The Associated Press reported last week that we are faced with a glut of natural gas in the United States at the moment, the result of increased production generated by fracking, along with decreased demand at the end of a winter of record warm temperatures. Natural gas prices are at a 10-year low. This should be good for consumers, right? Not quite. As a result of the price collapse, the profit-driven oil and gas industry is cutting back on production at existing wells, slowing down the pace of new exploration, and diverting some of its natural gas drilling efforts toward higher priced oil. Wait a minute. What about all that public relations talk regarding “energy independence” and allowing Americans to free themselves from expensive foreign energy? The answer is that the oil and gas industry’s only interest is in making money, and they can only make money when fuel prices remain painfully high in the world markets. The oil and gas industry has no interest in bringing down consumer prices. Are they to be confused with patriots of some sort?
Ignoring the very significant and real costs of drilling in sensitive environmental areas, industry lobbyists and the “Drill, Baby, Drill” politicians with hands in their pockets continue to insist that we must open the Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge, along with offshore sites that are important to both our fisheries and tourism, to new drilling. If they have their way, the maximum exploitation of these public resources will still have a negligible effect upon the energy costs for American consumers. Profitability is contingent upon high prices, and as long as profit-driven producers have control of the faucet, world markets and speculators will insure that prices are maintained at the highest tolerable levels.
What if we reduce demand? Fuel efficiency is a myth. As long as we maintain our dependence upon fossil fuel, there is no way that gradually implemented fuel conservation measures can have a long-term impact upon prices in a world market, when demand is skyrocketing elsewhere. If an American driver trades in a motor vehicle getting 20 miles per gallon when fuel costs are $3.00 per gallon for a new vehicle getting 30 miles per gallon when fuel costs rise to $4.50 per gallon, that driver is still paying 15¢ per mile and is literally spinning his wheels. Other than the dubious impact upon the overall economy from the production and sale of new vehicles, that driver is in no better position to put food on his table or to pay down the principal on his mortgage. We are being played like fish at the end of the line.
The only way out of this situation is a rapid migration from internal combustion engines and fossil fuels to renewable energy, a process that would also provide the stimulus that our national economy so desperately needs. We cannot obtain energy independence by sipping instead of gulping, while maintaining a position as pawns in the status quo. A revolutionary change is needed in order to break free. Sometimes revolution can be a very good thing.
One of the most essential ingredients in life is clean water for drinking, cooking and hygiene. We in the United States do not quite recognize the importance of clean water because we have grown to accept that water contamination is “somebody else’s problem”. That is unfortunate because, according to UNICEF, water contamination leads to 1.8 million deaths per year from diarrhea alone, and 90% of those deaths involve innocent children under the age of 5. In fact, according to the World Health Organization, those deaths represents 15% of all deaths for children under the age of 5. Additional water-related deaths are the result of Cholera, Arsenicosis, Fluorosis, Guinea worm disease, Schistosomiasis, Malaria, Trachoma, and Typhoid Fever. Worldwide, there are 1.1 billion people who do not have access to either clean water or an adequate water supply. The resulting illnesses and deaths or not only the result of bacteriological contamination, but also the result of excessive amounts of toxic compounds, in many cases occurring naturally. Those compounds include arsenic (the cause of Arsenicosis), fluoride (the cause of Fluorosis), and selenium (World Health Organization). Clearly, water that contains any chemical compounds other than two molecules of hydrogen and one molecule of oxygen is less than ideal.
There are many causes of man-made water contamination. These include industrial processes, mining, agricultural runoff, and the inadequate treatment of sewage. In most instances, the process involves businesses or individuals who are either earning tremendous amounts of money by exploiting a local environment or who are avoiding the expenditure of the funds necessary to insure environmental protection where it is directly related to their practices. In many instances, the same practices involve some very significant unproven risks where common sense would dictate the exercise of extreme caution. By far, one of the greatest risks to water supplies today is the practice known as hydraulic fracturing, more commonly known as hydrofracking or simply fracking.
Fracking Is Not Your Friend
Fracking is the process of pumping highly pressurized fluids into wells in order to fracture rock with the intent of releasing natural gas. Fracking is not new. In fact, it has a 60-year history that includes an attempt at releasing natural gas in Rulison, Colorado back in 1969 that involved the detonation of a 40-megaton atomic bomb that was successful in releasing natural gas but contaminated the gas that was released with radioactive isotopes. As you will see, anything goes when there are millions of dollars involved.
