contamination linked to drilling for natural gas in the Marcellus Shale, a Pennsylvania driller has admitted to dumping some 200,000 gallons of drilling wastewater into an abandoned well just outside of Allegheny National Forest.
The story was reported today by Pro Publica, a non-profit dedicated to investigative journalism in the public interest:
As part of a plea agreement with the U.S. attorney for western Pennsylvania, part-owner Michael Evans, 66, of La Quinta, Calif., and John Morgan, 54, of Sheffield, Penn., admitted dumping 200,000 gallons of brine salty wastewater thats created in the drilling process down an abandoned oil well. The maximum penalty for both Evans and Morgan is three years in prison, a fine of $250,000, or both. Sentencing will be June 24. Attorneys for both men declined to comment.
Swamp Angel Energy was drilling in the Allegheny National Forest, in McKean County in northwestern Pennsylvania, and the brine was dumped just outside the border of the federal land.
The company, Pro Publica reports, has 77 active, permitted wells in Pennsylvania, all in McKean county.
Read more CP coverage of drilling in the Marcellus Shale.
They totally love him, so much more so than his "populist" Democratic competitors. He's the "most pro-business," after all, which means tax cuts! Check out this invite to a big-money funder (written by a corporate lobbyist) obtained by, of all places, the Daily Kos (and check out the employers of the folks to whom this e-mail was addressed):
The next time some right-wing, blithering idiot tries to tell you the stimulus did nothing and helped no one, except for Acorn, maybe which Republican pols tend to say right before they try to score some sweet, job-creating stim money show them this:
As it turns out, according to none other than the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, the stimulus package has saved or created somewhere between 1 million and 2.1 million full time jobs (and up to 3 million in "full-time equivalent employment," whatever that means). Yeah, we have an unemployment problem. And sure, we can debate whether the stim was too small, or too big, or too whatever, or that we should have taken another approach. But no longer should this insidious, deceitful right-wing meme stand unchallenged; after all, now we have facts and data.
Of course, that presumes that facts and data matter to the right wing noise machine.
The Utah legislature 78 percent of whom are male, coincidentally has just passed a law that will, in essence, make it a crime for a woman to have a miscarriage. Of course, that's not what the bill's backers say they want to do. Heavens no. Rather, they just want to crack down on women who pay men $150 to beat them up so they will miscarry, which has happened, you know, once. A scourge, truly.
But in their push to ban everything that even remotely resembles abortion but isn't protected under Roe v. Wade, this Christianist crusade may well produce some unintended consequences. Actually, that's not quite right. Does it still count as "unintended" if they know about them in advance, and don't care? See, the bill criminalizes we're talking homicide charges, here a woman's 'intentional, knowing, or reckless act' leading to a pregnancy's illegal termination.
Reckless. Think about that for a second. Per RH Reality Check:
In addition to criminalizing an intentional attempt to induce a miscarriage or abortion, the bill also creates a standard that could make women legally responsible for miscarriages caused by "reckless" behavior.
Using the legal standard of "reckless behavior" all a district attorney needs to show is that a woman behaved in a manner that is thought to cause miscarriage, even if she didn't intend to lose the pregnancy. Drink too much alcohol and have a miscarriage? Under the new law such actions could be cause for prosecution.
"This creates a law that makes any pregnant woman who has a miscarriage potentially criminally liable for murder," says Missy Bird, executive director of Planned Parenthood Action Fund of Utah. Bird says there are no exemptions in the bill for victims of domestic violence or for those who are substance abusers. The standard is so broad, Bird says, "there nothing in the bill to exempt a woman for not wearing her seatbelt who got into a car accident."
Such a standard could even make falling down stairs a prosecutable event, such as the recent case in Iowa where a pregnant woman who fell down the stairs at her home was arrested under the suspicion she was trying to terminate her pregnancy.
Dan Savage over at Slog offers his thoughts:
Um... Utah? If every miscarriage is a potential homicide, how does Utah avoid launching a criminal investigation every time a woman has a miscarriage? And women have a lot of miscarriages: one in four pregnancies end in a miscarriage. And how is Utah supposed to know when a pregnant woman has had a miscarriage? You're going to have to create some sort of pregnancy registry to keep track of all those fetuses, Utah. Perhaps you could start issuing "conception certificates" to women who get pregnant? And then, if there isn't a baby within nine months of the issuance of a conception certificate, the woman could be hauled in for questioning and she could be indicted for criminal homicide if it's determined that she intentionally or accidentally induced a miscarriage. Of course, lots of women miscarry before they even realize their pregnant... so Utah will have to pass another law, one that compels all sexually active womenactually, let's just say all women, Utah, since some sexually active women claim they're chasteto come in for mandatory monthly pregnancy tests...
The bill is now in the governor's hands. The governor is, of course, a man. And like the male-heavy Utah legislature though, in fairness, the bill was sponsored by a woman in the Senate he knows better than you little women what to do with your bodies. In the meantime, don't fall down stairs, ladies.
