Monday, June 28, 2010

Let's Talk Fracking

The Delaware River in Autumn

As the Gulf catastrophe plays on, there is - if you can believe it - a slower-moving, much farther-reaching calamity emerging.

It is being caused by something called hydrofracturing, a process that uses a slurry of sand and toxic chemicals propelled at high pressure against layers of shale that hold trillions of cubic feet of natural gas under them. Called "fracking" for short, it is in use and growing in rural West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and New York.

The 2005 Energy Policy Act, a direct outgrowth of the secret Cheney energy cabal, exempts hydraulic fracturing from federal water laws and relies on states to monitor and restrict water pollution. West Virginia and Pennsylvania have largely failed in efforts to stop the process. New York State has largely succeeded - so far.

The material polluting ground water and nearby streams is called "leakoff."

Aside from the actual toxics used in the process, fracking releases huge amounts of methane that finds its way into the water supply as do unwanted large concentrations of normally harmless elements such as iron and aluminum.

Already wells in central Pennsylvania have been closed and the drilling and gas companies have begun trucking in potable water by tanker truck to the affected areas.

Reports of people passing out during their morning showers and developing lesions on their skin have become too pervasive and persistent to ignore.

Most ominously for those in the Northeast, this Pennsylvania drilling is going on in the Delaware River watershed. The Delaware is one of the most pristine rivers in the United States, despite its proximity to the large population centers of metro New York and Philadelphia.

More drilling has been planned or been proposed much closer to New York City's main water supply.

According to a report in Vanity Fair:

"Volatile organic compounds (carbon-based gaseous substances with a variety of detrimental health effects) and other dangerous chemicals are burned off directly into the air during this on-site compression [liquefaction] process. Meanwhile, the returned fracking fluid, now called waste water, is either trucked off or stored in large, open-air, tarp-lined pits on site, where it is allowed to evaporate. The other portion of the fluid remains deep underground—no one really knows what happens to it."

Each well that is opened requires between 5 and 8 million gallons of water to operate. This is the equivalent of 650,000 5-minute showers. (It has to be trucked in, requiring 800 to 1,200 round trips by heavy trucks to each site. New York has forbidden the use of municipal water for this purpose, so if fracking ever goes ahead in the state it will require even longer-distance trucking tactics.) And what goes into the ground must come out, somewhere, sometime. In the case of fracking 1/3rd of the water used is returned as polluted waste water.

“There has never been any evidence of fracking ever causing direct contamination of fresh groundwater in Pennsylvania or anywhere else,” said Scott Perry, another Oil and Gas Management official, as recently as April 2010.

This is patently untrue, another instance of the lies that the energy industry has told the American public about oil, coal, and gas extraction, all the while dragging their feet on the way to a clean energy future.

In east-central Pennsylvania, whole towns have been affected by fracking, homes have been shuttered, schools have been tested and their air found to be polluted.

What chemicals are used in the process? Hold onto your gas masks:

They include such substances as benzene, ethylbenzene, toluene, boric acid, monoethanolamine, xylene, diesel-range organics, methanol, formaldehyde, hydrochloric acid, ammonium bisulfite, 2-butoxyethanol, and 5-chloro-2-methyl-4-isothiazolin-3-one.

The last chemical is known as a "bad actor" in the field of toxin studies. It is an ingredient in pesticides and is deemed a highly acutely toxin, a cholinesterase inhibitor (endocrine system disrupter), a known/probable carcinogen, and known groundwater pollutant or known reproductive or developmental toxicant.
An intensive study conducted by New York City, concerned about the spread of hydro fracturing into the city’s 1,585-square-mile watershed in the Catskill Mountains and upper Delaware River basin concluded that “Intensive natural gas well development in the watershed brings an increased level of risk to the water supply: risk of degrading source water quality, risk to long-term watershed health... risk of damaging critical infrastructure, and the risk of exposing watershed residents and potentially New York City residents to chronic low levels of toxic chemicals.”

The city’s report went on to say that while a single well may be environmentally benign, the risks become unacceptable “when evaluated in the context of hundreds or thousands of other wells.”

