A Walk in the Woods

April 20, 2014

by Crane-Station

Letty Owings, age 89, describes Easter in a farming community during the early 1930s:

At 4AM on Easter Sunday, my dad went outside, fed the animals and milked the cows. Then he made cornbread and opened a jar of apple butter for the cornbread. This was the only work allowed on Easter, because it was considered a sin to work on Easter.

After we ate, we dressed for church. Mom wore her only dress. Women were required to cover their heads in church, so Mom wore her only hat that she called a “pot hat” which was uglier than sin and looked like an upside-down stove pot. Her hat had eye hooks in the back. My dad wore his only suit, and he wore a men’s hat, but since he did not have to wear the hat in church, he hung it on the hat hook in the back of the church. The preacher wore black.

Men sat on the right of the church and women sat on the left, although that changed, sometime later in the 1930s. The church had a pump organ. One person pumped it, while another person was at the keys. The organist maintained his appointment as such until ‘the sheep croaked,’ we used to say as a joke.

Easter was a communion day. The drink was wine and never grape juice, and the bread was broken from a loaf rather than of a wafer variety, but one had to be confirmed to receive communion, so our church did have Sunday School. Baptism was neither by sprinkling nor immersion but by the preacher dipping his entire hand three times to perform the blessing.

After church, there was no communal get-together or meal. Rather, I went for walks with my father in the woods, the pastures, the fields. The flowers and trees were beginning to bloom. Morel mushrooms would come up with the first warm dirt, if the dirt was warm enough. We walked and walked.

During our walks, my dad told me how much we should appreciate the gifts that we have. He would point to the “boy britches,”pink flowers with hearts that resemble boys’ britches, and blooming trees, and “spring beauties” flowers in the meadows.

Easter is a time of rejuvenation and beauty, but something my father said remains with me to this day. He said, “We have done nothing to deserve this.”

I cherished that.


Conflict Minerals

April 16, 2014

by Crane-Station

On Monday, the US Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia issued a ruling in National Association Of Manufacturers, Et Al.,v. Securities And Exchange Commission(SEC). Citing freedom of speech, the court ruled that companies cannot be compelled to disclose whether the minerals they use to manufacture their products came from “conflict mineral” areas.

Conflict minerals involve tin, tantalum, tungsten and gold, and are often associated with electronics devices, or the Information Technology (IT) industry. The term refers to minerals that are mined in the remote eastern Congo region of Africa, in unregulated mines under conditions of armed conflict and human rights abuses. Warlords obtain and profit from the minerals utilizing rape, child labor, child soldiers, extortion and other business methods that are legendary for human exploitation, including slavery, torture and murder by starvation. In addition, the real profiteers of the literal gold mine do not live in the Congo. Rather, many of them live here.

Congress responded in 2010 to the human rights catastrophe with the Dodd-Frank Consumer Protection Act, requiring the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to initiate regulations compelling companies to disclose whether or not the minerals originated from a conflict-free area. The SEC Conflict Minerals Rule was set to require manufacturers to disclose conflict mineral information on their websites and file a report with the SEC with full compliance this year.

The manufacturers responded by suing the SEC in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia claiming that their first amendment right to freedom of expression is violated by a rule that compels them to disclose unfavorable information that might hurt their bottom line. The district court rejected their argument and granted summary judgment for the SEC and the ACLU. The Manufacturer’s Association appealed to the US Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.

The Court writes (at page 20):

Products and minerals do not fight conflicts. The label “conflict free” is a metaphor that conveys moral responsibility for the Congo war. It requires an issuer to tell consumers that its products are ethically tainted, even if they only indirectly finance armed groups. An issuer, including an issuer who condemns the atrocities of the Congo war in the strongest terms, may disagree with that assessment of its moral responsibility. And it may convey that “message” through “silence.” See Hurley, 515 U.S. at 573. By compelling an issuer to confess blood on its hands, the statute interferes with that exercise of the freedom of speech under the First Amendment.
See id.

