Friday, October 29, 2010

Criminal Negligence & Reckless Endangerment

Investigators into the BP blowout in the Gulf of Mexico have uncovered evidence that BP and Halliburton, the company that poured the cement for the well, had knowledge that the cement mixture was unstable. In three of four tests performed by Halliburton on the mixture, it failed. Neither company appeared to have any concerns at the time that these failures might cause problems. Of course, both are now pointing the finger at each other.

Three failures out of four tests. A 75 percent failure rate and both of these corporations decided to risk it. No reasonable individual would dare think of using a product that failed three-quarters of the time. In a situation such as underwater drilling one would think that there would be a need for certainty rather than an expectation of failure.

Gambling that something that has failed 75 percent of the time will work flawlessly defies logic. The legal terms for what happened here are criminal negligence and reckless endangerment. Negligence may be too mild a term for completely ignoring evidence that a system is likely to fail. The workers were more than endangered, eleven of them died.

It is easy to see why Halliburton and BP are pointing their fingers at each other - when reckless endangerment leads to death the charges are manslaughter or murder. Too strong? What do you think would be the result of an individual putting workers on a scaffolding working at their house that collapsed? What do you think would happen in this case if it were shown the homeowner knew the scaffolding was substandard and likely to collapse? The answer is clear. That individual would be prosecuted.

When will corporations be held to the same standards as individuals? Do they only get to claim personhood when they are dumping unlimited cash into elections?

** Halliburton's history of cutting costs at the expense of safety is well documented. Recall that it was Halliburton that managed to electrocute soldiers by cross wiring electrical services into plumbing at bases in Iraq.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Nagoya: Important & Unnoticed

One hundred ninety three (193) nations began meeting today in Nagoya, Japan to address the issue of biodiversity. Following up on the 1992 Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) negotiated in Rio de Janeiro at the Earth Summit, the task before the attendees is enormous. The goals outlined in the 1992 Convention have remained largely unmet with continued deforestation and an accelerated loss of species. Biodiversity as an issue is largely ignored by the public and political figures. The United States remains one of the few countries that has failed to ratify the 1992 agreement.

Little attention has been given to this meeting. Hopes that the world had begun to recognize the necessity of action to address major environmental concerns appear to have been premature. Last years climate conference in Copenhagen ended without any agreement and momentum seems lost.

As I satirized in my novel, The Dirt People (2007, Blue Throat Press), governmental inaction is largely the by-product of a lack of political will and corporate manipulation (through both lobbying and propaganda). This "fiddling as Rome burns," lack of effort to deal with our environmental problems is often couched in economic terms. The costs of green energy are amplified, the effects of clean ups are exaggerated and the benefits of sustainability are minimized. Meanwhile, phthalates (see yesterday's post) and other toxic chemicals are ubiquitous in our environment, mining disasters continue to occur, oil platforms continue to explode and that giant mass of plastic goo continues to grow in the Pacific.

The lack of effort on a worldwide level to address our expanding environmental destruction is alarming. As China and other nations continue to develop and consume, attempting to emulate the Western world in its consumption and attendant destruction, the future is imperiled. Concern for the wealth of transnational corporations seems to be more important to politicians than the health of the planet and its citizens.

Why is this not the lead story in the news? Why is the environment not the major issue of every election? Why is it that I expect it to get worse?

Only when the last tree has died, when the last river has been poisoned, and the last fish has been caught, only then will you realize that you can't eat money. -Cree saying

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Phthalates: The Problem With Plastic

It is becoming increasingly clear that modern life is a health risk. All around, we are surrounded by untested chemicals that have the potential to alter our lives. Reuters News, in a special report by Pete Harrison, has noted that phthalates, the chemicals that make plastic pliable, are particularly suspect as regards health concerns, especially in the case of impaired fertility and reproductive development.

