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Since the Dilly, Dally, Delay & Stall Law Firms are adding their billable hours, the Toyota U.S.A. and Route 44 Toyota posts have been separated here:

Route 44 Toyota Sold Me A Lemon

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

State Audit Faults READS Collaborative

In the wake of the scandal that focused on financial abuse at the Merrimack Special Education Collaborative in Billerica, misuse of taxpayer dollars is moving closer to home.

Special needs agencies faulted
Auditor says millions misspent; lax oversight cited in reports
By Michael Rezendes

More than two decades of failed oversight have allowed the state’s special education collaboratives to misspend millions of taxpayer dollars, according to the state auditor’s office, which has found a pattern of excessive salaries, conflicts of interest, and possible pension law violations at six of the 30 publicly funded agencies.

“These common findings are indicative of a system that’s lacking in standards and oversight and is easily manipulated by folks who are not putting the interests of taxpayers and special needs kids first,’’ Auditor Suzanne M. Bump said yesterday.

Bump, who plans to release the two most recent audits today, said the laws and policies for state oversight of the special education agencies are badly outdated, clouding the state’s authority over them. The state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education has not revised its policy governing the collaboratives since 1988, while the state law allowing cities and towns to create them is more than 30 years old.

“The [state] clearly needs to have its current authority clarified and will need additional authority as well to provide the kind of oversight that most of us would expect,’’ Bump said.

The audits due to be released today focus on two southern Massachusetts collaboratives, the READS Collaborative and the Southeastern Massachusetts Educational Collaborative, where Bump found multiple instances of financial mismanagement.

Bump concluded that a pattern of mismanagement plagues the collaboratives. The latest audits examine fiscal management at the READS Collaborative, a consortium of 14 municipalities south of Boston, including East and West Bridgewater, Middleborough, and Taunton; and the Southeastern Massachusetts Educational Collaborative, an agency of eight municipalities including Dartmouth, Fairhaven, and New Bedford.

Bump said she discovered several fiscal practices at the READS Collaborative that mirror those she found at the Merrimack collaborative, including conflicts of interest, excessive compensation paid to the former executive director, and a complex - and inappropriate - relationship with a related nonprofit organization.

For instance, Bump found that the former director, a retired superintendent of the Carver school system, tried to circumvent state pension law by having 100 percent of his salary paid by the nonprofit. At the time, he was simultaneously the executive director of the collaborative and the nonprofit.

State law limits the amount of money that someone receiving a teachers pension may earn from a public agency, but not from private organizations.

Before shifting 100 percent of his salary to the nonprofit, Bump said, the former director received more than $100,000 in compensation that he was not entitled to receive.

Bump said that at least six members of the collaborative’s administrative staff were working for the nonprofit in an apparent effort to enhance their pensions inappropriately by appearing to work for a public agency.

In its official response to the audit, a law firm representing the READS Collaborative said the state Teachers Retirement System had reviewed the former director’s compensation and determined that he was paid “only $28,570, in excess compensation’’ over seven years.

Bump also cited READS for loaning money to the nonprofit to purchase a building for classroom space without a purchase and sale agreement, preventing accountability for the use of public funds. She also said the collaborative overcharged nonmember municipalities for services to pay for the structure.

The collaborative, in its response to Bump, noted that it dissolved the nonprofit in June.

At the Southeastern collaborative, Bump cited the agency for receiving more than 50 percent of its revenue from services that it delivers to disabled adults, not children. Many collaboratives offer therapeutic services and job training to adults with disabilities, but Bump said the practice at the Southeastern collaborative “may be unnecessarily increasing the state’s pension liability by millions of dollars.’’

Catherine S. Cooper, the collaborative’s executive director, objected to Bump’s findings.

“I completely disagree with the finding on providing services to people over 21. There is no basis for that,’’ Cooper said in a Globe interview. “We provide great services at low cost.’’

Bump cited several additional areas where there appeared to be a pattern of inappropriate management practices.

They include the hiring of teachers who are not fully credentialed, an apparent attempt to cut costs, and the accumulation of inappropriate cash surpluses - at a time when many public school districts are reducing staff.

“Some of the collaboratives are sitting on surpluses in excess of what you would prudently keep on hand,’’ Bump said.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Hurricane Irene Preparations

We've had plenty of warning. Check the list to make sure there's nothing you've missed.

Hurricane Irene is on its way to New England on Sunday, August 28 or early on Monday, August 29.

Lets not forget that:
Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) is offering personal preparedness tips for the all of the citizens of the Commonwealth.

“Every family should have a basic supply kit that could be used for any emergency,” states MEMA Director Don Boyce. “Everyone should keep certain items around the house in the event of a hurricane or other severe weather. A portable radio, flashlight, extra batteries, and extra non-perishable food and water are all essential to help your family weather the storm.”

Every household should have a supply of canned goods and other non-perishable foods that do not need cooking, along with bottled water, extra prescription medication, and extra food and supplies for infants and pets. A manual can opener and a basic first aid kit are also essential. (Remember 72 Hour Kit in June's Newsletter)

“Every family should develop a ‘Family Communication Plan’ to help ensure everyone is safe. Developing a Family Emergency Communications Plan in case family members are separated from one another during an emergency (a real possibility during the day when adults are at work and children are at school, camp or at a friend’s house). This plan should also address reunification after the immediate crisis passes.

Preparing a 72 hour kit
There are many types of disasters: floods, fires, earthquakes, hurricanes and tornadoes. It is estimated that after a major disaster, it may take up to three days for relief workers to reach some areas. It would be wise to consider a Go Pack that you could live on for 7-10 days. A 72-hour kit is the minimum you should have available.

Plan your go pack accordingly to your family's' size. Have children make up their own Go Packs.

Here are examples of items you may want to pack:

72 Hour Kit

· Personal comfort kit (include soap, toothbrush and gel, comb, tissue, sanitary napkins, razor), and other needed items

· Extra Clothing

· A complete outfit of appropriate clothing

for each family member. Include extra

socks, underwear, hat, sturdy shoes, and gloves

· Money, at least $50 in small bills in your kit. Be sure to include quarters and dimes for phone calls

· Stress Relievers

Games, books, hard candy, inspirational reading. For children: small toys, paper hand pen, favorite security items

· Important Papers

· Copies of documents important to your family (such as birth certificates, marriage licenses, wills, insurance forms), phone numbers you might need, credit card information

· Medications

· Pet Supplies and pet records

· Additional Items

Þ Extra food

Þ Camp stove Mess kits and other cooking equipment

Þ Sterno cans

Þ Sun block

Þ Insect repellent Portable toilet - Special medication, extra glasses

Þ Portable Container

Þ Durable water resistant duffel bag, frame pack or day pack

· 1-2 gallons of water per person, per day should be stored for sanitation and drinking

· Method of water purification

· Food

· 72 + Hour Supply of Food and Water

· Warmth and Shelter

· Wind proof/waterproof matches

· Second method to start a fire

· Tent/shelter

· Wool-blend blanket or

· Sleeping bag

· Emergency reflective blanket

· Lightweight stove and fuel

· Hand and body warm packs

· Poncho

· Light Sources

· Flashlight with batteries

· Candle

· Light stick

· Tools

· Pocket knife

· Shovel

· Hatchet or Axe

· Sewing kit

· 50-foot nylon rope

· First Aid

· First aid kit and supplies

· Burn gel and dressings

· Bottle of potassium iodide tablets

· Communications

· Radio with batteries or radio with alternate power sources

· Whistle with neck cord

· Personal Sanitation

For those of you that could help at housing shelters or with other duties for your local MRC, please call and let them know that you would be able to help.

"Be Informed/Be Prepared/Be a Volunteer"

Do the Koch Brothers Want a Toxic Disaster?

Do the Koch Brothers Want a Toxic Disaster?
By Robert Greenwald, Mike and Friends Blog

Koch Industries and its army of subsidiary corporations operate 57 chemical facilities in the US and have fought in and out of Congress to avoid a comprehensive safety solution that would mitigate fallout from any natural and man-made disasters,
according to a new investigation from Greenpeace.

Even though the Koch brothers' businesses put 4.4 million people at risk with pollutants, the Kochs have poured millions into lobbyists' coffers and political contributions to ensure their bottom line stays unchanged by the most basic safety precaution.

The latest chapter of the Koch brothers disdain for public service and safety confirms much of what we've learned through our
Koch Brothers Exposed campaign, which has linked the billionaire right wing brothers to disastrous oil spills, devastating land grabs and attacks on Social Security and public education.

The Kochs' disregard for chemical safety policy, and their tactics they employ to duck responsibility and fund policy beneficial to their businesses and their bottom line is a well-oiled machine they've deployed elsewhere in scores of public policy debates. But their assault against potential safety legislation is heightened because the brothers are directly pouring money into Congress. Politicians of both parties on key committees in both chambers of Congress with control over safety legislation have been on the receiving end of KochPAC donations. When the Koch brothers can pollute at will and disregard the safety of so many non-billionaires, one has to inform others and take action to stop the sale of our democracy.