Wes Gillingham, program director of Catskill Mountainkeeper, said of the report, “One of the reasons industry could get away with these incidents is that there was a lack of science. New York City used reputable geologists and came up with the science.”

Finally, the ineluctables.
As surprising as this may be to those unfamiliar with the Northeast woodlands and meadows, the rural areas of Pennsylvania and New York are relatively unspoiled. (New York State, for instance, has two of the country's roughly two dozen big city unfiltered water supplies: New York City's, the nation's biggest, and Syracuse's. Both would be put at extreme risk should fracking for "natural" gas be implemented wholesale.)
Moreover, the regions under the shadow of this threat have largely avoided industrialization and even extensive residential development. The old mixed farmlands and incidentally preserved lands and waters have been little changed over centuries. Second-growth forests in some areas are now close to 200 years old.

One gas industry spokesman, fighting his dark version of the good fight in Pennsylvania, proclaimed that the drilling and fracking had produced more than 300 jobs already in that state. That's about as many people as attend a large elementary school.

That is worth jeopardizing the water of tens of millions of people?
Put up the windmills now, build the solar panels. Use the car less. Drive at 55. Turn off the lights.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Unhealthy Exceptionalism - The Class System and Health Care

The right wing is fond of bragging up "American Exceptionalism," most of which is purely invented drivel. This is not to say that the United States as a country hasn't performed intelligently, admirably, even heroically, in many instances.

Health care is definitively not one of those instances. In fact, our record is shameful, immoral, and fixed upon the profits of corporations and not on the health of average Americans.

The Commonwealth Fund Commission looked at 7 countries of different sizes with different approaches. In 2007 to 2009, the years for which the study was completed, among the seven nations studied - Australia, Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States - the U.S. ranks last overall, as it did in the 2007, 2006 and 2004 survey. 

The commission said, among other things, "the U.S. fails to achieve better health outcomes than the other countries, and as shown in the earlier editions, the U.S. is last on dimensions of access, patient safety, coordination, efficiency, and equity. The Netherlands ranks first, followed closely by the U.K. and Australia."

The U.K.? You mean the bogeyman set up by the radical right wing every time we have a debate about health care in America? And how can the Dutch - pot-smoking, syringe-distributing sex fiends come in first among this clutch of western nations?

Adding insult to injury, in 2007, health spending was $7,290 per person in the United States, around double that of any other country in the survey. Australians spent $3,357, Canadians $3,895, Germans $3,588, the Netherlands $3,837 and Britons spent $2,992 per capita on health in 2007. New Zealand spent the least at $2,454.

And U.S. spending has gone up about 8% per year since 2005 while overall inflation hovered around 3.5%.

These general outcomes have to do with equity, (that is, distribution), of services. "The lower the performance score for equity, the lower the performance on other measures. This suggests that, when a country fails to meet the needs of the most vulnerable, it also fails to meet the needs of the average citizen," the report reads.

It may seem facile to compare the breakdown in the financial sector of '07 and '08 and the cavalier negligence of BP and Massey Energy's coal mining distaster earlier this year to the never-ending avalanche of health care problems in the U.S.

The financial, energy and health care sectors are huge components of our economy, however, and have been out of control for decades.

Each of the three sectors have lost what tiny moral compass they once may have had. 

They are killing people and otherwise ruining lives, devastating our environment, happily shunning their duties as Americans, as human beings. 

The right wingers - especially its most ardently radical pro-business sectarians - froth like mad animals if they whiff but a hint of push back from the left on such issues, labeling it disingenuously as "class warfare."

It is clear it is the right that has been waging class warfare. And many on the liberal left have stood by as long as it was the poor, the working class and the otherwise marginalized who were attacked. 

Now the three-headed right wing dog has been greedily devouring the middle and even the upper middle classes. 

Look at the littered landscape of the last 4 years, the results of Bush - and Clinton - policies. 

Look at the zero growth of income among those in the middle and upper middle classes.

Look at the affordability of things we have long taken as sacred rights - a decent place to live, a firm retirement foundation, accessible higher education, solid health care, and viable transportation.