Phthalates are used in a wide variety of products. Just about anything synthetic that needs to be flexible contain the chemicals. Many of these materials are used to make containers for food and likely have entered the bloodstreams of most people alive today. The European Chemicals Agency (ECHA)has listed four phthalates among its list of 38 chemicals classified as "substances of very high concern," (Harrison, 2010 at The four listed phthalates,of course, seem to be those most commonly used.

Phthalates are not our only problem. In addition to the chemicals identified by the ECHA, Greenpeace has assembled a list of 356 suspect chemicals while the European Trade Union Confederation has 334 substances it believes should also be banned. Most of these suspect chemicals serve as building blocks for the materials of modern life.

Are the conveniences of modern life worth our lives?

Monday, October 18, 2010

Freedom of the Press Apparently NOT a Tea Party Value

Joe Miller, the Tea Party candidate for Senate in Alaska, apparently is no fan of the freedom of the press. After refusing to answer questions about his private life on numerous occasions, Miller has seemed surprised that reporters continue to ask him questions. He appears has found a solution to those pesky reporters - he has them "arrested."

According to various news sources, Miller's private security forces detained a reporter for the Alaska Dispatch named Tony Hopfinger. Miller was speaking at a public school in Alaska when Hopfinger repeatedly questioned him. Miller's security guards informed Hopfinger that he was trespassing (an interesting concept at a public place)and then proceeded to "arrest" him by putting handcuffs on him. You will note that I have put arrest in quotes because I am not aware of any authority for private individuals to detain a reporter. Illegal detention of a person is called kidnapping, not arrest. The validity, or lack thereof, of this detainment is best illustrated by the fact that the Anchorage Police let Hopfinger go when they arrived.

It is interesting that a number of the Tea Party candidates have refused to speak to the press. Sharron Angle famously ran from reporters at her own press conference and Rand Paul and Christine O'Donnell seem to speak only to Fox News.

Pay attention - those trumpeting their dedication to freedom and liberty appear to have little respect for these values in practice. I still don't know what the Tea Party is for, but I'm starting to figure out what they are against.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Good News About the Economy

Finally, some good news about the economy. Well, actually it's not good news about the economy, it's good news because of the economy. On Sunday, October 10th, in an article by Matthew Wald, entitled "Sluggish Economy Curtails Prospects for Building Nuclear Reactors," that appeared in The New York Times, it was reported that the recession and continued economic fears have driven efforts to build nuclear plants to a halt.

The fight over nuclear power has waxed and waned for decades. Every so often an accident occurs and the true costs of nuclear power becomes evident. After Chernobyl and Three Mile Island it appeared for a brief period of time that the world was beginning to understand that the dangers associated with nuclear reactors may be more than we can handle. Problems of storage of nuclear waste and its by-products are an ongoing difficulty that plague all nuclear facilities. Occasionally local communities become attuned to this issue when a storage facility is proposed in their backyards.

When the problems associated with nuclear energy are shoved into our consciousness, it is easy to see the folly that is nuclear power. However, as soon as the price of oil starts to rise and society is confronted with the true costs of its consumption, nuclear power advocates begin trumpeting it as a solution. This occurs despite the fact that no nuclear power plant has ever produced any cost efficient energy. The costs of construction and storage of waste make subsidies necessary to even pursue this course of action.

Costs aside, the most ludicrous claim is that nuclear energy is safe. Compared to what? Yes, oil wells explode and miners get trapped underground, but these industries don't have a monopoly on accidents. The nature of all human endeavors is that mistakes occur and accidents happen. Unfortunately, for nuclear energy to be safe there needs to be perfect safety. Even if one ignores the possibility of deliberate acts of sabotage or terrorism, it will never happen that nuclear energy can be fail safe. It is human arrogance and hubris that suggests otherwise.

Look at the damage done by the BP disaster. Drilling for oil is simple compared to harnessing the power of the atom. Think oil is difficult to clean up, try plutonium - it has a half-life of forever.

