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Archive for the ‘government’ Category

Our government in action, for good, and mostly for worse

Parking Meter Firm Bills City Another $2.1 Million

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Put Money in the Parking Meter or else!
Put Money in the Parking Meter or else!

Gee, thanks, Mayor Daley and your rubber-stamp city council! Privatization strikes again…

While Chicago’s infamous parking meter lease deal quietly celebrated its third anniversary the first week of December, the city was releasing documents chronicling more evidence the privatization of the city’s more than 36,000 parking meters turned out to be more costly for taxpayers than originally imagined.

Financial statements, released by the Chicago Inspector General’s office via their Open Chicago government transparency initiative, reveals what many critics of the lease deal had feared–the city would end up owing or paying Chicago Parking Meters, LLC millions of dollars in compensation when any sort of change or activity by the city impacts parking meter revenue for the company.

Financial statements for the company show that CPM has billed the city an additional $2,191,326 in “True-up Revenue” through the end of 2010.

As the notes from the independent auditor’s report by accounting firm KPMG LLP to the financial statements explains:

“The Company has an agreement with the City, whereby, the Company receives compensation from the City in accordance with the Agreements in the event that the City implements changes to the System, which reduces the Company’s revenues (True-up Revenue).”

These same notes reveal the city owed CPM $533,290 in True-up Revenue for 2009 and $1,658,036 for 2010.

(click here to continue reading Parking Meter Firm Bills City Another $2.1 Million | theexpiredmeter.com.)

Booted!
Booted!

Street festivals seem to be the biggest culprit:

According to the over 500 pages of contract with CPM, these events could include any situation which would require the city to remove a metered space from the system (installing a loading zone, moving a bus stop, etc.), or if a tax on metered parking is imposed by the city, or when metered parking is temporarily out of commission during a closure.

While removing a metered space is usually handled by adding another space or spaces elsewhere in the city to compensate CPM, the most likely culprit for this over $2 million is street closures.

Closure is defined as anytime metered parking is taken out of commission for a prolonged period of time due to any street work, be it to replace a broken water main, for street repairs or resurfacing or even for a street festival.

Under the terms of the lease, any time this occurs above an annual allowance, CPM can file a claim for the loss of potential revenue due to street closure.

But wait, there’s more indignity!

Shamrock Shuffle No Parking Zone

Last week Chicago Parking Meters, LLC sent the City a bill for $13.5 million in revenues they lost from motorists with handicapped parking placards parking for free in metered spots. Today our friends at The Expired Meter report the company also sent the City a bill for an extra $2.1 million in what they call “true-up revenue” related to street closures.

Our analogy comparing the parking meter deal to herpes becomes even more apt.

(click here to continue reading Parking Meter Company Bills City for Street Closures: Chicagoist.)

Written by Seth Anderson

December 21st, 2011 at 12:29 pm

Texas Man Seeks Inquiry After Exoneration in Murder

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Till Death Do Us Part
Till Death Do Us Part

I hope Michael Morton gets his day in court, and hope he deposes Rick Perry. If Rick Perry had gotten his way, Morton would have been already dead, no matter if Morton was innocent…

AUSTIN, Tex. — A Texas man wrongfully convicted in 1987 of murdering his wife is scheduled to be officially exonerated on Monday. That is no longer so unusual in Texas, where 45 inmates have been exonerated in the last decade based on DNA evidence. What is unprecedented is the move planned by lawyers for the man, Michael Morton: they are expected to file a request for a special hearing to determine whether the prosecutor broke state laws or ethics rules by withholding evidence that could have led to Mr. Morton’s acquittal 25 years ago.

“I haven’t seen anything like this, ever,” said Bennet L. Gershman, an expert on prosecutorial misconduct at Pace University in New York. “It’s an extraordinary legal event.”

The prosecutor, Ken Anderson, a noted expert on Texas criminal law, is now a state district judge. Through a lawyer, he vigorously denied any wrongdoing in Mr. Morton’s case.

Mr. Morton, who was a manager at an Austin supermarket and had no criminal history, was charged with the beating death of his wife, Christine, in 1986. He had contended that the killer must have entered their home after he left for work early in the morning. But Mr. Anderson convinced the jury that Mr. Morton, in a rage over his wife’s romantic rebuff the previous night — on Mr. Morton’s 32nd birthday — savagely beat her to death.

Mr. Morton was sentenced to life in prison. Beginning in 2005, he pleaded with the court to test DNA on a blue bandanna found near his home shortly after the murder, along with other evidence.

For six years, the Williamson County district attorney, John Bradley, fought the request for DNA testing, based on advice from Judge Anderson, his predecessor and friend. In 2010, however, a Texas court ordered the DNA testing, and the results showed that Mrs. Morton’s blood on the bandanna was mixed with the DNA of another man: Mark A. Norwood, a felon with a long criminal history who lived about 12 miles from the Mortons at the time of the murder. By then, Mr. Morton had spent nearly 25 years in prison.

(click here to continue reading Texas Man Seeks Inquiry After Exoneration in Murder – NYTimes.com.)