That's exactly what we're doing. I invite you to join the investigation at our
Koch Brothers Exposed page on Facebook, where we're educating folks about the brothers' vast influence on our democracy.

The Greenpeace report is a terrific primer. In light of the brothers' refusal to protect its chemical facilities, the report's discovery of a Koch subsidiary's water, air, hazardous waste, pesticide, emergency planning and preparedness violations - 680 in all - is beyond belief. But that's the Koch way. (The brothers' subsidiary Invista, was ordered to pay $1.7 million for these 680 violations.)

The Koch record is further impugned with their position favoring formaldehyde. The brothers use the carcinogen to make fibers and certain materials. Formaldehyde exposure leads to cancer, and just like the brothers' position against Social Security or safety regulations, the Koch brothers fought (and lost) the battle to rightfully classify formaldehyde as a
cancer causing chemical. If and when a fact like that causes the Kochs to lose a few dollars, we've seen them do everything they can to discredit and rewrite history and the public record.

The Koch brothers have billions at their disposal, but by educating others and taking action we can stop the sale of our government. Democracy is not a spectator sport so
be part of our movement at our Koch Brothers Exposed page on Facebook.

Senator Scott Brown Endorses Dirty Campaign Tactics

Brown links to ‘CrazyKhazei’ Twitter feed

By Glen Johnson, Globe Staff

For nearly a month, Democratic Senate candidate Alan Khazei has been mocked by a “CrazyKhazei” Twitter account that pretends to represent his thinking and offers sometimes-nasty statements about the news of the day.

“Just got back from sunny California. Thanks to all the elitists there for donating to my campaign,” read one July 31 tweet.

“I promise not to join the National Guard. Unlike Scott Brown, I will spend all my time with real people in Washington,” read another.

A third said: “Just read Scott Brown’s book. He isn’t the only one who had it tough growing up. I once got a splinter.”

And a fourth tweet said: “I promise to devote all my time in office to making gay videos. Shame on Scott Brown for focusing on jobs!”

Now the author has been unmasked.

Eric Fehrnstrom, a senior campaign adviser to US Senator Scott Brown, the Republican who Khazei hopes to challenge in next year’s election, sent out a “CrazyKhazei”-type tweet last night from his personal Twitter account.

That can often happen when a person with multiple accounts chooses the wrong distribution channel on social media aggregation software such as HootSuite or TweetDeck.

“I’m excited to announce that Cindy Creem is the newest hire at my charity, Be the Change,” read the tweet posted by @EricFehrn at 8:05 p.m.

The post pivoted off a pair of Globe stories this week. One noted that Khazei, founder of “City Year” and “Be the Change,” had hired his brother Lance to work for the latter charity. Another yesterday reported that his campaign had been endorsed by state Senator Cynthia Creem of Newton.

The tweet was subsequently removed, but not before BlueMassGroup and Kevin Franck, spokesman for the Massachusetts Democratic Party, noted it on their own Twitter feeds and blog posts.

In an email late today, Fehrnstrom admitted he was the person behind the “CrazyKhazei” tweets - but pointedly did not apologize for them.

“It was my Twitter account,” the aide said in an email to the Globe. “Sometimes we take our politics too seriously and this was my way of lightening things up. As they say in politics, if you can’t stand the tweet, get out of the kitchen.”

Neither Brown’s campaign manager nor his US Senate communications director responded to a request for comment on Fehrnstrom’s actions.

The Khazei campaign called on Brown to denounce the tweets, demand that the Twitter account be closed, and apologize to the public.

“Instead of launching anonymous personal attacks against Alan Khazei, Senator Scott Brown and his team should focus their time and energy on growing our economy and putting Massachusetts citizens back to work,” Emily Cherniack, Khazei’s chief of staff, said in a statement.

“Voters are cynical about the political process because politicians in Washington have spent more time on name-calling and tearing each other down than they’ve spent working together to move the country forward,” she added.

Fehrnstrom’s involvement is somewhat ironic given his simultaneous work for Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney.

Fehrnstrom formerly served as the ex-Massachusetts governor’s communications director, and now he’s advising the campaign on strategy and helping devise its ads.

We’ve written previously about the perils of this dual service, and this episode highlights one: the Romney camp has been pushing back on suggestions the White House would attempt to paint Romney as “weird” in the unfolding campaign.

The suggestion was enough to prompt Obama adviser David Axelrod to declare he would fire any campaign employee doing so. And former White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs was forced to declare this past weekend that he had never labeled Romney as such.

In this case, it appears, a Romney aide promoted the idea that Khazei is not just weird, but “crazy.”

In addition to Fehrnstrom, Rob Willington, a former executive director for the Massachusetts Republican Party who’s also been working for Brown’s re-election campaign, also appears linked to “CrazyKhazei” shenanigans.

Domain-name records show that Willington registered the “” web address in January. It has not been activated yet, but the address could be utilized should Khazei win the nomination next year.

That’s one reason candidates - and businesses - often buy not just domain names they prefer but ones that could be used mock their legitimate interests.

We reached Willington this morning by phone and asked him to comment on his connection to the web address and the Twitter account.

“I just got off a plane in Washington. Can I call you right back?” he asked.

The phone did not ring in the ensuing six hours, and a follow-up call from the Globe to Willington’s cell phone bounced to voicemail after the first ring.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Fire District Considers Solar Project

The municipal march to reduce costs, generate energy and embrace the future has taken hold in many municipalities. Bravo!

Fire District Considers Solar Project
By: James Kinsella

The Centerville-Osterville-Marstons Mills Fire District is expressing an interest in basing a ground-mounted solar energy installation on fire district land.

The district’s board of water commissioners voted August 10 to request Carlton B. Crocker, the district’s procurement officer, to sign a letter of intent with the Cape and Vineyard Electric Cooperative, subject to the review of the district’s attorney, J. Douglas Murphy of Hyannis.

The letter would allow the fire district to participate in a round of ground-mounted solar projects sponsored by the electric cooperative.

The district’s water department would hope to generate enough revenue from the solar installation to wipe out the department’s electricity costs, which water superintendent Craig A. Crocker estimated at $230,000 to $240,000 a year.

The water commissioners are considering two potential sites: a 27-acre parcel off Old Falmouth Road and a 76-acre parcel off Popple Bottom Road, both in Marstons Mills.

The Old Falmouth Road parcel could generate up to 5.4 megawatts of power, while the Popple Bottom Road parcel could generate up to 15.2 megawatts of power.

Based on the August 10 discussion, the district likely would be looking to use only a section of the available acreage.

The water commissioners expressed concern over any widespread clearing of land.

They also want permission from the state Department of Environmental Protection before moving forward on the project, given that the tracts in question help protect the fire district’s watershed.

The rule of thumb used by electric cooperative officials is that five acres of ground-mounted solar panels equals a megawatt of electricity.

That megawatt, in turn, can generate an estimated $70,000 in annual revenue.Liz Argo, a technical consultant for the electric cooperative who gave a presentation on solar energy to the water commissioners, said vendors will bid to build and operate the solar panels under a contract lasting up to 20 years.

At present, towns in Massachusetts are limited to 10 megawatts of renewable energy to qualify for net metering, a financial credit for excess power fed into the electric grid.

Net metering is the source of potential revenue for the fire district’s solar installation.

The Town of Barnstable already is about halfway on the way to meeting its 10-megawatt cap, between the installation of solar panels and wind turbines at its water pollution control plant in Hyannis, and a proposed 4-megawatt solar array installation at the town’s capped landfill in Marstons Mills.

More sites are being proposed, including at the Barnstable Municipal Airport in Hyannis and on land adjacent to Mosswood Cemetery in Cotuit.

If the 10-megawatt cap remains law, those proposed town installations may have to be built on a smaller scale than they otherwise could so that the town aggregate fits under the cap.

The fire district, however, is a political entity independent of the town. Whether the fire district’s project would be independent of the cap, or still would be subject to the cap as an installation inside the geographical bounds of the town of Barnstable, is not clear at this point, Ms. Argo said.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Want to put a smile on your face today?

Want to put a smile on your face today?

This viral video from five years ago is a pleasure to watch, no matter how many times you may have seen it. It depicts Joshua, 2 year old boy romping outside with his yellow lab, Toby.

A follow up video done two years ago of the same pair shows Joshua now 5, forgoing presents at his birthday party in lieu of donations made to APA (Animal Protective Association) in Missouri. Joshua raised over $400 from his party.

Sounds like a case of humane education. What a special little boy!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Koch Brothers/Republican Racism Exposed

Video spotlights Koch brothers' role in N.C. school segregation fight

The role that the conservative billionaire Koch brothers' money has played in an ongoing fight over the re-segregation of public schools in one North Carolina community is the focus of a new video from
Brave New Foundation, a progressive media organization based in California.

