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Separating Fact From Fiction

Welch’s Haste Betrays Liberal Facade!

You would think that any group with a proven track record back to 1970 of fighting against discrimination and for affordable housing, quality education, and adequate social safety-nets for “…low- to moderate-income people across the United States” would be just the type of organization that our “liberal” congressman Peter Welch would go to the wall for regardless of the baseless attacks leveled at such an organization by the bigoted and racist right-wing of the Republican party? WRONG! ACORN is that organization and Mr. Welch decided to vote “Yes” on an amendment – last September 17th – to the Higher Education Act of 1965, which banned all federal funding to the Washington, DC based association of community organizers. This forced ACORN to end all field operations and close all field offices. This was a proud, vibrant, and relevant group with approximately 500,000 members branching out into foreclosure counseling at a time when minorities and the lower 25th percentile in the country were getting hammered by variable interest mortgages coming home to roost and declining real-estate valuations due to a variety of external and internal forces. They were influential in upping voter registration and turnout amongst minorities during the 2008 election to levels not seen before, which along with their political mobilization efforts were the reason folks like Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh lashed out at them so frequently and with such vitriol.

Mr. Welch has always attempted to evince a genuine and holistic concern for the little guy regardless of color, religion, or political preference. This turns out to be nothing more than window dressing given his stance on ACORN. Why am I coming down so hard on Mr. Welch ex post facto? Well it is quite simple really he acted hastily and did not wait for a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report released June 14th, which vindicated ACORN of misusing the $40.4 million in federal grants it received and election fraud. Furthermore, he wasn’t even one of the 23 signatories to a letter requesting the GAO “…provide information on federal funding provided to ACORN and oversight of the use of this funding.” (Note: Neither Vermont Senators signed this letter either!) I have two questions for Congressman Welch: 1) Why vote before you have all the facts? and 2) Why not signed the aforementioned letter? I wonder what the harm is in having the GAO (Run the ever pragmatic and empirical Republican Douglas W. Elmendorf) do a little gumshoing in an effort to get all the facts in a row. When the facts change we are supposed to change our minds and clearly the facts with respect to ACORN have changed and I would hope that Congressman Welch would change his mind and work to overturn last September’s amendment to the HEA. After all this type of haste when in the hands of congress gives the imprimatur to really well thought out and implemented acts like The Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 (a.k.a., The Bank Bailout) and the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq Resolution of 2002. Two great ideas that have served this country and the world oh so well! Oh yeah and one more thing the moneys ACORN received during fiscal years 2005 to 2009 amount to about 0.3% of The 2008 Bank Bailout, which begs one more question: Don’t Mr. Welch and the rest of congress have anything better to do than bully and subsequently shutdown an organization like ACORN? I thought we wanted the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth! Orwell was right Ignorance Is Strength on Capitol Hill.

Beware Québécoise!

So it appears that Arizona successfully decoupled its laws from those of advanced society when Gov. Jan Brewer (R) signed into Law SB 1070 last Friday whose “…aim is to identify, prosecute and deport illegal immigrants.” The criteria police officers will use rely on something the law calls “reasonable suspicion”, which is about as big an umbrella category is you will find anywhere. Anyone with dark skin (THAT MEANS YOU JOHN BOEHNER!) will be forced to carry with them wherever they go documentation speaking to the validity of their residence in the United States. I find it amazing that the very same folks that pushed this bill out of one side of their mouth are on the other side accusing Barack Obama of being a Fascist. This DoubleSpeak is right out of George Orwell’s opus “Nineteen Eighty-Four” and is the type of rhetoric that has slowly but steadily been percolating up from right-wing hate groups since President Obama’s election. It is even creeping – overtly and covertly – into national politics with Pat Bertroche (R) vying for the 3rd District Congressional primary seat in Iowa noting that “I actually support microchipping them. I can microchip my dog so I can find it. Why can’t I microchip an illegal?” That’s very True Pat why don’t we just make a minor incision in everyone with dark skin, implant a microchip, and send them on their merry way. That makes complete sense and it doesn’t sound prima facie like it violates anyone’s human rights!