Rescue in Chile Under Way

The rescue of the 33 miners in Chile has begun. As of just a few moments ago, 12 of the miners had already been removed from the mine. The ongoing operation appears to be going well. The rescue and survival has been a heart-warming - a mining disaster that has turned into a triumphant story.

Little attention has been paid to the circumstances that led to this near tragedy. The positive outcome will likely become the focus of the story. However, at the heart of this matter is our addiction to cheap energy. Mining disasters are far too frequent and often do not have such an upbeat ending (look for future features about mining disasters on this site).

Averted tragedy must not be used as an excuse to ignore the very real human costs of our addiction. Yes, this disaster seems to have turned out well, but every years, scores of miners die and, through pollution, coal indirectly contributes to the deaths of countless people around the world. In addition to the human costs, there are the environmental costs. Cheap energy is not cheap, it is exploitative.

Everyone wants cheap energy, but at what costs?

Monday, October 11, 2010

Genocide Day

Officially it is Columbus Day. While I like having a day off as much as anyone, having a holiday to celebrate Columbus is like having a holiday to celebrate heart disease. Columbus didn't discover America - he invaded it.

Is there any other place in the world where there is a national holiday to celebrate such a completely incompetent and horrific person? Columbus, who "discovered" a land populated with millions of human beings, must have been the worst sailor in the world. He called the native population "Indians" because he thought he was in India. This despite the fact that there is abundant proof that North America was already known to Europeans at the time.

But it is not Columbus' ignorance of geography for which he should be condemned. It is his behavior. His men hunted native peoples for sport and as food for their dogs (Loewen, 1996). In his own hand he wrote letters to his brother Bartholomew bragging about the price he could get for children in the sex slave trade (Loewen, 1996). Directly and indirectly his actions led to the deaths of an estimated 100 million people (Churchill, 1994).

Columbus is no hero. Honoring such a person is an insult to decency. Let us recognize that in having a day for Columbus the nation is choosing to both celebrate a lie (that Columbus discovered America) and engaging in a purposeful cover-up of his actions.

Churchill, W. (1994). Indians are us. Common Courage Press.

Loewen, J. W. (1996). Lies my teacher told me. Touchstone Publishing.

Sold to the Highest Bidder

As we approach the mid-term elections an unseen force begins to exert undue influence over our political process. This force, money, is not new to the political process nor is it new to undue influence over said process. However, what is now new is that moneyed interests now have a legal right to attempt to buy the outcome. Legal precedent established in Citizens United vs. Federal Elections Commission case now make it lawful for corporations to put as much money as they desire into elections. Unlike individuals, corporations are able to donate as much as they would like and can even directly air advertising.

The Citizen's United ruling hinges on an even greater misrepresentation from the 1886 ruling in Santa Clara County vs. Southern Pacific Railroad, in which corporations were granted personhood (see link elsewhere on this page for a review of the court case). As is commonly known, the case did not actually rule on that issue, but rather the clerk scribbled it after the fact on the document.

Of course it defies logic that corporations are people, but what defies logic even more is the ruling in Citizen's United that removes limits on political spending by corporations. Logically it would seem to follow that if limits can be placed on individuals who are actual people, then limits could also be imposed on corporations, which as people are legal fictions.

Beyond this egregious idea that corporations are people with the rights of individuals, is the other idea to emerge from the Citizen's United ruling that these groups can give money without identifying the source.

On Sunday, speaking on Face the Nation, presidential advisor David Axelrod stated that foreign corporations are involved in donating money through Republican groups to influence the election. The Democrats apparently are even rolling out an ad campaign around this idea.

"Foul!" cry the Republicans, "you can't prove it." Well obviously not. It is impossible to prove who anonymous donors are. That is completely the point. As long as donors are able to remain anonymous it will be impossible to know who is trying to buy our democracy. What is really strange is that the holier-than-thou Tea Party seems completely silent about this matter. Could it be that they are using this to their advantage? Witness Art Robinson, global warming denier and Oregon congressional candidate. Mysteriously, ads critical of Robinson's opponent have appeared allegedly without his knowledge as to the source of funding.