Exceptionalism? If you're exceptionally rich.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

What The Right Wing Radicals Would Like To Do For You Now

Let's start close to New York - right across the mighty Hudson in New Jersey - where the wolf-in-sheep's-clothing governor, Chris Christie, recently vetoed, (the N.J. legislature failed to override it) a renewal of a provision in the state tax code that calls for a 10.75% tax on income over $1 million per year. That means that if you earned $1 more than $1 million you would pay 10.75 cents in taxes on that dollar.

The poorly-described "millionaires' tax" would have raised $637 million for rebate checks of up to $1,295 for some 600,000 senior citizens who would otherwise face steep increases in their property taxes during fiscal 2011.

And this in a state where there is a budget shortfall of over 37% in relation to revenues.

All over the news: oil industry's darling Representative Joe Barton's comparison of the BP compensation fund with a "shakedown," comparing it to the worst in Chicago's checkered political payoff past. It is bad enough that Barton, the ranking minority member on the House Committee on Energy & Commerce, would say such a thing. But other Republicans have chimed in, particularly candidates in swing seats running for election against Democrats this fall. Two candidates to run against Russ Feingold in the Wisconsin Senate race have this to say.

Ron Johnson:
It is very troubling when we circumvent the rule of law. I think they would have been held liable, and that would be the way to do this.
Dave Westlake:
Shaking BP down for $20 billion doesn't do anything to further that end [stopping the leak] or to get the oil cleaned up faster.
In Colorado, an aide to former front-runner Jane Norton (Ken Buck now leads in some polls for the GOP's U.S. Senate nomination) called the rescue cash a "slush fund."

They have all taken their lead from a Republican Party memo and from the unofficial head of the party, Rush Limbaugh, who has termed the extraction of the promise to compensate financial losses for the working class and small business entrepreneurial class in the Gulf region, "thuggery."

No mention of the negligent thuggery that created the explosion that essentially murdered 11 people and is creating environmental chaos throughout one of the world's most beautiful bodies of water.

If this weren't enough, conservative J.D. Hayworth who is challenging John McCain in the Senate primary in the Nut Bin State, Arizona, served as an infomercial shill for "National Grants Conference," one of those scam companies that promises people - desperate people - a chance to get "free money" from the government through grant money that happens to be lying around doing nothing. The cost of the seminars for information that is available free from many traditional sources - $1000.

So, J.D., what's this about the government being too big and wasting taxpayer money?  

The Wall Street Journal reports today:

"Now the Florida-based firm that produced the infomercial, National Grants Conferences, is facing bankruptcy. The company racked up hundreds of consumer complaints that led many Better Business Bureau chapters around the country to give it an "F" rating."

Meanwhile, right wing Republicans are blocking an extender bill for unemployment benefits. The bill would extend benefits for 12 million people who have been out of work for over a year.

At the same time, Governor Haley Barbour of Mississippi, the most backward state in the Union, has been mentioned as a possible GOP presidential candidate in 2012.

He has been a skeptic about the effects of the oil catastrophe in the Gulf states, except for Louisiana to which his heart goes out, and now blames the national press for economic hardships the fisheries and tourist industry are suffering. What's IN that gumbo in Mississippi? He also has blasted the President's moratorium on deep water drilling, claiming that the economic impact of that will be more devastating than the slump other business in the Gulf will experience.

Tim Scott, invariably described as a "charismatic black man," is poised to win the GOP nomination to run for a Congressional seat in South Carolina. Scott, however, is somewhere right of Clarence Thomas, and is "black" in skin tone only. He's more the kind of guy who would have been serving mint juleps at a lynching of his fellow African-Americans in the 1870s. Right wing is right wing, dangerous is dangerous, no matter what your skin color, gender, or religion. 

Back up north, Scott Brown is lobbying furiously behind the scenes to give big banks a bye on trading of derivatives. Keep in mind that Brown received $450,000 from banks in the last 6 days of his successful Senate run. He who pays the piper calls the tune.

Welcome to the Republican future.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Oval Office Oil Speech: What's Ailing Barack Obama?

I want very much to really like President Obama. I understood from the beginning of his quest that his politics and mine would not be in concord. He's far too centrist for me at a time when we need a heavy counterbalancing from the left. Our country has drifted dangerously to the right and it is destroying the national fabric, our prosperity, and threatening our future. 

