By Sharon GuynupASHINGTON, DC, February 16, 2012 (ENS) - A natural gas drilling rush is on in rural North Dakota. And with it, residents are reporting growing numbers of respiratory ailments, skin lesions, blood oozing from eyes, and the deaths of livestock and pets.
Elsewhere, residents of Texas, Pennsylvania, Colorado, Wyoming and other states who thought they'd hit the lottery by signing natural gas drilling leases have watched their drinking water turn noxious: slick, brown, foamy, flammable.
In December, for the first time, federal regulators scientifically linked hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, to the contamination of an aquifer, refuting repeated industry claims that the practice does not pollute drinking water.
It happened in the rural ranching community of Pavillion, Wyoming, an area riddled with 162 natural gas wells dug between 1990 and 2006. Despite a decade of complaints from residents that their reeking water was undrinkable - and that many suffered from nerve damage, asthma, heart trouble and other health problems - state officials did nothing.
Finally the EPA stepped in, launching a three-year study running from 2008 to 2011.
In its report, the EPA identified numerous fracking chemicals in Pavillion's water. Cancer-causing benzene was found at 50 times safe levels, along with other hazardous chemicals, methane, diesel fuel, and toxic metals - in both groundwater and deep wells.
Now, across the country in Pennsylvania, the EPA is testing drinking water in 61 locations in Susquehanna County for possible fracking-related contamination.
Nationwide, residents living near fracked gas wells have filed over 1,000 complaints of tainted water, severe illnesses, livestock deaths, and fish kills. Complaints, sometimes involving hundreds of households, have risen in tandem with a veritable gold rush of new natural gas wells - now numbering about 493,000 across 31 states.
This month's hearings on the EPA's Pavillion report, led by the House subcommittee on Energy and the Environment, have been contentious, with pro-drilling politicians and industry representatives attacking its conclusions.
"The EPA is trying to go after fracking everywhere they can," said subcommittee chairman Andy Harris, a Maryland Republican. "They've had absolutely no proof that fracking had polluted drinking water, that I know of."
Both he and industry spokesmen implied that the media had created a poorly-informed frenzy, spreading fear and mistrust of fracking.
What would you think if your physician told you, “Keep smoking because quitting would kill tobacco and health care jobs.” Or, “Don’t take your high blood pressure medicine, you can’t afford it.” And, “Don’t lose weight, no one has proven obesity is bad for you.”That’s exactly the quality of medical advice we are getting from the 18 Republican physicians currently serving in Congress. Some of the most well known are the father and son team of Rep. Ron and Sen. Rand Paul and Sen.Tom Coburn. Almost all of these physician/Congressmen have been key soldiers in the Republican war on the EPA; calling it a “job killer,” pronouncing relevant health science “unproven,” claiming we “can’t afford” their regulations.
In the last ten years over 2,000 scientific studies published in the main stream medical literature have revealed that air pollution has much of the same physiologic and disease consequence as first and second hand cigarette smoke. Those studies show that just as there is no safe number of cigarettes a person can smoke, there is no safe level of air pollution a person can breathe. Even pollution at “background” levels still causes health consequences.
By Brad Johnson
Five senators and 39 representatives received a perfect 100 percent score from the Koch brothers’ Astroturf group Americans For Prosperity for the first half of the 112th Congress. AFP judged Congress on their votes to protect the Koch brothers’ right-wing petrochemical empire on such issues as the repeal of President Obama’s new health care law, preempting EPA’s authority to regulate greenhouse gases, Chairman Paul Ryan’s budget to end Medicare, ending ethanol subsidies, several Congressional Review Act resolutions of disapproval to overturn new regulations and the fiscal year 2012 appropriations bills.
The Koch Five are Sens. Tom Coburn (R-OK), Mike Crapo (R-ID), Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Marco Rubio (R-FL), and Ron Johnson (R-WI), who have received a combined $187,400 in campaign contributions from the Koch empire:
|THE KOCH FIVE|
by Eric Lichtblau
When Representative Ed Pastor was first elected to Congress two decades ago, he was comfortably ensconced in the middle class. Mr. Pastor, a Democrat from Arizona, held $100,000 or so in savings accounts in the mid-1990s and had a retirement pension, but like many Americans, he also owed the banks nearly as much in loans.