Oh, by the way, Utah Dems tried to get that egregious "reckless" word out of the bill, because, you know, in theory, a preggo woman going back to an abusive spouse could qualify. Republican Sen. Margaret Dayton, the bill's sponsor, patted them on the head, and said, without a hint of irony:
"I don't think we want to go down the road of carefully defining the behavior of a woman."
Of course, the Utahans have nothing on my former home state, where wingnut legislators want to not only ban all abortions, but send abortion docs to prison for life. Up yours, Roe v. Wade.
Editor's note: Yesterday marked the first hearing in that bizarre Lower Merion Webcam-gate lawsuit. Intern Christine Adkins was there, and files this report:
The Lower Merion School Board fiasco continued Monday when attorneys met with US District Court Judge Jan E. DuBios to work out a temporary restraining order in the potentially class-action case filed by the parents of 16-year-old Blake Robbins, whose privacy was allegedly invaded by school district officials.
The first 45 minutes of the hearing featured school district attorney Arthur Makadon and Mark Haltzman, the Robbinses' attorney, going through a stream of objections as to the specific wording of the would-be restraining order to prevent the district from essentially deleting data that may be of use to the plaintiffs as the case moves forward. The image-conscious district didnt like the word injunction; Haltzman wanted to use prohibited. Though in the judicial world, wording is everything, one would assume that practicing attorneys could agree to a few vocabulary terms in under an hour. Not so. And as you sit there, taking this all in, suddenly you find yourself wondering if you will be found tomorrow in the same courtroom, roused by a security officer, comatose and mumbling SAT vocabulary lists.
The ACLU of Pennsylvania filed an amicus brief in support of Robbins' case. However, an ACLU attorney, who had conference called-in for the hearing, said the civil rights group didn't intend to actively participate in the suit.
The event concluded two and half hours after this allegedly short hearing began, revised order agreed upon, signed and entered into record. The new order, which does not use the words restraining order, forces the participants to select a mutual forensic experts for analyzing and copying Robbins laptop, prohibits district Webcams from being remotely activated, forbids the school district from contacting members of Robbins class concerning the lawsuit, and prevents the district from providing updates to parents without the consent of Robbins counsel at least six hours prior.
Exciting stuff, really.
Remember a few weeks back when I broke down the Pew Charitable Trust's poll? Well, part 2 is out today, and it "shows that Philadelphians are optimistic about the city's prospects even though many of them have suffered personally as a result of the economic downturn of the last 18 months." Primarily, according to the poll, we're far less worried about crime than we were a year ago: In January 2009 45 percent of respondents cited "crime" as their biggest concern; that percentage has dropped markedly, to 35 percent. 63 percent of us rate Philly as an excellent or good place to live, up from 55 percent last year.
Although, on the other hand, 37 percent say they'd leave town if they could, up slightly from last year, and only 59 percent say the city will be a better place to live next year than now, down from 68 percent who said so last year.
Now, for the cross-tabs: Interestingly, it's the youngest Philadelphians who are most concerned with crime. 40 percent of those under 35 rate it as a top concern, compared to 26 percent of those over 65. Also, crime is the most primary concern of what I might call the sorta upper middle class, those earning 50k to 100k a year. They rate crime a few points higher than do our poorest brethren. Oh, here's something else I need to wrap my head around: Guess which hood is the most concerned about crime. If you said West Philly, you'd be wrong. North Philly, home of the Badlands? Bzzz. It's Northwest Philly, home to East Falls, West Mount Airy, and Chestnut Hill, all bastions of criminal activity, to be certain (to be fair, there are some sketchy zones up that way).
Citywide, 49 percent of us say we or someone we know was unemployed last year. Not surprisingly, that number goes down as one's level of education goes up. Stay in school, kids. Not surprisingly, whites consider their financial situation more secure than do blacks or Hispanics. According to the poll, 41 percent of whites describe their financial situation as good or excellent, to 37 percent of Hispanics and only 26 percent of blacks.
Equally across demographic groups, 47 percent of residents label Philly a "good" place to live; however, the number of those who call it "excellent" varies: 23 percent of whites, to 12 percent and 11 percent of blacks and Hispanics, respectively. Again, not a shock, but the number of those who feel positively toward the city correlates strongly with increased income and education.
Finally, the city's right track/wrong track numbers seem pretty positive, given the national mood 41/34.
Friend of the Clog Brian James Kirk is running an interesting series over on ex-Inky columnist Tom Ferrick's Metropolis Web site this week, looking at the widespread use of surveillance video cameras by Philadelphia police. Check out part one here, and part two here. Part three, Brian tells me, should be up later today.
In any event, here's a sample:
When it comes to fighting crime, Philadelphia is undergoing a video revolution. Within a few short years, the city is likely to be blanketed by a network of more than a thousand state-of-the-art, high resolution cameras, scanning high-crime areas, critical structures such as the Benjamin Franklin Bridge, SEPTA stops and inner city streets.