Today, fracking wells are typically drilled to depths of 1 – 4 miles below the Earth’s surface, in order to reach subterranean reservoirs of natural gas. From these vertical shafts, horizontal well shafts may extend an additional 1 – 2 miles in various directions. Of course, the aquifers which provide such a significant percentage of the world’s water supply are also located underground. Natural gas, oil, and water are a pretty unhealthy combination that the Earth has generally compartmentalized to prevent contamination. Fracturing the rock far underground, where monitoring is difficult to impossible, is quite logically not a good idea. Unfortunately, that is only a small part of the problem with fracking.
Fracking Fluid, the Mystery Concoction
A far more important cause for concern are the crazy array of chemicals that comprise the so-called fracking fluid. The natural gas industry would like you to believe that it is little more than water and proppants (such as sand) that keep the cracks open while the natural gas is extracted. Guess again. Using Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale range as an example, a single horizontal well shaft requires the intentional contamination of 1 to 5 million gallons of clean water. Anywhere from 60 to 80% of this toxic concoction stays in the ground, eventually to contaminate groundwater. The remaining 20 to 40% is returned to the surface and is referred to as “flowback” or “brine” (due to the salts which are picked up from deep underground), and it is often left in open lagoons to vaporize or trucked to sites (in this case, typically in Ohio) where it is pumped back underground into deep injection wells. In other instances it has been simply disposed into municipal sewage treatment plants where it then contaminates surface water. It has been reported that the Municipal Authority of McKeesport (Pennsylvania) accepts 80,000 gallons of flowback per day, which is then mixed with treated sewage and dumped into the Monongahela River upstream from Pittsburgh.
The chemicals that make up fracking fluid are either admitted or strongly suspected to include such toxins as barium, strontium, benzene, hydrochloric acid, monoethanolamine, potassium hydoxide, glycol-ethers, benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, xylene, 2-(2-methoxyethoxy) ethanol, and nonylphenols. Nobody knows for sure because the 2005 Bush/Cheney Energy Bill exempted natural gas drilling from the Safe Drinking Water Act, effectively exempting the gas industry from disclosing a list of chemicals used under what is now commonly referred to as the Halliburton Loophole. Without a legal requirement to provide disclosure at the federal level, the natural gas industry has consistently refused to disclose a list of the chemicals used. Late in 2011, a consortium of 120 environmental organizations filed a petition with the EPA, seeking disclosure under the Toxic Substances Control Act. H.R. 1084: the Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals Act of 2011 (the so-called FRAC-Act) has been introduced in both houses of Congress, but it has met with opposition and has never managed to make it out of committee. In the meantime, several states are pressing for disclosure, and some of the drilling companies have suggested to individual states that there may be approximately 80 chemicals included in the fluid, promising to provide a list … a list that never materializes. During recent Congressional hearings, industry representatives could barely name a chemical compound, although there was no argument with the assertion that the full list of chemicals may be 10 times what had been suggested. In other instances, industry representatives make light of the chemical compounds, emphasizing that fracking fluid contains such harmless compounds as guar gum and sucrose, including an instance where Halliburton (yes, the “Dick Cheney” Halliburton) CFO Mark McCollum drank a glass of fracking fluid and proclaimed that it was delicious and tasted like beer. No surprise, Halliburton (along with Schlumberger) is the nation’s largest manufacturer of fracking fluid.
The Real Stories of People Impacted
Some of the people whose water has been poisoned know better. Take a few minutes to watch this video produced by Time Magazine, outlining water contamination problems in Bradford County, Pennylvania as a result of fracking in the Marcellus Shale. Then listen to the story of Crystal Stroud, who began losing clumps of hair after drilling started 400 yards behind her house in Granville Summit, Pennsylvania. Testing of her well showed suddenly elevated levels of barium, methane, manganese, chloride, and lead. Blood tests on Crystal and her 4 year old son showed dangerously high levels of barium. Down the road, similar blood tests were done on Mia Root, her husband, and her two daughters, and they showed barium concentrations at 10 times the recommended level. They do not even drink their water, but had used it for cooking purposes.
