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The place where the world comes together in honesty and mirth.
Windmills Tilted, Scared Cows Butchered, Lies Skewered on the Lance of Reality ... or something to that effect.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

The Daily Drift

The Daily Drift
Ahem, are you listening ...! 
Carolina Naturally is read in 192 countries around the world daily.

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Today in History

Today in History
1265 King Henry III puts down a revolt of English barons lead by Simon de Montfort.
1578 A crusade against the Moors of Morocco is routed at the Battle of Alcazar-el-Kebir. King Sebastian of Portugal and 8,000 of his soldiers are killed.
1717 A friendship treaty is signed between France and Russia.
1789 The Constituent Assembly in France abolishes the privileges of nobility.
1790 The Revenue Cutter service, the parent service of the U.S. Navy and Coast Guard, is organized.
1864 Federal troops fail to capture Fort Gaines on Dauphin Island, one of the Confederate forts defending Mobile Bay.
1875 The first Convention of Colored Newspapermen is held in Cincinnati, Ohio.
1879 A law is passed in Germany making Alsace Lorraine a territory of the empire.
1914 Germany invades Belgium causing Great Britain to declare war on Germany.
1942 The British government charges that Mohandas Gandhi and his All-Indian Congress Party favor "appeasement" with Japan.
1944 RAF pilot T. D. Dean becomes the first pilot to destroy a V-1 buzz bomb when he tips the pilotless craft's wing, sending it off course.
1952 Helicopters from the U.S. Air Force Air Rescue Service land in Germany, completing the first transatlantic flight by helicopter in 51 hours and 55 minutes of flight time.
1964 The bodies of civil rights workers Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman & James E Chaney, discovered in an earthen Mississippi dam.
1964 The U.S.S. Maddox and Turner Joy exchange fire with North Vietnamese patrol boats.
1971 US launches first satellite into lunar orbit from a manned spacecraft (Apollo 15).
1972 Arthur Bremer sentenced to 63 years for shooting Alabama governor George Wallace, later reduced to 53 years.
1979 President Jimmy Carter establishes the Department of Energy.
1988 US Senate votes to give each Japanese-American who was interned during WWII $20,000 compensation and an apology.
2007 NASA launches Phoenix spacecraft on a mission to Mars.

Non Sequitur

Daily Comic Relief

Customer Service ... It gets worse


Did you know ...

Did You Know ...
That Faux News' popularity is in serious jeopardy

About why have gun sales dropped so much?

About the real number of hours that teachers work

About the computer program can recognize individual wolves by their howls

Pro-Choice Protesters reject Governor McCrony's Cookies

From the "He's an Asshat" Department

After Signing Abortion Bill, North Carolina Governor Delivers Cookies To Women’s Health Protesters

by Tara Culp-Ressler
Reproductive rights protesters returned McCrory's cookies, saying they would rather have health care.
Reproductive rights protesters returned McCrony’s cookies, saying they would rather have health care.

Reproductive rights activists in North Carolina have been rallying outside Gov. Pat McCrony’s (r) mansion, protesting his recent decision to approve a controversial package of anti-abortion provisions attached to a transportation bill. So far, the governor has refused to meet with any of the protesters to talk to them in person. But he has attempted to placate them with baked goods.
On Tuesday afternoon, McCrony — along with four of his security guards — came out of his mansion’s gates to deliver a plate of chocolate chip cookies to the crowd of pro-choice protesters. He handed the plate to one of the activists and reportedly told her, “These are for you. god bless you, god bless you, god bless you.”
The gesture wasn’t well-received by the reproductive health activists frustrated with the governor’s recent legislative decisions. The protesters, who considered the move to be condescending, didn’t eat any of the cookies. Instead, they slipped the plate back under the mansion gates along with a note reading “We want women’s health care, not cookies.” They also began a chant: “Hey Pat, that was rude. You wouldn’t give cookies to a dude.”
As Slate’s Amanda Marcotte points out, it’s understandable that offering up this type of baked good may have come across as offensive to the women’s health protesters. “Next to sandwiches, cookies are probably the most potent edible symbol of the belief that women’s role is to shut up, give up their ambitions, and return to the kitchen,” Marcotte explains. “While it’s unlikely that McCrony was deliberately trying to tell the protesters to know their place, that’s how the gesture reads.”
On Tuesday afternoon, women’s health supporters began tweeting about their disapproval of the incident by using the hashtag “let them eat cookies.” CNN reports that they were unable to confirm whether the governor made the cookies himself — but McCrony’s deputy communication director said he probably didn’t, since he’s busy focusing on issues like the state economy.