Back to the issue of foreign money. To think that corporations are giving money and there is no foreign involvement strains credibility as to how corporations are organized. Corporations, those large enough to give money on the scale that influences elections, are rarely single nation entities. Transnational corporations are the norm rather than the exception. Many of these global behemoths have financial resources greater than most nations, yet are treated as if they are individual American citizens. Is there anyone who believes that these entities are above trying to influence an election, or for that matter, all elections?

Without limits on corporate spending and without disclosure laws there is absolutely nothing to prevent foreign entities, corporate or state, from clandestinely providing resources in an attempt to buy a government. Our representatives are already beholden enough to moneyed interests. Without disclosure and limits, the government is up for auction.

Follow the money. Notice who defends this state of affairs that would allow for the unlimited flow of dollars from foreign companies, governments and individuals to influence U.S. elections. Will Exxon, China and Bin Laden decide who we elect next?

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Nine Years

Today, October 7th, 2010, marked the ninth anniversary of United States entry into the quagmire of Afghanistan. According to PBS News, 1321 U.S. soldiers have died to date in the conflict. So far, all that seems to have been accomplished is that the war has spilled over into Pakistan.

Also, today, it was reported that Sgt. First Class Lance Vogeler was killed during his 12th deployment.

The Sleeper Has Awaken

For the past two months this blog has been inactive. Several factors, mostly too mundane to mention, contributed to this. However, the primary factor was that the BP disaster in the Gulf has led me to rethink the nature of this site.

As you may have noticed, the subtitle has changed to "A Chronicle of the Destruction of ...". The BP spill became a slow motion disaster that eventually numbed the public with its never ending pattern of incompetence. Now that its over, people are clamoring for more off shore drilling. It seems we will never learn.

The continuing destruction of the planet as evidenced by the toxic spill in Hungary, the continued ongoing disaster of oil spills/leaks/seeps (you name it) in Nigeria, and ongoing nuclear proliferation does not bode well for the future.

While it is true that the weather is not the same as climate, it is hard not to note that it was 113 degrees in Los Angeles last week, that wildfires in Russia burned around Chernobyl and floods in Pakistan displaced millions. Meanwhile, California is on the verge of having environmental reforms gutted by a ballot initiative funded primarily by oil companies.

It is the link between the destruction of the environment and corporate greed that will become the focus of this site as it slowly updates over the next several months. Several features will change and some will be eliminated. Others, such as lists of the worst oil spills, nuclear accidents, etc. will become regular fixtures.

British Petroleum Gulf Oil Spill Costs

  • 11 workers killed in initial blast
  • Damage to Ocean Ecosystem
  • 35,000 to 60.000 Barrels of Oil Per Day. That's somewhere between 1,500,000 to 2,500,000 gallons a day or 150 to 300 million gallons already spilled into the ocean as of July 27th by that estimate.
  • Gulf Fisheries Industry
  • Gulf Tourism (ongoing costs)
  • Long Term Health Effects to Humans and Wildlife (to be determined)

Worst Oil Spills

  • Kuwait 1991 - 520 million gallons: Gulf War I
  • Gulf of Mexico 2010 - 206 million gallons: BP Oil
  • Mexico, Bay of Campiche 1979 - 140 million gallons: Pemex Oil
  • Trinidad & Tobago 1979 - 90 million gallons: Greek Oil Tanker Atlantic Empress
  • Russia 1983 - 84 million gallons: Leaky Pipeline collapsed into Kolva River
  • Iran 1983 - 80 million gallons: Tanker collided with Oil Platform
  • South Africa 1983 -79 million gallons:Tanker Castillo de Bellver sank
  • France 1978 - 69 million Gallons: Amoco Cadiz ran aground and broke in half.
  • Angola Coastal Waters (700 miles at sea) 1991 - 51-81 million gallons: ABT Summer exploded at sea.
  • Italy 1991 - 45 million gallons: M/T Haven Oil Tanker exploded.
  • Source: Mother Nature Network. The 13 largest oil spills in history. by Laura Moss. Friday July 16, 2010.