One Billionaire Behind it All
Who is poisoning the water in Pennsylvania and elsewhere throughout the country? In the case of Marcellus Shale drilling in Pennsylvania, the primary player is Chief Oil & Gas, headquartered in Dallas, Texas and led by billionaire CEO Trevor Rees-Jones. In the first six months of 2010, Chief Oil & Gas was cited for 78 violations by the Pennsylvania DEP, more than any other Marcellus Shale driller in the state and with the highest ratio of violations, at 3.5 per well. Chief is the same company where, in June 2010, a well blowout and fire at a site in Moundsville, West Virginia, injured seven workers and burned for days. Taking a page from the BP disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, nobody from the emergency response team had been trained in fighting a well blowout, and the burning site was found abandoned when responders arrived. Rees-Jones, listed by Forbes magazine as the 88th richest American, is profiled in great detail in the January-February 2012 issue of Mother Jones magazine. A friend of Karl Rove, George W. Bush, and Rick Perry, Rees-Jones is one of the biggest donors to superpacs (particularly pal Karl Rove’s American Crossroads) and Republican candidates in the country, and his contributions appear to pay off big time. For example, back in Pennsylvania, Rees-Jones donated $50,000.00 to the gubernatorial campaign of Republican Tom Corbett, who went on to be elected. Returning the favor, Corbett has made it his mission to keep Pennsylvania the only major gas-producing state without an extraction tax. As if that was not evidence enough of political clout, the governor then appointed Terry Bossert, the government affairs officer (i.e., “lobbyist”) for Chief Oil & Gas to the Pennsylvania Macellus Shale Advisory Committee … essentially a joke that represents industry interests, not the interests of those impacted by the industry’s actions. When you are a billionaire, you have plenty of money to spread around, and Rees-Jones maintains his “nice guy” image through his Parkland Foundation and major philanthropic contributions to the Perot Museum of Nature & Science, Habitat for Humanity, and the Boy Scouts of America. How could such a nice guy be engaged in any activity that could harm anyone?
In Wyoming, where ground and surface water contamination as the result of fracking has also been a major problem, new rules say that companies must submit a full list of chemicals to be used in fracking operations on a well-by-well basis to the Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. Companies will also be required to report the concentration of each chemical used. The loophole is that drillers retain the right to claim that such information is proprietary and confidential. All of this is in light of a long overdue EPA report on December 8, 2011 that finally linked fracking conducted by Encana Corporation with water contamination in the town of Pavilion, Wyoming. EPA test wells detected benzene in a concentration of 246 micrograms per liter, approximately 50 times the maximum permitted level.
Why Are People Accepting All This?
Well, there are several reasons: First of all, there has been a slick advertising campaign bankrolled by the natural gas industry. For months, you could not watch the evening news on any major network without seeing a lying spokeswoman for the industry talking about the hundreds of thousands of jobs that were being created. Jobs are the second reason. When unemployment is hovering around 10% and jobs have been shipped overseas, anything that brings money into a depressed area will be seen by some as a Godsend and by others as an opportunity. Motels that were as vacant as the Bates for years are suddenly filled to capacity with temporary workers from the gas projects, and the bars and restaurants down the road suddenly have a few patrons with money in their pockets. The third reason is that fracking has reduced the price of natural gas by about 30% over the last 5 years. Once again, when people are having a hard time making ends meet, let alone paying their heating bills, a reduction in the price of natural gas is perceived as a good thing. The reality is that environmental catastrophes like fracking only serve to prolong our dependence upon fossil fuels and to delay a long-overdue transition to renewable energy.
Two-thirds of the state of Pennsylvania sits on top of Marcellus Shale deposits, and the proponents of drilling who will profit from the exploitation are doing everything possible to put a positive spin on their activities. Their marketing people are on the road every day, manning booths and misinformation tables in shopping malls, trade shows, and any place that gathers a crowd. A quick visit to the website of the Marcellus Shale Coalition (an industry-financed group that tries to present itself as some sort of grass roots organization) will show you how, in their words, “we extract the natural gas and protect the environment, why we value the communities where we do business, and the opportunities that the Commonwealth and its residents can realize in the coming years and decades through natural gas exploration and production.” They continue, talking about “the positive impacts natural gas drilling is already having on families, businesses and communities in many parts of Pennsylvania” and how “Marcellus Shale is the energy to fuel our future.”