Dead Duck
Dead Duck

and Ken Anderson sounds like he had a vendetta:

In August, however, a different judge ordered the record unsealed, and Mr. Morton’s lawyers discovered that Mr. Anderson had provided only a fraction of the available evidence. Missing from the file was the transcript of a telephone conversation between a sheriff’s deputy and Mr. Morton’s mother-in-law in which she reported that her 3-year-old grandson had seen a “monster” — who was not his father — attack and kill his mother.

Also missing were police reports from Mr. Morton’s neighbors, who said they had seen a man in a green van repeatedly park near their home and walk into the woods behind their house. And there were even reports, also never turned over, that Mrs. Morton’s credit card had been used and a check with her forged signature cashed after her death.

In October, Judge Sid Harle of Bexar County District Court freed Mr. Morton based on the DNA evidence and authorized an unusual process allowing his defense lawyers to investigate the prosecutor’s conduct in the original trial. The lawyers questioned the lead sheriff’s investigator, an assistant district attorney who worked with Mr. Anderson and the former prosecutor himself.

Written by Seth Anderson

December 21st, 2011 at 11:20 am

Posted in government

Tagged with , ,

Congressional Techno-morons

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Computer Consultants
Computer Consultants

The Hollywood-funded SOPA1 debate has been tabled for now, to be taken up again next year. Maybe by then Congress can figure out what exactly they are proposing to do.

Or not:

It’s of course perfectly standard for members of Congress to not be exceptionally proficient in technological matters. But for some committee members, the issue did not stop at mere ignorance. Rather, it seemed there was in many cases an outright refusal to understand what is undoubtedly a complex issue dealing with highly-sensitive technologies.

When the security issue was brought up, Rep. Mel Watt of North Carolina seemed particularly comfortable about his own lack of understanding. Grinningly admitting “I’m not a nerd” before the committee, he nevertheless went on to dismiss without facts or justification the very evidence he didn’t understand and then downplay the need for a panel of experts. Rep. Maxine Waters of California followed up by saying that any discussion of security concerns is “wasting time” and that the bill should move forward without question, busted internets be damned.

The fact that there was any debate over whether to call in experts on such a matter should tell you something about the integrity of Congress. It’d be one thing if legitimate technical questions directed at the bill’s supporters weren’t met with either silence or veiled accusations that the other side was sympathetic to piracy. Yet here we are with a group of elected officials openly supporting a bill they can’t explain, and having the temerity to suggest there’s no need to “bring in the nerds” to suss out what’s actually on it.

“No legislation is perfect,” Rep. Watt said at one point, continuing the insane notion that the goal of the House should be to pass anything, despite what consequences it may bring. Later, Iowa Representative Steve King tweeted, somewhat ironically, about surfing the internet on his phone because he was bored listening to his colleague Shiela Jackson speak about the bill. Then, even more ironically, another representative’s comments calling him out for it were asked to be stricken from the record.

This used to be funny, but now it’s really just terrifying. We’re dealing with legislation that will completely change the face of the internet and free speech for years to come. Yet here we are, still at the mercy of underachieving Congressional know-nothings that have more in common with the slacker students sitting in the back of math class than elected representatives. The fact that some of the people charged with representing us must be dragged kicking and screaming out of their complacency on such matters is no longer endearing — it’s just pathetic and sad.

(click here to continue reading Dear Congress, It’s No Longer OK To Not Know How The Internet Works | Motherboard.)

 

Footnotes:
  1. Stop Online Piracy Act. Wikipedia entry []

Written by Seth Anderson

December 21st, 2011 at 10:36 am

Investment Shortfall for Water Infrastructure

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Natural Science
Natural Science

Speaking of water infrastructure, this report is disturbing:

A new report by the American Society of Civil Engineers takes a dim view of the state of the country’s 54,000 community-based drinking-water systems and its 15,000 public wastewater treatment facilities. The systems are rusty, aging and seriously inadequate for meeting future needs, the study warns.

The drinking-water systems, just under half of which are publicly owned, supply 264 million people. The wastewater treatment facilities supply about 225 million people, but they are so prone to failure that 900 billion gallons of untreated sewage are discharged each year, the Environmental Protection Agency estimated in 2004.

The E.P.A.’s 2010 estimate of the capital cost of modernizing this infrastructure was $91 billion, the report said, but financing for that purpose amounted to only $35 million. If systemic neglect continues, it adds, that shortfall will only increase.

(click here to continue reading Report Sees Investment Shortfall for Water Infrastructure – NYTimes.com.)

If only there was an unemployment crisis in the United States that could be solved by hiring folks to repair infrastructure. Oh wait, there is! Too bad the Rethuglican plan is to destroy our country by any means necessary, including sabotage of the economy…

Written by Seth Anderson

December 21st, 2011 at 9:50 am

Posted in government

Tagged with

Texas Water Miracle

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A Dream of Presidential Showers
A Dream of Presidential Showers

The Rick Perry Texas Miracle in action: privatization of public resources, for profit of the few. Who gets screwed? Just consumers.

