2012 – The Year That Was
Gerard J. Zarella, 2012“Lost time is never found again.“
We are constantly bombarded by information, thanks to the 24 hour news cycle and virtually instant and personal access to worldwide, real-time streams of history making events. Sometimes, things happen so quickly that, events that occurred as little as 6 months to a year ago, can already feel like ancient history; and a future farther than a few months out can seem like a faint blip on the radar horizon. So, here are events and people, in order of interest to me, that caught my eye and imagination from a list of the top 15 news stories of 2012, according to Pew Research Center’s News Interest Index.
In August, we Americans stood a little taller and prouder as NASA scientists reinvigorated American exceptionalism, imagination, and scientific progress when Curiosity, the Mars rover, made the over 350 million mile trip to land safely on our neighboring planet, Mars. Over the past few months, the surface explorer has been collecting soil and rock samples, sending back unprecedented photos and scientific information about the red planet.
We marveled as Felix Baumgartner, an Austrian daredevil, broke the world record for the highest altitude free fall from the edge of space, more than 24 miles to the outer edge of the stratosphere. As he plummeted back to earth, his body accelerated to 833.9 miles per hour; he broke the sound barrier. With a top free fall speed of an amazing Mach 1.24, he became the first human to do so, wearing only his specially designed space suit. He also set records for the highest manned balloon flight and the biggest manned balloon in history. I know my heart skipped a beat as I watched, live, with millions of others around the world, as Baumgartner stepped off of the narrow step of his balloon supported spacecraft, to fall into the world record books and history.
Baumgartner’s adventure was largely funded by Red Bull, the popular energy drink. NASA struggles with budget cuts that have become all to common, as the powers that be in Washington DC attempt to use austerity to decrease the national debt and reduce deficit spending. The retirement of the shuttle program shouldn’t be the retirement of our quest to stay ahead in the space race. Aside from national pride, space supremacy is a matter of our national security. Government funding for science and education should not become a victim of the austerity chopping block. Government should partner with the private sector to promote and support the development of technology, commerce, education and exploration. Neither the private sector nor the government can go the next step in manned space flight and deep space exploration, alone.
Half-way through 2012, President Obama won a major moral victory as well as the legal battle against his Conservative detractors when the Supreme Court, tilted in favor by the lone vote of no-less-than Chief Justice John Roberts himself, who split with the conservative majority of the Court and voted with the minority liberal justices to uphold the Affordable Care Act, which has affectionately become known as “Obamacare.” As conservative pundits wailed and gnashed their teeth, Justice Roberts made sure that President Obama’s intent of making sure all Americans have access to health care was protected under the banner of a Supreme Court ruling.
In November, at least “47%,” although of course, we now know many more, Americans breathed a collective sigh of relief as our first African-American president was re-elected by a considerable, dare I say ‘mandate,’ margin of the vote. That should have sent a clear message to Congress that we are tired of their games and inability to accomplish anything. Ahh, but American politics isn’t quite that simple and straight forward, and our still popular president is forced to continue fighting an uphill battle, with an obstinate, obstructive Republican tea party controlled House of Representatives that seems obstinately determined to go down in history as having accomplished the least of any US Congress.
As if to provide the encore at the end of the three-ring-circus that was the Republican race for the party nomination and eventual run for the presidency, the challenger’s son, Tag Romney, famously remarked to a reporter from the Boston Globe, “He (Governor “Etch-A-Sketch” Mitt Romney) wanted to be president less than anyone I’ve met in my life.” Soooo, nooooow he tells us. It’s just another gaffe added to the many missteps, pratfalls and guffaws provided by the questionably sane, hopelessly lost, hapless field of Republican candidates over the course of their contentious and long run for the White House. The drivers may have changed several times over the course of the long, drawn out run-up to the Republican Convention, but the clown car’s wheels never stopped spinning to the hoots and laughter of an often otherwise un-amused electorate.
Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner and recalcitrant House Republicans have managed to garner the lowest approval ratings of any government in recent history. As the “fiscal cliff” looms at the end of the year, promising increased taxes for all of us, the Republican party continues to disintegrate before our eyes, incapable of the slightest movement forward, leaving the Democrat controlled Senate and the Obama Administration stymied as they watch the 98% suffer, while the Republicans continue their unpopular support of the 1% richest in the country. Fortunately, government wasn’t the only news maker in 2012.
We also saw the ugly side of America. Horror unfolded on the TV, as we witnessed the aftermath of the killing of 20 children, just babies really, in one of the most horrific events of the decade. During a season that should have been full of joy and excitement for children and their families, 27 families in the little town of Newtown, Connecticut mourned the loss of life and innocence that took place on December 14 at the Sandy Hook Elementary School after a deranged young man entered the school and in cold blood, shot the principal, assistant principal and several other staffers and teachers who valiantly attempted to protect the lives of the young people left in their charge.
Especially in our worst moments, human spirit being what it is, unlikely and unpredictable heroes reach for unknown strength and determination to answer the call to help each other when the chips are down. On that day, heaven was joined by the souls of heroes like Principal Dawn Hochsprung who died lunging at the gunman, and first-grade teacher Victoria Soto, who selflessly put herself between the attacker and her classroom full of children. The children were able to escape as the gunman shot the teacher, who attempted to shield them from lethal bullets, after hiding many in a bathroom and closet. After shooting his mother in her home, the shooter went to the school, terrorized and killed, and finally ended his own life as police closed in, responding to the carnage in the classrooms and halls of an elementary school shaken to the very foundation by an act of unthinkable horror.
The Sandy Hook tragedy became another traumatic story in a long list of mass killings that have infected the country over the past several years. In early December as people started their Christmas shopping, a lone gunman entered a suburban mall in Oregon, near a place ironically called “Happy Valley,” and killed three shoppers, as others hid behind store shelves or ran terrified from the facility. After his gun jammed, the gunman shot himself as police sirens were heard approaching the mall. Another mass shooting in an Aurora, Colorado movie theater, earlier in July, that left 12 dead and 50 injured. The shooter, dressed in black military style clothing, including gas mask and bullet proof vest and helmet, entered the premier of “Dark Knight Rises” allegedly released a smoke canister and opened fire on hundreds of unsuspecting movie goers. He was arrested in a parking lot behind the theater by police responding to the calls for help from the theater.