What About the Deep Injection Brine Wells,
or Was That an Earthquake I Just Felt?
Major national news outlets reported in the first days of 2012 that the City of Youngstown and surrounding areas in Ohio have experienced a series of at least 11 minor earthquakes since March 2011, most recently on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve, when a quake measuring 4.0 on the Richter Scale rattled the area. The two most recent events each occurred within 100 yards of a deep injection brine disposal well owned and operated by Northstar Disposal Services LLC. That 1.7 mile deep well closed temporarily pending further investigation. Injection wells have also been suspected to be connected with earthquakes in Arkansas, Oklahoma and Colorado.
Money may be able to buy politicians and sway public opinion to the point where otherwise rational folks support something that is inherently wrong but appears to somehow fit in to their short-term interests. Think twice. Oil and gas may be almighty these days; however, the day will come when these same people will find a way to profit from selling the clean water that will be in far shorter supply. Unless people make their voices heard, future World Health Organization reports on deaths from water contamination may very well be referencing not only people on the other side of the globe but right here in the United States.
Learn More & Make Your Voice Heard
To learn more, watch “Gasland” by Josh Fox, a film that was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary in 2011. Then get involved. Share this post. Write letters to the editor. Make your voice heard.
If you have been following the news recently, you realize that the U.S. Postal Service is in serious trouble. How many people are willing to pay 44¢ to mail a letter when e-mail is free and delivered immediately? How many people mail out greeting cards when there are a variety of free online greeting card services? There is no question that the future looks grim for the Postal Service. The glory days came years ago, before business began getting chipped away— sometimes in enormous chunks —by new competitors, from UPS to the fax machine to FedEx to the Internet. Just look at UPS and the parcel business. Back in the 1950s, the Postal Service was king of the hill in package delivery with Parcel Post. Today, it is difficult to find real statistics on the number of parcels delivered by the Postal Service; however, according to Wikipedia, UPS delivers more than 15 million packages per day to customers around the globe.
The profitable business segments for the Postal Service have been either disappearing or moving elsewhere, and the Postal Service has been embracing desperate measures as it enters survival mode. It seems like simply a matter of time before the U.S. Postal Service will be renamed the U.S. Catalog Delivery Service. Soon afterward, the country will likely demand that it drop the initials “U.S.” from its name. Then, it can have a three-letter acronym, just like UPS: The CDS.
In the meantime, desperate times call for desperate measures. Postage rates go up so frequently that even the Postal Service can’t keep up with the price, so it issues “forever stamps”. Then they seem to drop the rates lower and lower for the junk that nobody wants in their mailbox. My favorites are the credit card offers that are designed to especially appeal to people who used to be considered unworthy of credit: students, the unemployed, and poor people (including poor unemployed students). Of course there is a caveat: Once you miss a payment, your interest rate will go up to something like 27.9%.
It almost seems that the Postal Service is in cahoots with these predatory lenders. The postage rates for this junk mail are a fraction of what the average person would pay to mail a birthday card to Uncle Walter (if we still mailed birthday cards and if Uncle Walter was still alive). According to the Wall Street Journal’s MarketWatch, there were 6 billion credit card offers mailed to American households in 2005. We’ve all gotten them, and you know the culprits: Chase, Capital One, American Express, Visa, MasterCard, Discover, and on and on. Now, according the the U.S. Census Bureau, there were 112,611,029 households in the U.S. in 2009. Do the math. That means that the average household gets at least one unsolicited credit card offer in the mail per week. My household, like the people in Lake Wobegon, must be above average because we seem to get at least two or three per week.
So, you might ask, how do we go about hitting back at these predatory lenders AND help save the Postal Service in the process? Simple. Every one of these offers includes a business reply envelope, the junk mail equivalent of the toll-free phone number. According to the U.S.P.S. Domestic Mail Manual, if the typical small business wanted to do a local direct mail campaign that included a business reply card or envelope, the Postal Service would charge them $1.19 per 1 ounce piece. This is called Basic Business Reply Mail, and it is not a bargain. However, our friends at the credit card companies, because of the sheer volume of the junk that they mail out, qualify for what the Postal Service calls High Volume Qualified Business Reply Mail, and they only have to pay 42.4¢ per piece. Less than what you or I pay to simply mail a letter!
