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Microsoft Leaves ALEC: Horsetrading & The Price to Pay

By: anotherquestion Wednesday August 20, 2014 5:53 pm
A Microsoft sign outside of an office building

What’s behind Microsoft’s departure from ALEC?

Some people describe watching politics as similar to watching sausage being made. Sometimes the exchange is complex such as the story, true or not, that Frank Sinatra sang eight nights straight at a Mafia-owned club to pay for actions by John and Robert Kennedy after they were in the White House.

Some good news today is that Microsoft is leaving ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, a corporate funded group that supports many right-wing people in the US Congress and in state legislatures, “reportedly because of the group’s lobbying against renewable energy.” It’s a very good thing that Microsoft is joining the many corporations that left ALEC. It is another very good thing that Microsoft may be leaving to avoid association with lobbying against renewable energy.

Is there any connection to another story today? President Obama may soon decide on executive action regarding “a rule allowing spouses of H-1B visa holders, now barred from working in the U.S., to get jobs.” The H-1B high skill guestworker visa allows employers to hire non-citizens for skilled work often in fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). Often the spouses would like to work, too, and might have comparable skills. H-1B visas are to Microsoft and other technology companies what fuel prices are to airlines.  Remember that these visas are tied to the employer with no automatic path to citizenship so H-1B visa employees are highly dependent on the employer.

Hiring spouses of H-1B visa holders will further enhance corrupt spousal hiring practices which frequently benefit higher income employees, but rarely benefit low income employees. For example, a university hires a new faculty member under an H-1B visa and uses the spousal hiring policy as a further perquisite. The spouse may never have qualifications to become faculty and may be taking a job away from  other non-tenure staff. I don’t hear of spousal hiring that benefits janitors and food service workers.

Comprehensive Immigration Reform is advertised to accommodate mothers and young children, but all proposals for Comprehensive Immigration Reform offer large increases in the number of H-1B visas corporations can receive to hire non-citizens. President Obama and the Democrats in the US Congress are very much invested in passing the parts of immigration reform that liberalize H-1B visa restrictions. I receive letters from my US Senator justifying H-1B liberalization because the US Dept. of Commerce claims that US corporations are still having trouble hiring enough skilled workers even in this economy. By contrast, US Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) had a forum held via conference call in May with some real experts about the effects of H-1B visas on the US STEM job market. Senator Sessions followed up with a floor speech in July pointing to the hypocrisy when Bill Gates coauthored an Op-Ed in the New York Times recommending removal of all numeric limits on H-1B visas while at the same time Microsoft is in the process of laying off 18,000 skilled workers. You did not hear about this speech on the evening news did you, among all the other immigration news at the time?

So, August is probably a convenient time for President Obama to make this decision about H-1B spouses. We are wondering whether a Wall Street lawyer can calm decades of racial injustice in Ferguson, Missouri in time for the fall TV line-up. The timing is so much better than a Friday News Dump.

 

Court: Key Environmental Law Doesn’t Apply to Part of Enbridge Keystone XL “Clone”

By: Steve Horn Tuesday August 19, 2014 6:06 pm
A judge's gavel

A judge just ruled federal law doesn’t apply to this pipeline firm.

U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia has ruled that Enbridge’s 600-mile-long Flanagan South Pipeline, a Keystone XL “clone,” is legally cleared to proceed opening for business in October.

Approved by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers via a controversial regulatory mechanism called Nationwide Permit 12 (NWP 12), Judge Kentanji Brown Jackson, an Obama-appointed judge, ruled NWP 12 was not a federal government “action.” Thus, Brown posited that Enbridge did not need to use the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) regulatory process and NWP12 was up to snuff.

The case pitted the Sierra Club and the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) against the Army Corps of Engineers and Enbridge and has lasted for just over a year, with the initial complaint filed on August 13, 2013 (Case #: 1:13-cv-01239-KBJ).

Sierra Club and NWF submitted the recent precedent-setting Delaware Riverkeeper v. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) case as supplemental authority for Sierra Club v. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on the day that decision was handed down.

But Jackson brushed it aside, saying it doesn’t apply to Flanagan South, despite the fact that the Delaware Riverkeeper v. FERC decision said that a continuous pipeline project cannot be segmented into multiple parts to avoid a comprehensive NEPA review.