A growing number of suburban Texans are getting their water from large, private corporations owned by investors seeking to profit off the sale of an essential resource. State figures show private companies are seeking more price increases every year, and many are substantial. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, which regulates water and sewer rates for nonmunicipal customers, doesn’t keep numbers, but “their rate increases tend to be 40 and 60 percent,” said Doug Holcomb, who oversees the agency’s water utilities division.

For years, small private companies have played a crucial role in Texas, providing water and sewer service in new developments outside of cities. Analysts say private companies will continue to fill an essential need in the future, when public money is projected to be insufficient to make the billions of dollars in costly upgrades needed in water and sewer systems.

Increasingly, however, the companies are neither small nor local. Over the past decade, multistate water utilities have expanded aggressively in Texas, drawn by the state’s booming population and welcoming regulatory environment. A September report prepared by utility analysts for Robert W. Baird & Co., a financial management company, identified Texas water regulators as the most generous in the country for private water companies. Today, three out-of-state corporations own about 500 Texas water systems that serve more than 250,000 residents.

For residents living outside cities served by private utility companies, the state environmental commission is charged with setting “just and reasonable” water rates based on a company’s cost of doing business plus a guaranteed profit. In exchange, the companies enjoy a monopoly on their service area.

Yet critics say the agency is unprepared to handle the recent influx of corporations that have exploited a regulatory system more accustomed to handling rural mom-and-pop operations. Meanwhile, Texas laws provide fewer consumer protections to residents facing water rate increases than electricity and gas ratepayers.

“We are in the midst of a transformation in this state, and the state is ill-prepared to move into that transition,” said Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, who co-chairs a legislative subcommittee to investigate the rates charged by investor-owned water utilities. “It feels like it’s happening at warp speed.”

Industry officials say their rates reflect the true cost of rehabilitating and expanding older water systems, and that without their deep pockets, such systems would languish. The “larger Investor-Owned Utilities have invested in small, rural water and sewer systems that have gone decades without meaningful improvements in their infrastructure and often do not meet minimum environmental standards set by the state,” SouthWest Water spokeswoman Janice Hayes said in an email, adding that the companies have poured millions of dollars into new equipment and upgrades.

But in some places, the rate increase s following those improvements have been so high as to inhibit economic growth. Just south of Austin, SouthWest Water seven years ago purchased rights to provide water on the eastern edge of Kyle. Today, officials say, its rates are about double those of the city.

As a result, the company’s service area is one of the few desirable commercial locations — just off Interstate 35 — where fast-growing Kyle has remained underdeveloped, said Diana Blank, the city’s director of economic development. “We’ve lost projects because of that,” she said. Prospective employers “will look at the map and say, ‘Who serves the area for water?’”

SouthWest’s latest rate request, which would increase rates for some suburbanites to more than three times what Austin residents pay, has caught the attention of lawmakers. A half-dozen legislators said they will introduce changes to the law during the next session to provide more consumer protections.

“This may be the poster child for the kinds of reforms we need,” Watson said. “Some utilities will stretch the law as far as they can stretch it.”

 

(click here to continue reading Statesman.com : Growth of large private water companies brings higher water rates, little recourse for consumers.)

Regulation? I thought the mantra was that regulation was anathema in Texas? You mean to say, “let the free market figure it out!”, right?

Written by Seth Anderson

December 21st, 2011 at 9:22 am

Posted in government

Tagged with ,

Hoffman Estates Battle Over a Tax Break For Sears

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A Matter of Degree
A Matter of Degree

Of course, corporate welfare for the 1% trumps education, schools, kids every single time. I’d hoped the outcome was different since Hoffman Estates is not a poor district, and thus has a little clout, but I was wrong.

When Ms.  1 Crates met with Hoffman Estates officials in March, she learned the money might not be coming after all because the tax break might not expire.

“I cried,” Ms. Crates said. “The school district has cut for the last two years. We’ve had no wage increases, and we were planning on that revenue to bring down our class sizes. We have one algebra class with 47 students. It was devastating.”

Ms. Crates and her school district had suddenly found themselves at the epicenter of Illinois’s latest political and financial crisis, described by one lawmaker as round-robin blackmail among Midwestern states. Unless Illinois agreed to extend the tax break, Sears threatened to leave. The state of Ohio, for one, dangled $400 million in tax incentives as a lure.

But when lawmakers agree to corporate demands for property tax relief, they induce strain on the financial stability of schools, local governments, libraries and parks that rely on those taxes as their most stable form of revenue. The State of Illinois, with $3 billion in unpaid bills, has already disrupted local governments’ revenue streams, often delivering payments to schools at least four months behind schedule.

So when Ms. Crates and her colleagues learned in March that Sears might win an extension of its tax break, they followed the lead of many corporations with well-connected lobbyists. They began a fierce campaign.