In March, the killing of Florida teenager, Trayvon Martin, by an armed private citizen performing a Neighborhood Watch patrol, in a gated housing complex in a Orlando suburb, launched allegations of racism, inequality under the law and unjustified killing. The shooter, George Zimmerman, was finally, albeit not quickly enough according to the opinions of some, indicted and arrested in the killing. He has already launched a self-defense and ‘stand your ground defense’ to keep himself out of prison. The story, according to some sources, graphically highlighted the racial divides that still exist in our country today. The story was closely watched and commented on by about 70% of African-Americans, while only 30% of white Americans took more than a passing interest in the questions raised by the incident. Should “Neighborhood Watch” security personnel be armed? Was this incident an example of Florida’s “stand your ground” law going tragically wrong? Is racial profiling a problem in American neighborhoods? Are black and white defendants treated differently by the American legal and judicial systems? Another battle that will rage on, unfortunately.
There are no simple answers to the amount of violence that has stained the American landscape. Too many guns in the hands of too many unstable people; Just what were we expecting? We need to work together to figure out what cultural and societal changes we need to make to stop the killings. In the mean time, we need to recognize the reality that our world is becoming a much more dangerous place to live in. We’ve got to spend time and money in making our schools and public buildings safe through the use of technology and trained personnel. We don’t need more guns in schools or on the streets. What we need is more common sense in dealing with the guns and guns rights issues as they are now.
While terror in the homeland knocked on our front doors, and Mitt Romney stumbled ahead in the Republican horse race for the White House, Americans had some other moments when we could once again bask in American pride and feel a unifying connection with the rest of the world, if only for a few moments.
On the world stage, we watched as the people of Great Brittain and the world came together to present the Games of the XXX Olympiad, or the 2012 Summer Olympics. Even Her Majesty, the Queen, and the Royal Corgies got into the act with James Bond, her royal protector, delivering her to the Olympic venue in a manner and style fit for a queen and world renown super hero. After a diverse and entertaining opening ceremony, we watched Americans win 46 gold medals, with Michael Phelps surpassing the previous gold medal record by earning an unprecedented 18 career gold medals, becoming the most decorated Olympic athlete in history with a total of 22 medals. Team USA gymnast Gabby Douglas became the first woman of color and the first African-American gymnast in Olympic history to become the individual all-around champion, and the first American gymnast to win gold in both the individual all-around and team competitions at the same Olympics. The United States proudly topped the medal tables with 104 overall medals, including leading the pack with 46 gold. Go Team USA!
In other positive news, President Obama, in early May came out in support of marriage equality. In an action, that came as somewhat of a surprise to many observers, Mr. Obama expressed his agreement with many marriage equality proponents that the Defense of Marriage Act was unconstitutional and that gays and lesbians should be able to marry the person they love. Not to be outdone, Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner and the conservative House of Representatives, in a number of largely secretive administrative moves, have authorized and re-authorized an ever-growing amount of money to a right-wing Washington legal firm to defend DOMA. Though the Republicans have decried paying government funds to the homeless, elderly, veterans and the environment, they have no qualms about spending our tax dollars to use the power of government to continue to discriminate against a large segment of the population. They say, freedom does not come easily.
The battle over marriage equality is hardly over. In a step forward, in November “(v)oters secured equal marriage rights in Maine, Maryland and Washington, and defeated a marriage ban in Minnesota.” President Obama has been touted as the “most pro-equality” president of all time by a leading gay-rights organization, the Human Rights Campaign. More openly gay legislators are picking up the torch from retiring Representative Barney Frank (D-Mass), bringing the cause of equality for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transsexual Americans (GLBT’s) into the halls of Congress and to the courts in American cities. Each victory is a step in the long struggle to provide all Americans with the same rights and liberties, without regard to sexual orientation. It is a battle that will be moved to the halls of the United States Supreme Court, as early as the first half of 2013.
Progressive causes took a forward step in Washington state and Colorado, where voters approved the decriminalization of personal-use marijuana. Legislators in at least 13 other states as diverse as Pennsylvania, Vermont, Delaware, Wisconsin, Indiana, Minnesota and New Mexico are considering joining the states who have already authorized medical marijuana. States with liberal personal use or medical use laws are now looking at how to regulate and tax marijuana use. Have we found the new cash crop for American farmers? It is still controversial and still elicits a good deal of emotional reaction, but it looks like the tide of the “war on drugs” is shifting away from marijuana use. Marijuana could be taxed and regulated like alcohol and tobacco, a source of revenue rather than a burden on the legal and judicial systems.
Natural disasters, the economy, gas prices and foreign relations also dominated the news in 2012. Despite a few set backs and slow overall growth, the economy did keep climbing out of the deepest recession in history. Gas prices slowly came down, to provide some relief before the holidays. Jobs continued to grow bit by bit, as unemployment numbers inched down. Overall optimism of many Americans continues to improve. We’re not there yet, but prosperity has returned for some Americans, and the outlook in many sectors looks better. What remains to be seen though, a big “WHAT IF,” is what happens if the US falls over the proverbial “fiscal cliff,” as it seems will happen, having been created by our do-nothing Congress to avoid exactly this kind of thing. What impact will new costs associated with “Obamacare” have on the recovering economy? The US debt will continue to grow. Poverty in America is still staggering. And communities throughout the country continue to struggle with less revenue and less federal and state support for local service, public safety and education programs.
Two powerful hurricanes, Isaac in September and Sandy in November, wracked the eastern seaboard, destroying the historical Boardwalk in New Jersey and leaving hundreds of thousands homeless from seaside towns in Maryland, Virginia, New Jersey, much of New England and causing massive destruction in New York City. Draught, snow storms, tornadoes, floods and fires continued to stretch and test the resolve and resources of emergency responders throughout the nation.
The killing of US Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans in the diplomatic consulate in Benghazi, Libya opened a messy episode that once again aired our dirty political laundry on the world-stage, while exposing the weak underbelly of our diplomatic mission. Republicans were quick to pounce on US envoy Susan Rice’s misstatements early after the attack, accusing her and the Obama administration of intentionally misleading the American people into believing the attack was a spontaneous uprising by Muslim demonstrators angry over the airing of a video demonstrably critical of the Muslim Prophet Mohammed. It was soon learned that the early information given to Rice by intelligence sources in the government were wrong, and the attack was in fact a well planned and coordinated act of terrorism meant to further destabilize the American presence in Libya. While GOP stalwarts like Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham were particularly cruel in their attacks on Ambassador Rice, they and the rest of the drooling hyenas of the Grand Ol’ Party failed to mention that part of the fault lies with the Republicans’ refusal to fund security for our diplomatic missions.