This uptick dovetails into The Southern Poverty Law Center’s documentation of mushrooming phenomena in their latest report “Rage on the Right”, which quantified a 244% increase in the number of “Patriot’ groups, from 149 in 2008 to 512 in 2009. This came at the same time as racist hate groups rose from an all-time high of 926 to 932 in 2009 and “nativist extremist” groups – vigilante organizations that go beyond advocating strict immigration policy and actually confront or harass suspected immigrants – grew from 173 to 309 (+80%) between 2008 and 2009.

This type of trend does not speak well for border states writ large. If Vermonters think that this type of sentiment will not rear its ugly head here with respect to Canadians in general and Québécoise specifically we’re fooling ourselves. The recent legal battle between the Rainsville’s of Franklin County and The Department of Homeland Security is in my opinion the opening salvo in a nascent fortification and potentially militarization of our border with Québéc. Janet Napolitano & Co. feel it is imperative that we fortify a crossing that experiences 2.5 cars an hour or 21,900 per year. If you consider that the monies allotted to this project amount to $5 million that averages out to $228 per car or with respect to the Rainville’s about 4.9 acres we’re talking about $1.02 million per acre. Either way you cut it I am sure Governor Douglas or his successor could find markedly more important things to do with this “stimulus”. For anyone interested in reading more about the Rainville matter I would refer you to Secretary Napolitano’s letter to Senator Leahy on March 10 of this year.

Needless to say we are seeing a growing sense of paranoia and misguided attempts at securing 1,969 miles (3,169 km) of Mexican- and 5,525 miles (8,891 km) of Canada-US borderland. We should work hard here in Vermont to insure that the 90 mile border we share with Québéc never even faintly resembles what those in Arizona are trying to construct. After all it is not immigrants, illegal or otherwise, forcing US-based multinationals to outsource thousands of jobs under the guise of globalized capitalism. How about a little more job protectionism and a little less racism cloaked in pseudo-patriotism.

The True Cost of Coal!

Clean Energy, Clean Coal, Foreign Oil, Middle East Instability, blah blah blah blah blah.

The 2 graphs presented here derived from the US Mine Health & Safety Administration show the true cost of coal. Since data was first recorded back in the 1930s we have lost at least (ie Average Annual Derivation) 420,960 men due to coal mine fatalities and 25,633, 151 have been injured. As to the severity of the latter I wasn’t able to get my hands on how many resulted in men that were Functionally Dead. With more and more union busting and people like Don Blankenship the owner of Massey Energy the company that oversaw the Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia making no bones about his distaste and most likely hatred of unions fatalities will rise in my opinion. Yes mechanization and strip-mining has resulted in a decline in fatalities but there has been - in recent years - an increase in large and broadly fatal “accidents”. The Upper Big Branch was a non-union mine thanks to Mr. Blankenship’s machinations. I am not promoting across-the-board unionization but I am worried that erosion of unions where their presence is required may prove economically costly to miners and in the worst case scenario Upper Big Branch Reduxes throughout Appalachia. There may be clean ways to burn coal but it’s extraction is dirty on so many levels not least of which is the fact that it robs communities of their fathers, brothers, uncles, little league coaches, and more importantly their collective spirit. West Virginians and coal mining communities writ large consist of proud, determined, stubborn, and resourceful people. However, the Paradox of Plenty (ie, The Resource Curse) caught them off-guard with the speculative and nefarious vultures swooping in to promise riches that have yet to be delivered. We need to stop stigmatizing these communities and start infusing them with capital aimed at a more diversified economic portfolio. I have been to these communities and they are desperate to decouple themselves from Carbonaceous Robber Barons like Don Blankenship.

Enjoy the data I think the figures speak for themselves.

Average Annual Deaths and Injuries:

annualmining

Average Cumulative Deaths and Injuries:

cumulativemining

Conservation Dept. under siege

In deciding quite forcefully that she would close the Waterbury environmental laboratory, the Department of Environmental Conservation’s commissioner Laura Pelosi demonstrated that her concern for both the environment and conservation runs only skin deep. This type of move is indicative a philosophy first forwarded by William Kristol and Karl Rove, which is to say when the chips are down, pick on the defenseless or eliminate them entirely. Privatization of the science underlying efforts to monitor our lakes, rivers and streams is analogous to moves by the Bush administration to privatize the military in its entirety for the profit of a select few. That worked and continues to work really well, doesn’t it?