At first, the district wasn’t even involved in discussions about the bill. The village of Hoffman Estates oversees the distribution of the Sears property tax revenue. Village officials did not mention that they had helped write and introduce legislation to extend the tax break until months after they did so, according to Ms. Crates. “I was dumbfounded that a public agency like ourselves, right next door, didn’t bother to tell us and tried in the middle of the night to pass legislation without telling us,” Ms. Crates said.

(click here to continue reading Town and School District Battle Over a Tax Break – NYTimes.com.)

and I’m with Representative Currie: some state needs to have the gumption to stand firm, and see if moving a giant corporation’s HQ is as simple as renting a moving truck.

The House Democratic leader, Barbara Flynn Currie, questioned whether the state should keep bending to satisfy threats from businesses entertaining other offers.
“Do we respond or do we just say goodbye? Or do we even call their bluff?” she asked. “I mean, sometimes I think we should start calling the occasional bluff and say: ‘Wait a minute. Is this for real?’ Because the costs of moving are certainly significant.”

Footnotes:
  1. Chief Financial Officer Cheryl Crates []

Written by Seth Anderson

December 17th, 2011 at 11:41 am

ACLU sues Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department

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No Photos - Gentlemen Please Remove Your Hats
No Photos – Gentlemen Please Remove Your Hats

Photography is not a crime, part the 234,642nd. Kudos to the ACLU…

The ACLU of Southern California sued the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and several of its deputies Thursday alleging they harassed, detained and improperly searched photographers taking pictures legally in public places.

The federal lawsuit alleges the Sheriff’s Department and deputies “have repeatedly” subjected photographers “to detention, search and interrogation simply because they took pictures” from public streets of places such as Metro turnstiles, oil refineries or near a Long Beach courthouse.

“Photography is not a crime. It’s protected 1st Amendment expression,” said Peter Bibring, senior staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California. “It violates the Constitution’s core protections for sheriff’s deputies to detain and search people who are doing nothing wrong. To single them out for such treatment while they’re pursuing a constitutionally protected activity is doubly wrong.”

(click here to continue reading ACLU sues Sheriff’s Department, alleges photographers were harassed – latimes.com.)

Photography is Not A Crime
Photography is Not A Crime

and from the ACLU:

The ACLU of Southern California (ACLU/SC) and the law firm Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP today sued the County of Los Angeles and individual Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department (LASD) deputies for detaining and searching photographers. The incidents of harassment occurred when photographers were taking pictures in public places where photography is not prohibited.

“Photography is not a crime. It’s protected First Amendment expression,” said Peter Bibring, senior staff attorney at the ACLU/SC. “Sheriff’s deputies violate the Constitution’s core protections when they detain and search people who are doing nothing wrong. To single them out for such treatment while they’re pursuing a constitutionally protected activity is doubly wrong.”

The complaint is filed on behalf of three plaintiffs, who between them have been detained or ordered not to photograph by Sheriff’s deputies on at least six occasions. The complaint details similar incidents involving others, from amateur photographers to veteran photojournalists.

(click here to continue reading ACLU/SC Challenges Sheriff’s Dept.’s Detention of Photographers.)

Written by Seth Anderson

October 28th, 2011 at 2:47 pm

TIF May Need a Boost in Poor Neighborhoods

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Leftover Stories

Leftover Stories

The problem I have with Chicago’s TIF program isn’t the program itself, but rather that it has turned into a form of corporate welfare for politically connected developers. Too much of the money goes where it isn’t needed, instead of where urban blight actually exists.

Local residents once called the far western stretch of Madison Street the downtown of the West Side. That was before the race riots and factory closings of the late 1960s sent this area around the thriving commercial corridor into a tailspin of population loss, poverty, crime and blight.

When Chicago set out over a decade ago to turn around the crumbling retail area, it created a tax increment financing district along Madison Street from West Garfield Park to the city limit at Austin Avenue. But halfway through the TIF’s 23-year life span, the city has spent only $4.8 million on commercial revitalization projects there, and western Madison Street remains a place of struggling retail strips and vacant, decaying blocks.

Criticism of TIFs under Mayor Richard M. Daley focused largely on his administration’s heavy spending of TIF funds in and around Chicago’s thriving downtown. But the scant investment along Madison raises a key question not answered by a TIF reform task force created by Mayor Rahm Emanuel: Can the city’s primary economic development tool help reverse decades of economic decline and physical decay in Chicago’s poorest neighborhoods?

The TIF program was created 27 years ago specifically to spur development in the city’s blighted areas. When the city creates a district, it freezes the amount of property taxes that local governments can collect within a particular area for a period of 23 years. If property values rise during that time, the city is required to spend the additional property-tax revenue — the tax increment — on economically beneficial projects within the district or in a bordering one.

Whether they are public works or business subsidies, the projects are meant to catalyze development within the district. But if property values do not rise and create money for new investment, TIFs are virtually powerless to spur growth.

“It’s very difficult for those poor places to be turned around by this tool because the property taxes aren’t going to generate enough revenue to do the massive push that you need,” said David Merriman, an economics professor and director of the Institute of Government and Public Affairs at the University of Illinois. “There’s got to be development to generate revenue, and that’s probably not going to work unless you already have some market momentum.”