2012 also saw the loss of many whom we’ve come to know and love over the years. Just a few days ago, General Norman Schwarzkopf the commander of coalition forces during Operation Desert Storm died at age 78. Genuine American heroes Astronauts Neil Armstrong, who amazed us by taking that “one small step,” and Sally Ride, the first American woman in space. American political figures, Hawaiian Senator and WWII hero Daniel Inouye, Judge Robert Bork who was nominated by President Reagan for a seat on the Supreme Court in the 80′s, Senators Arlan Sepcter, George McGovern, and Warren Rudman all left behind their worldly duties. We have been left with the large and small screen legacies of actors Charles Durning, Jack Klugman, Larry “JR” Hagman, “Sheriff Andy” Griffith, and Sherman Hemsley, who strutted on to the stage of our hearts; the humor of Phyllis Diller, the wit and wisdom of Zig Ziggler, the music of Ravi Shankar, Davey Jones and Robin Gibb (BeeGees). And Dick Clark and Don Cornelius who orchestrated our New Year’s celebrations for years, and took us for a ride on the “Soooooul Train!” Donna Summer’s and Whitney Houston’s untimely deaths left us with a void in our collective souls, however musically richer. Whitney’s nationally televised celebration of life taught us what “going home” is all about. As we mourn their loss, we also celebrate the great gifts that each of these and many more left with us, testaments and testimonies to their greatness and their human frailty. And we remember too, those not-so-famous people, the friends and family members who may only be known to a few of us, but left a non-the-less hole in our hearts when they departed from this life. Godspeed.
2012 saw many victories and some losses. What will 2013 bring? Almost assuredly, 2013 will bring more political strife as the gridlock in Washington DC doesn’t seem to be heading toward any type of relief any time soon. Our President will continue to have an uphill struggle to write his legacy into the history books, as Republican politicians, disappointed at their failure to make him a “one term president,” do their best to make his second term as miserable for him as his first. The Republican tea party has proven over and over again that their Draconian right-wing agenda is more important than the needs of the American people, so don’t expect to see that change soon. Some people are fond of saying that both parties are to blame for the lack of progress in Washington DC. But experience has shown that it has been the Republicans’ refusal to work with Democrats on mutually agreeable and beneficial goals, and an insistence on pushing a sometimes radical right-wing agenda that has our government in a deadlock.
In spite of the government’s failure to work, I believe that the economy is coming back slowly. After falling into the deep hole dug by the greed and recklessness of the Bush years, it will continue to be a struggle to correct the problems that caused the Recession, retool America for a post-industrial, information driven age and to meet the needs of a growing world population. America will have to work with Europe and Asia to move the entire world into a greater era of prosperity. We will also need to work together with our international neighbors to relieve poverty in the world, feed hungry populations, repair an already damaged and fragile environment and maintain tenuous peace in diverse, troubled areas of the planet. Our New Year will be one full of opportunities and inevitable challenges.
To my friends and readers, here’s to a New Year full of hope and promise for you and your loved ones.
To Frack or Not to Frack
“If it were happening in your backyard and your ONLY source of drinking water was at risk, would you just sit back and wait to see what happened and do nothing at all?”
- Mark DeSabato
Gerard Zarella, 2012
As the national debate over fossil fuels, expanded mining and drilling and in particular “induced hydraulic fracturing” or “hydro-fracking,” commonly known as “fraccing” or “fracking” heats up, common citizens, environmentalists, media pundits and politicians argue the pro’s and con’s of the practice. The Marcellus shale boom is reawakening heretofore languishing local economies and in practical terms, putting people to work! And whether it’s the national debate or a local argument there are no simple answers in either direction as the comments section to this recent report show. In some cases, it’s pitting neighbor against neighbor. New gas and oil exploration is already impacting tens of thousands of lives economically and environmentally across the nation. Passions run high as people deal with the direct consequences of a depressed economy and further threats to fragile ecology. As the quote in the title indicates, most of these contentions seem inconsequential to our personal little worlds. Until, of course. it’s happening in our own little world.
My friend and hundreds of rural families are worried that their environment and particularly their underground and surface water supplies may be adversely affected by nearby drilling. In that same community, a rural township in northeast Ohio hit hard by the fall of the steel industry and more recently the Great Recession, another friend appears to be very excited about the prospect of the booming natural gas and oil industries new and increasing demand for specially trained and skilled laborers. Fairness dictates that I disclose that he’s been taking classes at one of the many industry-sponsored facilities that have been cropping up around the country, to prepare the local workforce for employment in the shale gas industry.
Unemployment and under-employment have been the scourge of industrial centers around the country. Job opportunities are still all too scarce for some. Additionally, aggressive partisan politics has made being a public servant more tenuous, contentious and stressful these days. So, I easily understand and empathize with why my friend, a successful, professional fire fighter, is looking enthusiastically at the many lucrative opportunities in the burgeoning industry. I’m sure I’m not the first to observe that the shale gas and oil industry is bringing a much-needed shot in the arm to many parts of the country where local economies have been devastated by dying manufacturing and production industries. The news story linked above “Ohio shale gas worth billions of dollars and 200,000 jobs,” sounds more hopeful than many recent jobs and economy headlines.
One one hand, my friend makes a spirited, thoughtful, convincing argument in favor of responsible (my emphasis) drilling:
Although there are risks involved, responsible companies go to great pains to make sure water is not affected. I’m not saying it does not or could not happen, but the risk is minimized by multiple safeguards and science that advances every day. I consider myself a staunch environmentalist and I am an avid fisherman. I also have two young children that need clean water. I would never get involved in an industry that I believed would bring harm. I’ve done my homework, I can assure you of that.
I want to be able to trust what my friend has to say there. He’s an honorable, trustworthy person, who’s looking for what the rest of us want; Job security, a decent wage commensurate with his experience and training, and a safe, healthy world for his kids. I’m sure that he has all of those things in mind as he continues his quest for the American dream. And if he happens to read this, I sincerely wish him the best. I hope that his high aspirations for the gas industry are not disappointed.