Texas repugicans Want Wendy Davis To Pay For Special Session

Lunatic Fringe 
by Joseph Diebold
Texas Sen. Wendy Davis (D)
Texas Sen. Wendy Davis (D) 
After spending their first special session watching State Sen Wendy Davis’ (D) marathon filibuster and their second passing the abortion restrictions Davis was fighting against, the Texas legislature is back for a third session. Now, they need to handle the transportation measure that was the motivation for the original special session, before they got sidetracked with anti-abortion legislation.
Unfortunately for the state’s taxpayers, the extra time will cost them an additional $2.4 million. But one lawmaker has an idea for who should foot part of that bill: Davis herself.
State Rep. Giovanni Capriglione told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram he thinks Davis should be on the hook for the cost of the extra lawmaking sessions.
“I am upset at the cost,” Capriglione said. “I think we need to remember why we are having this extra special session. One state senator, in an effort to capture national attention, forced this special session. I firmly believe that Sen. Wendy Davis should reimburse the taxpayers for the entire cost of the second special session. I am sure that she has raised enough money at her Washington, D.C., fundraiser to cover the cost.”
Capriglione went on to boast that he was not accepting the $150 per diem for the special sessions, the reason for the additional costs, because he was “elected as a fiscal conservative.”
While Caprigilione says he was “trying to keep as small an expense as possible to the taxpayer,” Texas Republicans could have saved more money by passing the transportation bill during the first special session and skipping on the abortion restrictions altogether. They also could have worked to save their constituents money. The new restrictions will make getting an abortion more expensive, disproportionately impacting low-income and minority Texans.
Davis shrugged off the criticism, noting that repugican Gov. Rick Perry is the one who decides to add special sessions. “It’s unfortunate that the leadership in power squandered taxpayer dollars pursuing partisan politics before Texas priorities and forced an unnecessary special session,” she said.

The Devastating Spending Cuts That Were Too Much For House repugicans To Swallow

Lunatic Fringe 
by Bryce Covert
On Wednesday, the House was supposed to vote on a bill that would have set specific funding levels for transportation and housing related programs. Normally the amount such a bill could spend on programs would have been set by a budget, but because repugicans have repeatedly refused to hash out the differences between budgets proposed by the House and Senate, there is no such guiding document. House lawmakers had been instructed instead to use spending limits set by the repugican budget they passed in March, written by Rep. Paul Ryan (r-WI), that included severe spending reductions.
But when it came time to actually pass concrete cuts, repugicans balked and the bill was withdrawn.
The House’s plan would have cut funding for housing and transportation programs by 15 percent compared to what they currently receive. What exactly did these cuts look like that repugicans in the end couldn’t stomach? Here are some of the most devastating ones.
1. Cut community development grants in half: The Community Development Block Grant program provides states and local communities with annual grants for a variety of purposes, such providing affordable housing, creating job programs, environmental clean up, and other community development needs. These grants were slated to be cut nearly in half, receiving less than $1.7 billion, which would have been a more than $1.4 billion cut. As Brian Beutler reported, such a cut “los[t] a lot of Republicans who care about their districts.”
2. Eliminate a program that funds infrastructure: The House appropriations bill would have completely eliminated Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grants, which are used to invest in road, rail, transit, and port projects. The program proved incredibly popular, receiving $9 billion in applications this year despite only having $474 million to dole out. It also comes at a time when the U.S. desperately needs to invest in infrastructure, as the country’s roads, bridges, and rail lines got a mere D+ grade from the American Society of Civil Engineers. Communities would have lost over $200 million they were expecting to receive come the fall.
3. Slash spending on removing lead from homes: The House bill would have reduced the Healthy Homes & Lead Hazard Control program, which removes lead from homes and prevents children from poisonous exposure, by more than half compared to the decreased level it gets under sequestration. It would have only allocated $50 million to the program, compared to $114 million under the sequester. Half a million children have elevated levels of lead in the blood, which is linked to lower IQs and learning disabilities. Meanwhile, every dollar spent on controlling the exposure to lead returns anywhere from $17 to $221 in health and other societal benefits.
4. Underfund homelessness assistance programs: The bill would have funded Homeless Assistance Grants at $2 billion, below both President Obama’s request and the Senate’s version. This level wouldn’t be enough to fund all of the Continuum of Care grant renewals this year, which help fund shelters for the homeless, youths, and domestic violence survivors. This would mean 25,000 people would likely be left homeless.
5. Decrease spending on the Federal Aviation Administration: Congress will still remember when sequestration-related furloughs hampered air travel, leading to outrage and a scramble to action from policymakers to ease the cuts. Yet the House appropriations bill would spend $775 million less than the Senate’s version the agency, less than even sequestration levels, which could make it harder for it to keep up with increasing demand for air travel.