The 11-minute video (posted below) delves into the controversy in Wake County, N.C., where conservative activists with help from Koch-funded groups organized to bring an end to the public school system's
lauded diversity policy. It's the latest installment in Brave New Foundation's "Koch Brothers Exposed" series, which critically examines the political advocacy work of David and Charles Koch of Koch Industries, a private energy conglomerate based in Kansas. The Koch family foundations are among the largest sources of funding for the U.S. conservative movement and promote an agenda of education privatization.

"The Koch brothers have more than $42 billion to make public policy out of their anti-government ideology," says Robert Greenwald, founder of Brave New Foundation. "Their assault against public education epitomizes their tactics to remake our nation."

One of the major beneficiaries of the brothers' largesse is Americans for Prosperity, a conservative advocacy group founded by the Kochs that has worked closely with the right-wing tea party movement. The Kochs have given over $5 million to date to AFP, which supported the anti-diversity candidates who won the majority of seats in the 2009 Wake school board election. Brave New Foundation points out that the AFP-NC chapter had access to approximately $1 million from 2007 to 2009 -- money critical in laying the groundwork for that election. AFP also supported local groups that advocated for an end to the diversity policy.

[CLARIFICATION: The film does not charge that AFP was involved in any legally questionable activities under campaign finance law, such as direct campaign contributions or ad buys. "We never accused AFP of breaking the law," Brave New Foundation said in a statement it put out in response to a complaint from AFP on this point.]

I'm among those who appear in the film, interviewed because of Facing South's ongoing reporting on the Kochs' and AFP's involvement in North Carolina politics, and on the effort to end the desegregation policy in Wake County's public school system, the largest in North Carolina and 17th largest in the nation.

Wake schools' diversity policy, instituted in 2000, sought to limit the percentage of children in any one school who qualified for a free or reduced-price lunch. Its goal was to prevent a system divided into have and have-not schools and avoid the educational problems related to concentrated poverty -- and, because of the link between poverty and race, also to avoid racial segregation. It did this through a mix of busing and the creation of magnet schools, which are usually located in higher-poverty neighborhoods and offer special programs in order to give students from more affluent areas incentive to attend.

As Facing South has reported, the key link between the Koch network and the Wake County schools is former state Rep. Art Pope (R) of Raleigh, a retail magnate and leading conservative benefactor with extensive ties to the Kochs:

* Pope currently serves as one of four national directors for AFP.

* Pope's own family foundation is the second-largest institutional funder of AFP's sister group, the Americans for Prosperity Foundation.

* Pope has been among the guests invited to the the Koch brothers' annual secret gatherings of conservatives.

* Pope has worked in concert with the Koch brothers to cast doubt on the science of global warming, contributing tens of millions of dollars to the same network of climate denial groups.

Getting 'poor' all over them?

Controversy over Wake schools' student assignment policy has simmered as far back as 1976, when the historically majority-white county schools merged with the Raleigh city schools and their large minority population. The merger was proposed by local business leaders who wanted to avoid the problem of "white flight" from the city and the economic problems that brings. But some politicians -- including former U.S. Sen. Jesse Helms (R), a pro-segregationist -- used the busing policy to stir racial resentment and appeal to white voters.

The controversy erupted into a full boil in 2009, when elections were held for four of nine school board seats. Though the board's own survey found that over 94 percent of Wake County parents were satisfied with their children's schools, some in the county's well-to-do suburban areas -- many of them transplants from Northern communities with economically and racially divided school systems -- complained about their children being bused to schools outside their neighborhoods.

Conservatives operating under a strategy crafted by Pope seized the moment to run a slate of Republican candidates opposed to Wake's diversity policy. Pope was the second-biggest individual contributor to the anti-diversity candidates, while the top donor was Robert Luddy -- the operator of a chain of private schools in Wake County who also serves as the chair of the pro-voucher Civitas Institute of Raleigh, which was founded and is largely funded by Pope.

The local chapter of Americans for Prosperity also advocated for an end to the diversity policy, which it called a "destructive race based busing system ridiculously designed as bussing [sic] for socio economic diversity." John Tedesco, one of the GOP anti-diversity candidates, spoke at an AFP showing of "The Cartel," a documentary film critical of public schools. [CLARIFICATION: This speech came after Tedesco was already elected to the board; he now serves as its vice chair.] He also spoke at a Tea Party rally, where he criticized the diversity policy as social engineering. His appearance at the rally was skewered by the satirical comedy show "The Colbert Report" in a segment in which Stephen Colbert asked, "What's the use of living in a gated community if my children go to school and get poor all over them?"

But Pope's political strategy succeeded at the polls, with all five anti-diversity candidates winning a seat. "We came to a gunfight with knives," losing pro-diversity candidate Karen Simon says in the video.

The new Republican board majority wasted no time in voting to scrap the diversity policy, sending some 700 students back to their neighborhood schools for the 2010-11 school year -- a move that disproportionately impacted minority students. The board also hired Pope's Civitas Institute to provide training for school board members.

However, the school board's move triggered a strong reaction from the community, vividly captured in the Brave New Foundation video. Thousands of protesters marched through the streets of Raleigh and others were arrested after engaging in civil disobedience at school board meetings. (Among those arrested was Tim Tyson, a Duke University historian and a board member of the nonprofit Institute for Southern Studies, which publishes Facing South.)

The protests also led to the creation of pro-diversity organizations such as the Great Schools in Wake Coalition and the student-led Heroes Emerging Among Teens, or N.C. HEAT. In addition, the North Carolina chapter of the NAACP filed a civil rights complaint with the U.S. Department of Education, which remains under investigation.

The Brave New Foundation video comes out just as the controversy over the Wake schools assignment policy is about to heat up again, with a new student assignment plan set to be at least partly unveiled to the school board this week by new Superintendent Tony Tata, a conservative former U.S. Army brigadier general and Broad Academy graduate who was hired to replace former Superintendent Del Burns after he resigned in protest over the ending of the diversity policy. The new plan is expected to give parents a choice among several nearby schools, with at least one magnet school and what's being called an "achievement" school -- a higher-performing facility most likely located in a more affluent area of the county.

But the tentative plan, which would take effect for the 2012-13 school year, is already meeting opposition from the hardcore neighborhood schools proponents on the board. Chairman Ron Margiotta -- who also serves as a trustee for one of Robert Luddy's private schools -- told the Raleigh News & Observer that he opposes the achievement school approach, calling it a version of the former policy of sending students from low-performing schools to more distant schools with better records.

Meanwhile, new school board elections are set for Oct. 11. The filing period ended last Friday, with 14 people competing for five seats in districts redrawn earlier this year by the Republican majority. Of the five seats up for grabs, only one is held by a member of the Republican majority, and that's Margiotta's.

Brave New Foundation's partners in the video were the Advancement Project, a civil rights think tank, and People for the American Way, a progressive advocacy group. You can watch it in its entirety here:

Flaming Water. Poisoned Water

Flaming drinking-water well in Kentucky illuminates Big Coal's abuses

The flaming drinking water well at a home in eastern Kentucky's Pike County first came to public attention back in May, thanks to a
report by a local TV station.

WKYT visited the home of Calvin and Denise Howard on Big Branch Road, where the Howards reported that the water, which runs orange and black, burned their skin when they bathed. They also said that Excel Mining, the operator of a nearby coal mine, had offered to install a water filtration system -- but only if the residents signed a liability waiver.

The Howards refused the company's offer -- and
when WKYT checked back in July, the flames that had been just about to the top of the well were shooting out at least a foot and a half.

Since then, the Howards have filed a
lawsuit [pdf] over the contamination. In addition, environmental advocates have gotten involved, arranging for the delivery this week of clean water to 13 area families amid inaction by the company and state environmental regulators.

"In all my 20 years of working on water quality problems, I have never seen a drinking water well catch on fire and burn continuously for days on end," says Donna Lisenby of Appalachian Voices, who with Kentuckians for the Commonwealth has arranged for the delivery of bottled water from Nestle and
Keeper Springs Natural Spring Water, a company founded by environmental advocate Bobby Kennedy Jr. that gives 100 percent of its profits to clean-water causes.

According to the lawsuit, the trouble for the Howards began back in late January when they started hearing explosions beneath their home. About the same time, their well water turned gray and took on an offensive odor. Around May 1, the well exploded into flames, destroying the well house. It's burned continuously ever since.

Earlier this month, Ted Withrow, a former regulator with the Kentucky Division of Water who now works with the grassroots citizens group Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, and KFTC activist Sue Tallichet visited the community, where residents confirmed the water contamination. Residents also reported mysterious health problems they feared could be connected to the poisoned water, including a teenage girl's hair falling out and a boy vomiting blood.