Okay, here’s the plan. I have been doing this on a personal level for years, but this can only be effective with the power of numbers. When I get an unsolicited credit card application in the mail, I return the business reply envelope empty, with the words “Stop Junk Mail” written on the flap. Now, if everybody who receives these 6 billion pieces of junk mail per year followed suit, it would cost the credit card companies an additional $2.544 billion per year, and that money would go directly to the U.S. Postal Service. Two problems solved: An end to a major component of junk mail, and the Postal Service will still be able to deliver the other mail on Saturdays, not have to close 252 mail processing centers, not have to close 3,700 small post offices, and not have to furlough 120,000 postal workers – adding to the country’s already astronomical unemployment numbers. Do you need to be reminded what happens when postal workers are unhappy? Are you familiar with the term “going postal”?
That’s my plan in a nutshell. Start writing “Stop Junk Mail” on those credit card application business reply envelopes, taking one small step to save the world!
In order to survive, the Postal Service must redefine itself, replacing a business model from the past with a business model for the future. Did you know that 100,000,000 trees are cut down each year to produce the 4.5 million tons of junk mail that we receive each year? Did you know that your name and address are typically worth anywhere from 3¢ to 20¢ each time they are sold? For some excellent and practical suggestions on how you can cut back on junk mail, visit the website of the Native Forest Network.
I had an opportunity to spend the day yesterday visiting Gettysburg National Military Park, including the new Visitor Center which opened in 2008. The features of the visitor center include the film “A New Birth of Freedom”, skillfully narrated by Morgan Freeman; the restored “Battle of Gettysburg” cyclorama (a spectacular 377-foot painting, originally completed in 1884); and an excellent museum of Civil War history and artifacts. I rarely encounter a film which is able to touch me on such an emotional level as did “A New Birth of Freedom”. Similarly, no conflict in our nation’s history affects me in the same way as our Civil War, not because it was fought on our own soil but because it pitted Americans against Americans, brothers against brothers.
There is no question that the full effects of Reconstruction took an entire century, until the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and that we still have a long way to go. Touring the battlefields afterward, one is overwhelmed by the volume of human sacrifice and the determination that we all share when we defend whatever it is that we feel is right. Wrong as they were, and ignoring the racism that was fundamental to their cause, even the Confederates must be respected for their willingness to die for their beliefs. Rather than tallying the casualties of North and South, I think that it is far more fitting to honor the fact that over 50,000 Americans died, were injured, or went missing in the battlefields of Gettysburg over the course of three days in 1863. When visiting The Wheatfield, The Peach Orchard, Devil’s Den, Little Round Top, and the other sites that forever changed the course of history, the thoughts behind the words of President Abraham Lincoln become crystal clear: “… It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
On the day of my visit, our federal government was being threatened with an economic shutdown, as the result of differences of opinion among Americans, most notably the elected representatives in Congress who act on our behalf. Regardless of the outcome of Congressional action or inaction, the park employees at Gettysburg were committed to keeping this historic treasure fully operational – as they had done on the occasions of two previous government shutdowns. Those park employees understand the importance of learning from history far better than our elected officials could ever pretend.
It is crucial to our survival as a nation that we resolve our differences through civil discourse and never again allow our differences to escalate to the point of physical conflict. Those self-proclaimed, modern-day “patriots” who audaciously speak of exercising their “Constitutional rights” – or at least their interpretations thereof – need to take a soul-searching trip to Gettysburg. The grain in The Wheatfield and the stream that runs through Devil’s Den did not take on the color of weak tea, but rather the color of the blood of the Americans who we must continually insure will never have died in vain.
The news events leading up to today’s 9th anniversary of the attacks on 9/11 present Americans with an opportunity to renew our commitments toward respecting our Constitution, with particular emphasis on the First Amendment. Guaranteeing all Americans both freedom of speech and freedom of religion, the First Amendment to our Constitution represents the most basic foundation that defines us as a people. Those who would do us harm generally despise those freedoms that we cherish, and they themselves would be rendered powerless in their own societies if these same freedoms were not subject to oppression in their homelands.