Attention tea party: Armed Man Who Ran Obama Blockade Gets Four Years in Prison

Lunatic Fringe
we came unarmed this time
Locked and loaded, he came armed this time and now he’s going to prison for four years. Kerry T. Prater, a 53-year-old man from West Liberty, Kentucky, was armed with two loaded handguns, a semi-automatic rifle and several hundred rounds of ammunition when he tried to run an Erlanger police roadblock set up for President Obama’s motorcade on September 17, 2012 and was forced off the road by police.
Prater’s defense, according to Cincinnati.Com, was that even though he was found competent to stand trial, he “does suffer from a personality disorder not otherwise specified with paranoia and antisocial features… (and) Mr. Prater’s cognitive abilities lie in the low average range.”
So, Prater is anti-social and paranoid and he has low cognitive abilities.
Although not cited in the Cincinnati article, Prater also had a lengthy criminal history (his brushes with the law read a bit like George Zimmermans – nothing big enough to put the breaks on his issues). Huff Po detailed his past criminal history last year, which included at that time “a six-month jail sentence for assault, a short jail sentence for menacing, a 60-day suspended sentence for harassment, a 60-day suspended jail sentence for assault of a family member, a one-year suspended sentence for carrying a concealed deadly weapon and several orders from judges barring Prater from carrying firearms.”
Mr. Prater also allegedly threatened the shryb in 2004, according to family members’ reports to authorities, though it’s not clear what kind of threat was made.
Although Prater’s attorney asked for the Judge to take it easy on him because he is mentally impaired and had been involuntarily committed to a mental hospital on two previous occasions, U.S. District Judge David Bunning didn’t buy cognitive impairment and a personality disorder as an excuse. Prater was, after all, deemed competent for trial. (Note: America’s policy failure re mental health issues is of some issue, although his access to firearms after being ordered twice into a mental hospital could also be an argument for more reasonable gun control.) The sentence of a four-year prison term was only a few months short of what the Assistant U.S. Attorney requested.
Prater’s attorney wrote, “Although it was determined that Mr. Prater is competent to stand trial, it was opined that he does suffer from a personality disorder not otherwise specified with paranoia and antisocial features. It was also determined that, based upon the results of testing, Mr. Prater’s cognitive abilities lie in the low average range.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Tony Bracke explained that Prater’s history of threats and violence amplified the “ordinary dangers posed by a prohibited person with firearms. His insistence on placing himself and his arsenal in the presence of the presidential motorcade created a real risk of violence.”
Family member say Prater makes a lot of threats. His own attorney says he’s not very bright and he suffers from paranoia. None of these symptoms stray too far from your average tea partier these days.
The modus operandi seems pretty familiar: Punish the world for your own mental problems and cognitive impairments, and follow that up by extorting people with threats and acts of violence when you don’t get your way (not getting their way is also referred to by repugicans as “Obama’s tyranny”).
Prater’s history of threats and violence and his arsenal created a real risk of violence and now he’s going to prison. Let this be a head’s up to tea partiers everywhere to not act on their consistent threats. You don’t need to fire your weapon to be a menace to society and deemed a danger to others.

Man arrested with body armor and loaded gun in cinema only charged with having fake CIA ID

Idiots in the News
The FBI says a man has been arrested at a Michigan movie theater wearing body armor and carrying a loaded gun and a suspected fake federal identification badge. Cassidy Delavergne wasn't charged with crimes related to the armor, the gun or the 34 rounds of ammunition. But he was charged with possessing the phony Central Intelligence Agency identification badge.

Cassidy Delavergne was charged and arraigned in federal court on Wednesday with having a fake CIA identification card, said Grand Blanc Township Detective Matt Harburn. The detective said officers were called by the theater on Tuesday at around 8:20pm regarding a man with a gun. Delavergne was in the NCG Trillium cinema watching a movie when the officers approached him and asked him to step outside. Harburn says that is when Delavergne claimed to be a federal agent.
"They were confident that wasn't true, and that's when they arrested him." Harburn said. Authorities say Delavergne was wearing body armour and carrying a loaded Beretta 9mm pistol along with an extra magazine of ammunition containing 17 rounds. According to federal court records, the FBI was contacted by the Grand Blanc Township Police Department about the identification. Delavergne told the FBI agent he went to the theatre after work wearing his gun and body armor because he did not want to leave them in his car.