The Kentucky Department of Mining Reclamation has investigated the burning well and confirmed that it "is creating an environmental and public safety hazard." At that point, the company began providing bottled water to the Howards, but other impacted families did not get any assistance. The Howards have been advised to evacuate their trailer home but can't afford to do so. The lawsuit seeks compensation for their replacement housing and their water.

"Based on my direct, firsthand experience with contamination of water by coal operations, I am deeply worried about the safety of the drinking water of these families," says KFTC's Withrow.

An 'ineffective, choregraphed sham'

The water contamination along Big Branch Road illustrates a larger problem facing Kentucky: the coal mining industry's abuse of communities and regulators' failure to protect them from harm.

The Pike County situation is unfolding against a backdrop of coal company lawlessness and regulatory inaction in Kentucky. Back in June, an alliance of environmental groups including Appalachian Voices and KFTC sent notice-to-sue letters to two mining companies after discovering they had exceeded their pollution permit limits more than 4,000 times in the first quarter of this year alone.

The companies targeted by that action are International Coal Group, which is owned by Arch Coal of St. Louis, one of the world's largest coal companies, and Frasure Creek Mining, a subsidiary of West Virginia's Trinity Coal, which is owned by India's Essar Group. They are the largest producers of mountaintop-removal-mined coal in Kentucky.

The watchdogs notified the same companies last October of their intent to sue over more than 20,000 violations of the Clean Water Act, including falsification of pollution monitoring reports. But Kentucky's Energy and Environment Cabinet stepped in at the last minute and fined the companies a total of just $660,000 -- less than 1 percent of the maximum fine that could be imposed under the law. Environmental advocates denounced the state's action as an "ineffective, choreographed sham."

Excel Mining, the mine operator implicated in the burning-well situation, is owned by Oklahoma-based Alliance Resource Partners, among the largest coal producers in the eastern United States. Alliance reported record profits in 2010, with a 67.1 percent jump in net income over the previous year to $321 million.

The company landed in the spotlight last year when a roof collapsed at its Dotiki Mine in Hopkins County, Ky., killing two miners. News reports after the incident revealed that inspectors from the Kentucky Office of Mine Safety and Licensing issued 31 orders to close sections of the mine or shut down equipment because of safety violations between January 2009 and the time of the collapse, according to Sourcewatch. Reporters found that the company received a total of 649 citations in 2009 alone.

In addition, Alliance was involved in a 2009 controversy over the firing of the director of Kentucky's Division of Mine Permits. Ron Mills' termination came after he refused to issue about a half-dozen mine permits -- most requested by Alliance -- because they failed to comply with federal and state laws. Mills' denials were ultimately overruled by higher state officials.

Joe Craft, the president of Alliance Resource Partners, is a major political powerhouse. He has contributed over $150,000 at the federal level over the past decade, including $10,000 to the Republican Party of Kentucky; $17,500 to the Kentucky State Democratic Central Committee; $4,600 to U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell (R); and $2,300 each to Barack Obama (D) and Mitt Romney (R), according to the Center for Responsive Politics' database. The company's political action committee has also invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in politicians' campaigns -- $193,665 in the 2010 election cycle alone.

Craft and others affiliated with the company as well as Alliance's PAC are also major donors at the state level, according to the National Institute on Money in State Politics'
database. Alliance Coal employees were among the biggest campaign donors in Kentucky's primary election this year, together with their spouses contributing a total of $60,000 to three candidates, WBKO reported last month.

And in 2009, Craft organized a group of donors to pay for a new $7 million "Wildcat Coal Lodge" to house the University of Kentucky's basketball players on campus -- a move that sparked considerable controversy and led noted writer and environmental activist Wendell Berry to pull his personal papers from the school's archive. While the university's sports teams are known as the Wildcats, "wildcat coal" also refers to coal that's mined illegally.

Meanwhile, residents along Big Branch Road are hoping to connect to a clean municipal water source -- but price is a concern. Pike County officials have said it could cost as much as $150,000 to connect them to their existing water lines. The families have said they would pay to connect to closer lines in nearby Martin County, but that could take at least three months.

Friday, August 19, 2011

The Foundation for Vote Counting Fraud

With Richland County and Colleton County’s lost Votes We Are Reminded We Need Paper Ballots for Backup versus Any New Voter ID Law

So many changes and how we vote you thin we could have a paper ballot to really protect how voters voted. It has recently come out that through human area that a little over 1000 votes were not counted in both Richland and Colleton County. For all those so concerned about protecting the vote will they address this issue or will try to break this down to nothing but voter error. (I doubt the issue will be addressed). If Democrats had done well in 2010 South Carolina’s election Republicans would be up in arm seeking justice and calling democrats fraud. It would have created a War, but since Republicans did well who cares. The League of Women Voters of South Carolina uncovered and publicized mistakes

Richland County is heavy democratic. I am not sure how Colleton County votes but its made up of 55.52% White, 42.18% Black or African-American, 0.63% Native American, 0.25% Asian, 0.04% Pacific Islander, 0.56% from other races, and 0.82% from two or more races. 1.44% of the populations were Hispanic or Latino of any race.,_South_Carolina

No one had determined if the lost in votes could have affected the race, but when you think about if Richland County and Colleton have lost over 2000 ballots if look at the other 44 counties if they lost votes those numbers definitely add.

There were no run offs for the general election in Richland County but there was definitely some run-offs in our Primaries that could have been affected.

Fukushima radiation alarms doctors

Fukushima radiation alarms doctors

Japanese doctors warn of public health problems caused by Fukushima radiation.

"How much radioactive materials have been released from the [Daiichi nuclear] plant?" asked Dr Tatsuhiko Kodama, a professor at the Research Centre for Advanced Science and Technology and Director of the University of Tokyo's Radioisotope Centre, in a July 27 speech to the Committee of Health, Labour and Welfare at Japan's House of Representatives. Kodama's centre, using 27 facilities to measure radiation across the country, has been closely monitoring the situation at Fukushima - and their findings are alarming. According to Dr Kodama, the total amount of radiation released over a period of more than five months from the ongoing Fukushima nuclear disaster is the equivalent to more than 29 "Hiroshima-type atomic bombs" and the amount of uranium released "is equivalent to 20" Hiroshima bombs.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

WBUR: The Khan Academy

WBUR introduced the Khan Academy.

From Tom’s Reading List
The Chronicle of Higher Education “Salman Khan, a former financial analyst, has created 1,400 educational videos and posted them to YouTube. “My single biggest goal is to try to deliver things the way I wish they were delivered to me,” he says.”

Wired “For years, teachers like Thordarson have complained about the frustrations of teaching to the “middle” of the class. They stand at the whiteboard, trying to get 25 or more students to learn the same stuff at the same pace. And, of course, it never really works: Advanced kids get bored and tune out, lagging ones get lost and tune out, and pretty soon half the class isn’t paying attention. Since the rise of personal computers in the early ’80s, educators have hoped that technology could solve this problem by offering lessons tailored to each kid. Schools have blown millions, maybe billions, of dollars on sophisticated classroom technology, but the effort has been in vain.”

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Koch Brothers Want to End Public Education

Why Do the Koch Brothers Want to End
Public Education?

By Robert Greenwald, Open Mike Blog

Call David Koch and tell him to stop funding school
resegregation now!
His number is 212-319-1100." -- CW/RSN

The Koch brothers have more than $42 billion to make public policy out of their anti-government ideology, and their assault against public education epitomizes their tactics to remake our nation.

The Koch brothers founded Americans for Prosperity and have contributed more than $5 million to its political coffers. Americans for Prosperity, in turn, contributed to organizations that financially influenced a community school board election.

That's right: the Koch brothers are involving themselves, through their wealth-backed political apparatus, in local schools.

Americans for Prosperity allied with groups in North Carolina with the sole purpose of building a new majority on the school board in and around Raleigh. The Koch apparatus was trying to rewrite the social contract that made the Wake County school system a magnet for teachers and families and the surrounding communities prosper.

Each campus was its own melting pot where students could build meaningful relationships and find their niche. Advanced courses and after school activities gave tens of thousands of children a path to higher education and a shot at success.

Many families in the community attributed local prosperity and harmony to the way the school district assigned students to schools.

That policy came under siege from the Koch brothers who, through Americans for Prosperity, indirectly supported school board candidates who campaigned on reversing the busing for diversity program. The outside involvement made a school board election into the most divisive race since the 1970s.

The Koch brothers and outside influence provided the script for the Koch-supported candidates. They campaigned to end "forced busing" and promise to enact a "neighborhood schools" mandate.

Do those phrases ring a bell? Using the same language Gov. George Wallace used in the 60s, Koch-supported candidates in North Carolina are pushing to make public policy based on Wallace's "segregation always" pledge. And they had the Koch brothers and Americans for Prosperity's full support.

This is a new example of the Koch brothers' so-called extreme free market ideology. It's an incredible window into the brothers' disdain for public service and government protection in general.