Hogwash! Silence is not disclosure. Up is not down. The First Amendment protects our freedom to express our opinions and it protects the freedom of the press so that we have the necessary information to form evidence based opinions and vote intelligently. In other words, the First Amendment protects the public’s right to know. It was never intended to protect silence.

The Fifth Amendment protects silence. A person cannot be compelled to testify against himself in a criminal case. It does not protect a corporation like a tobacco company from disclosing that cigarettes are harmful to health and may cause cancer. Likewise, since a company’s decisions about sourcing in its supply chain can impact the funding of conflict, it must be able to make informed choices about conflict minerals in its supply. Furthermore, “conflict free” is not a metaphor. It is a yes or a no to a question.

Our right to know is what this case is about. We have a right to know if products we buy are available for purchase as a result of outlaws, thieves, murderers-for-hire, rapists and butchers specializing in human rights violations conducting their business.

That said, it is likely that the SEC will seek an en banc review in this case, as the ruling issued on Monday was not unanimous. One of the justices held back, pending the outcome of en banc review in a similar case that has to do with disclosure in meat labeling.

Amazingly enough, today is Emancipation Day, a holiday in Washington DC to mark the anniversary of the signing of the Compensated Emancipation Act, which president Abraham Lincoln signed on April 16, 1862.

Related:

Conflict-free smelters and refiners

Electronic Industry Citizenship Coalition -EICC – Extractives and Conflict Minerals Resources


Gerrie Nell continues to cross-examine Oscar Pistorius 4/15/2014

April 15, 2014

Session one:

Session Two:

Session Three:

Session Four:

Tuesday, April 14, 2014

Good morning:

The deconstruction of Oscar Pistorius’s implausible version of events continues.

Due to the six hour time difference between Capetown and New York, three sessions of the trial today have been completed.

Begin watching with the first session and join us in the comments.


Oscar Pistorius Trial Week 5, Day 21, Open Thread

April 11, 2014

Prosecutor Gerrie Nell continues to cross examine Oscar Pistorius today.

This is an open thread. We welcome thoughts, comments, and questions. I will update with additional clips.

If you have any thoughts on other cases, please share them here.


America’s D+ Infrastructure

April 9, 2014

by Crane-Station

Every four years, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) issues a report card based on the A-F grading system, for America’s infrastructure. Infrastructure involves more than the 65,000 US bridges in need of repair, or the potholes that ate Indianapolis. America earned a D+ average across sixteen categories according to eight criteria: capacity, condition, funding, future need, operation and maintenance, public safety, resilience, and innovation.

The Infrastructure report card is here. The grades:

Aviation D
Bridges C+
Dams D
Drinking Water D
Energy D+
Hazardous Waste D
Inland Waterways D-
Levees D-
Ports C
Public Parks and Recreation C-
Rail C+
Roads D
Schools D
Solid Waste B-
Transit D
Wastewater D

How are we doing today?

While America spends huge amounts of money on non-emergency or made up issues, like surveillance or hollowing out America or keeping alligators off the football field, the place is falling apart. The D+ average reflects a crisis in America’s infrastructure. But just when you think things cannot get any worse, they do. For example:

Schools received a D grade. One must get a shovel and dig to get this low, but yesterday the Washington Post reports Koch brothers help Kansas lawmakers strip teachers of tenure. Here’s what these egregious horrendous human beings did:

The Kansas legislature just passed legislation that strips teachers of tenure and the right to due process, a move pushed by conservative lawmakers who were forced by a state Supreme Court ruling to provide more funding to poor school districts and wanted to get something out of the deal. After stripping teachers of their tenure, legislators had a brief discussion about jewelry.

So, after screwing teachers and school children, who have no money and no political clout, the discussion that the taxpayers were funding progressed to more important things like personal jewelry. Brought to you by ALEC and the Koch Brothers, that gets an F. Since there is no longer tenure, I can not imagine that a teacher could lose much by explaining how a bill becomes law, and also explaining why 40 children are sharing one schoolbook, and who proposed the bill.