The American Dream notwithstanding, unfortunately, experience in the energy industry is rife with examples of incalculable human error, lack of contingency planning, reckless drive for the bottom line, flaunting and devaluing regulation and inexcusable government under-regulation at great expense to all humans and our natural environment.
My other friend, who’s quote I used at the top of this piece, also makes an impassioned plea for consideration of the impact that drilling has on his family’s water supply. Let me provide a brief historical context to preface his comments that I’ve included below.
A few days following a couple of days of summer storms with heavy downpours in late July, in a small man-made, spring-fed farm pond in rural northeast Ohio, a couple hundred fresh water fish and aquatic wildlife were killed by a then unknown source. The carcasses of fish of all sizes and species littered the grassy edges of the small body of water. Locals remarked that they were surprised that there were so many fish in the pond. The unfortunate operative word here, “were.”
The stench of dead fish amplified by record hot and humid days, could be smelled any time a breeze blew in one’s direction within several hundred yards and more from the pond. During muggy nights, the overwhelming stink of rotting fish and the dying pond hung heavily in the still moist air. The odoriferous bouquet would remain for more than a few days even after the rotting carcasses were collected by an environmental clean-up company hired by the well company who was in the process of installing a gas drilling operation at a nearby farm. Investigation by local officials and the state EPA determined that during a heavy rain storm run-off from a recently installed gravel driveway washed into the stream feeding the pond. The effect of loose gravel ash washing into the stream was to cause a dramatic change in the PH levels or acidity of the water and cause the death of a couple hundred fish of all species and sizes, from several inch long Bass and Blue Gill, fry that provided food for some of the birds and larger predators of the pond, to fat, at least three and four-foot long Carp that skimmed mostly undetected along the grassy bottom of the normally dark green pool, Nature’s vacuum cleaners. It was siting these large Carp near the edges of the pond, in the shallows, where they are rarely if ever seen, that sent up red flags, that something was drastically wrong with this little body of water.
Over the years, the man-made pond had been stocked by local residents with numerous species of fresh water fish including Bass, Carp, Catfish, Blue Gill and Rock Bass. After 40+ years of growth and evolution the pond was a nice little habitat for a great number of turtles, frogs and assorted water and land birds. A good example of a rural aquatic biosphere. I’ve personally seen over the years a four pound Large Mouth Bass and a 30+ pound Snapping Turtle pulled out on fishing lines by local kids.
Aquatic birds including a White Egret and his close cousin a Great Blue Heron return frequently to feed on fry, tadpoles and frogs in the shallows. Canadian Geese gather here in the fall, feeding in local corn fields to prepare for their annual pre-winter migration. Every year at least one family and occasionally others return in early spring, lay eggs and stays through the summer to rear up to six goslings that were hatched in the marsh where the spring feeds into the pond.
At any given time there’s a collection of wild and domestic ducks that call the pond home. The ducks and geese enjoy occasional handouts from kids and adults that bring stale bread and rolls for the birds. Though hand feeding is not the best for the wild birds, the handouts sustain the domestic ducks who stay at the pond year round. This little pond may not be much compared to the Great Lakes or the Gulf of Mexico. But it’s one little piece of Mother Nature’s dynamic, life filled domain.
Additionally there are several hundred people who live in the area and several small family farms that rely on surface water and water wells drilled into the local water table to provide their residential water supply, as do many rural Americans. Here’s a sampling of my friend’s impassioned comments on the event that changed the life of this active little pond for a long time to come: (Link included by me – the emphasis is his)
…on Fracking: According to the local news channels, the EPA has reported that the cause of the fish killed in our lake was due to run off from the drive they installed at the well site. From what I understand, it altered the PH balance in the water, which is what killed the fish. According to the EPA report, they did not take the proper precautions in controlling the run off from entering a water source and were sited [sic] for not doing so. I’ve received MULTIPLE nasty-grams telling me, “See, it wasn’t the Fracking that caused the problem” and that I “Jumped the gun by complaining”. My response to this is simple. If it were happening in your backyard and your ONLY source of drinking water was at risk, would you just sit back and wait to see what happened or do nothing at all? Furthermore, if the company that is doing the drilling couldn’t even install the driveway leading to the well site properly without overlooking something major or taking short-cuts, would you still trust them to PROPERLY RUN A SAFE SITE just up the road from your house? So far, NO ONE has replied back to me. I wasn’t in favor of this whole project, and NEVER will be. If something I’m saying offends or upsets you, feel free to unfriend me IMMEDIATELY !!! It’s my family’s well-being that is at risk here. I WILL NOT BACK DOWN NOR WILL I CHANGE MY OPINION TO MAKE SOMEONE ELSE HAPPY. For everyone that supports or agrees with what I’ve said, THANK YOU !!!
Even though this “accident” was not a direct result of fracking, or the by-products of fracking wells and sites, it was a wake-up call to be aware of what is going on in our neighborhoods and on our country sides. Like my friend said above, “If the company that is doing the drilling couldn’t even install the driveway leading to the well site properly without overlooking something major or taking short-cuts, would you still trust them to PROPERLY RUN A SAFE SITE just up the road from your house?” Fracking is not without its risks and unintended consequences. There are many reports of unusual and sometimes criminal occurrences related to drilling. Earthquakes and burning water have occurred in areas where fracking and the related injection well industry has come to town. Fish kills have become all too common around the country. Some for natural reasons such as algae blooms, overheating, and drought. Some others from more nefarious sources.
Currently the Marcellus Shale gas industry is starting to boom. People all over Ohio, New York, Pennsylvania and diverse other places are starting to feel the positive effects the boom is having on local economies. Natural gas is becoming a popular commodity for traders and the support industries such as machine manufacturing and pipe manufacturing are reaping the profitable benefits of the newest craze in natural energy supplies. But we’ve already seen the great cost of those endeavors.