Secondary school is a distant memory for the brothers Koch, both in their 70s and both graduates of nonpublic schools (David went to a Northeast boarding school, and Charles to military school). While Charles kicks back in his fenced off Kansas estate and David sips chardonnay and reflects on ballet in New York City, teenagers Moses and Robert Wright are in jeopardy of being shut out from the advanced high school classes they need for college admission.

The teenagers attend college preparatory classes through the district diversity program. The Koch brothers' influence at such a local level concerns Gerold Wright, the boys' father.

"We want to make sure we can get the best education public money can buy," he says in the video. "It worries me. We had a game plan and we did not think we would have to change."

Quinton White was one of the first students to be relocated without a say in the matter. He said his relationships with former mentors, teachers and students have suffered.

"I feel it was a sneaky move [and] I'm just disconnected right now," he said. "The decision ... has made it difficult for students like me to adjust and grow."

They are living proof that the Koch brothers are causing students to lose their opportunity for a free and fair shot at academic achievement and future success.

All politics is local, but it's extremely jarring to meet families and children who've been compromised by the Koch brothers' ideology. It's as simple what Gerold Wright says.

"What they're trying to do is dismantle the whole public school system," he said.

Robert Greenwald is a producer, director, political activist, and Brave New Films founder and president.

2006 Danvers Explosion

PRESS RELEASE: Settlement Will Resolve Clean Air Act Penalties and Repay Portion of Clean up Costs from Danvers, Mass. Explosion in 2006

Department of Justice
Office of Public Affairs
Monday, August 15, 2011

Settlement Will Resolve Clean Air Act Penalties and Repay Portion of Clean up Costs from Danvers, Mass. Explosion in 2006

WASHINGTON – The United States has reached agreement with the owners and a former operator of an inks and paint products manufacturing facility in Danvers, Mass., that exploded and burned in 2006 the day before Thanksgiving.

Under a consent decree lodged today by the U.S. Department of Justice on behalf of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the owners and operator will pay the U.S. Government a projected $1.3 million, including cash and the net proceeds from sale of the facility property, assuming the property sells for its appraised value. Most of that recovery will go to reimburse EPA for its $2.7 million in costs of cleaning up hazardous waste after the explosion.

In addition, operator C.A.I. Inc. will pay EPA a penalty of $100,000 to settle allegations that conditions at the facility violated the General Duty Clause in Section 112(r) of the Clean Air Act. Today’s consent decree resolves claims in a complaint against former operator C.A.I. and owners Sartorelli Realty LLC and Roy A. Nelson as Trustee of the Nelson Danvers Realty Trust. A separate consent decree with former operator Arnel Company Inc. was entered by the court in July 2011. The settlement amounts in both consent decrees were based on demonstrations by the settling defendants of limited financial resources.

“Failure to adhere to the Clean Air Act’s general duty obligations can lead to serious, potentially deadly accidents and harm to the environment,” said Ignacia S. Moreno, Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “Today’s settlement underscores the importance of industry’s compliance with the law to ensure the protection of human health and the environment for the benefit of the American people.”

“This case demonstrates that a failure to implement basic safety mechanisms and follow obligations under the law can have dire consequences,” said Curt Spalding, regional administrator of EPA’s New England office. “The extent of damage from this explosion shows why it is so important that facilities follow basic chemical safety practices. Companies that fail to comply with laws that protect public health and our environment will be held accountable.”

EPA’s cleanup action and investigation were undertaken as a result of the explosion and chemical fire that occurred on Nov. 22, 2006, at the C.A.I. and Arnel industrial building in Danvers. On the night before Thanksgiving, a series of explosions demolished the manufacturing facility. C.A.I. and Arnel stored and used considerable quantities of ignitable and flammable substances in their manufacturing of solvent-based ink, paint, thinners and/or industrial coatings.

The explosion and subsequent fire destroyed the 12,000 square foot building, and the surrounding commercial and residential community experienced significant structural and property damage from the blast. Approximately 24 homes and six businesses were severely damaged and subsequently demolished; another 70 homes were damaged. An estimated 300 residents within a half-mile radius of the facility were evacuated by the Danvers fire department. Firefighting efforts lasted nearly 17 hours. While several people were injured and hospitalized, no fatalities occurred.

From Nov. 2006 to March 2007, EPA performed a removal of hazardous substances released or threatened to be released to the environment as a result of the explosion. EPA fenced off the site, took air samples, drained vats, totes and underground storage tanks, removed drums of chemicals, pumped off stormwater runoff, and removed soil, debris and scrap steel.

After the incident, EPA, in close coordination with other federal and state agencies, investigated the facility operators’ compliance with various federal laws, including the General Duty Clause of the Clean Air Act. Under the agreement, operator C.A.I. will pay EPA a penalty of $100,000 to settle EPA allegations that the following conditions at the facility, among others, contributed to the General Duty Clause violations: failure to identify the hazards of operating an ink mixing process overnight without proper ventilation; lack of appropriate ventilation, lack of vapor detectors and alarms to detect buildup of dangerous vapors while workers were not present, lack of automatic shut-off valves that could shut down processes if human operators forgot to do so, failure to have the proper fire permits, and lack of explosion venting construction.

C.A.I.’s penalty also resolved a claim under Section 114(a) of the Clean Air Act for failure to respond to an EPA request for information related to the company’s handling of extremely hazardous substances.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Koch Foreign Subsidiaries Making Campaign Contributions

Koch Industries not One but Two Foreign Subsidiary So Far Made Illegal Campaign Donations

When it came out that Koch Industries foreign subsidiary InVista made donations we were reminded of exchange between Justice Alito shaking his head when President Obama at his State of the Union Address made the statement:

“Last week, the Supreme Court reversed a century of law that I believe will open the floodgates for special interests – including foreign corporations – to spend without limit in our elections.”

Also in a his Jan. 23 radio address, the President raised the argument about foreign companies dumping money into our campaigns “even foreign corporations may now get into the act” of spending “an unlimited amount of special interest money” for political purposes.

In 5-4 decision in Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission ended barrment of corporations donating money into political campaigns. The decision broke down into on the side of Party lines with their being 5 Conservative Judges versus the 4 Democratic Justices on the Supreme Court. IE this whole situation also created the new Republican slogan ‘Corporations are People’.

Does any know all the companies that the koch brothers/Koch Industry had or still own now. Even if you go to the Koch Industry website and see the timeline of the history of their company and the subsideraries it says it owns, trust me that last is imcomplete, because there are couple of names I can think off the bat that they own and sold, and some other companies they continued to own today. So I have to wonder at the number of just how many foreign subsideraries own by Koch have donated into our political campaigns.

I can think of another in fact besides Invista. TransCanada is also a company owned by Koch. The Koch brothers own out right 25% or 30% of TransCanada Corp. Under the Koch’s owership they are also a foreign company based in canada that donated moeny in the United States Political elections. For Campaign Contribution Client/Parent Subsidiary/Affiliate TransCanada Corp donated $310,000.

TransCanada operates one of the most sophisticated pipeline systems in the world. Our network of approximately 57,000 km (35,500 mi.) of wholly owned and 11,500 km (7,000 mi.) of partially owned natural gas pipelines connect virtually every major natural gas supply basin and market, transporting 20 per cent of the natural gas consumed in North America.
Through our wholly owned subsidiary, ANR, TransCanada is also one of the largest developers of new storage facilities and providers of underground natural gas storage services in the U.S. We have nearly 64 Bcf of storage, and can provide peak-day withdrawal capability of over 0.8 billion cubic feet per day. These services are available to key markets throughout the eastern United States.

Koch Industries also own Koch pipelines.

Rep. Waxman is seeking answers from the Kochs, after a SolveClimate News article first exposed the brothers’ deep involvement in the oil sands indusry

By Elizabeth McGowan, SolveClimate News

WASHINGTON—Rep. Henry Waxman’s attempts to find out if a proposed controversial Canada-to-U.S. Gulf Coast oil sands pipeline will benefit Koch Industries appears to have hit a dead end.

“I have no objection to asking other companies about their interests in tar sands,” Waxman, the top Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said during an Energy and Power Subcommittee hearing. “What I do object to is protecting Koch from legitimate scrutiny.”

“This pipeline and the legislation that supports it will enable the oil companies to charge American consumers more for their gasoline, while increasing carbon pollution and endangering precious water supplies,” he continued. “We know who will lose. We also need to find out who will benefit.”

To read the rest of article

Clean Harbors of Braintree Settles Hazardous Waste Violations

PRESS RELEASE: Braintree, Mass., Waste Facility Agrees to Spend More Than $1.7 Million to Settle Alleged Hazardous Waste Violations

Department of Justice
Office of Public Affairs
Monday, August 15, 2011

Braintree, Mass., Waste Facility Agrees to Spend More Than $1.7 Million to Settle Alleged Hazardous Waste Violations

WASHINGTON – In a settlement valued at more than $1.7 million, Clean Harbors of Braintree Inc. has agreed to pay a significant penalty and perform additional projects, to settle a complaint filed by the U.S. Department of Justice on behalf of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), regarding numerous violations of hazardous waste management and emergency planning laws at the company’s Braintree, Mass., facility.