Nuclear Accidents (Under Construction)

  • 1957 Windscale, UK
  • 1961 Idaho Falls, Idaho, US
  • 1979 Three Mile Island, Pennsylvania, US
  • 1984 Athens, Alabama, US
  • 1985 Athens, Alabama, US
  • 1986 Plymouth, Masachusetts, US
  • 1986 Chernobyl, Ukraine, USSR
  • 1996 Waterford, Connecticut, US
  • 1989 Griefwald, Germany
  • 1999 Ibaraki Prefecture, Japan
  • 2002 Oak Harbor, Ohio, US
  • 2004 Fukui Prefecture, Japan
  • Source: Benjamin Sovacool

Mining Disasters (Under Construction)

  • China 1942 - 1549 deaths
  • France 1906 - 1100 deaths
  • Japan 1963 - 447 deaths
  • Wales 1913 - 438 deaths
  • South Africa 1960 - 437 deaths
  • Source: Epic Disasters Website
  • Note: Do not look at the dates herein and conclue that mining disasters are a things of the past. Every year thousands of miners die worldwide in largely unreported accidents.

OIL IS OVER! - Resources

  • Hibbert's Peak - "The" source that explains why Oil is Over.
  • Tragedy of the Commons -Garrett Hardin
  • The Land Ethic - Aldo Leopold
  • Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight - Thom Hartmann
  • Eco-Defense: A Field Guide to Monkeywrenching


  • The Dirt People - Ray Bawarchi (yes, that's me)
  • The Razor's Edge - Somerset Maugham
  • Demian - Herman Hesse
  • Black Elk Speaks - Black Elk (as told to R. Neimur)
  • The Quiet Don - Mikhail Sholokov
  • Catcher in the Rye - J.D. Salinger
  • Catch-22 - Joseph Heller
  • 1984 - George Orwell
  • Delicious Laughter - Jallahudin Rumi
  • The Sybil - Par Lagerksvitz
  • The Fixer - Bernard Malamud
  • Spirits Rebellious - Khalil Gibran
  • The Quiet American - Graham Greene
  • Midaq Alley - Nagib Mafouz
  • Cat's Cradle - Kurt Vonnegut
  • Slaughterhouse 5 - Kurt Vonnegut
  • Farenheit 451- Ray Bradbury
  • We - Yevgeny Zamyatin


  • John Coltrane - St. John the Divine
  • Patti Smith
  • The Clash - the only band that matters
  • Billy Bragg
  • Yo Mama's Big Fat Booty Band
  • Art Blakey
  • Death - pre-punk visionaries from Detroit
  • PJ Harvey - Polly Jean, Polly Jean
  • Woody Guthrie
  • Michael Franti (Spearhead)
  • Public Enemy
  • Ray Charles - the Genius
  • Bob Dylan
  • Velvet Underground
  • Flaming Lips
  • John Doe & X
  • The Beatles

opiate of the masses

  • God is a comedian, playing to an audience too afraid to laugh. - Voltaire
  • I do not feel obliged to believe that the same god who has endowed us with sense, reason and inellect has intended us to forgo their use. - Galileo Galilei
  • The ink of a scholar is worth far more than the blood of a martyr.- Mohammad
  • If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him. - Sheldon Kopp
  • No one will be free until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest. - Louisa Mae Alcott
  • When it is a question of money, everyone is of the same religion.- Voltaire
  • If God were alive today, he'd be an athiest. - Kurt Vonnegut
  • The god I worship is not short of cash, Mister. - Bono
  • Jesus died for somebody's sins, but not mine. My sins they only belong to me. - Patti Smith
  • God sure baked a lot of fruitcake baby, when Adam met the Eden lady. - Joe Strummer