Every two minutes in America, a water pipe breaks. If you own the home on top of the broken pipe, you must pay for the repair, even if the pipes were installed decades before your arrival. Seven trillion gallons of treated drinking water are lost yearly in the US, due to leaking pipes, and leaking pipes can lead to mold and other serious property damage. The customer pays for the chemicals to treat the water, as well as the pumps, pipes and electricity to run the pumps, but there is no note on the water bill that says you are paying for lost water due to failing infrastructure.

Energy’s D+ is notable because my husband and I are one of many residents in an area spanning several states, with a power bill horror story. At first I thought our power bill, which was suddenly higher than God, was a mistake, but then we began asking others, and in many cases the electric bill matches the rent, or exceeds it. While some companies claim “polar vortex,” we believe the residential customer is absorbing the cost of aging structure in the electricity grid.

Bridges earned a C+, with one in nine reported as structurally deficient, carrying more than two hundred million travelers each day. A United States Structurally Deficient Bridges on the National Highway Systems map from the Department of Transportation is here, and things are not looking up. According to an audit released Tuesday in Louisiana, the transportation department couldn’t exactly prove it had inspected 16 percent of the bridges in the state, and several hundred others were late in inspection or deficient in other ways. The pdf audit is here.

Hazardous waste received a D grade. Last week, Mercury News reported that home improvement giant Lowe’s was ordered to pay 18 million in fines for illegal hazardous waste disposal:

OAKLAND — Home improvement giant Lowe’s has been ordered to pay $18 million for illegally disposing hazardous waste, including pesticides, batteries, fluorescent bulbs and other toxic materials, following a civil enforcement action filed Tuesday in Alameda County Superior Court.

Amazing that it’s just Lowe’s. There is an old saying among dumpster divers: “You would not believe what people throw away.” That includes businesses, utilities, and if you are a history buff, there’s Drum Mountain , or even things like the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

In news from Hanford, Donna Busche, a safety whistleblower who was fired from Hanford in February, had warned of dangers involving, among other things, vapors that sickened 24 workers in March. Hanford is home to 56 million gallons of the most toxic waste in the US in 177 underground storage tanks, and is known for plutonium production for the WWII ‘Fat Man’ atomic bomb in B-Reactor. Last week, the Atomic Heritage Foundation launched a virtual tour of B-Reactor, called Ranger in Your Pocket.

What are your thoughts on the infrastructure report card? Choose one of the sixteen subjects and rant and rave accordingly. There is little way to go but up, but are things improving, or is America’s infrastructure summed in the movie line,

Dean Vernon Wormer: Mr. Blu…Mr. Blutarsky… zero… point… zero.

On a lighter note, the Decorah Eagles have three beautiful chicks. The Live Cam is here.

cross posted at MyFDL/Firedoglake


Driverless Cars

April 3, 2014

posted by Crane-Station

On Monday, five days after Toyota reached a record-breaking 1.2 billion dollar settlement with the Department of Justice regarding sudden uncontrolled acceleration allegations, RAND Corporation’s James Anderson held a congressional briefing to present information for policymakers and to discuss the benefits of — you guessed it — self-driving vehicles.

Tanya Snyder of USA Streetsblog, summarizes the briefing in an article titled “How the Self-Driving Car Could Spell the End of Parking Craters:”

At a Congressional briefing this week, the RAND Corporation’s James Anderson, author of a recent report on the prospects for autonomous vehicles, said he is convinced that while there are advantages and disadvantages to driverless cars, ‘the societal benefits exceed the costs.’

The best possible scenario involves a fleet of shared driverless cars and the elimination of private vehicle ownership. Cars would be in constant use, so the amount of land reserved for parking could be greatly reduced. Even if driverless car technology comes on the market soon, however, that version of the future may never arrive.

Driverless cars will park themselves, reducing the need for parking space. Also, they will accelerate and brake more efficiently than humans, increasing fuel efficiency. The cars will have sensors that will allow them to drive closer together, possibly decreasing congestion. Safety “is considered to be the most clear-cut benefit of self-driving cars.”