Well, don’t be under any illusions that Ms. Pelosi’s and, by extension, Douglas’ vision will do any better. We must be very careful when we entrust the private sector to interpret and present us with data. This type of effort borders dangerously on Andrew Jackson’s “spoils system” in which cronyism is openly embraced and deemed the best option. As you would probably imagine, the health of our natural resources is not something that exactly dovetails with the bottom-line concerns of private industry, no matter how altruistic they may pretend to be.

Won’t everyone have to make sacrifices in the immediate future to stem the tide of this recession? Of course, and no one is saying otherwise, including those at the DEC who suggested Ms. Pelosi trim employee hours or, heaven forbid, really try to get creative about this problem. Here’s the rub. We have a lake that we share with New York and Quebec that teeters every summer on becoming eutrophic due to urban and agricultural runoff. Algal blooms have been low in the last two years, but there is no reason to believe that we can count on this trend to continue, and if Ms. Pelosi gets her way we won’t have any data to prove or disprove the myriad hypotheses floating around Vermont, New York and Quebec. What about those icy days when large trucks slip and slide only to overturn their load in some unsuspecting wetland? What will we do then? Send samples off to where? The fact is that Ms. Pelosi wants to close shop on the environmental laboratory now only to reopen a similar incarnation in five to six years when the economy miraculously springs back to life! However, in doing her calculations I would imagine Ms. Pelosi, et. al., didn’t take into account the money that will be needed to train new technicians, equipment, etc. This would not be, in the popular vernacular of the present, a “shovel-ready” project. So, why take that shovel and throw dirt on an already existing and invaluable resource?

The University of Vermont recently outsourced much of its soil testing laboratory and, given our status as an agricultural state, such actions along with the one proposed by Ms. Pelosi reflect poorly on us as a state and Gov. Douglas’ completely apathetic and disillusioned administration. This is an example of Montpelier neither leading nor following; rather, they and Mr. Douglas specifically are all too comfortable to get in the way of progress, and now, it turns out, science. I say bring on vox populi! Bring on Anthony Pollina ASAP!

Job Creation, Energy, and Appalachia’s Long-Term Health

There is a bipartisan notion perpetuated by industry and many politicians – specifically those so utterly disconnected from their home states/districts true needs – that natural resource exploitation and large agricultural infrastructure is the key to job creation. Just a little hint before moving further if you hear this rhetoric spewing from a politician’s mouth inquire as to their primary donors. Anyway this is one of the biggest if not the biggest lies being sold the American public today and the data buttresses my argument quite robustly. Here it is in black and white when production increases whether it be in the coalmines of West Virginia or cornfields of Iowa what happens is a massive shift towards mechanization, with larger and larger combines or draglines, or Komatsu front-loaders.
coal-corn-jobs
The latter able to move tons of earth or overburden allowing relatively uninhibited access to the coal seam, which by the way are increasingly smaller and smaller requiring less laborious methods or more dangerous exploration of deeper seams. This is evidenced in the exponential growth in surface mining throughout the US a method that requires markedly less labor then its underground alternative. Thus, if you look at the debate in simple output:input ratio terms, with # employed as the input, you will see an inverse relationship developing quite rapidly in recent times, which is to say that large multi-nationals like Massey Energy were extracting 5,087,150.3 short tons per thousand works in 1985 and managed to nearly triple this ratio (~290.2%) to 14,762,463.5 short tons per thousand works. Keep in mind the fact that total coal extraction in the US has only increased by 129.6% since 1985.

coal-per-production

How you ask would one go about counteracting this 160% profit disparity? Well you can start by purchasing larger and large equipment, vast swaths of land, breaking the systemic will of the UMW of America, and insuring that crimes against labor like the recent tragedies in Utah and West Virginia go virtually unpunished. If you own the hearts and minds of people like the governor of West Virginia, Senators Byrd and Rockefeller and McConnell, and the supreme courts of many coal producing states you don’t need carrots and frankly you don’t really have much need for sticks either.
If you buy that the above ratio is a valid measure of workplace efficiency and by association a primary driver behind the decline in jobs related to natural resource exploitation and agricultural production then let’s apply it to the farm sector specifically corn to see if it still holds up. The answer is as you could probably guess by my tone is that it does indeed and is slightly more robust in this instance. It turns out that if you look at data associated with corn production in the US at five year intervals since 1910 you will see that that the total number of farms and workers are currently 66.1 and 78.2% of what they were at the turn of the century, while production and output:input have increased by 347.6 and 1,595.4%, respectively.