Federal court documents say he told FBI agents that he had a permit to carry a concealed firearm. Delavergne also told the FBI agent the CIA credentials he was carrying were fake, and he flashed the badge at the theater so theater patrons wouldn't be alarmed about the firearm he was carrying, according to court records. He then said he showed the badge to the officers to avoid legal trouble, court documents say. The FBI agent said a later search of Delavergne's car and found an additional 111 rounds of 9mm ammunition.

U.S. hiring slows in July but jobless rate falls to four-year low

It's The Economy Stupid
by Jason Lange

U.S. employers slowed their pace of hiring in July but the jobless rate fell anyway, mixed signals that could make the U.S. Federal Reserve more cautious about drawing down its huge economic stimulus program.
The number of jobs outside the farming sector increased by 162,000, the Labor Department said on Friday.
That was below the median forecast in a Reuters poll of 184,000. Compounding that miss, the government also cut its previous estimates for hiring in May and June.
At the same time, the jobless rate fell two tenths of a point to 7.4 percent, its lowest in over four years. Gains in employment fueled some of that decline, but the Labor force also shrank during the month, robbing some of the luster from the decline in the unemployment rate.
The data reinforces the view that the job market is inching toward recovery, with the broader economy still stuck in low gear.
"The U.S. economy is grinding along for the better, but it's going to be a long and slow grind," Tanweer Akram, an economist at ING U.S. Investment Management in Atlanta, said ahead of the report.
The question is whether the pace of job gains is enough for the Fed to feel the U.S. economy is ready to get by with less support. The U.S. central bank currently buys $85 billion a month in bonds to keep borrowing costs low.
The stimulus program has lowered interest rates, spurring growth in the country's beleaguered housing market and boosting car sales. Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke said last month the U.S. central bank would likely reduce the level of monthly purchases by the end of the year, and end them by mid-2014.
The Fed's policy-making committee wrapped up a two-day meeting on Wednesday without any change to the program. The panel's statement, however, referenced new factors that could be seen as risks to growth: a recent rise in mortgage rates and persistently low inflation. Central bank policymakers next meet in September.
The growth in payrolls left the three-month average gain at 175,000. Many economists believe even hiring around that level could lead the Fed to trim its bond buying in September.
But Friday's jobs report could also entertain darker views on the economy.
For one, analysts wonder if the pace of job creation can be sustained given slower-than-expected economic growth.
Gross domestic product, a measure of the nation's economic output, grew at a mere 1.4 percent annual rate in the first half of the year, down from 2.5 percent in the same period of 2012.
Most economists expect GDP will accelerate in the second half of this year, which would make it more plausible for the current hiring trend to continue.
But the fact that job creation has been relatively robust despite weak output might point to a frightening possibility: perhaps the economy's growth potential has fallen.
This would mean less output is needed to create jobs, but that incomes would grow at a slower pace over the long run. The prospect of such a structural shift worries economists and investors.
"It's something we have been talking about a lot," Jeffrey Cleveland, a Los Angeles-based economist at investment management firm Payden & Rygel, said ahead of the report.
Friday's report showed the average work week declined to 34.4 hours, while average earnings slipped 0.1 percent.

Government Layoffs Holding Economy Back

It's The Economy Stupid
by Alan Pyke
While the public sector added 1,000 net jobs in July’s jobs report, shrinking government payrolls have been a consistent drag on the economy throughout President Obama’s term. By contrast, at the same point in the shrub's junta the government had contributed over a million jobs to the economy:
Of course, the recession early in the Bush years looks like a blip next to the economic collapse that was underway when he handed the Oval Office over to Obama. But the ongoing weakness in government employment isn’t an automatic consequence of the Great Recession — it’s the result of policy choices Congress has made. Economists say that the shift to austerity since 2011 has pushed the unemployment rate a full percentage point higher than it would otherwise have been. Those spending cuts harm growth across the entire economy, not just the public sector. But of the last four American recessions, the current is the only one where government payrolls shrank in the years of recovery that followed.
The temporary spike in public employees due to the 2010 Census gave way to massive layoffs as states dumped workers in pursuit of balanced budgets that are often required by state law. The result was the worst three-year stretch for state and local government employment in the history of the Bureau of Labor Statistics’s data. If public sector employment had instead followed the trajectory of  Ronald Reagan’s junta, the unemployment rate would have been a full percentage point lower in mid-2012.

Tom the Dancing Bug

Daily Comic Relief

The Joking Disease

Did You Know ...
Did you hear about this one: Your dad constantly tell bad jokes in socially inappropriate situations. That's just dads being dads ... or is it? Maybe he's suffering from the Joking Disease.
No, it's not a joke: though rare, the Joking Disease or witzelsucht (derived from the German word witzeln meaning to joke and sucht meaning addiction) is quite real. The neurological disease is caused by damage to the frontal lobe of the brain. People with witzelsucht compulsively tell jokes and puns, but do not seem to "get" the humor - they don't laugh or smile, nor do they show any emotional reaction to jokes, either their own or other people's.