But, center left is better than center right or radical right, so like many more leftist liberals, I jumped on board the Obama love train.

Last night's oil speech failed on a number of levels and succeeded on a small handful. First, it failed because Obama made no real personal connection between himself and the people, especially the people of the Gulf. 

Most adults have felt some form of loss in their lives. Loved ones, friends, a childhood home, a few acres of woods lost to development, a building demolished, a way of life vanished. 

And it is there in the shadow-land between sympathy and empathy that the President stumbled. He came across as sympathetic, but certainly not a man who could empathize with the dark plight of the watermen, the fear in retirees, the worry in the Gulf's resort trade, the hand-wringing moms and pops waiting for business to pick up. 

He violated the first rule of good writing: "Don't explain it, demonstrate it." He talked with shrimpers - good for him - but he didn't give us the feeling, the sense of dread and despair we all know lurks down there. 

In short, the speech felt technocratic rather than visceral.

On the future, the President was even weaker:

"Instead, what has defined us as a nation since our founding is the capacity to shape our destiny -- our determination to fight for the America we want for our children. Even if we're unsure exactly what that looks like. Even if we don't yet know precisely how we're going to get there. We know we'll get there."

If you're not sure, Mr. President, how can the rest of us be? 

Contrast this with Churchill's "We will fight them on the beaches speech."

"We shall fight them on the seas and oceans,
we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, 
we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be,
we shall fight them on the beaches,
we shall fight on the landing grounds,
we shall fight in the fields and in the streets,
we shall fight in the hills..."

Or with John F. Kennedy's "Moon Speech."

"First, I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth. No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind, or more important for the long-range exploration of space; and none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish." 

Or even the words of Theodore Roosevelt:

"The object of government is the welfare of the people. Conservation means development as much as it does protection. I recognize the right and duty of this generation to develop and use the natural resources of our land; but I do not recognize the right to waste them, or to rob, by wasteful use, the generations that come after us." The New Nationalism speech, Osawatomie, Kansas, August 31, 1910

These ringing speeches, like all great ones throughout history, relied upon bold affirmations that a certain thing WILL happen. There was no glimmer that fighting the Nazis to the last person, going to the moon, or conserving our shared natural patrimony would ever NOT happen.

If we were to take Kennedy's speech and plug in new goals for a new time, we can see how leaden President Obama's words were last night:
"First, I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of achieving energy independence. No single technological project in this period will be more impressive to mankind, or more important for the long-range improvement of our economy and environment; and none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish.

Further, in the next few days I will lay out for the Congress my vision for reaching such a difficult goal. We must begin now, we must reach the goal with no more delays or risk becoming a second-class nation whose dim future will be in marked contrast to our glorious past."

Even if we don't yet know precisely how we're going to get there? Nonsense. Tell us how we'll get there and we will surely get there.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Engineering Childhood

 A report in the New York Times on June 13 (click to read) should raise alarms with anyone interested in freedom of thought and action - especially in the lives of young children.(Note the skepticism among engineers as well as some educators who comment in the article.)

The article is titled "Studying Engineering Before They Can Spell It," and examines kindergartners in Glen Rock, N.J. who solve "engineering problems" in their classes. The article says "Spurred by growing concerns that American students lack the skills to compete in a global economy, school districts nationwide are packing engineering lessons into already crowded schedules for even the youngest students..."

The trend toward earlier and earlier "education" is, naturally, not limited to a small, upscale town in New Jersey. It spans the country and "educational" toys, games, books and online activities are a major industry. (Green eggs and ham? Turn 'em in for a calculator.)

Somehow, this refrain seems all too familiar. In fact, it was heard as long ago as the 1880s when the United States began its meteoric rise to world supremacy. It resurfaces on an irregular but perennial basis. We heard the refrain immediately following Sputnik in 1957. We heard it again in the mid 1970s when Japan burst upon the scene as an industrial world power and we hear it again when we may be challenged by China, and possibly India.

Familiar lyrics go along with the tune. The school year is too short, the curriculum is too weak, teachers are either under-qualified or underpaid. American kids are - mix and match - lazy, under-informed, unmotivated, and studying the wrong subjects.