The sweeping program had a modest beginning. In 2007, Mayor John Street and the Philadelphia Police Department announced a $10 million initiative to install 250 surveillance cameras around the city. These are high resolution Unisys digital video cameras that, if perched on a street light, can pan, tilt and zoom into details, such as a person's face or a license plate number, from a full city block away.
Today, 117 of the planned 250 cameras are in operation, perched above streets with their tell-tale blue lights blinking. Another 76 are covered by plastic bags awaiting network configuration.
But this is only the beginning. The number of cameras on the network is expected to expand exponentially in the near future. City officials are working on ways to link their Police Department operation with surveillance cameras used by such parties as SEPTA, local universities and private businesses to create a super-network of public space surveillance that can feed images back to the video monitoring room at Police Headquarters at Eighth and Race Sts.
These cameras, Brian writes, allow cops to zoom in on things like faces and license plates from up to a block away. Go take a read, it's worth a few minutes of your time. While you're at it, bear in mind that while the cops love taking pictures of you, they may well arrest you for reciprocating.
Christine Adkins here with your morning fix:
Temple University's college-designed weight loss program Onward to Weight Loss Success (OWLS) starts its 11-week session with 26 new college women, this time monitored and evaluated by Temple's obesity center.
Manatees in Florida are dying off in record numbers due to the sudden cold spout. By "cold," in Florida, we mean sub-50s.
Heya, bipartisanship. The Senate advanced a $15 billion jobs-creation measure, with a handful of GOP votes, including that of Tea Bagger King/Cosmo centerfold Scott Brown. There is no joy in Freeperville.
The remaining possessions of deceased Airman Bradley Davis were stolen out of his parents' rental car as they traveled to Colorado for his memorial service.
Researchers are confident that they have found DDT's replacement by changing the distribution system of a common insecticide.
Philadelphia police begin investigating after finding a woman dead in her Hunting Park home yesterday.
The Lower Merion Webcam case continues with an unusual order forcing school administrators to show Robbins' lawyers any communication they want to give parents six hours before releasing it.
Natalie Holloway's case took a turn after a suspect confessed to dumping her body. But now it's back to square one; Aruba's chief prosecutor dubbed the confession âvery unbelievable.â
Toyota admits that it took too long to realize there were serious problems in some of their vehicles and issue a recall.
John Yoo, our favorite Bush administration torture apologist/Inky columnist, is back in the news. Last week, as reported by Newsweek, senior Justice Department officials overruled department investigators â who ruled that Yoo and Jay Bybee (now a federal judge), two lawyers in the department's Office of Professional Responsibility, had violated their ethical obligations as lawyers when they authored a 2002 memo that basically authorized the Bush administration to torture anyone they wanted, anytime they wanted, because why the hell not â and reported that Yoo and Bybee had indeed shown poor judgment, but had not committed professional misconduct.
While the probe is sharply critical of the legal reasoning used to justify waterboarding and other âenhancedâ interrogation techniques, NEWSWEEK has learned that a senior Justice official who did the final review of the report softened an earlier OPR finding. Previously, the report concluded that two key authorsâJay Bybee, now a federal appellate court judge, and John Yoo, now a law professorâviolated their professional obligations as lawyers when they crafted a crucial 2002 memo approving the use of harsh tactics, say two Justice sources who asked for anonymity discussing an internal matter. But the reviewer, career veteran David Margolis, downgraded that assessment to say they showed âpoor judgment,â say the sources. (Under department rules, poor judgment does not constitute professional misconduct.) The shift is significant: the original finding would have triggered a referral to state bar associations for potential disciplinary actionâwhich, in Bybee's case, could have led to an impeachment inquiry.
In a follow-up, also from Newsweek, we learned precisely how insane Yoo's outlook on executive authority is.
The chief author of the Bush administration's "torture memo" told Justice Department investigators that the president's war-making authority was so broad that he had the constitutional power to order a village to be "massacred," according to a report released Friday night by the Office of Professional Responsibility.
At the core of the legal arguments were the views of Yoo, strongly backed by David Addington, Vice President Dick Cheney's legal counsel, that the president's wartime powers were essentially unlimited and included the authority to override laws passed by Congress, such as a statute banning the use of torture. Pressed on his views in an interview with OPR investigators, Yoo was asked:
"What about ordering a village of resistants to be massacred? ... Is that a power that the president could legallyâ"
"Yeah," Yoo replied, according to a partial transcript included in the report. "Although, let me say this: So, certainly, that would fall within the commander-in-chief's power over tactical decisions."
"To order a village of civilians to be [exterminated]?" the OPR investigator asked again.
"Sure," said Yoo.
Yoo is depicted as the driving force behind an Aug. 1, 2002, Justice Department memo that narrowly defined torture and then added sections concluding that, in the end, it essentially didn't matter what the fine print of the congressionally passed law said: The president's authority superseded the law and CIA officers who might later be accused of torture could also argue that were acting in "self defense" in order to save American lives.
Yoo, now a law professor at Berkeley, is a member of the State Bar in Pennsylvania. If you're so inclined, you can sign a petition to have him disbarred here.
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