The History of Scary Clowns

Did You Know ...
When a study in 2008 found that children, on average, do not like clowns, many people were surprised. The rest of us weren't because we never liked clowns, either. Sometime over the past 50 years, clowns in popular culture moved from funny to downright horrific, which is indicative of how an audience sees them. Smithsonian looks at the history of clowns, and finds that depressing, creepy, and/or frightening clowns are really nothing new. The happy children's clowns of the mid-20th century were somewhat of an anomaly, because clowns were never all sunshine and smiles, from court jesters to Grimaldi to Pagliacci to Emmett Kelly to John Wayne Gacy.
Even as Bozo was cavorting on sets across America, a more sinister clown was plying his craft across the Midwest. John Wayne Gacy’s public face was a friendly, hard-working guy; he was also a registered clown who entertained at community events under the name Pogo. But between 1972 and 1978, he sexually assaulted and killed more than 35 young men in the Chicago area. “You know… clowns can get away with murder,” he told investigating officers, before his arrest.

Gacy didn’t get away with it—he was found guilty of 33 counts of murder and was executed in 1994. But he’d become identified as the “Killer Clown,” a handy sobriquet for newspaper reports that hinged on the unexpectedness of his killing. And bizarrely, Gacy seemed to revel in his clown persona: While in prison, he began painting; many of his paintings were of clowns, some self-portraits of him as Pogo. What was particularly terrifying was that Gacy, a man who’d already been convicted of a sexual assault on a teenage boy in 1968, was given access to children in his guise as an innocuous clown. This fueled America’s already growing fears of “stranger danger” and sexual predation on children, and made clowns a real object of suspicion.

After a real life killer clown shocked America, representations of clowns took a decidedly terrifying turn.
Read a fascinating rundown of the history and psychology of scary clowns at Smithsonian.

The U.S. Military Today

Military News
The makeup of the U.S. armed forces has changed considerably since the days of the draft. The all-volunteer military is a self-selected group that must must pass higher entrance requirements than ever before. Various reports and polls give us a snapshot of what the overall active-duty population is like. For example, they are more educated than ever.
Today's military personnel are more likely than comparable age groups in the civilian population to have graduated from high school (after all, with rare exceptions, military recruits must have high school degrees or GEDs). Military officers, meanwhile, are substantially better educated than civilians: Only 30 percent of the overall population over age 25 have bachelor's degrees, compared to 82.5 percent of officers.
And they tend to come from higher-income backgrounds.
Today's military is distinctly middle class. In part, this is because military requirements render many of the nation's poorest young people ineligible: The poorest Americans are the least likely to finish high school or gain a GED, for instance, and poverty also correlates with ill health, obesity, and the likelihood of serious run-ins with the criminal justice system, all of which are disqualifying factors for the military.
Active-duty personnel are also older than they used to be, and more likely to be married than the civil population. They also hold liberal political views than you might imagine. And best of all, while some veterans have trouble reintegrating into civilian life, the vast majority of post-9/11 veterans do well both socially and economically. The article at Foreign Policy also explores the reasons people volunteer for the military, the geographic distribution of recruits, and other demographics. More

Battlefield Picnics

As many people believed The War Between the States (1861-1865) would be over quickly, its earliest battles were not taken particularly seriously by civilians. Indeed, at the battle of Manassas/Bull Run, on July 21st 1861, a warm Sunday afternoon, a few hundred people, some of them senators and their wives and families, arrived with picnics to spectate from the sidelines. According to sources, they would "stay far enough away you wouldn’t see any blood" and conceded that there was “going to be some casualties but there [was] supposed to be". At around 4pm on the day of the battle, Union generals called a retreat after the Confederates brought in reinforcements. The Union soldiers ran for their lives past a group of senators enjoying late afternoon lunch. One Henry Wilson, who was amongst the gentlemen, had his buggy destroyed by a Confederate shell while he distributed sandwiches and was forced to flee the scene on a stray mule, whilst his companions, sensing defeat, attempted to prevent the soldiers’s escape from the battlefield. Greatly sobered by the Union Army’s defeat, the senators relayed their eye witness accounts to Abraham Lincoln upon their return to Washington with the dawning realisation that the war was going to be no picnic!