Under the settlement, Clean Harbors will pay a $650,000 penalty and will spend $1,062,500 on a Supplemental Environmental Project (SEP) consisting of planting approximately 1400 trees in low-income and historically-disadvantaged environmental justice areas in the city of Boston. It is expected that Clean Harbors will work with the city of Boston Parks and Recreation Department to implement the project over a two-year period.

Clean Harbors also will comply with an enhanced waste analysis plan that goes beyond what is currently required in its hazardous waste permit. This plan will help to ensure that the hazardous waste Clean Harbors receives and generates will be properly characterized and managed. Further, Clean Harbors has installed and will maintain a vapor collection system for its tanks that will collect and treat volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions, which contribute to smog.

“This agreement illustrates the commitment by the U.S. Department of Justice and EPA to protecting communities from the potential dangers of hazardous waste and to fulfilling important environmental justice goals,” said Ignacia S. Moreno, Assistant Attorney General of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “Under the settlement, Clean Harbors will take additional steps to ensure it properly characterizes and manages hazardous waste.”

EPA identified nearly 30 violations of both the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) and the Emergency Planning and Community Right-To-Know Act (EPCRA) at a site inspection of the Braintree Clean Harbors facility that took place in June 2007. Those violations included inadequate waste characterization, the failure to properly maintain its hazardous waste tanks, inadequate secondary containment, and improper storage of incompatible wastes. At the time of the inspection, many of the company’s hazardous waste tanks were deteriorating and in poor condition. EPA monitoring detected releases of VOC emissions from some of the tanks. In July 2007, EPA issued an administrative order directing Clean Harbors to immediately address numerous conditions identified during the inspection that could have posed a danger to human health or the environment. Clean Harbors came into compliance soon after the 2007 order. Inspectors from the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) participated in the June 2007 inspection and provided support to EPA during the settlement process. In a separate consent order, MassDEP required Clean Harbors to replace all of the old storage tanks, as well as implement numerous other needed infrastructure upgrades at the facility. Clean Harbors has purchased and installed new hazardous waste tanks.

“This settlement underscores how important it is that companies and individuals handling and managing hazardous wastes carefully adhere to the protective requirements EPA and MassDEP have established for these substances,” said Curt Spalding, regional administrator of EPA’s New England office. “Complying with these standards helps reduce the possibility of a chemical release that could put the community and the environment at risk. I am also pleased that under this settlement a large number of trees will be planted, which will improve air quality and the quality of life for Boston citizens.”

“This project will assist the city of Boston’s tree planting program, providing hundreds of additional street trees in the neighborhoods. Increasing the tree canopy will result in endless environmental benefits for our residents and is a priority,” said Mayor Thomas M. Menino.

The facility performs hazardous materials management and disposal services including drummed and bulk waste processing and consolidation, transformer decommissioning, PCB storage and processing, blending of waste used as supplemental fuel by cement kilns or industrial furnaces, and pretreatment of waste to stabilize it before it is sent to permitted landfills.

Warren Buffett's Back Lash

Even FAUX News was forced to address Warren Buffett's comments.

Buffett higher tax call strikes a nerve
By Ben Berkowitz Reuters

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Warren Buffett has touched a national nerve.

The 80-year-old "Oracle of Omaha," one of the world's three richest men, has taken to the pages of the New York Times to call for higher taxes -- yes, higher taxes -- for himself and his well-off peers.

"My friends and I have been coddled long enough by a billionaire-friendly Congress. It's time for our government to get serious about shared sacrifice," he said.

Buffett calling for a higher tax burden for the wealthy is nothing new; last November, in a lengthy sit-down interview with ABC News, he insisted that the wealthy "have it better than we've ever had it" and that they had an obligation to pay substantially more tax.

However, the timing of his latest appeal made people take notice. Washington lawmakers are fighting about how to reduce the nation's budget deficit and curb its massive debt burden, and the question of "added revenue" -- code for higher taxes -- looms larger than any other.

Republicans have fiercely resisted any attempts by President Barack Obama and Democrats in Congress to make higher taxes for the wealthy part of any budget plan, insisting instead on all the deficit-curbing measures be made through spending cuts.

Taxation will be a major theme of the 2012 presidential election, and Buffett planted himself squarely in the middle of the debate.

"While the poor and middle class fight for us in Afghanistan, and while most Americans struggle to make ends meet, we mega-rich continue to get our extraordinary tax breaks," he wrote.

Buffett is not alone in agitating for change.

Starbucks Corp Chief Executive Howard Schultz is brewing up support for his call to withhold political contributions to U.S. lawmakers until they strike a "fair, bipartisan" deal on the country's debt, revenue and spending.


In his Times piece, Buffett felt free to speak for his fellow rich.

"Most wouldn't mind being told to pay more in taxes as well, particularly when so many of their fellow citizens are truly suffering," he said.

While there are plenty of "super-rich" who have been outspoken on tax issues in past, like Carlyle Group co-founder David Rubenstein and Congressman Darrell Issa, only one of the country's notably wealthy people who was contacted by Reuters was immediately willing to respond to Buffett's call.

"George Soros says he agrees and congratulates Warren Buffett," his spokesman said. "The rich are hurting their own long term interests by their opposition to paying more taxes."

From the general taxpaying public, the reaction was almost instantaneous. "Warren Buffett" was one of the single most mentioned topics on Twitter as of Monday afternoon, as was the title of his op-ed piece, "Stop Coddling the Super-Rich." Nearly 55,000 people voted in an poll on his comments, and 95 percent agreed with him.

President Obama, appearing in Minnesota on a bus tour of the U.S. Midwest, cited Buffett's comments as further proof that Congress needed to find ways to raise tax revenue without taxing the middle class any further.

Speaking of the various tax incentives he and other wealthy taxpayers receive, Buffett said "(these) and other blessings are showered upon us by legislators in Washington who feel compelled to protect us, much as if we were spotted owls or some other endangered species. It's nice to have friends in high places."

Buffett, chairman of the conglomerate Berkshire Hathaway, said his federal tax bill last year was $6,938,744, the equivalent of 64 shares of Berkshire Class A stock.

"That sounds like a lot of money. But what I paid was only 17.4 percent of my taxable income -- and that's actually a lower percentage than was paid by any of the other 20 people in our office. Their tax burdens ranged from 33 percent to 41 percent and averaged 36 percent," he said.

(Additional reporting by Santosh Nadgir in Bangalore and Svea Herbst-Bayliss in New York; Editing by David Holmes, Bernard Orr)

One of Thousands Sick and Dying from BP's Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill

Stop Coddling the Super-Rich (from one of the Super Rich)

Stop Coddling the Super-Rich

OUR leaders have asked for “shared sacrifice.” But when they did the asking, they spared me. I checked with my mega-rich friends to learn what pain they were expecting. They, too, were left untouched.

While the poor and middle class fight for us in Afghanistan, and while most Americans struggle to make ends meet, we mega-rich continue to get our extraordinary tax breaks. Some of us are investment managers who earn billions from our daily labors but are allowed to classify our income as “carried interest,” thereby getting a bargain 15 percent tax rate. Others own stock index futures for 10 minutes and have 60 percent of their gain taxed at 15 percent, as if they'd been long-term investors.

These and other blessings are showered upon us by legislators in Washington who feel compelled to protect us, much as if we were spotted owls or some other endangered species. It’s nice to have friends in high places.

Last year my federal tax bill — the income tax I paid, as well as payroll taxes paid by me and on my behalf — was $6,938,744. That sounds like a lot of money. But what I paid was only 17.4 percent of my taxable income — and that’s actually a lower percentage than was paid by any of the other 20 people in our office. Their tax burdens ranged from 33 percent to 41 percent and averaged 36 percent.

If you make money with money, as some of my super-rich friends do, your percentage may be a bit lower than mine. But if you earn money from a job, your percentage will surely exceed mine — most likely by a lot.

To understand why, you need to examine the sources of government revenue. Last year about 80 percent of these revenues came from personal income taxes and payroll taxes. The mega-rich pay income taxes at a rate of 15 percent on most of their earnings but pay practically nothing in payroll taxes. It’s a different story for the middle class: typically, they fall into the 15 percent and 25 percent income tax brackets, and then are hit with heavy payroll taxes to boot.

Back in the 1980s and 1990s, tax rates for the rich were far higher, and my percentage rate was in the middle of the pack. According to a theory I sometimes hear, I should have thrown a fit and refused to invest because of the elevated tax rates on capital gains and dividends.