Although Enbridge will operate this project as a single pipeline, Flanagan South was broken up into thousands of “single and complete” projects by the Army Corps of Engineers. This helped Enbridge skirt the requirement of a more comprehensive and public-facing NEPA review, which involves public hearings and a public comment period.

“Here, not only was there no NEPA analysis of this massive project, there was never any public notice or opportunity for involvement before it was constructed across four states,” Sierra Club attorney for the case, Doug Hayes, told DeSmogBlog. “The entire thing was permitted behind closed doors.”

For all intents and purposes, then, Flanagan South is a fait accompli and tar sands diluted bitumen (“dilbit”) will begin pumping through it as summer turns to fall.

Private Company, Hands-Off Approach

At 48-pages, Jackson’s ruling centers around a key central argument: Enbridge is a private company and Congress has never given executive agencies the green light to regulate domestic oil pipelines.

“Congress has not authorized the federal government to oversee the construction of private domestic oil pipelines; consequently, Enbridge has undertaken to build the planned [Flanagan South] Pipeline largely on its own, primarily by securing easements from the landowners who own the property over which the pipeline will operate,” wrote Jackson.

Judge Jackson said that a laissez-faire governmental approach to authorizing pipelines is appropriate, according to her reading of the law on the books.

“[T]he gist of the Court’s conclusion is that Plaintiffs are wrong to insist that any federal agency had an obligation under NEPA or any other statute to conduct an environmental review of the impact of the entire [Flanagan South] Pipeline before Enbridge broke ground on the project,” she opined.

“Connected Action” Doctrine

Another key legal precedent discussed in Jackson’s ruling was Delaware Riverkeeper v. FERC, covered by DeSmogBlog in June.

She weighed the merits of the “connected action” doctrine as applied to a lack ofNEPA review for Flanagan South, writing it does not apply to the pipeline because the Army Corps of Engineers has no obligation to do a NEPA review in this case.

“In [Delaware Riverkeeper v. FERC] the connected actions rule applied because the courts were required to assess whether the agencies had improperly limited the scope of the review of actions within their own jurisdiction—a determination that is fundamentally different from the question Plaintiffs present here, i.e., whether [NEPA] must be expanded to include an environmental review of actions completely outside the agencies’ purview,” Jackson wrote.

Army Corps Abusing NWP 12?

Hayes told DeSmogBlog back in November that the Army Corps of Engineers’ intricate involvement in permitting massive tar sands pipeline projects is at the root of the problem.

“The Corps is abusing the nationwide permit program. Nationwide permits were intended to permit categories of projects with truly minimal impacts, not tar sands oil pipelines crossing several states,” said Hayes. “What the Corps is doing is artificially dividing up these massive pipelines, treating them as thousands of individual projects to avoid NEPA compliance.”

Congress Passed NEPA in 1969

The greatest irony of Jackson’s decision is that Congress passed NEPA — known by legal scholars as the “environmental Magna Carta“ — in 1969, and it was signed into law by President Richard Nixon in 1970.

Bunker Mentalities, Security, and Time

By: cassiodorus
A long line of riot police with shields, in front an officer with a combat shotgun

It’s about the powerful dominating the weak.

Everyone, I think you’re going to see more of the bunker mentality in global politics in the future, of which the to-do in Gaza and the to-do in Ferguson, Missouri are mere instances.

So what’s it all about?

It’s about racism, to be sure — but there’s also an even wider mentality to be engaged here, which I hope to explore in this diary. Masaccio’s piece, frontpaged at Firedoglake, has an interesting point: it’s about domination, domination of the few over the many. The piece quotes from Michel Foucault’s classic “Discipline and Punish” and then discusses the topical matter of who gets to discipline and punish and who gets to be disciplined and punished:

This is a brilliant explanation of the reasons for the difference between the treatment of known scofflaw Cliven Bundy and Michael Brown, and many other dead Black Americans. The point of the delinquency is to mark the accused as not human, not a decent person, not a person entitled to any rights, not a citizen, not one of us.

– and —

The people who get to decide what is normal are the rich and powerful. They use their control over government to establish the line between acceptable delinquency and unacceptable delinquency and illegalities.