Ten U.S. Presidents Who Never Graduated From College

The current President of the United States, Barack Obama, is certainly no slouch in the academic department: he studied political science at Columbia University, majoring in international relations. In 1991 Obama graduated magna cum laude from Harvard Law School.

However, some of the greatest presidents in US history did not set foot in an institute of higher learning, let alone graduate from one. Often, education was simply not an option. Through hard work and sheer determination they managed to rise to the top. And though they may not have been college graduates themselves, they still realized the importance of education.

Medieval Yoda


Long ago, in a kingdom far, far away, a young Jedi knight forsook his lightsaber and speeder bike for a lance and a sturgeon. Erik Krawkkel, a medieval book historian, spotted this image in a Fourteenth Century English devotional text.


Daily Comic Relief

Human News

Human News
Besides helping you to commune with nature, camping can help to reset your sleep cycle! Trace tells us the details of a new study that will send every insomniac heading for the woods.
Despite their overlap in time, ancient Adam and ancient Eve probably didn't even live near each other, let alone mate.
According to one ecologist, parasites might be the most common form of life on Earth. How gross is that? Trace looks at what these little creatures are doing to our bodies, and how they may not be quite as bad as we're led to believe.
Evolutionary biologists debunk the idea that evolution favors the selfish.

You Can Thank The Koch Brothers For The Big, Dirty Cloud Floating Over Detroit

It's Only The Environment After All
by Kiley Kroh
Detroit's pet coke piles
Detroit’s pet coke piles
On Tuesday, Detroit Bulk Storage confirmed that a large black cloud spotted over the Detroit River last weekend and caught on camera by residents across the border in Windsor, was indeed from the petroleum coke piles they have been storing illegally on behalf of Koch Carbon.
Watch the video, courtesy of the Windsor Star:
The petroleum coke is a high-carbon, high-sulfur byproduct of Canadian tar sands that are shipped from Alberta to Detroit to be refined. The uncovered black pile began building up along the river this year and drew outrage from residents of Detroit and nearby Windsor, Ontario as it grew to over three stories high and a block long.
The pet-coke was produced by Marathon Refinery but is owned by Koch Carbon which is controlled by Charles and David Koch — billionaire industrialists and major backers of a host of ultra-conservative efforts, including several aimed at obstructing action on climate change and impeding progress on clean energy.
According to WXYZ-Detroit, “Detroit Bulk Storage has been receiving shipments of the oil by-product and storing them near the Detroit River but a recent investigation by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality says the company broke the law by not getting a permit first.”
The company requested a permit to store the product at a public hearing on Wednesday.
Shortly after the pile appeared, Detroit residents began raising concerns about the potential impacts the growing mountain of tar sands byproduct might be having on their quality of life. According to the Detroit Free Press, “State Department of Environmental Quality regulators and Detroit city officials appeared to be caught flat-footed by the piles, and scrambled this spring to assess whether they harmed nearby air and water quality only after media reports and complaints from residents and local lawmakers.”
Although the DEQ has said the pet-coke “has low toxicity as it sits there in a pile,” citizens and local elected officials have raised serious concerns about the dust invading their air and water supplies and demanded that the long-term effects of the substance be studied.
Detroit resident Serene Arena told the Free Press that thick, black dust began appearing in her apartment this spring. Tests confirmed that the dust contained petroleum coke and “includes the metal vanadium, which is believed to cause cancer in high concentrations and prolonged exposures.”
Last month, protesters blocked the entrance to the dock where the pet-coke was being dumped. Detroiter Andre Glen, who lives in an apartment building nearby, told CBS Detroit that “he and his neighbors have been having respiratory problems due to thick black dust in the air.”
Congressman Gary Peters, whose district includes the waterfront where the pet-coke has been building up, told the Guardian earlier this year, “This is dirtier than the dirtiest fuel.”
In a statement released Tuesday, Peters expressed his outrage at the latest incident and demanded a federal study into the impacts of the product on public health and the environment. “We’ve been told that the pet coke dust issue is being contained, but here is firsthand evidence to the contrary. I am concerned and alarmed about repeated reports of pet coke blowing off the piles and into homes and businesses.”
Last year, the Marathon Refinery underwent a $2 billion expansion to allow for increased processing of Canadian tar sands. And as production expands, the mountain of pet-coke will continue to grow.
Not only does petroleum coke pose a serious risk to nearby air and water supplies, but the product can also be used as a cheaper — and even dirtier — alternative to coal. Since most power plants in the U.S. and Canada won’t burn pet-coke due to the high level of greenhouse gas emissions, the companies often ship the waste product to countries with looser emissions restrictions, such as China and India.
In June, the New York Times reported that a Canadian power plant, owned by Nova Scotia Power, had begun burning the pet-coke from Detroit “because it is cheaper than natural gas.”
The dangers of petroleum coke — both as a waste product gathering in communities and as an extremely dirty energy source — will only be compounded as increasing amounts of Canadian tar sands are brought into the U.S. to be refined. If, for example, the Obama administration approves the controversial Keystone XL pipeline and facilitates the transport of more tar sands into the country, it will exponentially increase the amount of pet-coke building up around the refineries — leaving cities like Detroit wondering what to do with the mess it leaves behind.
It's Not Like We Don't Have Another One