Science, math, engineering and related disciplines are the usual antidotes that will lead us into the salvation of the nation.

The counter current that should be put forth is that it is the very easy going nature of past American education logistics and strategies that has put and kept us in the forefront of almost every major scientific and engineering development of the last 100 plus years. How can that be if we are always behind or about to fall behind?

When we as a nation do fail - high speed rail comes instantly to mind - it is not for a lack of certain skill sets, but for lack of political leadership or failure of the investment community to step forward and take useful, as opposed to mindlessly dangerous, risks.

If, as a liberal democracy, we believe in freedom in its most basic incarnations, then teaching "engineering" in kindergarten needs a resounding condemnation. Teaching tots to begin serving the needs of the corporate/industrial complex smacks of another kind of engineering - social engineering.

What we should be encouraging is individual development based on the freedom of a child to explore, invent, innovate on his or her own level, and yes, fail, at his or her chosen play forms. Not all children are meant to be engineers anymore than they are meant to be doctors, lawyers, musicians, writers, farmers, Indian chiefs, etc.

When I was a child, my father arrived home one day with a little hand cranked printing press kit. You set rubber type and assorted cast rubber graphics onto a flexible template that was then attached to a cylinder; next the machine's reservoir was filled with ink, you cranked the handle and fed 5 x 8 inch sheets of paper into its mouth and voila... out came a tiny neighborhood newsletter authored by my 8 year-old self.

There was little guidance from my father, aside from the actual nuts and bolts part... here's how you do it, biff bam boom, now go knock yourself out, kiddo. It took me days and days to get it right on my own, but so I did. And The Gazette was born - and died all in the same hot, long summer in the cool of the basement.

The experience influenced me deeply. When I was in my late 30s, I started my own grown up magazine.

I wonder what my inclinations might have been had I been "taught" magazine-making in kindergarten.

Likewise, although there were many books, newspapers and magazines around our house, I can honestly say I only remember being read to sporadically. But, word play, jokes, word game books, a kids monthly named Jack and Jill, and tons of kiddie records surrounded me. It was all about playing, loafing, and relaxing with words and their myriad uses.

Kids learn through playing. And not the kind of ham-handed guided play that a fanatical hard core of educators seem intent upon foisting on our children.

Kids need free play much more than they need to learn engineering, math or reading at age 5. They need to let their little minds wander. They need to find, on their own, a path to what they do best and like best. The straitjacket of over-structuring will be our undoing, not the free form learning of yesteryear.

The marketplace will determine at some point in the kids' future lives how many engineers will be needed and where they will come from.

Dedication to one's life's "work" could not be taught to the tune of a hickory stick in days of yore, and won't be taught through an overwrought curriculum better suited to 12 year-olds than to 4, 5 and 6 year-olds.

Teach them to love exploring on their own, in their own time, in their own unique way. Allow them to make their own way.

Kindergarten should not be a junior trade school.

Monday, June 7, 2010

The Gulf Spill: Maybe BP Will Blame It On Sikh Extremists

 According to Reuters, "A court Monday found the Indian unit of U.S. chemicals firm Union Carbide guilty of negligence and sentenced seven Indian former employees to two years in jail over one of the world's worst industrial accidents that killed thousands in 1984."

Twenty-six years later, these fiends have received just two years in the slammer. For killing as many as 25,000 people. (Official Indian government figures put the number at a "mere" 3,800.) Another 100,000 people have suffered the sickening effects of the release of 40 metric tons of the highly toxic methyl isocyanate [MIC].

Even better news for the world at large, methyl isocyanate is used in pesticides, as well as rubber and adhesives manufacturing. Check your labels carefully. 

"Sicknesses included cancer, blindness, respiratory difficulties, immune and neurological disorders, and female reproductive disorders, as well as birth defects among children born to affected women," said Reuters. 

Further, the Indian government claims that the chemical has NOT polluted groundwater, although every independent testing agency that has taken measurements says it has.

Righteously, "Hundreds of protesters, many waving placards saying 'hang the guilty' and 'they are traitors of the nation,' tried to force their way inside the court complex but were stopped by police."