So arming cops to the point at which they shoot people down and arrest journalists in an air of total impunity has reached the level of scandal in America today. What is our glorious Congress, of the low opinion poll approval ratings, doing about all this? Well, some of them are going on AIPAC junkets in Israel, where they’ll probably find out if it’s kewl with the Israelis if they send US troops to Iraq or something like that. Yeah, Israel, that’s the ticket. Everyone’s favorite small-nation-sized bunker, with the requisite bunker mentality to boot. And doubling down on Iraq. Very kewl.

One of the primary conservative efforts in this era of last-gasp capitalism is the general effort to feed the bunker mentality among those with power, specifically money-power and weapon-power. In what used to be called the “society of the spectacle,” our elites cling to spectacular forms of what they think is “security” — wall off the masses, and stockpile weapons and ammunition. (It should be added here that, as regards our Congress, the Israelis are ahead of the game in the category of wall-building.)

As technology races ever forward, you better be sure you have your copies of the newest weapons, and to be sure to use them, too! This is no doubt the reigning attitude at the Pentagon, and at other places where “security” is the fetish of participants in the bunker mentality.

As I have suggested before, this is a conservative age, and one hallmark of a conservative age is the redundant reinforcement of hegemonic power out of a fear of the future. It doesn’t matter, then, that the next war in Africa will generate a bunch of blowback — there’s money involved, so Americans carry on with the existing obsessions — guns, money, power.

Never mind that such an approach doesn’t make its participants more secure — just look at the lives of those who are the victims of “security.” You wouldn’t want to be one of them, would you? The real future is sacrificed in bunker mentality concepts of “security,” in the sense in which George W. Bush said “History, I don’t know, we’ll all be dead” when asked by Bob Woodward about his place in history. Participants in the bunker mentality, then, have a problem with time.

The most curious combination of “security” and bunker mentality futurism has got to be the Pentagon’s strategies for climate change. Compound disaster through climate change is a significant medium-term concern, and ultimate solutions to climate change are also medium- and long-term. However, all of the scientifically-informed prognostications suggest that we begin action (which means “stop adding CO2 to the atmosphere at a rate of 2.3 parts per million per year) soon. Climate change has thus attracted the Pentagon’s attention as prompting a need for short-term action, while at the same time exposing the utter confusion about the future to be expected from participants in the bunker mentality.

It’s been public knowledge since 2004 that they’ve had a plan for climate change. Here’s the plan, in brief, as the editors of the Monthly Review explained it:

Defective X-Ray Pornscanners: You Can See Sideboobs But Not Sidearms

By: spocko Tuesday December 21, 2010 7:18 pm

Wired has a story today about a team of security researchers demonstrated how people can slip weapons and explosives past TSA’s Rapiscan full-body X-ray scanners.

The article talks about blogger Jonathan Corbett who published a YouTube video two years ago showing some of these same failings which the TSA pooh-poohed. Now these researchers from the University of California at San Diego, the University of Michigan, and Johns Hopkins are showing the same things and more.

Corbett has a court case against the TSA which is continuing and you can donate to it here at TSA Out of My Pants. I hope he wins, in a way he was already successful because those scanners are no longer used by the TSA. But as one the the taxpayers who was conned out of one BILLION dollars for a defective product, I want my money back!

How do we get that money back? Qui tam lawsuits.  From the Legal Information Institute.

In a qui tam action, a private party called a relator brings an action on the government’s behalf. The government, not the relator, is considered the real plaintiff. If the government succeeds, the relator receives a share of the award. Also called a popular action.

For example, the federal False Claims Act authorizes qui tam actions against parties who have defrauded the federal government. 31 U.S.C. § 3279 et seq. If successful, a relator in a False Claims Act qui tam action may receive up to 30% of the government’s award.

Now I think this is a perfect opportunity for this kind of case.  I hope that Jonathan Corbett files one. It’s time a whistleblower flip the narrative and make bank on their important work. From legal discovery we could learn a lot, like  ”What did Chertoff know and when did he know it?”  Two years ago the incompetence of the company could be hidden by national security concerns, but now the product isn’t used anymore in airports. This company, and Chertoff, defrauded the federal government. We paid for a defective product. Shouldn’t we get our money back?