Especially here in the Great Lakes area, the middle Atlantic states, Appalachia, Ohio, Pennsylvania, the Virginia’s, Tennessee and Kentucky, mining for coal and drilling for oil and gas are a big part of local economies, as the demand for fossil fuels increases worldwide. We humans are having a significant impact on the environment as we attempt to satisfy an increasing demand for energy. As noted in a recent article, the industry’s increasing demand on our water supply is also causing problems in areas already impacted heavily by a summer of unprecedented drought. The summer of 2012 brought diminished water resources to many areas of the country being opened for oil and gas exploration. Not only are local water sources in danger from damaging pollution, additionally, industry demands on the water supply is competing with local residents for dwindling resources. The impact is summarized in the article(Links included in original AlterNet.org post):
“Besides the discomfort of relentless heat and unmitigated sunshine, the drought has forced us to rethink several issues commonly taken for granted—namely, abundant and affordable food, secure livelihoods for farmers, safety from natural disasters, practical public policy regarding the delegation of crops for food and biofuels, and most importantly, the value of water.
The value of water is inestimable. Without it, as the drought has shown us, uncertainty and chaos quickly enter the picture, throwing superpower economies off kilter and quite literally,imperiling lives.”
Along with water contamination, the AlterNet.com article also looks at issues of deforestation, water depletion, and air and noise pollution as other unintended consequences of our relentless search for natural energy sources. The authors are equally critical of nuclear energy as a source of major headaches for the environment. We can look as far away as Russia and Japan or to our own atomic “mishaps” to see how far the consequences of a major atomic energy disaster can reach.
As much as we would like to believe that well drillers are using safe, ecologically sound methods to drill, human error, like that which caused the local fish kill, and shoddy workmanship are causing problems in areas being opened for drilling. Although fracking is supposed to be done well below local water tables, in at least one instance in rural Pennsylvania, faulty concrete used to create the casing for the well shaft allowed methane gas to leak into the water table level. Eventually, residents were faced with burning water. The drilling company faced penalties in the hundreds of thousands of dollars to reimburse homeowners.
The millions of gallons of liquids used in the fracking process are creating another problem. In little communities nationwide people are noticing the constant traffic of tanker trucks transporting water and chemicals to the sites, and tanker trucks transporting used water and chemicals from the sites. Heavy truck traffic on rural roads are impelling local governments to required drilling companies to pony up to cover damage to roads and bridges. Some states require monetary deposits made by companies to cover possible road damage. To the consternation of their constituents, others do not. The company working in our area here at least “beefed up” the local roadways from the state highway to the local roads where the well is located. Signs instruct truck drivers to stay on designated roads, with warnings such as “No Well Traffic Beyond This Point” at key intersections. Additionally, motor vehicle accidents are not rare. Big trucks lumbering through town can be a significant hazard for locals.
Before being transported away from the site by tanker trucks, drilling by-products are held in large holding ponds that are built on site to hold millions of gallons of used fracking liquids. Though these holding ponds are to be built to EPA specifications, accidents can and do happen. The incident above was caused because the drilling company did not follow EPA protocols to make sure that drainage from the site was not running into local streams, ponds and water tables or aquifers. The above cited article sums up the problem :
“…no matter how it’s moved, it’s inevitable that water is going to get spilled. Since 2008, more than 5,000 new wells have been drilled in the state. Those wells have brought with them more than 700 violations of state law related to water, (my emphasis) with fines totaling over $1.5 million. And spills tend to take place out of sight — at frack pads up in the woods, or at recycling plants. People worry about what they can’t see.”
In another case, injection wells, which are used to inject used toxic water and chemicals into deep wells in the ground were occasionally over-pressurized and ended up contaminating aquifers used for drinking water. And, let’s not forget about unusual earthquakes in diverse areas of the United States, were earthquakes were uncommon until the injection practice was started. Another article cites several studies of injection wells around the country and warns that if they aren’t causing problems now, they could be a problem later, even 25 or 50 years down the road. Unfortunately, it seems that the “experts” don’t know as much as we would like them to know, before assaulting our environment in new and dangerous ways. Note that the Deepwater Horizon project had not been fully evaluated. BP and the government had not considered an accident of that magnitude occurring and hadn’t developed a contingency plan to deal with it. We are learning, while doing. It used to be called “O-J-T,” on the job training. That isn’t good enough! How many small ponds, how many aquifers, how many streams and rivers will be ruined before we “learn” what’s right and what’s not. How much more of an assault can the Gulf of Mexico, the Arctic Ocean and other bodies of water take? Not only are our local bodies of water and waterways at great risk, we are causing, what some feel is irreparable damage to our oceans and coastlines.
Recently a report appeared about how Hurricane Ivan, when it battered the Gulf Coast of the USA unsettled submerged oil and tar balls along the Louisiana coast. Consequently, 0fficials closed a twelve-mile section of beach. Deepwater Horizon officials aren’t commenting until it can be determined that it is oil from the ill-fated, contingency deficient, deep ocean experiment in exploitation of Earth’s resources. Of course, it could be coming from any leaking platform or supply line. But it doesn’t matter. It’s just another case of we Human Beings crapping up our world so that we can make some of us richer and the rest of us more dependent. That insatiable addiction to fossil fuel energy and our literal physical dependence on oil and natural gas is driving us to exploit more and more of our environment in search of a fix.
My gripe today isn’t to debate the efficacy of continuing our endless, however exhaustive exploitation of our natural resources. Or to try to convince anyone to forsake their oil dependency for more renewable, green, eco-friendly solutions. No, my point today is to give voice to a little town in the Great Lakes corner of the country. To all of the little towns and burghs in Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, Virginia, Tennessee, Kentucky and the rest. Little towns barely big enough to warrant a dot on a typical road map. I hoped to contrast the personal impact of reckless exploitation of our natural resources with the greater impact of an incident like the Deepwater Horizon tragedy, whose effects we will feel for at least decades.
The Deepwater Horizon’s legacy along with whatever other lesser spills, leaks and releases have happened over the last 100 or so years have had a significant effect on hundreds of miles of Gulf Coast communities. We are only now finding out what impact that single horrific event is having on the ecosystem of the Gulf. We are only finding out what impact oil and gas exploration is having on our local communities.
Local environments are being impacted by the widening of oil and gas exploration on the mainland. Our children and grand children will reap the benefits of our efforts today. They will also pay the price for the mistakes we make. Will we leave them a healthy and safe environment? We need the oil and gas industry to bolster our economy. We need the jobs and the revenue. But we also need regulation of the industry. Everyone needs to come to the table and the oil and gas industry has to be held accountable for what they are doing. As President Obama said in his Democratic National Convention acceptance speech, the industry needs to be at the table, but we must “…not let oil companies write this country’s energy plan, or endanger our coastlines, or collect another $4 billion in corporate welfare from our taxpayers.“
The Environment is screaming a warning at us. Are we listening?