According to a Chicago News Cooperative analysis of the last eight years of Mr. Daley’s tenure — during which the city escalated TIF investment — only 23 percent of the $1.84 billion in TIF funds spent went to districts in the city’s poorest neighborhoods.

(click here to continue reading TIF May Need a Boost in Poor Neighborhoods – NYTimes.com.)

Twenty three percent is a woefully small percentage. Is the TIF program enough to spur neighborhood revitalization? Who knows, what’s obvious is that nobody is even trying.

The Earth Was Here
The Earth Was Here

 

dismissals
dismissals

Written by Seth Anderson

October 16th, 2011 at 8:48 am

Jimi Hendrix Is Cited During Supreme Court Arguments

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Whipped Into A Frenzy
Whipped Into A Frenzy

The times they are a-changing…

Jimi Hendrix made an appearance at the Supreme Court on Wednesday in an argument over whether Congress acted constitutionally in 1994 by restoring copyright protection to foreign works that had once been in the public domain. The affected works included films by Alfred Hitchcock and Federico Fellini, books by C. S. Lewis and Virginia Woolf, symphonies by Prokofiev and Stravinsky and paintings by Picasso.

The suit challenging the law was brought by orchestra conductors, teachers and film archivists who say they had relied for years on the free availability of such works.

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. posed the general question in the case this way: “One day I can perform Shostakovich. Congress does something. The next day I can’t. Doesn’t that present a serious First Amendment problem?”

Then the chief justice, a pioneer in the citation of popular music in legal discourse, asked the question slightly differently, invoking Hendrix, the great rock guitarist, to test the limits of the government’s position. “What about Jimi Hendrix, right? He has a distinctive rendition of the national anthem, and assuming the national anthem is suddenly entitled to copyright protection that it wasn’t before, he can’t do that, right?”

The solicitor general, Donald B. Verrilli Jr., making his debut in the post, said there were good reasons to allow Congress to restore copyright protection to works that had entered the public domain, even at some cost to free expression by performers and others. Responding to the chief justice’s hypothetical question, Mr. Verrilli said that “maybe Jimi Hendrix could claim fair use.”

(click here to continue reading Jimi Hendrix Is Cited During Supreme Court Arguments – NYTimes.com.)

fair use since the Jimi Hendrix version alters the anthem a bit, but unfortunately, even fair use is a tenuous legal foundation these days. Just ask Scott Baio, or Shepard Fairey

Near the end of his argument in the case, Golan v. Holder, No. 10-545, Mr. Falzone returned to the chief justice’s reference to performers like Hendrix.

“There can’t be any doubt, as I think Chief Justice Roberts got at, that the performance has a huge amount of original expression bound up in it,” Mr. Falzone said. “It’s the reason it’s different to see King Lear at the Royal Shakespeare Company; it’s the reason it’s different when John Coltrane plays a jazz standard.”

Written by Seth Anderson

October 6th, 2011 at 8:19 am

US-TransCanada E-Mail Trail Reveals Corruption

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Free to Change Your Mind.
Free to Change Your Mind.

A little insight into how Washington corruption works – not necessarily with a suitcase of cash, though that is implied, but rather with government officials having a cozy relationship with industry. The Obama administration is better than the prior regime, but not by much…

A State Department official provided Fourth of July party invitations, subtle coaching and cheerleading, and inside information about Secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton’s meetings to a Washington lobbyist for a Canadian company seeking permission from the department to build a pipeline that would carry crude from the oil sands of Canada to the Gulf of Mexico.

E-mails released Monday in response to a Freedom of Information Act request filed by the environmental group Friends of the Earth paint a picture of a sometimes warm and collaborative relationship between the lobbyist for the pipeline company, Trans-Canada, and officials in the State Department, the agency responsible for evaluating and approving the billion-dollar project.

The exchanges provide a rare glimpse into how Washington works and the access familiarity can bring. The 200 pages are the second batch of documents and e-mails released so far.

They also offer insight into the company’s strategy, not revealed publicly before. TransCanada lobbyists exchanged e-mails with State Department officials in July about their intention to drop their request to operate the Keystone XL pipeline at higher pressures than normally allowed in the United States to win political support, but then suggested they would reapply for the exception once the project had been cleared.

“You see officials who see it as their business not to be an oversight agency but as a facilitator of TransCanada’s plans,” said Damon Moglen, the director of the climate and energy project for Friends of the Earth. While the e-mails refer to multiple meetings between TransCanada officials and assistant secretaries of state, he said, such access was denied to environmentalists seeking input, who had only one group meeting at that level.

Environmental groups argue that the 1,700-mile pipeline, which could carry 700,000 barrels a day from Alberta to the Gulf Coast of Texas, would result in unacceptably high emissions and disrupt pristine ecosystems.

(click here to continue reading Pipeline Foes See Bias in U.S.-TransCanada E-Mail – NYTimes.com.)