Rapidscan Systems will still try to evoke national security and not divulge “methods and practices” on the Rapidscan 1000, but we will say the issue is moot since it is not used by the TSA anymore. I’m sure there are 17 good reasons it’s not feasible to bring this case, but for 30% of a billion dollars those reasons might be overcome, don’t you think?

Who’s Using the Defective Rapidscanners Now? 

One of the points they make in the Wired article is that these scanners are still being sold to courthouses, jails, and other government security checkpoints around the country. I want to take steps to de-militarize our police, but I’m  sympathetic to their concerns that it’s scary out there with the NRA pushing guns everywhere all the time.

Maybe  these cities can also sue to get their money back for buying defective products.

Can We Trade In Our Tanks?

Lac-Mégantic Disaster Report Issued

By: KateCA Wednesday August 20, 2014 12:29 pm
Flames rise above Lac-Mégantic after the derailment

A report reveals new facts about the Lac-Mégantic disaster.

On July 6, 2013, a freight train parked with the engine running and left unattended at Nantes, Quebec began rolling, pulling 72 tank cars carrying Bakken crude, a highly flammable oil, behind it. All cars were the old dangerous DOT-111A/CTC-111A type which have a capacity of 30,000 gallons of oil each.

That something was wrong with the locomotive was obvious to people driving by at 11:45 that night. They saw a dark diesel smoke cloud and sparks coming from the locomotive’s exhaust as it sat there on the track. Fire Departments from Nantes and near-by Lac-Mégantic were called by a witness, quickly responded, shut off the train engine and doused the fire. They also called the Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway (MMA), owner of the train. MMA sent in a few employees who determined that the train was ok and departed, leaving the train unattended once again.

Soon afterward, around 1:00 am EST, the train began rolling, gathering momentum as it headed down a 1.2% grade toward the town of Lac-Megantic, almost 7.2 miles down track. About 15 minutes later, right in the heart of Lac-Mégantic, 63 tank cars holding Bakken’s finest derailed, 59 of them began spurting oil, and the conflagration began. Oil streamed into storm sewers—resulting in explosions of towers of flame from manholes and even chimneys up into the black night—and into the nearby river, setting it on fire.

In the aftermath, 47 people were determined to be dead or missing. 42 bodies were found. Five others were never found and are presumed to have been vaporized by the conflagration. 40 buildings, including the town library and other historic structures, were destroyed, along with legal documents such as the wills of a few of the victims. By the end of the week, all Lac-Mégantic residents had been allowed to return to their homes, though some 20 families were unable to, their homes having been destroyed by the fires. MMA filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy in the month following the disaster and was finally sold in January of this year.

Canada’s Transportation Safety Board (TSB) has released its comprehensive report on what happened that night in Nantes and Lac-Mégantic. The 190-page report includes photographs with key details highlighted by arrows or circles, charts and timelines. Particular attention is devoted to the brake systems and their use (or not) that night. The lead locomotive was examined, track inspected, DOT-111 cars and the “Dangerous goods” they were carrying assessed, regulations and enforcement reviewed.  (Adobe version of the report is here.)

Page 129 of the report contains the Findings. TSB noted 18 specific factors that led to the conflagration in Lac-Mégantic. First, the train was left “on a descending grade” and with a locomotive “not in proper operating condition.” Several specific points pertain to the brakes, which were “insufficient to hold the train without the [locomotive’s] additional braking force” and which hadn’t been tested to ensure the brakes would actually stop all movement. Since no other locomotive was started while the train sat at Nantes, “no air pressure was provided to the independent brakes.” Moreover, the lead locomotive wasn’t wired for reset safety controls, and so forth.

And those DOT-111 tank cars? Once derailed, they “had large breaches, which rapidly released vast quantities of highly volatile petroleum crude oil, which ignited, creating large fireballs and a pool fire.”

MMA was criticized for lack of training and supervision of appropriate staff, poor risk management, and inadequate safety management. Transport Canada also came under fire for not providing “adequate regulatory oversight to ensure the associated risks were addressed,” for failure to ensure that “recurring deficiencies” at MMA were being addressed and corrected, and for conducting an insufficient number of audits which also had limited scope.