Today, Mr. Pastor, a miner’s son and a former high school teacher, is a member of a not-so-exclusive club: Capitol Hill millionaires. That group has grown in recent years to include nearly half of all members of Congress — 250 in all — and the wealth gap between lawmakers and their constituents appears to be growing quickly, even as Congress debates unemployment benefits, possible cuts in food stamps and a “millionaire’s tax.”
Mr. Pastor buys a Powerball lottery ticket every weekend and says he does not consider himself rich. Indeed, within the halls of Congress, where the median net worth is $913,000 and climbing, he is not. He is a rank-and-file millionaire. But compared with the country at large, where the median net worth is $100,000 and has dropped significantly since 2004, he and most of his fellow lawmakers are true aristocrats.
Largely insulated from the country’s economic downturn since 2008, members of Congress — many of them among the “1 percenters” denounced by Occupy Wall Street protesters — have gotten much richer even as most of the country has become much poorer in the last six years, according to an analysis by The New York Times based on data from the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonprofit research group.
Congress has never been a place for paupers. From plantation owners in the pre-Civil War era to industrialists in the early 1900s to ex-Wall Street financiers and Internet executives today, it has long been populated with the rich, including scions of families like the Guggenheims, Hearsts, Kennedys and Rockefellers.
It's at this time of the year that generous, big-hearted Americans reach out to aid the less fortunate among us — like those who've recently been knocked down by the recession and seen their incomes plummet. I speak, of course, about our nation's severely squeezed millionaires.
Yes, many in the infamous 1 percent class are no longer feeling like a million bucks. According to a new federal report, the income of these high-living swells averaged a robust $1.4 million in 2007, but after Wall Street crashed in a heap of greed late that year, their average income took a tumble. In 2009, it fell below the millionaire threshold, leaving these poor rich folks struggling to make it on an average income of only $957,000.
Also, talk about getting a lump of coal in your Christmas stocking, the share of our nation's total income taken by the 1-percenters fell from a whopping 23 percent in 2007 (the highest since the Roaring Twenties) to a mere 17 percent in 2009. How sad for them, huh?
The only balm for their little financial ouchie is they are using the slight setback to rebuke the 99-percenters of the Occupy Wall Street protests. See, say the rich, waving the federal report, our slice of the pie in 2009 was the smallest it's been in a decade, so your protest about inequality is out of date. "Get a time machine," one front man for the Koch brothers barked at the Occupy movement.
OK, but let's travel back only a few short years in time to 1980, when the top 1 percent was very happy to pocket a meager 10 percent of all of America's income. And, by the way, today's 1-percenters have had big income gains since 2009, while the 99 percent have lost income. So the Occupiers are right — the inequality is increasing — yet, shamefully, those who're back making a killing want America's hard-hit majority to feel sorry for them!
The 1-percenters and the politicos who serve them are modern-day scrooges, oblivious to the hardships of others.
—By Samantha Oltman
Netizens beware: Depending on a house committee's debate over the Stop Online Piracy Act today, you could face felony charges instead of a fine the next time you illegally grab a song or movie off the Internet. The website that served up your digital pirate's booty could be shut down, blocked from Google and other search engines, and have its US bank accounts closed. Uploading is on the hot seat, too. If the bill passes and your next YouTube upload includes copyrighted music or video, you could be committing a felony. Even Facebook and YouTube, sites that exist to share user-generated content, could be held liable if just a few copyright-infringing links are discovered among the millions their users share daily.
The act, also known as SOPA, has set off a battle between major Internet players—Google, Facebook, and Wikipedia among them—and big media and entertainment companies that stand to benefit from SOPA's proposed copyright protections.
Vermont Senator Calls for Constitutional Amendment to Protect Democracy from Citizens United
WASHINGTON – Warning that “American democracy in endangered,” Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) today proposed a constitutional amendment to overturn a Supreme Court ruling that allowed unrestricted and secret campaign spending by corporations on U.S. elections.
The first constitutional amendment ever proposed by Sanders during his two decades in Congress would reverse the narrow 5-to-4 ruling in Citizens United vs. the Federal Elections Commission. In that controversial decision almost two years ago, justices gave corporations the same First Amendment free-speech rights as people.
“There comes a time when an issue is so important that the only way to address it is by a constitutional amendment,” Sanders said of the effort to override the court decision that he labeled “a complete undermining of democracy.”
Sanders’ Saving American Democracy Amendment would make clear that corporations are not entitled to the same constitutional rights as people and that corporations may be regulated by Congress and state legislatures. It also would preserve the First Amendment guarantee of freedom of the press. It would incorporate a century-old ban on corporate campaign donations to candidates, and establish broad authority for Congress and states to regulate spending in elections.