A Nation On Fire

It's Only The Environment After All
Climate Change And The Burning Of America 
by Tom Kenworthy
Dan Oltrogge started fighting wildfires in 1984. By the time he retired from the National Park Service in 2011, he had served as the head of fire and aviation at Grand Canyon National Park, as the commander of one of the nation’s 20 Type One incident management teams that respond to the largest fires, and as one of just four area commanders in the federal incident management system.
Starting around 2000, Oltrogge began experiencing fires of a scale and intensity he never expected to encounter. Fires like the Rodeo-Chediski in Arizona in 2002 — at 467,000 acres, the largest in the state’s history — and 9 years later the Wallow, which surpassed the Rodeo-Chediski and set a new state record of 538,000 acres.
“We never imagined we would be on a fire of a half million acres in the lower 48,” said Oltrogge. “Now they’re becoming commonplace.”
Huge, explosive fires are becoming commonplace, say many experts, because climate change is setting the stage — bringing higher temperatures, widespread drought, earlier snowmelt and spring vegetation growth, and expanded insect and disease infestations.
Scientists and fire experts speaking on a recent conference call organized by the Union of Concerned Scientists say the nation is moving into an era when massive and destructive wildfires of the kind that occurred only sporadically over the last century will now be a regular occurrence. “Within the next few decades we anticipate these [forest] systems being as dry on a regular basis as the major fire years of the last century,” said Anthony Westerling of the University of California, Merced.
“We are now completely certain that there is a climate signal in the observed fire activity,” added Dave Cleaves, climate adviser to the head of the U.S. Forest Service. “Fire, insects, disease and moisture stress are all being linked more closely by climate change.”
Wildfire statistics compiled by the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho, offer sobering confirmation. The seven largest fire years since 1960 have all occurred since 2000. In 2006, 2007, and last year, the toll exceeded 9 million acres, an area roughly equivalent to Maryland and Rhode Island combined.
This year’s fire season, while running behind 2012 in terms of acreage lost thus far, is proving particularly destructive and tragic in some places. A year after the Waldo Canyon fire set a new standard for destructiveness in Colorado by burning nearly 350 homes in 2012, this June the Black Forest Fire destroyed more than 500 just a few miles away. And the June 30 Yarnell Hill fire in Arizona killed 19 members of a Hot Shot firefighting crew when they were overrun by flames, the deadliest wildfire in 80 years.
There is no single reason for the recent transition to more frequent and explosive fires, says Oltrogge. For one, too many people are “deciding to build communities where there will be big scary wildfires.” And there is too much fuel built up in forests where frequent low-intensity fires once thinned out underbrush but where decades of man suppressing natural fires has resulted in overcrowded stands of trees now vulnerable to catastrophic fires. Plus, emphasizes Oltrogge, “I can tell you as a matter of fact that climate change is a key contributor to what we’ve been dealing with the last 10 to 12 years.”
That’s hardly an outlier opinion. In congressional testimony two years ago, Thomas Tidwell, the head of the U.S. Forest Service, told lawmakers that his agency faces conditions of higher temperatures, earlier mountain snowmelt, and much longer fire seasons, which “our scientists believe … is due to a change in climate.”
Tidwell again delivered that message yet again to Congress last month. Large fires in excess of 10,000 acres are seven times more common today than four decades ago, Tidwell said. The fire season is two months longer. In 2012, he said, “over 9.3 million acres burned in the United States. The fires of 2012 were massive in size, with 51 fires exceeding 40,000 acres. Of these large fires, 14 exceeded 100,000 acres.”
And that comes with a huge price tag.
Wildfires-02The cost of federal firefighting efforts, borne largely by the Forest Service and the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management, has also risen dramatically. At the Forest Service, firefighting now often eats up 40 percent of the agency’s annual budget. In a little more than a decade, fire staffing at the Forest Service has more than doubled. During the decade of the 1990s, federal firefighting costs averaged less than $1 billion a year; since 2002, the annual cost has averaged more than $3 billion.
There is little prospect of those costs declining. In fact, a report released last month by Headwaters Economics concluded, “These changes will all contribute to escalating wildfire protection costs for all levels of government.”
Federal efforts to reduce fire risks — through thinning of small trees and underbrush and by setting what are known as ‘prescribed fires’ to cut down on those small fuels that can lead to large catastrophic fires — were accelerated around the year 2000, when spending on what is known as the hazardous fuels reduction program run by the Forest Service and Department of Interior tripled. But spending on fuels reduction since 2011 has declined, and in its budget request this year, the Obama administration has sought a cut of more than 30 percent, the third year in a row it has proposed substantial reductions to Congress. The administration’s request for hazardous fuels reduction for next year is just $297 million.