So there you have it, in a nutshell. Forty-seven victims of a horrendous oil fire in a small Canadian town which had its heart consumed by intense flames that spread from poorly designed and maintained oil tank cars carrying very volatile fuel, tugged along by a locomotive which had unaddressed problems and a braking system seemingly near tatters. Inadequate regulations and lack of rigorous oversight and enforcement complete this tragic picture.

Aerial view of Lac-Mégantic burning by Sûreté du Québec released under a Creative Commons Share Alike license.

Over Easy

By: Ruth Calvo Friday March 9, 2012 3:30 pm

Over Easy

The community that began with Southern Dragon’s Lakeside Diner continues. Today we collect news from outside the usual, and renew the discussion.

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch joined in a call for Israel to allow investigators into Gaza as deaths soared and charges multiplied of abuses there.

‘The Israeli authorities appear to have been playing bureaucratic games with us over access to Gaza, conditioning it on entirely unreasonable criteria even as the death toll mounts,’ Anne FitzGerald, Amnesty International’s director of Research and Crisis Response, said in the release.

At least 2,000 Palestinians, mostly civilians, have been killed since Israel launched Operation Protective Edge on July 7. Over 10,000 Gazans have been injured and half a million internally displaced. On the Israeli side, 64 soldiers have died in combat and three civilians have been killed by rocket attacks on Israeli cities. Both sides have been accused of violating the laws of war during the most deadly conflict between Israel and the occupied Gaza Strip since Hamas took power in 2007.

The rights groups said they want to send researchers into the territory to assess competing claims, and that Israel should not interfere with such independent investigations.

Journalist James Foley was beheaded in video released Wednesday, at the hands of a member of the militant group who spoke in the filmed event and is described by UK Foreign Secretary Hammond, who says he ‘appears to be British.’ Bombing of ISIS locations at Mosul dam continued yesterday.

Unconfirmed video and pictures of the photojournalist’s heartbreaking final moments emerged this morning via Twitter accounts claiming to be associated with the Islamic State, previously known as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

In what looked like a prepared statement, Foley called on his family to rise up against the US, who he calls his ‘real killers.’

‘I call on my friends, family, and loved ones to rise up against my real killers, the US government, for what will happen to me is only a result of their complacency and criminality,’ he said.

A failure of a U.S. mission to free the hostages was announced yesterday; ‘The U.S. military launched a secret mission this summer to rescue a number of Americans held captive in Syria by the Islamic State but failed to find them, senior Obama administration officials said Wednesday night.’

Comprehensive studies have been completed on Neanderthal remains that have given a picture of the primitive man coexisting with modern men for almost 5,000 years. Kit seems to have used this in his overnight post, as well, but you may have missed that, so I wanted to throw it in here so we can contemplate the ancient legends that might have been caused by coexisting with species different from the now dominant one.

Now an international team of researchers collected more than 400 samples from the most important sites in Europe. The samples were purified and analysed using state-of-the-art dating methods at Oxford University.

The results provide the clearest insight yet into the interaction between our ancestors and Neanderthals, when they first encountered each other and why the Neanderthals went extinct, according to the lead researcher, Prof Thomas Higham of the University of Oxford.

‘I think we can set aside the idea of a rapid extinction of Neanderthals caused solely by the arrival of modern humans. Instead we can see a more complex process in which there is a much longer overlap between the two populations where there could have been exchanges of ideas and culture.’

Four McDonalds restaurants have been shut down in Moscow in the name of consumer protection. Several are under ongoing investigation as well, in a burgeoning competition in sanctions.

‘Multiple violations of sanitary norms were detected in the sourcing of food and waste disposal in McDonald’s restaurants during inspections carried out between the 18th and 20th of August,’ said an official statement from the watchdog, Rospotrebnadzor.

The company has said that it will study the allegations against its franchises, and ‘will do everything to ensure that the restaurants open as soon as possible.’

‘McDonald’s main priority is offering its customers quality and safe produce,’ said a statement on the McDonald’s website.

Those golden arches will make an interesting addition to Putin’s trophy case, along with admirer Sarah Palin and the bears.