Behind the Scenes at the Garfield Conservatory

From the Friends of the Earth website:

We have received a new round of documents from the State Department in response to our Freedom of Information Act request. These documents are deeply disturbing in that they provide definitive evidence of pro-pipeline bias and complicity at the State Department — including one “smoking gun” email (PDF) in which State Department employee Marja Verloop literally cheers “Go Paul!” for pipeline lobbyist Paul Elliott after he announces TransCanada has secured Senator Max Baucus’ support for the pipeline.

The most interesting emails in this tranche are between Elliott and Verloop, a member of the senior diplomatic staff at the U.S. Embassy in Ottawa, with responsibility for energy and environment issues. In one back and forth, Elliott and Verloop discuss TransCanada’s July 2010 decision to abandon its efforts to obtain special permission to pump oil through the Keystone XL at higher-than-usual pressures. The same exchange contains a reference to reassurances from the State side that the 90-day review would “delay…State’s recommendation of a presidential permit but such a delay won’t be as long as the one advocated for by the EPA.” (PDF)

The exchange indicates an understanding between the State Department and TransCanada that TransCanada would be in a position to apply for a pressure increase after getting the permit. The tacit understanding on the permit and NID timing was even relayed by Verloop to her boss, U.S. Ambassador to Canada David Jacobson, in an email where she says to him: “TransCanada is comfortable and on board.” The revelation of the understanding between State and TransCanada on the pipeline pressure issue could be unwelcome to Senator Jon Tester, who announced his support for the pipeline only after he was reassured by TransCanada’s decision to lower the pressure.

 

(click here to continue reading New FOIA docs reveal smoking gun regarding State Department bias | Friends of the Earth.)

Written by Seth Anderson

October 5th, 2011 at 8:46 am

Self-inflicted Decline Of United States

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Neon Green Tea
Neon Green Tea

The United States has deep, serious structural problems with our economy, and yet the morons in Congress debate trivialities.

Malcom Fraser, former Prime Minister of Australia writes, part:

The United States’ friends around the world watched with dismay the recent brawl over raising the federal government’s debt ceiling, and the US congress’ inability to come to anything like a balanced and forward-looking compromise. On the contrary, the outcome represents a significant victory for the Tea Party’s minions, whose purpose seems to be to reduce government obligations and expenditures to a bare minimum (some object even to having a central bank), and to maintain President George W Bush’s outrageous tax breaks for the wealthy. The United States’ current fiscal problems are rooted in a long period of unfunded spending. Bush’s wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the manner in which he conducted the “global war on terror” made matters much worse, contributing to a totally unsustainable situation. Indeed, Obama inherited an almost impossible legacy.

In the weeks since the debt ceiling agreement, it has become increasingly clear that good government might be impossible in the US. The coming months of campaigning for the US presidency will be spent in petty brawling over what should be cut. The example of recent weeks gives us no cause for optimism that US legislators will rise above partisan politics and ask themselves what is best for America.

In these circumstances, it is not surprising that financial markets have returned to extreme volatility. The expenditure cuts mandated by the outcome of the debt-ceiling debate will reduce economic activity, thereby undermining growth and making debt reduction even more difficult. Providing further fiscal stimulus to boost economic growth would carry its own risks, owing to the debt ceiling and another, more ominous factor: the US is already overly indebted, and there are signs that major holders of US government securities are finally tired of being repaid in depreciated currency.

Most importantly, China’s call for the introduction of a new reserve currency stems from its frustration with the failure of major governments – whether in the US or Europe – to govern their economic affairs with realism and good sense. China recognises that the US is in great difficulty (indeed, it recognises this more clearly than the US itself), and that, given the poisonous political atmosphere prevailing in Washington, there will be no easy return to good government, economic stability, and strong growth.

(click here to continue reading America’s self-inflicted decline – Opinion – Al Jazeera English.)

Bank of China
Bank of China

One more important excerpt from Mr. Fraser’s Op-Ed:

The counter-argument – that any sell-off or failure by China to continue to buy US government securities would hurt China as much as the US – is not valid. As each year passes, China’s markets expand worldwide, and its domestic market comes to represent a greater percentage of its own GDP. As a result, China will not need a strong dollar in the long term. Americans need to get their economic house in order before China loses its incentive to support the dollar.

On several occasions in the post-WWII period, the US has learned with great pain that there are limits to the effective use of military power. US objectives could not be achieved in Vietnam. The outcome in Iraq will not be determined until the last American troops have been withdrawn. In Afghanistan, where withdrawal dates have already been set, it is difficult to believe that a cohesive unified state can be established.

As the efficacy of military power is reduced, so the importance of economic power grows. Recognition of these central realities – and bipartisanship in addressing them – is critical for America’s future, and for that of the West.

We ignore these realities at our peril – and allowing the Tea Party to control policy is akin to letting someone hepped up on bath salts pilot your airplane. Dangerously stupid, in other words.