Car “autopilot” technology is partially here, with some automated functions like cruise control in current working form on public roads. Several automakers have been working with companies like Google, and have progressed to a point where it is time for policymakers to figure out who would be liable, for example, for a crash. Ozy.com writes:

Sorting out who would be responsible for such an incident is one of the hairiest challenges for policymakers, and their success depends on lawmakers getting that policy right.

Not only are there few answers so far, but there isn’t even clarity on who is in charge of setting the rules — and that’s setting up the sort of Washington turf wars that are famous for grinding things to a halt.

Policymakers will need to delve into the specifics soon, given the progress automakers and companies like Google have made in advancing driverless cars. Audi spokesman Brad Stertz says his company could roll out the first iteration of driverless cars by 2019.

The RAND Corporation research publication authored by James Anderson and titled Autonomous Vehicle Technology: A Guide for Policymakers says that full-scale commercial introduction of “truly autonomous (including driverless)” cars is predicted to occur within five to twenty years. Florida, Michigan, California, Nevada and DC already have some policies in place for testing these vehicles on public roads. The vehicles were featured in Las Vegas at CES 2014, the technology trade show.

There are also potential drawbacks. For one thing, driverless cars are data guzzlers, and who has access to the data and how it will be handled is yet unknown.

John Gould, of the Wall Street Journal explains that the self-driving car will collect an enormous amount of information using technology both inside and outside the vehicle: cameras, radar, lidar (remote sensing using laser), sonar, GPS, bumper sensors, vehicle-to-vehicle wireless communication, rooftop sensors, side sensors, and GPS sensors on the antenna.

The driverless car is a rolling data farmer, which may be wonderful in theory but a privacy and cyber security nightmare in reality. Other potential drawbacks include liability and regulatory issues.

For the Rand study, “Anderson and his colleagues reviewed the current literature on the subject and conducted interviews with 30 stakeholders, including automobile manufacturers, technology companies, communications providers, representatives from state regulatory agencies and others.” One voice, however, seemed to be oddly missing: the average commuter who drives a car. I emailed a DC resident and asked what he thought of driverless cars. He said:

Read the rest of this entry »


IPCC WG2 2014 Climate Change Report

April 3, 2014

posted by Crane-Station. Cross posted at Firedoglake.

On Monday, Working Group II of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued its report on the current state of scientific knowledge about the changing climate. The report did not mince words: extreme weather events are already occurring and catalyzed by carbon emissions. The good news is that adaptation is possible, if communities and governments immediately and aggressively pursue adaptation and mitigation.

If the climate extremes continue unabated, systems that will be impacted are:

  • availability of water, and clean water.
  • There will be negative impacts on crop yields, especially in the lower latitudes. We have already seen the devastating effects of drought to agriculture, for example.
  • Migration of species. As species move away from areas that impact survival and reproduction, they face new challenges and difficulties in the new locations, specifically, difficulty living together with new species.
  • There will be greater instance of disease, morbidity and mortality; the urban poor are especially at risk.
  • Lowline coastal areas could be vulnerable to extreme weather events, and even catastrophic damage.
  • Conflict can be exacerbated, compromising territorial integrity, and leading to displacement.

The key to our survival will be the extent to which we are willing to mitigate, and adapt. The upcoming working group 3 will talk about emissions of greenhouse gases. We simply have no more excuses , according to this IPCC Review. Everyone has a reason to care about it.

The IPCC Report scientists expressed particular concern with the marine environments. The report is large, and it states in the beginning that everyone should have good reason to be concerned with the findings, and pay close attention to Working Group 3’s Report that will be issued later this year, addressing adaptation and mitigation. Reading between the lines, our governments are currently insufficiently prepared for the reality of a changing climate that is impacting our food, water, health and survival.

Related:

The world is not ready for the impacts of climate change, including more extreme weather and the likelihood that populated parts of the planet could be rendered uninhabitable, says the planet’s leading body of climate scientists in a major new UN report. (National Geographic)


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