Never.Give.Up.

Things that go Stomp in the night

(Picture courtesy of Peachland Joe at flickr.com.)

Wednesday Watercooler

By: Kit OConnell Wednesday August 20, 2014 8:43 pm

 

A model of a neanderthal with a walking stick

“So, want to go out for drinks on Friday?”

Tonight’s video is “Giant Rubber Duck Sails Into Port of Los Angeles,” from LA’s ABC7.

The famous giant duck, designed by Dutch artist Florentijn Hofman, sailed into the Port of Los Angeles early Wednesday morning.

The duck is just one of the attractions at the five-day Festival of Tall Ships.

At 2 p.m., the six-story-tall duck sculpture will lead a parade of domestic and international ships making their way along the Main Channel.

Event organizers say the rubber duck is an impressive sight to see.

‘This is 61 feet, 11 tons, about 85 feet wide and about 110 feet long,’ said Craig Samborski, spokesperson for the Festival of Tall Ships. ‘I was shocked when I saw the size of it right in front of me.’

Until recently, scientists mostly agreed that Homo sapiens wiped out the neanderthals. Then came evidence of interbreeding. Now a new study suggests that neanderthals faded gradually and were assimilated over time into the human population as their numbers dwindled, rather than the widespread violent extermination believed before. From Live Science:

To help solve the mystery of when Neanderthals went extinct, scientists analyzed bone, charcoal and shell materials from 40 archaeological sites from Russia to Spain. They employed advanced techniques for more precise dating of these specimens that involved ultra-filtering molecules from bone samples for examination and removing organic contaminants that could make specimens seem younger than they actually are.

The new findings suggest that Neanderthals disappeared from Europe between about 41,000 and 39,000 years ago.

‘I think that, for the first time, we have a reliable extinction date for Neanderthals,’ said study author Tom Higham, a radiocarbon scientist at the University of Oxford in England. ‘This has eluded us for decades.’

The Neanderthal extinction occurred across sites ranging from the Black Sea to the Atlantic Coast of Europe. The timing and geography suggest Neanderthals may have overlapped with modern humans for 2,600 to 5,400 years, opening the door for genetic and cultural exchanges between the two groups for millennia.

These findings suggest that modern humans did not rapidly replace Neanderthals in Europe — say, via violent means. Rather, the Neanderthal extinction ‘might have been more complex and drawn out than previously thought,’ Higham told Live Science.

There is some genetic evidence that Neanderthals in Western Europe may have experienced declining genetic diversity about the time when the first modern humans began arriving on the continent, Higham said. “This might mean that they were fading out at this time, although, of course, our evidence suggests that there was a long period of overlap during which this occurred,” he said.

Neanderthals may not even have truly disappeared, but instead have been assimilated into modern human populations. “We know, of course, that we have a genetic legacy from Neanderthals of about 1 to 2 percent, so there was interbreeding,” Higham said.

Bonus: A right-wing think tank was forced to apologize for telling Amnesty International to “suck it,” via Talking Points Memo

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A Folk-rap-rock Police State Opera for Ferguson & beyond (with libretto)

By: wendydavis Friday September 28, 2012 7:08 am

We all must be hearing music when witnessing militarized police assassinations and crackdowns on protests, journalists, and dissidents of any flavor.  Here are some of mine. Were I a victim of the same rather than an observer, they might be different; who can say?  What do you hear? 

And let us please, not forget Jackson State, two killed and twelve others shot by National Guard and many other ‘security agencies’ two days later; few were even aware of it.  LA 1992 after the Rodney King verdict, 50 dead, 2000 injured before it was over.  Detroit ’67, Watts ’65, Harlem ’64…and the beat goes on.  But it must stop.

#TWIBnation (This Week in Blackness, apparently), one of the few black journalist organizations on the ground in Ferguson.  Warning: it’s hideous, but all sound, no video.  You may be feelin’ this afterward:

Seen on Twitter:

 “There’s a reason you separate military and the police. One fights the enemies of the state, the other serves and protects the people. When the military becomes both, then the enemies of the state tend to become the people.”

~ Commander William Adama (Battlestar Galactica)

And close to: “Why do white people keep telling us how we should act in the face of all this racist shit?”