Written by Seth Anderson

September 5th, 2011 at 8:53 am

Greening the concrete jungle

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Green Alley, signed by Richard M Daley
Green Alley, signed by Richard M Daley

Baby steps, yet they should be celebrated because the alternative is sitting on our hands as the planet fries…

THERE are many places in Illinois where you expect to find a prairie. The roof of City Hall in Chicago is not among them. Yet there it is—20,000 square feet (almost half an acre) of shrubs, vines and small trees, 11 storeys above LaSalle Avenue. Planted in 2000, City Hall’s “green roof” reduces the amount of energy needed to cool the building in the summer; captures water during rainstorms, thus reducing the amount of water flowing into Chicago’s already overtaxed sewers; and combats the urban “heat island” effect, which makes cities warmer than nearby rural areas. On average, air temperatures above City Hall are 10-15°F degrees lower than those above the adjacent black-tar roof of the Cook County Building; on hot summer days the difference can be as great as 50°F.

Large as it is, City Hall’s roof accounts for a small proportion of Chicago’s total green-roof space. And those roofs are just one part of Chicago’s Climate Action Plan (CCAP), which was launched in September 2008 and was preceded by years of green initiatives during the tenure of Richard Daley, who from 1989 until earlier this year was mayor of Chicago. CCAP aims to reduce Chicago’s greenhouse-gas emissions to 75% of their 1990 levels by 2020, and to just 20% of their 1990 levels by 2050. In the two years after CCAP’s launch public-transport ridership rose, millions of gallons of water were conserved, hundreds of hybrid buses were added to Chicago’s fleet and over 13,000 housing units and nearly 400 commercial buildings were retrofitted for energy efficiency.

These achievements have come not through sweeping social engineering, or by making Chicagoans dine on tofu, sprouts and recycled rainwater while sitting in the dark, but by simple tweaks. City buses inevitably need replacing; so why not replace them with hybrid models that are not only 60% lower in carbon emissions than standard diesel buses, but also 30% more fuel-efficient and will save an estimated $7m a year in fuel and upkeep? Alleys—Chicago has 1,900 miles of them—will inevitably need repaving; why not repave them with permeable, light-coloured surfaces rather than asphalt to reduce water run-off into sewers and reflect rather than retain the sun’s light and heat?

(click here to continue reading Cities and climate change: Greening the concrete jungle | The Economist.)

There Is Only This Kind
There Is Only This Kind

Daley’s plan has been criticized because implementation has been slow, but at least something is happening, in Chicago, and nine other American metropolitan areas that are leading this effort:

Chicago and New York are just two of the ten American cities—the others are Austin, Houston, Los Angeles, New Orleans, Philadelphia, Portland, San Francisco and Seattle—who are members of the Large Cities Climate Leadership Group (mercifully renamed the C40), which now comprises 58 cities around the world. Roughly 297m people, less than 5% of the Earth’s total, live in the 40 charter-member C40 cities. But they account for 18% of the world’s GDP and 10% of its carbon emissions.

Written by Seth Anderson

September 5th, 2011 at 8:29 am

Investing In Solar Power

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Solar Panels - Chicago Center for Green Technology
Solar Panels – Chicago Center for Green Technology

Jobs, green energy jobs could be a solution to our anemic economy; if we had a functional political class. Instead we have one party1 willing, and able, to sacrifice national prosperity on the alter of upcoming elections, and another party2 too mealy-mouthed to do much about it. Meanwhile, China and the rest of the industrialized world is lapping us in investing in future technologies.

The New York Times reported that “much of China’s clean energy success lies in aggressive government policies that help this crucial export industry in ways most other governments do not,” including “heavily subsidized land and loans.” Those subsidies are part of a comprehensive policy agenda set by the Chinese government, which “sends clear signals to investors,” according to a Brookings Institution report:

Critical to China’s success is its articulation of a comprehensive and long-term state clean energy build out policy that sends clear signals to investors. Through its 12th Five Year Plan, China has identified “new energy” as one among seven “strategic emerging industries” and will invest $760 billion over the next 10 years in this sector alone. A range of complementary policies will guide these investment decisions, including the Renewable Energy Law, national demand-side management regulations, and pilot carbon taxes, among others. China has swiftly made itself a clean energy power, in large part by ensuring the availability of copious, affordable capital at a time it has been short in the United States. And the Deutche Bank Climate Change Advisors said in a recent report that there’s a lot more the U.S. could do to create a policy framework that encourages clean energy investment:

Countries with more ‘TLC’ - transparency, longevity and certainty – in their climate policy frameworks will attract more investment and will build new, clean industries, technologies and jobs faster than their policy lagging counterparts. This is particularly evident in countries such as Germany and China, who have emerged as global leaders in low carbon technologies and investment in recent years.  In stark contrast, a politically divided US Congress and vast budget deficit has resulted in very little significant regulation at the Federal level, with substantial implications for emerging clean technology industries in the US. This climate policy inertia has existed for some time in the US now, with activity on this front largely taking place at the state level. We have long argued that the states must continue to press ahead with climate legislation, but a negative effect of this trend is a patchwork of inconsistent state policies.  The net effect is that while Congress stumbles, the US stands to fall behind.

(click here to continue reading Conservative Media Declare That Solar Power “Doesn’t Work” | Media Matters for America.)