Wildfire preparedness has taken another hit as a result of automatic budget cuts under sequestration, which cut spending from $500 million last year to $419 million this year. A report released this spring by House Appropriation Committee Democrats found that sequestration would mean the Forest Service would have 500 fewer firefighters this season, and 50-70 fewer fire engines and two fewer aircraft.
Increasingly, lawmakers are calling on the Forest Service and Interior Department to spend more on preventive measures in order to eventually reduce firefighting costs. “You can spend more modest amounts on the front end, with preventive kinds of efforts, or you can spend your time investing substantially more money trying to play catch-up as these infernos rip their way through the West,” said Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) last month.
Even with stronger financial support, the job of treating forests to reduce wildfire is enormous. The federal government is currently treating about 3 million acres a year, but Tidwell, the chief of the Forest Service, told Congress in June that between 65 and 82 million acres of Forest Service lands “are in need of fuels and forest health treatments — up to 42 percent of the entire system.”
Across all federal land holdings, 231 million acres are at moderate to high risk of damage from wildfires, according to a 2011 Congressional Research Service report. “Since many ecosystems need to be treated on a 10-35 year cycle … current treatment rates are insufficient to address the problem,” the report found.
Attacking the escalating expense of fighting fires is a difficult problem.
This is due in large part to the fact that the federal government, which shoulders most of the firefighting expense, has little power to control Americans’ urge to move into the woods because land use decisions are a local and state responsibility.
A key reason that wildfires have become more destructive, and fighting them more expensive, is that millions of Americans have made a conscious decision to move close to wildlands that are susceptible to fire — known by the infelicitous phrase the wildland-urban interface, or WUI.
“The number of housing units within half a mile of a national forest grew from 484,000 in 1940 to 1.8 million in 2000,” Tidwell testified to Congress last month. Another 1.2 million live within national forest boundaries, a nearly four-fold increase from 1940. Even with all that development near and in the forest, only about one-sixth of the WUI is developed, leaving plenty of room to make the situation worse.
Protecting those structures during fires has become the de facto number two priority of federal firefighting efforts, after protecting human life. According to Headwaters Economics’ recent report, “in a survey of [Forest Service] land managers, some estimated that 50 to 95 percent of firefighting costs were attributable to protection of private property.”
Further complicating the matter is the fact that knowing that federal firefighters will make valiant efforts to save homes “removes incentives for landowners moving into the WUI to take responsibility for their own protection and ensure their homes are constructed and landscaped in ways that reduce wildfire risks” according to a report by the Department of Agriculture’s Inspector General.
Ray Rasker, executive director of Headwaters Economics, said in an interview that a huge part of the problem is the fact that “there is no cost accountability for those who build in the WUI,” whether its individual homeowners or the local government bodies who make the development decisions about sewers, police coverage, roads and other issues.
“There are a lot of questions they ask about okaying a new development,” says Rasker. “But they don’t ask, ‘when we get a bill from the feds are we going to be able to afford our share of the firefighting costs?’” That’s because in most cases, they don’t have to share those fire costs. If they did, said Rasker, it would be much easier for local government to say no to development in the WUI.
“Eighty four percent of this land is still not developed,” Rasker says. “If you think it’s expensive now, you’re in for a big surprise. Fires are twice as big, they are burning twice as long. That’s the cost trajectory we are on.”
Climate change is altering the fundamentals in the West, bringing higher temperatures, earlier snowmelt that extends the fire season, severe and prolonged drought, and insect infestations that kill millions of acres of trees. Combined with scant evidence that policymakers at all levels of government are attacking the problems of fuels and population shifts into the WUI, there seems to be little prospect that the growing extent of wildfires will be stemmed.
A paper released last December by the Forest Service, part of the government’s National Climate Assessment, looked at the effects of climate change on U.S. forest ecosystems. On the subject of fire, it presented a stark and sobering conclusion: by mid-century, wildland fires will be burning twice as much acreage as they do now.
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