According to an overview in 2005 created by Edward Broughton of Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health, "The specific site within the city was zoned for light industrial and commercial use, not for hazardous industry. The plant was initially approved only for formulation of pesticides from component chemicals, such as MIC imported from the parent company, in relatively small quantities. However, pressure from competition in the chemical industry led UCIL [the Indian subsidiary of Union Carbide] to implement "backward integration" – the manufacture of raw materials and intermediate products for formulation of the final product within one facility. This was inherently a more sophisticated and hazardous process."

"The local government was aware of safety problems but was reticent to place heavy industrial safety and pollution control burdens on the struggling industry because it feared the economic effects of the loss of such a large employer.

"Immediately after the disaster, UCC [Union Carbide] began attempts to dissociate itself from responsibility for the gas leak. Its principal tactic was to shift culpability to UCIL, stating the plant was wholly built and operated by the Indian subsidiary. It also fabricated scenarios involving sabotage by previously unknown Sikh extremist groups and disgruntled employees but this theory was impugned by numerous independent sources.

"As further insult, UCC discontinued operation at its Bhopal plant following the disaster but failed to clean up the industrial site completely. The plant continues to leak several toxic chemicals and heavy metals that have found their way into local aquifers." [So, the gas leak of the manufactured gas actually caused the loss of the jobs it was supposed to save.]

Further, according to Broughton's work, "UCC has shrunk to one sixth of its size since the Bhopal disaster in an effort to restructure and divest itself. By doing so, the company avoided a hostile takeover, placed a significant portion of UCC's assets out of legal reach of the victims and gave its shareholder and top executives bountiful profits. The company [UCC] still operates under the ownership of Dow Chemicals and still states on its website that the Bhopal disaster was 'caused by deliberate sabotage.'"

And here is what a life is worth via the Indian government's assessment: "By the end of October 2003, according to the Bhopal Gas Tragedy Relief and Rehabilitation Department, compensation had been awarded to 554,895 people for injuries received and 15,310 survivors of those killed. The average amount to families of the dead was $2,200." [U.S. Courts decided that the suits could not be heard here.]

While we hope that the number of dead in the Gulf spill will be limited to those who died in the initial blast and fire, we have no way of knowing how many lives will be economically damaged, disrupted, or how much destruction will be caused to the natural environment. Nor do we know how long it will last.

Money will take away some of the sting - if there is enough in the BP insurance pot.

Potential financial loss, however, will not prevent the next big environmental catastrophe. The threat of hefty jail sentences will.

Executives and higher level industrial site workers, knowing they could do hard time for avoidable accidents - 10, 20, or 30 years, or perhaps for the rest of their lives - would certainly stop gambling with people's lives and the already endangered environment.

As the protesters over the Bhopal whitewash know and we should know well, they are traitors of the nation.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

What's In Store For The Gulf: GE's Battle To Leave PCB's In The Hudson River

How old will you be in 35 years?

If the 80-Years War over cleaning up PCBs in the Hudson is any indication, that's how old you'll be when the entire clean up of the Gulf of Mexico oil catastrophe is finished. (If you want to use another environmental accident as yardstick, the 250,000 barrel Exxon Valdez spill has still not been completely ameliorated in the almost 21 years since it happened.)

Monsanto began manufacturing carcinogenic PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) in 1929. General Electric began using them almost immediately in the manufacturing of transformers, capacitors and other electrical equipment at their Hudson Falls plant for more than 40 years as insulating material.

The discovery of PCBs toxicity and subsequent government action began in 1977 when the manufacture and use of PCBs was outlawed. The Hudson is still not cleaned up almost 35 years later.

Because they are long-lived, semi-volatile and don’t dissolve in water, PCBs can travel long distances (the 200-mile stretch of the Hudson River below G.E.’s factories is considered the biggest Superfund site in the United States).

The potential impact doesn’t stop at the tip of Manhattan. Because of their stability and ability to travel long distances, PCBs can migrate around the planet. PCBs are part of a global class of chemicals known to migrate from warmer regions to colder regions. Inuit people living in the Arctic thousands of miles from any industrial source are known to carry some of the highest body burdens of PCBs on the planet.