corn-per-production

This suggests that one of two things is occurring, either we are getting better at how we manage our agricultural lands vis à vis chemical fertilizers, pesticides, etc and crop-rotation or our current farmers are on steroids, which I am not ruling out but would hope is not the case.
This is a marked increase in “efficiency” by any standard begging the question: Why not get more from less? The answer is of course that there is no surficially viable reason, but more to the point portending that more coal mining brings more jobs when you know the exact opposite to be true is quite the bait and switch wouldn’t you say?
It is true that neither underground nor surface mining is great but it is underground mining, while extremely dangerous and liable to create vast stability problems down the road, that has traditionally been the engine employing much of Appalachia. This method imbued a greater sense of community and unification that was/is anathema to the coal companies and their strike breakers so vividly depicted in “Harlan County KY”. Much of the debate around “clean coal”, which if you ask anyone from Appalachia is a complete whitewashing, centers around jobs as does the research and production of biofuels and it is true that if done right these industries do create jobs. The fact is that since 1949 when much of the high grade anthracite-type coal was still available surface-mining accounted for 25.3% of all mined coal in the US whereas today it accounts for nearly 70% or 794,263,579 short tons. Furthermore, anthracite coal extraction has declined from 8.9 to 0.14% of all coal extracted in the US during the same period, with a parallel decline in jobs from a high 1,737,000 miners in 1985 to 776,000 in 2007.
So, what we have are two lies being pushed down the throats of Appalachia and America writ large: 1) exploitation of our mountains and arable lands is a perpetual large-scale benefit to the job market and 2) that clean coal and biofuels will benefit the environment, Appalachia, and industry. According to Judy Bond of Coal River Mountain Watch “Even if you could get rose petals to come out of the smokestacks, coal is filthy and will never be clean as long as mountains and communities are blasted and streams and communities are poisoned…The entire cycle of coal must be examined. We in Appalachia are blasted by over 3 1/2 million pounds of explosives daily and are similar to a “banana republic”. The coal industry is allowed to simply kill us slowly with toxic waste.” So, in plain English folks the only ones benefitting are John D. Rockefeller, WV Supreme Court Justice Brent D. Benjamin, and the pious head of Massey Energy Corporation Don L. Blankenship.

The farmer’s market and you

Recently a posting was sent out on the Front Porch Forum regarding the city and more specifically the Parks and Recreation Department’s fiscal bullying tactics relative to the Burlington Farmers Market and proposed 450 percent increase in rent for the former this coming summer.

Chris Wagner the farmers market manager, said, there are 58 summer residents of the market, which means we would essentially be raising their rent, assuming equal contributions, from $62 a summer to $286.90, which while not an end of the world increase is by no means trivial. This is akin to raising taxes on Church Street so that only large entities like Old Navy, Urban Outfitters and Starbucks can afford to display their products.

I know, I know, Ron Redmond and the City Council have already done that so why not rake these farmers and craftspeople over the same type of coals? The answer is that the farmers market represents community, social equity and local values, while the borderline multinational purveyors of goods on Church Street do not, and in many instances are overtly and more likely covertly set on destroying the fabric of the communities they invade.

I would argue that Church Street in most respects no longer reflects the community or state upon which it derives its “charm,” while the farmers market is all things Burlington and all things Vermont. It is a place locals and tourists can intermingle, but more importantly it is a place where our friends and neighbors in the agricultural and crafts sector are the true stars getting to strut their stuff and making a decent, but by no means extravagant, living. The fact that the City Council, Parks and Recreation Department and mayor would jeopardize the aspirations of this venture is quite disturbing not simply because it betrays their message of community but because it smacks of hypocrisy of the highest order.

Oh yeah, and by the way, who decided that the city has the right to charge for this space?

That we do everything we can in this city to accommodate the Church Street Marketplace as it moves steadily away from its community obligation, while something that is entirely communal and has aspirations of becoming even more so is being threatened strikes me as subterfuge and not becoming of those in City Hall or those at Parks and Recreation. I would note that such a raise in rent seems worthy of a citywide referendum, public hearing or town hall style meeting, or all of the above.