I didn't refuse, nor did others. I have worked with investors for 60 years and I have yet to see anyone — not even when capital gains rates were 39.9 percent in 1976-77 — shy away from a sensible investment because of the tax rate on the potential gain. People invest to make money, and potential taxes have never scared them off. And to those who argue that higher rates hurt job creation, I would note that a net of nearly 40 million jobs were added between 1980 and 2000. You know what’s happened since then: lower tax rates and far lower job creation.

Since 1992, the I.R.S. has compiled data from the returns of the 400 Americans reporting the largest income. In 1992, the top 400 had aggregate taxable income of $16.9 billion and paid federal taxes of 29.2 percent on that sum. In 2008, the aggregate income of the highest 400 had soared to $90.9 billion — a staggering $227.4 million on average — but the rate paid had fallen to 21.5 percent.

The taxes I refer to here include only federal income tax, but you can be sure that any payroll tax for the 400 was inconsequential compared to income. In fact, 88 of the 400 in 2008 reported no wages at all, though every one of them reported capital gains. Some of my brethren may shun work but they all like to invest. (I can relate to that.)

I know well many of the mega-rich and, by and large, they are very decent people. They love America and appreciate the opportunity this country has given them. Many have joined the Giving Pledge, promising to give most of their wealth to philanthropy. Most wouldn't mind being told to pay more in taxes as well, particularly when so many of their fellow citizens are truly suffering.

Twelve members of Congress will soon take on the crucial job of rearranging our country’s finances. They've been instructed to devise a plan that reduces the 10-year deficit by at least $1.5 trillion. It’s vital, however, that they achieve far more than that. Americans are rapidly losing faith in the ability of Congress to deal with our country’s fiscal problems. Only action that is immediate, real and very substantial will prevent that doubt from morphing into hopelessness. That feeling can create its own reality.

Job one for the 12 is to pare down some future promises that even a rich America can't fulfill. Big money must be saved here. The 12 should then turn to the issue of revenues. I would leave rates for 99.7 percent of taxpayers unchanged and continue the current 2-percentage-point reduction in the employee contribution to the payroll tax. This cut helps the poor and the middle class, who need every break they can get.

But for those making more than $1 million — there were 236,883 such households in 2009 — I would raise rates immediately on taxable income in excess of $1 million, including, of course, dividends and capital gains. And for those who make $10 million or more — there were 8,274 in 2009 — I would suggest an additional increase in rate.

My friends and I have been coddled long enough by a billionaire-friendly Congress. It’s time for our government to get serious about shared sacrifice.

Warren E. Buffett is the chairman and chief executive of Berkshire Hathaway.

Published in The New York Times on August 15, 2011

Kids For Cash Corruption Judge Sentenced

Pa. judge gets 28 years in 'kids for cash' case

SCRANTON, Pa.—A northeastern Pennsylvania judge was ordered Thursday to spend nearly three decades in prison for his role in a massive bribery scandal that prompted the state's high court to toss thousands of juvenile convictions and left lasting scars on the children who appeared in his courtroom and their hapless families.

Former Luzerne County Judge Mark Ciavarella Jr. was sentenced to 28 years in federal prison for taking a $1 million bribe from the builder of a pair of juvenile detention centers in a case that became known as "kids for cash."

Ciavarella, who denied locking up youths for money, had no reaction as the sentence was announced. From the gallery, which was crowded with family members of some of the children he incarcerated, someone shouted "Woo hoo!"

In the wake of the scandal, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court overturned about 4,000 convictions issued by Ciavarella between 2003 and 2008, saying he violated the constitutional rights of the juveniles, including the right to legal counsel and the right to intelligently enter a plea.

Ciavarella, 61, was tried and convicted of racketeering earlier this year. His attorneys had asked for a "reasonable" sentence in court papers, saying, in effect, that he'd already been punished enough.

"The media attention to this matter has exceeded coverage given to many and almost all capital murders, and despite protestation, he will forever be unjustly branded as the `Kids for Cash' judge," their sentencing memo said.

Al Flora, Ciavarella's lawyer, called the sentence harsher than expected. The ex-judge surrendered immediately but it was not immediately known where he would serve his time. He plans to appeal both his conviction and sentence.

Ciavarella, in a 15-minute speech before the sentence was handed down, apologized to his family, the Luzerne County bar and the community -- and to those juveniles who appeared before him in his court. He called himself a hypocrite who failed to practice what he preached.

"I blame no one but myself for what happened," he said.

Then, in an extraordinary turnabout, Ciavarella attacked the government's case as well as the conclusions of the state Supreme Court and the Interbranch Commission on Juvenile Justice, a state panel that investigated the scandal. Both said Ciavarella engaged in wholesale rights violations over a period of many years.

Ciavarella denied it.

"I did everything I was obligated to do protect these children's rights," he said.

He also criticized Assistant U.S. Attorney Gordon Zubrod for referring to the case as "kids for cash," saying it sank his reputation. (Zubrod said outside court that he doesn't remember ever calling it that.)

"He backdoored me, and I never saw it coming. Those three words made me the personification of evil," Ciavarella said. "They made me toxic and caused a public uproar the likes of which this community has never seen."

In court, Zubrod said Ciavarella had "verbally abused and cruelly mocked children he sent away after violating their rights." He called the ex-judge "vicious and mean-spirited" and asked U.S. District Judge Edwin M. Kosik to punish Ciavarella's "profound evil" with a life sentence.

"The criminal justice system (in Luzerne County) is ruined and will not recover in our lifetimes," Zubrod added.

Federal prosecutors accused Ciavarella and a second judge, Michael Conahan, of taking more than $2 million in bribes from Robert Mericle, the builder of the PA Child Care and Western PA Child Care detention centers, and of extorting hundreds of thousands of dollars from Robert Powell, the facilities' co-owner.

Ciavarella, known for his harsh and autocratic courtroom demeanor, pocketed the cash while filling the beds of the private lockups with children as young as 10, many of them first-time offenders convicted of petty theft and other minor crimes. Ciavarella often ordered youths he had found delinquent to be immediately shackled, handcuffed and taken away without giving them a chance to say goodbye to their families.

"Frankly, I don't think Ciavarella or Conahan themselves really personally cared where the juveniles went, as long as they could use their power to place the juveniles as leverage or control over Mericle and Powell," U.S. Attorney Peter Smith said Thursday.

Speaking of Ciavarella, Smith added: "There's no true remorse and there's a blind unwillingness to admit the overall seriousness of his conduct."

The jury returned a mixed verdict following a February trial, convicting Ciavarella of 12 counts, including racketeering and conspiracy, and acquitting him of 27 counts, including extortion. The guilty verdicts related to a payment of $997,600 from Mericle.

Conahan pleaded guilty last year and awaits sentencing.

Sandy Fonzo, whose son committed suicide last year at the age of 23 after bouncing in and out of Ciavarella's courtroom, said Thursday that justice was done.

"This judge was wrong, what he did to my son, what he did to all of our children, what he did to our families, and today proves that," said Fonzo, who dramatically confronted Ciavarella on the courthouse steps earlier this year.

Susan Mishanski also applauded the sentence. Ciavarella had ordered her son to spend three months in a wilderness camp for scuffling with another kid.

"They did not even tell him where they were taking him. It was like someone kidnapped my son," she said. "It was awful."

Ciavarella and Conahan initially pleaded guilty in February 2009 to honest services fraud and tax evasion in a deal that called for a sentence of more than seven years in prison. But their plea deals were rejected by Kosik, who ruled they had failed to accept responsibility for their actions.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Rep. Barney Frank: We can't be the sugar daddy to the whole world

Although Rep. Frank did not say this, it is important to note that the US spends more than all other industrialized nations combined on defense.

The US is supporting troops in Europe and South Korea with no contribution from the host countries that have thriving economies and much else.

Germany currently enjoys low unemployment, a growing manufacturing base and is protected by the US.

At no time has the US waged war(s) without raising taxes, except for the Bush Wars paid for with the credit card your children and grandchildren will pay.

It's time to cut the military.

Rep. Barney Frank says US should look to military budget


(NECN) - One of seven MA house members who voted no in the stalemate over raising the debt ceiling, Rep. Barney Frank, Democrat out of Newton, was not entirely satisfied with the president's response to the recent credit downgrade.

Frank also stresses that the country is rich, but not as rich as we used to be.

There's a $125 billion budget a year in Iraq and Afghanistan that Frank believes we should bring home and split up, with half going to our nation's debt.

He also says that given our economic situation, we can't go beyond our own defense.

"We can't be the sugar daddy for the whole world," says Frank, who questions if it is worth continuing the war given the costs.

An Ill Wind Blows in Moapa

An Ill Wind Blows in Moapa
Chris Jordan-Bloch
Paiutes point the way to a better future, beyond toxic coal ash

It starts with a warning. Then it's just a matter of which way the wind blows.

In the evening, someone will go from house to house and tell the neighborhood that tomorrow will be a windy day and perhaps, a bad air day. The next afternoon—if the conditions are just wrong—a toxic dust called coal ash picks up from the landfills and slag ponds of the coal-fired Reid Gardner Power Station and heads towards the reservation like a sandstorm.