House Republicans want to kill the federal agency charged with making sure voting machines work.
Republicans in state legislatures across the country have spent the past year mounting an all-out assault on voting rights, pushing a slew of voter ID and redistricting measures that are widely expected to dilute the power of minority and low-income voters in next November's elections. Now that effort has come to Capitol Hill, where a congressional committee will vote Thursday on a GOP-backed bill to eviscerate the Election Assistance Commission (EAC)—the last line of defense against fraud and tampering in electronic voting systems around the country.
The EAC was created in the wake of 2000's controversial presidential election as a means of improving the quality standards for electronic voting systems. Its four commissioners (two Republicans and two Democrats) are nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate. The commission tests voting equipment for states and localities, distributes grants to help improve voting standards, and offers helpful guidance on proofing ballots to some 4,600 local election jurisdictions. It also collects information on overseas and military voters and tracks the return rate for absentee ballots sent to these voters.
On Friday, a House subcommittee on elections will vote on Rep. Gregg Harper's (R-Miss.) bill eliminating the EAC along with the longstanding public financing system for presidential campaigns. Republicans claim that the commission has already achieved its aim of cleaning up elections. Its responsibilities, they argue, can be reabsorbed by the Federal Election Commission (FEC), which oversaw voting machine certification prior to the EAC's creation in 2002. Ending the EAC, Republicans estimate, will save $33 million over the next five years.
Good-government groups, including the Campaign Legal Center, the League of Women Voters, and People for the American Way, have leaped to the commission's defense, arguing that eliminating it would pose a "threat to the health of our democracy and yet another distraction from the vital and unfinished business before the House."
Conventional politics in the United States focuses on elections, while left activists typically argue that political change comes not from electing better politicians but building movements strong enough to force politicians to accept progressive change.
Norman Solomon has concluded it isn’t either/or. A prominent writer and leader in left movements for decades, Solomon is running for Congress in the hopes of being practical and remaining principled.
“Since I first went to a protest at age 14 in 1966 -- a picket line to desegregate an apartment complex -- my outlook on electoral politics has gone through a lot of changes,” Solomon said. “First I thought politics was largely about elections, later I thought politics had very little to do with elections, and now I believe that elections are an important part of the mix.”
Solomon argues that when the left has treated elections as irrelevant, the result has been self-marginalization that helps empower the military-industrial complex.
“The view that genuine progressives should leave the electoral field to corporate Democrats and right-wing Republicans no longer makes sense to me. I used to say that having a strong progressive movement was much more important than who was in office, but now I’d say that what we really need is a strong progressive movement AND much better people in office,” he said. “Having John Conyers, Barbara Lee, Dennis Kucinich, Jim McGovern, Raul Grijalva, Lynn Woolsey in Congress is important. We need more of those sorts of legislators as part of the political landscape.”
A widespread perception that Congress people respond increasingly to special interests has received additional support from a person who knows something about it. In a cynical interview with Lesley Stahl, from “60 minutes” Jack Abramoff, one of the most notorious lobbyists in recent times, explains the tactics that he used in dealing with people in Congress. In addition, he gives a chilling assessment of recent reforms intended to change this situation.
In 2011, it was estimated that there were over 13,000 registered federal lobbyists based in Washington, DC. They spend huge amounts of money on their work, up to $3.5 billion in 2010 according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Their competence as individuals, groups or corporations to lobby the government is protected by the right to petition clause in the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.
For his illegal activities, in 2006, Abramoff pleaded guilty to defrauding Indian tribes of tens of millions of dollars on issues associated with Indian gaming, and corruption of public officials, in a Washington, D.C., federal court. He served most of a six-year sentence after pleading guilty to charges of conspiracy, honest services fraud, and tax evasion.
He was deft at influencing legislation, and one of his strategies was to make some Indian tribes make substantial campaign contributions to select members of Congress. In addition, Abramoff spent large sums of money providing congressmen with free flights to the world’s best golf destinations such as St. Andrews in Scotland. He also provided them with free meals at his upscale Washington restaurant Signatures, and the best tickets to all the area’s sporting events. He said that he spent a million dollars a year on those tickets and on different other venues.
When asked by Ms. Stahl if he could state how much it costs to corrupt a congressman, he answered, “I was actually thinking of writing a book –“The Idiot’s Guide to Buying a Congressman”- as a way to put this all down.