 

Footnotes:
  1. the GOP []
  2. the Democrats []

Written by Seth Anderson

September 5th, 2011 at 8:17 am

Posted in environment,government

Tagged with , ,

Vitriol for Bernanke, Despite the Facts

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A Fool Too Long
A Fool Too Long

Rick Perry doesn’t seem like the type to let facts get in the way of constant stream of vitriol.

On Aug. 16, while speaking in Iowa, Gov. Rick Perry of Texas, a Republican presidential candidate, took the demonization of Mr. Bernanke to a new level. He declared in much-quoted remarks — and to appreciative laughter from the crowd — that “we would treat him pretty ugly down in Texas,” and that Mr. Bernanke’s monetary policy was “almost treacherous — or treasonous, in my opinion.” The next day, in New Hampshire, Mr. Perry was less inflammatory but more pointed. “They should open their books up,” he said of the Fed. “They should be transparent so that the people of the United States know what they are doing.”…

It’s also hard to fathom what Mr. Perry means when he calls for the Fed to “open its books up.” It publicly releases its current balance sheet every Thursday at approximately 4:30 p.m., and it’s available on the Fed’s Web site. Mr. Perry’s campaign didn’t respond to a request for comment.

The charge that the Fed is “printing money” seems to be shorthand for recklessly risking or even seeking inflation. That notion “is complete nonsense,” Robert E. Hall, a senor fellow at the conservative Hoover Institution and professor of economics at Stanford, told me. “But it must be exciting to accuse him of things he hasn’t done.”

(click here to continue reading Vitriol for Bernanke, Despite the Facts – NYTimes.com.)

Hmm, Fed open its books every Thursday, at a specific time, and yet Rick Perry continues to insist that the Fed is hiding something. Hmmm. Maybe Mr. Perry just has a reading comprehension problem?

Written by Seth Anderson

September 3rd, 2011 at 1:13 pm

GPS and the 4th Amendment

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Shoveling snow apparently optional
Shoveling snow apparently optional

Our erosion of civil liberties continues apace, the police increasingly don’t even bother to get warrants before they put you in their surveillance net. For instance, in the case of suspect Antoine Jones, the police installed a GPS tracking device on his (or his wife’s) Jeep.

Jordan Smith reports on this troubling case:

When are electronic or other forms of surveillance of an individual considered a search under the Fourth Amendment — thus requiring a valid warrant to conduct such surveillance in a manner that protects the individual from “unlawful search and seizure”?

How the U.S. Supreme Court answers that question, in a case on its docket for the term starting in October, will have far-reaching implications for the power of government and for the privacy of individuals, according to lawyers and privacy rights advocates.

If the Court holds that warrants are not required for this type of surveillance, it could mean “the technological death of the Fourth Amendment,” warns Arkansas-based attorney John Wesley Hall, a leading Fourth Amendment expert…

The officers obtained a judicial warrant providing for a 10-day tracking period inside the District of Columbia. However, they actually installed the device after the 10-day window had expired — the reasons have not been brought out in court — and they did so while the Jeep was parked in a public lot in Maryland. The GPS data provided a 24/7 record of all of Jones’ movements in the Jeep over the next month — including, at times, the movements of his wife and family.

(click here to continue reading Big Brother is tracking you: GPS and the 4th Amendment – Obama’s Supreme Court Nominees | Supreme Court Justices – Salon.com.)

ACLU Constitution Free Zone
ACLU Constitution Free Zone

I’d be very surprised if the Roberts Court rules against the police, shocked in fact. Even the fact that some gun rights organizations have filed briefs decrying this destruction of the Fourth Amendment will probably not sway the Court, if history is any guide.

As Leckar1 told the Crime Report, a beeper is a “simple sense-augmenting device,” while a GPS tracking device, designed by the government for military use and only made available since 2000 for civilian applications, is “not sense augmenting; it’s sense supplanting.”

And that is one of the main reasons that in order to pass the Fourth Amendment’s legal standard a warrant is needed to conduct GPS surveillance, Leckar argues.
The “D.C. Circuit was correct to hold that pattern information is dramatically more intrusive than mere information about an individual’s discrete journeys,” his brief argued. “Indeed, the distinction between discrete bits of information and patterns of conduct is well-accepted.”

To privacy and Fourth Amendment advocates, the distinction is crucial.

In a brief supporting Jones before the D.C. Circuit, the Electronic Freedom Foundation and the ACLU, and which they are expected to revive before the Supremes, argued that GPS technology now gives police extraordinary new powers to remotely track individuals over long periods in both public and private realms.

“Without a warrant requirement, an individual’s every movement could be subject to remote monitoring, and permanent recording, at the sole discretion of any police officer,” the brief said.
Gun Owners of America, Inc., Gun Owners Foundation, and several other conservative groups have already filed an amicus brief with the Supreme Court urging it to restore “the Fourth Amendment to its original text and purpose.”

Footnotes:
  1. veteran attorney Stephen Leckar, who represents Jones []

Written by Seth Anderson

August 9th, 2011 at 8:14 am