PCBs are also fat-soluble, which means that they concentrate as they move up the food chain. Animals at the top of the food chain – especially marine mammals like polar bears and dolphins – have dangerously high levels of the chemical, which they lack the ability to detoxify.

Humans, too, are contaminated. PCBs regularly top the list of chemicals found in human tissue surveys.

As early as the 1930s, problems caused by PCB exposures of workers were widely known by G.E. executives who met with colleagues from Monsanto and other companies to share information on the “systemic effects” of PCBs and other chlorinated hydrocarbons, including chloracne, a disfiguring skin condition.

Dredging finally began in earnest in May of 2009, almost 25 years after the first lawsuits against G.E. were brought.

According to The New York Times, "G.E. is supervising and paying for the cleanup, which federal officials have estimated could cost more than $750 million. Industry experts say the ultimate cost could be many times than that, however. (G.E. declines to give an estimate.)"

The Times also says, "...G.E has reserved the right, after a review of the operation in 2010, to reject the project’s much larger second phase. Federal environmental officials have said that if it did that, they would most likely order the cleanup to proceed and levy enormous penalties against the company."

Chances are that a good proportion of us reading this will be long dead before the Gulf is cleaned up and restored. The rest of us will be well into middle age. If they're lucky, our grandchildren will know the Gulf as it stood on April 18, 2010.

If they are very lucky.


Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The Failing Of The Left In The Face Of Corporatism

Since this blog began in January, I have argued for criminal penalties to be imposed on directors and top executives of companies whose activities are so egregious that they amount to offenses against an entire society, and, in the case of the Gulf oil catastrophe, against humanity (as well as nature).

If we don't take this step, it is virtually guaranteed that the excesses will continue and surely grow more dangerous.

Four years on now from the mortgage-bond bundling scheme's hay day in '06 and '07, no one has been held criminally responsible. Executives from Merrill Lynch, Bear Sterns, and their co-conspirators in dismantling the financial stability of the entire world have faced some wrist-slapping. None has even lost his or her professional license. Perp walk? Maybe in Gucci loafers on the streets of the Hamptons.

BP knew for decades - as have other oil companies - that they had no emergency plan in place to deal with a huge accident on the ocean floor. It wasn't an oversight; it was purposeful. The purpose was saving money. Supposedly the Justice Department is investigating with an eye toward bringing criminal charges. (Stay tuned for more disappointment.) Imagine working above on a tall building (as so often happens here in New York) without a protective shed to shield pedestrians from falling debris? Oops... sorry that plummeting gargoyle killed your entire family.

McNeil Consumer Healthcare, the Tylenol manufacturing arm of Johnson & Johnson, accused of having dirty production facilities and shabby quality controls that allowed excessive amounts of acetaminophen to enter children's products, may be up for criminal prosecution.

At a Congressional Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing, Rep. Darrell Issa, R-CA, asked an FDA official whether there was criminal liability as a result of the recalls. "Well, it has been referred to the FDA's crime division," responded witness Deborah Autor, a director at the FDA's compliance office.

“I have become deeply concerned about your company,” Rep. Edolphus Towns, D-NY, who is chairman of the Oversight Committee, told the Johnson & Johnson executives who testified. “It paints a picture of a company that is deceptive, dishonest and willing to put the health of children at risk.”

Nice people, eh?

On the tainted food side of things, readers should be happy to know that the U.S. ranks 18th worldwide in the quality of its inspections and speed with which it handles issues such as e. coli contamination. Who's first? According to Meat Trade News Daily, it's Brazil. A headline in the June, 2010, issue of the trade pub shouts: "Brazil - Leading the world in meat traceability and rapid response."

In Brazil, it is a criminal offense punishable by up to 10 years to distribute tainted food.

Where is the liberal left on this? Silent. Everyone knows that the roots of liberalism go back to the Progressive Era, to the busting of child labor practices, sweatshops, and filthy stockyards a la "The Jungle." We were raised on this stuff. But now... well, we should be ashamed of our lack of focus.

Strip them of their ill-gotten gains, put them in jail. The honor system doesn't work with dishonorable people.