The victims of 9/11 are not simply those whose lives were lost in the collapse of the twin towers of the World Trade Center, in the offices of the Pentagon, or in that lonely field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. Although these innocent victims paid the ultimate price for our freedoms, every American was a victim of terror on that infamous day. Our lives have been forever changed; however, we must vigilantly maintain our dedication to the freedoms that define us and make us one.
When a crazed minister of a small congregation in Florida threatened to burn copies of the Holy Koran as part of an observation on this day, I found even his threats, let alone the actions themselves had they been carried out, to be totally abhorable. On the same token, as despicable as those actions would have been, I must respect the First Amendment rights that would allow those acts to be carried out. Part of the price of our freedom allows Pastor Terry Jones to burn the Koran, the Ku Klux Klan to burn a cross (on their own property), or neo-nazis to parade on Main Street. It is the exercise of my own freedom that allows me to speak out against any and all of those uncivil, yet legal, actions. Unfortunately, Pastor Jones aroused enough media attention to have caused irreparable harm to all of us, on an international stage where our freedoms are either misunderstood or despised.
For similar reasons, I must support the proposed construction of an Islamic community center within the so-called “shadow of Ground Zero”, standing in agreement with the voices of reason which include President Barack Obama and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Where is this so-called “shadow”? Those were tall towers. Does the shadow extend two blocks, over all of Manhattan, or all the way from coast to coast? As I have already explained, every American was a victim of 9/11. Let us not further victimize ourselves by seeking to undo our own freedoms. I truly believe that New York City is the greatest city on our planet today. In a large part, that greatness is based upon the city’s resiliance and cultural diversity. Any attempt to restrict the Constitutional rights of even a single citizen, let alone a group of citizens who share a common religious belief or culture, will do irreparable harm to us all. There are sad chapters in our national history, including both slavery and the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. Let us learn from, rather than repeat, those mistakes.
Now is not a time for disagreement, but a time for honest soul-searching. When all is said and done, our rights as Americans are only as strong as the rights of the weakest individual, regardless of whether that individual’s actions may be personally viewed as either right or wrong.
I’m sorry, but I’m tired of giving Senator John “I Married Into More Money Than I Know How to Spend” Kerry the benefit of the doubt. There have simply been way too many instances of poor judgment, and the docking of his new $7 million yacht in Newport, Rhode Island, a convenience that only happens to avoid what calculates as $437,500.00 in Massachusetts Sales and Use Taxes, along with additional excise taxes which would bring the total to over $500,000.00, is the last straw for me. Everybody knows how he “actually did vote for the $87 billion (authorization for Bush’s war in Iraq) before (he) voted against it” back in 2004. Maybe this was some sort of secret “Skull & Bones Society” pact with a fellow Bonesman that he was pledged to uphold. Then, of course, he was brought in as the Democratic party’s standard bearer (or opportunist), when it was speculated that the RNC would make minced meat out of a Howard Dean candidacy. Heck, maybe that was John Kerry behind the camera in the high school gymnasium at the end of the Iowa caucuses.
In the 2004 election, we were treated to images of, not an elitist, but the average Joe common man. Wait a minute. The average Joe doesn’t usually windsurf, snowboard, or have an oceanfront mansion on Nantucket, does he? Only in John Kerry’s world. The windsurfing video was Roger Ailes’ dream come true. If the presidential election had been a sporting event, John Kerry would have been investigated and convicted for throwing the game. As far as I’m concerned, we can thank John Kerry – and a weak campaign characterized by his trademark deadpan delivery – for the four more years of Bush that we all endured.
This latest gaffe, and the Senator’s obvious annoyance with questions from the press, just goes too far. At least Leona Helmsley was being honest when she said that “only the little people pay taxes.” It’s no surprise that the RNC, Fox News, and the right wingnuts have been all over this story. That is to be expected, Senator Kerry, but I’m part of your political base here in your home state (Massachusetts, not Rhode Island), and I’m not happy.