UPDATE: I’ve been watching the pond since the “accident” and am glad to report that barring any other man-made messes, it seems life is slowly coming back to our little natural habitat. I’ve seen some small schools of fry and many tadpoles near the edges of the pond. The birds seem to be returning and feeding freely in the marsh and along the shallow banks. The pictures of the herons above were taken after the incident and provide further evidence that the pond is coming back. But that one incident has set the pond back several decades, and it will take years to replace the wildlife that was lost as a result of poor planning and oversight.
School Vouchers & Creationism
Creationists make it sound as though a ‘theory’ is something you dreamt up after being drunk all night.
Gerard J. Zarella, 2012
This Huffington Post headline caught my eye this morning: Louisiana Voucher Program Includes Schools That Teach Creationism, Reject Evolution. Republican supported privatization & vouchers are destroying the quality of education along with the public school system in America. Lack of universal standards in our children’s education will saddle them with a severe disadvantage and lack of competitiveness on the world stage. Look what Mitt Romney’s & George W. Bush’s private educations did for them. But I digress.
While other countries surge ahead in educational excellence and thereby greater student success in the post-school world, America is slogged down in the mire of what should not be an argument, the inclusion of religion based ‘theories’ of creation and cosmology to the exclusion of sound credible scientific theory and observation. Which creation story do we accept? Who’s religion is right about the creation and ultimate cause of the Universe? While science may never answer the ultimate questions of our existence, it does give us incredible insight into how we and our universe work. Science based education, tempered by universal morality is preferable to religious bias in education.
Gerard J. Zarella 2012
I am sick and tired of hearing people demonize public employees, civil servants, as if we are the problem. These people are pitting American against American in a Herculean effort to take control of the country by dividing us and conquering. Public employees DO NOT drain the economy. Public employees 1 – Pay taxes, pay into social security & medicare. We pay unemployment insurance. We pay property taxes, use taxes and sales taxes on the purchases we make, just like private sector employees. 2 – Public employees purchase goods and services from your so-called “jobs creators,” thereby providing the capital needed to create jobs. No demand, no jobs, which seems to be the problem today.
Public employees contribute to the economy. Putting hundreds of thousands of municipal, county, state and federal workers out of work is what is draining the economy. Adding previously contributing members of society to unemployment lines is taking active contributors out of the economy. Aside from the financial contributions of public employees to the economy, there are the direct contributions that public servants make such as teaching our children, protecting our homes, property and lives, keeping our infrastructure working and available, keeping our roads passable and our land and water clean. Public employees make sure that your job site is safe, the water you drink is pure and the air you breath is clean. Public employees struggle to keep our children safe, keep our families fed and our elderly parents cared for. Public employees are your neighbors, friends and family members.
Quit blaming public employees for problems caused by the piss-poor, greed driven economic policies of the last 12 years, not just the last 4. If we keep demonizing each other and keep screwing over each other our economy will never recover. The great Republican icon, Abe Lincoln said it, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” It will take all of us working together to develop a fair and balanced tax structure, cut WASTEFUL, dishonest spending and to grow the economy. Putting people out of work, in the public or private sector will NOT improve the economy. It is only creating a chasm between fellow Americans who all want the same things, peace, prosperity and a secure future for our children. United, we all succeed, divided we fall. Tough choice.
UPDATE 8/4/2012 GJZ: New studies and this, seem to bear out what I’ve asserted. Well, I suppose we should just let the Republican Tea Party and most Conservative governments world-wide, continue to tear this country apart, and destroy the world economy.
A friend sent the original version of this to me in an email, and since I’ve had more luck with dogs, I thought it would be fun to share.
Why Some Men Have Dogs And Not Wives:
1. The later you are, the more excited your dogs are to see you.
2. Dogs don’t notice if you call them by another dog’s name.
3. Dogs like it if you leave a lot of things on the floor.
4. A dog’s parents never visit.
5. Dogs agree that you have to raise your voice to get your point across.
6. You never have to wait for a dog; they’re ready to go 24 hours a day.
7. Dogs find you amusing when you’re drunk..
8. Dogs like to go hunting and fishing.
9. A dog will not wake you up at night to ask, “If I died, would you get another dog?”
10. If a dog has babies, you can put an ad in the paper and give them away.
11. A dog will let you put a studded collar on it without calling you a pervert.
12. If a dog smells another dog on you, they don’t get mad. They just think it’s interesting.
13. Dogs like to ride in the back of a pickup truck.
And last, but not least:
14. If a dog leaves, it won’t take half of your stuff.
It Was the Best of Times, It Was the Worst of Times
2011 In Review and Hope for the Future
Gerard J. Zarella 2011
Everyone does their yearend reviews and prognostications for the new year. Why should I be any different? It’s been awhile since I wrote, and this makes a great topic to end the year on. Two Thousand Eleven was newsworthy if nothing else.
Forbes Magazine lists the Casey Anthony trial as the biggest news of the Yahoo news year. The unsolved, tragic death of a child, an arguably insane mother, a media circus and a stunning verdict made it one of the most intriguing stories of the year. It was one of the most searched topics on the internet. Casey Anthony and her unbelievable acquittal on murder charges showed us that even in the most sensational cases, prosecutorial over-reaching with headline grabbing charges results not in what we would have expected, but in acquittal of someone whom the court of public opinion had already convicted. Florida prosecutors have no one but themselves to blame. Had they gone after manslaughter charges, Casey Anthony might today be sitting in a state prison somewhere, instead of still populating the headlines of supermarket tabloids. Nancy Grace is still steaming.
In early March the Pacific rim was rocked by a major earthquake and resulting tsunami that devastated the island nation of Japan. The fallout from the Fukushima nuclear power plant caused Americans and others in the world to reconsider the risks of nuclear power. Since man has harnessed the power of the atom, the specter of disaster has loomed large right around the next corner. Sure enough, the worst case scenario happened and showed us how woefully unprepared we are for a major nuclear disaster. The Japanese to their credit, reacted quickly and still struggle to contain the overwhelming danger emitting from crippled nuclear reactors.