"But this is a sandstorm that burns your skin, buries in your lungs and kills your neighbors," says Calvin Meyers, a tribal elder who lives on the reservation, the tribal home of a band of Paiute Indians that sits about 30 miles north of Las Vegas and about 300 yards from Reid Gardner.

Meyers and the remaining 310 members of his tribe are locked in a David-and-Goliath struggle against one power plant's desire to expand and an industry's desire to keep a dirty secret.

It’s no secret that coal is our dirtiest energy source. It’s laced with mercury, arsenic, lead and other toxics and as it’s burned it creates huge problems for our health. All across America, these contaminants billow out of smokestacks and spill out of wastewater pipes right into our lungs and drinking water.

Let’s call this the front door. Now, if this is what big coal is taking out the front door, the next logical question is what are they taking out the back?

The answer: coal ash.

Coal ash is the waste leftover at the end of the coal burning cycle. It’s laced with the same arsenic, mercury, lead and other toxics. It’s the second largest waste stream in America—15 billion tons of toxic sludge per year. And here’s the dirty little secret: it’s subject to less regulation than the garbage you take to the curb every week.

It sits in unlined pits in Moapa and unlined landfills in Alabama. It's put behind old leaky dams in Pennsylvania. It basically goes wherever big coal says it will. And where it goes, people get sick.

Simmons and I went on a hike to a mesa that overlooks the plant and some of the homes on the reservation. While we were standing there, a cloud of coal ash picked up from one of the dry slag ponds. It billowed out to about the size of a large house and then it traveled a few hundred yards before settling back down.

“Oh my God,” I said.

“That’s nothing,” Vickie told me. “That sort of stuff is pretty much constant. On the bad days, you have to run for your house because it takes over the whole place.”

Reid Gardner has announced that it wants to expand the coal ash landfill and waste ponds for the plant, and the people of the Moapa River Reservation have voiced their disapproval of the idea.

But actions often speak louder than words.

The next day I went with Simmons to her new job. Twice a week she heads into the desert about 5 miles from her house and checks a meter that measures the sun’s intensity.

The tribe is about to become the first in America to install a large-scale solar plant and Simmons is the first worker in their new “Green Energy” program.

The deep, dark irony of the Paiutes' situation is that none of their power comes from the Reid Gardner coal plant. So they get all of the problems and none of the benefits. Rather than dwell on this sad fact, the tribe is seeking a new way forward, one that moves past dirty coal.

“What we’ve got is land and sun, and we are tired just sitting here and taking pollution from this plant,” said William Anderson, tribal chairman of the Moapa Band of Paiutes. “So we’re gonna go ahead and do something about it. To go ahead and have a solar project is to say, ‘Hey, there are alternative ways.’”

As the sun set at the future solar plant, Simmons climbed a ladder and took her readings. The shadows from the desert plants grew long and for the first time since I’d been on the reservation I couldn’t see or hear the Reid Gardner plant. Simmons climbed down from the ladder and a few minutes later we saw a hawk fly overhead. I couldn’t help but think what a brighter alternative this was.

“I just feel like the Indian people are here for a reason,” Simmons later said to me. “Maybe it’s to try to help do what we can to preserve the environment.”

We can hope.

•To view an interactive presentation of the story, please visit:

•To learn more about coal ash, please visit:

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Wait one minute!

Life is simple.

Hydrofracking chemicals are dangerous, cause environmental destruction, have destroyed public drinking water, contaminated aquifers and much else.

Instead of focusing on logical solutions, beginning with energy efficiency first - that experts tell us could reduce our energy consumption 50%, our Democracy is sold and solid scientific information stymied.

Big Sigh!

Advisory Group on Fracking Has Big Ties to Energy Industry
By Evan Bush, iWatch News

As first recommendations emerge from Energy panel, scientists seek ouster of the chairman, John Deutch - a former CIA chief and director of Energy companies.

ll but one member of a government advisory panel weighing the safety of one of the most contentious forms of energy development, known as fracking, have financial ties to the natural gas industry, scientists and some environmental groups are asserting. The scientists called for the ouster of its chairman, former CIA director John Deutch, who has sat on the boards of two energy-related companies.

The group, which reports to Energy Secretary Seven Chu, is concluding that development of shale gas can be done safely provided that companies fully disclose the chemicals used in fracturing liquids, and that they face monitoring of their activities and rigorous standards for emissions of airborne contaminants.

While the Energy Department doesn't regulate natural gas production, the Environmental Protection Agency is still months from reaching conclusions in its own study, and the panel is leaving largely unaddressed the most sensitive issue of toxic chemicals that may make their way into drinking water supplies, opponents of fracking fear the Energy panel's recommendation can give a boost to the industry.

The committee, formed in May, was tasked to review fracking, also known as hydraulic fracturing, in which gas companies pump sand, water and chemicals into wells drilled into the ground to break up the earth below in order to release and then capture natural gas. Critics say fracking could be tainting groundwater, killing wildlife and, as iWatchNews has reported , giving off methane gas that contributes to global warming.

Earlier this year, in his State of the Union address, President Obama endorsed natural gas as part of the solution to feed the nation's energy needs, and then sought to have the advice from the Energy Department panel.

In a letter to Chu , 28 scientists complained that the committee, formally known as the Natural Gas Subcommittee of the Secretary of Energy Advisory Board, "appears to be performing advocacy-based science and seems to have already concluded that hydraulic fracturing is safe." The scientists ask Chu to replace Deutch "with a person with no financial ties to the natural gas and oil industry," as well as add "independent members" to the committee.

An environmental group, the Environmental Working Group, previously objected to the advisory group's makeup, saying Deutch received more than $1.4 million from energy companies Schumberger and Cheniere Energy for serving on their boards between 2006 and 2009.

Other members of the committee said to have current financial ties to the natural gas and oil industry are Stephen Holditch, Kathleen McGinty, Susan Tierney, Daniel Yergin and Mark Zoback. The scientists said their "conflicts of interest make it appear that the subcommittee is designed to serve industry at taxpayer expense rather than serving President Obama and the public with credible advice."

Energy Department spokesperson Tiffany Edwards defended the committee's composition, saying it is "balanced" and that each member has experience and expertise, including technical and practical knowledge. "Some have said that the panel is too weighted toward industry, while others say it is too weighted towards environmentalists. We think we got it just right, and having a diversity of perspectives will only strengthen the final product."

Industry representatives often serve on government advisory boards, including the one that advises Energy Department Secretary Chu. As iWatch News has reported , Chu's advisory board on energy policy includes one of the president's big campaign fundraisers, a venture capitalist who has invested in companies receiving seed money from the Energy Department.

A 1972 federal law, the Federal Advisory Committee Act, requires only that advisory committees be “fairly balanced.” There are an estimated 900 formal advisory groups scattered across the government, comprising some 65,000 committee members who counsel more than 55 agencies, according to a 2008 Government Accountability Office report . By advising agencies such as the EPA, FDA and Energy Department, members of the advisory committees can influence standards for food safety, environmental protection and energy use.

The role of advisory committees can be more important than it might seem. Industry players or technical experts with a vested interest in agency decisions gain access to regulators and a platform to advance arguments in Congress. Sometimes, agencies have faced legal challenges for ignoring the recommendations of advisory committees.

While the Obama White House has advertised efforts to minimize the direct influence of registered lobbyists, efforts at a crackdown have been soft. Last year, Obama appeared to call for an end to the membership of lobbyists on advisory committees - in the form of an announcement on a White House blog by Norm Eisen, then the president’s special ethics counsel. Lobbyists and executives from Boeing, International Paper Co., IBM and 13 other companies and trade organizations quickly complained - and threatened to circumvent the requirement by having their lobbyists simply stop registering.

"There are financial ties with the industry" on the fracking advisory panel, said Kyle Ash, a lobbyist for the environmental group Greenpeace. "The administration said they weren't going to have special interests."

The letter seeking Deutch's ouster was signed by 28 scientists, including researchers and professors at the University of California, Cornell and Penn State.

While the Energy Department weighs its views on fracking, the EPA has undertaken a study on groundwater quality, due to be finished late next year. Among environmentalists' concerns: The Energy Department's advisory panel could influence the issue before that study is made public.

"We're concerned their findings could undercut the Environmental Protection Agency's findings, which have taken a lot more time and have been a lot more rigorous," said Leann Brown, spokesperson for the Environmental Working Group.

In 2009, the Department of Energy predicted that shale gas, the kind of gas that fracking produces, would account for 20 percent of the United State's total energy consumption in 2020.

In Pennsylvania, according to a study for the American Petroleum Institute, drilling in the Marcellus shale region, which is one of the most prominent in the country, has risen substantially over the past five years. In 2005, just three wells were drilled. In 2009, that number rose to 710.