According to a letter distributed to the media by Massachusetts House Speaker Robert DeLeo, 12 mayors have expressed their support for DeLeo’s expanded gambling plan that includes adding slot machines at the state’s racetracks. This is big news. Or is it? There are 351 cities and towns in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and mayors representing 3.4% of those municipalities were signatories to this letter. They included Melrose Mayor Robert Dolan (the John Hancock of the group), along with Joseph Sullivan of Braintree; Lisa Wong of Fitchburg; Richard Howard of Malden; William Scanlon of Beverly; Thomas Ambrosino of Revere; Thomas Koch of Quincy; Carlo DeMaria of Everett; Kevin Dumas of Attleborough; James Fiorintini of Haverhill; Charles Crowley of Taunton; and Michael Bissonette of Chicopee. Who are these elected officials who are attempting to sway votes and public opinion on a controversial issue, and are they acting in a personal or an official capacity? Is the letter the result of resolutions passed by the city councils or boards of aldermen in their respective jurisdictions? I can only presume that, because they are presenting themselves as a group, these 12 are at least attempting to convey the impression that they are acting in some sort of official capacity and not simply as private citizens. I wonder if Speaker DeLeo would be distributing a letter signed by 12 opponents of his hair-brained obsession with casinos.
I do not know these individuals, although I have indirectly crossed paths with Chicopee Mayor Michael Bissonette on the casino issue, when I wrote to his office regarding a pro-casino mailing that I had received in late 2007, at a time when I was a property owner in my hometown of Chicopee. My conclusion at that time – and since – has been, to put it quite politely, that Mayor Bissonette is an elected idiot. The following was the exchange of e-mails at that time.
My e-mail to the Mayor’s chief of staff, dated December 29, 2007:
Dear Mr. Ritchott,
It seems highly unusual that the City of Chicopee’s website does not provide a direct e-mail link to the mayor. In the absence of such a link, I am writing to you as the mayor’s Chief of Staff. Until late this week, I was a property owner within the City of Chicopee, a fact which may explain why I was included in Mayor Bissonnette’s recent direct mailing promoting resort-style casinos. (See attached PDF files.) As an opponent of casino gambling in Massachusetts, I would like to know the source of funding for this mailing, certainly hoping that my tax dollars were in no way involved. I find it curious that a mailing which contained “A Message from The Mayor of Chicopee” has a Boston mailing permit. I can only presume that this mailing is part of an elaborate and expensive campaign on the part of casino proponents which is designed to appear to have originated from the offices of various municipal officials throughout the state who have at least approved of their participation. CasinoDirectMailSide1RFS CasinoDirectMailSide2RFS
Please get back to me as soon as possible to confirm that tax dollars were not the source of financing for this ill-advised political lobbying. I further request that you identify the source of this campaign within your response. I am taking the liberty of cc’ing two reporters from The Boston Globe who have written recent stories covering the current casino gambling issues in Massachusetts. Please “reply to all” since I am sure that they will share my interest in your answers to these questions.
The response from Scott Szczebak, dated December 31, 2007:
As you know, Mayor Bissonnette is a supporter of casino gaming. The mailing is from a private organization.
My reply to Scott Szczebak, dated December 31, 2007:
Since the mayor obviously did not mind invading my privacy with the mailing (despite the fact that I am on all DMS “do not mail” lists), could you please pay me the courtesy of identifying the “private organization” behind the mailing, as I had originally requested? As you can probably surmise, I am an opponent of casino gambling. I will await the courtesy of your reply.
The response from Scott Szczebak, dated December 31, 2007:
Something seems mighty fishy to me across the Commonwealth. Would anybody care to request a copy of the actual letterhead used in this week’s letter to House Speaker DeLeo? Would anybody like to take the time to look into some campaign contribution reports? Is there a connection with the “private organization” referenced by Mr. Szczebak in 2007?
There must be no news today, at least according to the morning news shows of what used to be referred to as the three major networks. You know the shows: The one with the guy with hair, the one with the bald guy (that nobody watches), and the one with the guy who is only semi-bald. I’m sorry, but that seems to be about the only way to tell these three apart. They all report the same stories, follow the same mindless formats, and even seem to time their commercial breaks into advertising “roadblocks”. The fact that they always have so-called “breaking news” to report is a joke in itself. This morning’s report that Bristol Palin is gettin’ hitched to her man Levi Johnston is about as news-worthy as past media infatuations with the divorce of Jon & Kate Gosselin or yesterday’s news about Mel Gibson’s dirty mouth and propensity for domestic violence.