2011 wasn’t all about bad news. His Royal Highness Prince William married his long time sweetheart Kate Middleton, now the Duchess of Cambridge in a royal wedding that rivaled the pomp and pageantry of his mother’s and father’s ill-fated marriage a couple of decades earlier. William and Kate though seem to have tried to avoid some of the pit-falls of his parent’s marriage by concentrating first on their relationship. The late Princes Diana as we now know, had the unfortunate fate of being thrust into the royal limelight for which she was ill-prepared, and during which she was left very much on her own to suffer silently behind the scenes of a difficult, failing marriage. Ultimately, running from ever-present media coverage cost Diana her life, a fact not lost on the young royals, who have opted to take a different approach to the insatiable attention of the world press. Kate seems to be getting along quite well managing the mine field of public life in the royal family.
Among other national headlines, probably one of the most welcomed was “Bin Laden Dead.” Osama Bin Laden, America’s number one most wanted criminal was shot dead in a fortified compound in northern Pakistan. It has become one of the high points of the proverbial war on terrorism, started so many years ago. The special forces who killed the mastermind of the 9-11 attacks on the United States became instant heroes in the eyes of all Americans. After 10 years of unproductive war-making in the Middle East, the United States government can finally cross off one of the most pressing issues on its to-do-list. It thankfully has become one of the lynchpin moments to start the drawdown of troops in Afghanistan and the end of the Iraq war. However welcomed the positive outcome of the raid in Pakistan, it hasn’t much changed the threat Americans face from radical Islamists around the world.
2011 was a year that many will remember for the vitriol that permeated politics in Washington DC and throughout the country. Although partisan politics was not new to 2011 by any means, the rise of the Tea Party in 2010 slammed the brakes on the progressive march of the Obama administration and the then Democrat controlled Congress. Republicans, in the name of fiscal austerity, cut billions of dollars from programs aimed at making life better for hundreds of thousands of Americans, while attempting to reduce regulation and the tax burden for more American corporations. The right-wing agenda became more important than the survival of the country. Republicans led the country into a reduction of its credit rating. Right-wing politics often brought the government to a grinding halt, as Republican members pushed a conservative fiscal and social agenda that true believers tried to force on the rest of us. Conservative politicians throughout the country demonized public employees, and all of a sudden fire fighters, police officers, teachers and sanitary workers were the cause of all of America’s financial woes. Cutting the public payroll became the single-minded effort of the Right. Hundreds of thousands of public employees joined the ranks of the unemployed in the nation as Conservatives tried to convince us that laying people off, creating more unemployed, would somehow improve our economy. Topping the cake of public austerity was the war waged by Republican state governments against public employee bargaining units, or the unions. Ohio, Wisconsin, New Jersey and Michigan all became battlegrounds for the right-wing fiscal hawks against public employee unions. The fight rages on.
2011 brought technology to the forefront in ways many probably had not even imagined. Many Americans, and indeed many people around the world embraced technology and learned how social media such as Facebook, Twitter and Google+ can unite us in our protests and revolutions. The Egyptian revolution soon became known, rightly or wrongly, as the Twitter Revolution. Twitter and Facebook, along with YouTube and other live streaming video sites such as UStream brought the revolution into our living rooms and onto our handhelds. Real time, unedited reporting made common citizens frontline battleground reporters. The BlackBerry and IPhone became weapons of freedom, often opening closed parts of the world for the first time. Technology’s impact on revolutions and protests have been felt. Governments scrambled to suppress the flow of information from within their boarders, but were unable to completely stem the tide of data in the form of short “tweets” and live video streamed from the frontlines of people’s uprisings around the world. Our technology, like never before, shrunk the size of the world. It connected people from every corner of the globe. The possibilities are truly astounding.
What lies ahead for 2012? Current headlines are not promising. Iran is engaging in saber-rattling with the US government and unrest continues to broil in the Middle East. A young, untried leader is sitting at the helm of one of the few remaining bastions of totalitarian Communism as North Koreans enter a new era under another “Supreme Leader.” El Qaeda is still a formidable opponent in the Middle East, waiting patiently to fill the voids of power being created as governments fall to the people’s will in a region that has not seen stability in centuries.
In the United States a fluid presidential race is taking off, promising if nothing else to be entertaining, if not informative or particularly good for the country. In a few weeks, Iowa and New Hampshire will officially launch the horserace for the Republican nomination in earnest. If the previous Republican debates are any indication, it should be an interesting race. Will they be able to determine a definitive leader to challenge President Obama in the next few months? Or will the race continue to be a leaderless contest, that sees each of the candidate’s rise to leadership dashed by revelations of incompetence and lack of political viability? As it appears now, thankfully from this writer’s point of view, the Republican Tea Party seems poised to hand President Obama another four years in office and hopefully progressive leadership in Congress.
Corporate America will awaken to a new dawn of protests from we the people, the consumers that oil the financial machine. Banks and lenders, as well as mega-corporations who took for granted the passivity of consumers will now have to listen to the complaints of consumers, who through the power of numbers will make a difference in our world. Consumers will demand better treatment from companies with whom we do business. No longer will it be acceptable for multi-billion dollar corporations to charge consumers to access our own money from banks, or to charge us for the convenience of paying our bills on-line. The era of corporate abuse of consumers is coming to an end. Don’t expect greed driven capitalists to go quietly or willingly. Only consumers can drive the demand for more equitable treatment of the buying public, sustainable production and a regulated market. We must not allow greed to drive us into an unregulated, laissez-faire economy in which the rich get richer, while the rest of us get screwed.
On a personal note, I hope that 2012 brings peace and prosperity for my readers, friends and family. The world will continue to turn, barring the fruition of the prediction that the world will end in 2012 (according to some interpretations of the Mayan calendar). Politics should unite us under common cause of improving life for all. Hopefully, calmer, saner heads will prevail as we iron out the differences between us and strive to build a stronger, progressive union. God bless the United States in 2012. Happy New Year!
The Dysfunctional GOP Tea Party
Why should we vote for any of them?
Gerard J. Zarella 2011
Conservative GOP Tea Party members of the US House of Representatives have consistently demonstrated a politically numbing pattern of writing legislation that any objective, casual observer can see is doomed to certain failure. The Senate has many times refused to even consider their legislation because of the House leaderships’ extreme ideological and political posturing. The Right’s faithful see compromise as failure and cooperation as weakness. Relinquishing ground to the enemy is not an option. Theirs’ is not an atmosphere of goodwill and cooperation. It is instead for them a ”We versus them, take no prisoners!” mentality. They want to “take back (their) country” from the rest of us liberal heathens.
If a Democrat said it, it’s automatically rejected. Every utterance summarily dismissed out of hand with adjectives like, “Socialist, Communist, Marxist.” Everything the Democrats do is “job-killing” and “destroying America.” Presently, having the political power to do it, the GOP Tea Party either crams their legislation through the House to rigid party-line approval; Or, when they need Democrat support, they obstruct the daily and sometimes critical operation of government until they get their way. Holding the nation hostage, especially over fiscal issues, seems to be a favorite ploy, demonstrating their lack of concern for the collateral damage they’re doing. It’s all about the outcome, no matter what convoluted, damaging path we have to travel to get there.
The Democrats have not placed the government or the United States in the tenuous and contentious situation we find ourselves in today. It is not the Democrats who’ve insisted on bringing the country to the brink of financial catastrophe over and over again, cost the country its A1 credit rating or have threatened to shut down government while constituencies waited nervously to see if their benefits, paychecks and services were going to be there tomorrow, or not. It’s not the Democrats that keep the nation off balance and constantly uncertain about what tomorrow may bring. While not faultless over the history of the Republic, it’s not the actions of the Left that are driving the country into systemically pervasive, self-destructive political, economic and social dysfunction.
The GOP Tea Party House leadership seems to take breaks at critical times. leaving important and far reaching issues unresolved. Could it be to intentionally obstruct any business that could be carried out as the country teeters on financial disaster? Economic instability, once again of their making through the direct and indirect (Could it be intended?) consequences of their Draconian austerity. People are suffering from man-made (read Wall Street) financial catastrophes and losses, and multiple, inevitable natural disasters. The Right creates and promotes fear, as the resultant uncertainty of investors continues wreaking havoc in the stock market. The Party of Lincoln is no longer controlled by a sane, sensible, strong, sure hand. No, now the corporate machine manipulates its puppets, tailor-made to appeal to people’s deepest fears and emotions. They are expert at striking the most emotional chords with especially their under-informed, pseudo-patriotic, gullible constituency. Cry. Wave the flag! God and Country! Call each other “Patriot.” Demonize the opposition as un-American, un-patriotic. That makes it all just and righteous. Damn the torpedos, full steam ahead! The patriotic pageantry will bring tears to your eyes. That’s what it’s meant to do. While you and John Boehner cry, they’ll hide their true motives and the consequences of their actions behind the Red, White & Blue. They’re extremely effective at using creatively devious mind-control to manipulate the American people with a combination of fear and nationalism, a powerful combination.
As the plot of the current political drama unfolds, it’s not hard to imagine a black and white movie scene staged somewhere in a back room filled with cigar smoke. There’s a bunch of Conservative masterminds, in dark suits, hunched over ledger books, status reports and “war plans,” wringing their hands and nodding approvingly at their handiwork, diabolically satisfied with the chaos they’ve wrought in our government and society. After orchestrating the multiple and expanding crises we now face, they program the talking machine to tell us how terrible and dangerous our government is. How we are loosing our rights and freedoms. Super-tycoons, whose resources seem boundless, bankroll a spectacle of a horserace for the Republican nomination for President, and then promote and manipulate Palin, Perry, Romney, Bachmann, and the rest of one of the most hapless lots of candidates in history, to tell us how we must let them lead us to the Promised Land.
It’s getting plainer and plainer to most rational Americans, that the whole intent of all of their dysfunctionality is to upset the 2012 election. Create an atmosphere of distrust of government and government officials. Spread discontent through fear mongering rhetoric. Encourage the “haves” to distrust, dislike and disrespect the “have-nots.” Create class warfare and then blame the other side. Divide and conquer. Use the flag to rally their troops around self-proclaimed saviors and folk-heroes of the federation. Add to all of the political shenanigans of the past two years, the current trend as GOP Tea Party controlled states redistrict in favor of Conservatives and some number more enact new, stricter voting laws, that will disenfranchise a considerable number of the liberal progressive base, the poor and minorities, and it’s pretty obvious that none of this has anything to do with the good and welfare of the Republic.
It has nothing to do with our rights or freedom. It has nothing to do with fiscal responsibility or foreign policy. It has nothing to do with working families, the unemployed, elderly, students or those unfortunate people who without government assistance cannot survive. It has all to do with a few who have no limit as to what ends they’ll go in order to grab, hold and lord power over the rest of us. The recurring theme in their agenda is not people, families or even children. It’s all about money and power. Ultimately, it’s driven by greed. Cloak it anyway you want to. Wrap it in Old Glory, emblazon it with the Christian cross. They are adept at shrouding corporate fascism in the American flag and selling the profitized and profitable military industrial complex around the world. They’ll use it to promulgate American imperialism and wage war against their perceived enemies. They’ll privatize medicine and the law, all in the name of corporate profits that ultimately are used to fund their war chests. We will all have forced on us their self-defined brand of unfettered, unregulated greed driven capitalism, dogmatic fundamental religious beliefs, and narrowly defined social and political constructs.
With their hands over their hearts, they dutifully and patriotically recite their presumptuous propaganda with the zeal of a fundamentalist preacher and his enthusiastic choir. But, their actions speak much louder than their words. The Democrats haven’t started these fights. President Barack Obama, up to this point in time, to the consternation of the liberal progressive base, seems to have tried to rise above the rancor of poisonous politics and avoid the partisan bickering that has frustrated any semblance of progress, seeking areas of agreement and compromise, only to be met with sometimes racist and always disrespectful condemnation. Finally, with the approval of his base, the President is taking a firmer stance against this onslaught of Conservative extremism and obstructionism.
It seems to always be someone from the Right stepping up to tell the rest of we the ‘sheople’ how the country is in dire peril, how the evil government is enslaving us to socialism and the welfare state, and how the GOP Tea Party is going to save us. Irrational partisan ideology is ruling the day, and we are being driven off the proverbial cliff by the mega-funded corporate Right.The current race for the Oval Office is proving that they are bereft of any mainstream, coherent, sane leadership. If their chosen candidates for leader of the free world are any example, maybe the entire machine will eventually implode. But, at what cost?