Time out folks. There is real news happening! BP is continuing to rape the environment, and we are just beginning to learn about the company’s involvement with last year’s release of the terrorist behind the Lockerbie bombing, in a swap for drilling rights. Of course, that story might easily not fit into the news because of the limitations of scheduling on these “heavy” news days where more important topics must be covered. How about the projection that 1 million American homes will be foreclosed upon this year, the origin of the purported Utah list of 1300 “illegal immigrants”, or the shutdown of dozens of blogs in China yesterday? I guess those stories are not news-worthy enough when it’s time for America to plan a wedding.
I would like to congratulate the Governor and the complicit legislature of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts for selling out the people whom they are solemnly pledged to represent. I am referring to the recent passage of casino legislation by the state senate and house of representatives, one of the governor’s pet projects which has been absurdly marketed by private interests as a cure-all for a troubled economy. To our elected officials who voted in favor of this legislation, particularly to those who said that the vote was inevitable, I can only say, “Shame on you all.”
Touting the type of “independent study” (produced by Spectrum Gaming Group of Linwood, New Jersey) that smacks of lobbyist financing, the elected proponents of casino gambling predict the creation of 15,000 permanent jobs and 9,000 construction jobs, along with the generation of $350 million in direct revenues and another $250 million in associated revenues. This bogus study, which has not been made public and which the state senate used as justification for its vote, was specifically designated to evaluate the positive economic impact of the proposed casinos, while specifically ignoring the social impacts. To me, this sounds like the tobacco industry promoting the “benefits” of smoking based upon employment in convenience stores and the tax income generated from cigarette sales, while ignoring trivial side effects like cancer, heart disease, and addiction. We do not need independent studies based upon hypotheses when we are surrounded by real-world examples in our own back yard.
Visit Atlantic City to see the positive effects of casino gambling, as you drive through the urban squalor and decay which persists nearly to the edge of the Boardwalk. Look to Connecticut, where the recession has taken its toll on casino revenues (and the subsequent state “windfall”). Then look to New York State and the actual impact upon employment. The fact is that most jobs pay between minimum wage and $13.00 per hour, and most are not full-time – freeing the casino operators from the responsibility to provide basic workforce benefits such as health insurance, sick leave, and paid vacation time. In Connecticut and New York, where casinos fall under the provisions of tribal ownership, workers have been shown to have little or no legal recourse in matters of worker’s compensation, age discrimination, and sex discrimination. The fact is that workers do not benefit from the casino industry. Construction is at a standstill in Las Vegas, where the most recent (May 2010) unemployment numbers came in at 14.1%, nearly 50% higher than the national average. Las Vegas is also distinguished with the highest mortgage foreclosure rate in the United States, at 5 times the national average. The only people who will benefit from casinos in Massachusetts are the out-of-state casino management companies, the predominantly out-of-state contractors, and the umpteenth generation descendants of Native Americans who are willing to sell out their ancestral heritage.
I feel particularly sorry for the cities and towns which have become the unwitting pawns in the game of casino proponents, including the oft-mentioned City of Fall River and Town of Palmer. What brilliance on the part of the legislature! Engage two of the state’s most economically depressed municipalities where, in desperation, the voters are willing to try anything when they feel that they have nothing to lose. The proposed 300-acre casino site in Fall River, which the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe is hoping to purchase, was formerly designated as the location of the South Coast BioPark, a proposal that would include a multimillion-dollar bio-processing facility for UMass Dartmouth. Do our Governor and our Legislature really believe that economic growth will be found in casinos rather than cutting-edge technology? Do the people of Palmer really believe that a casino is the key to the economic revitalization of the Quaboag Valley? Worse than a big box retailer moving into town, the numbers of local jobs lost is likely to far exceed the numbers of jobs created.
Economic recovery must be based upon manufacturing and new technologies, particularly green energy development, along with small business development. The saddest example of where we are headed can be seen in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. In its glory days during World War II, Bethlehem Steel employed as many as 300,000 workers, when it built 1,121 ships – one-fifth of the U.S. Navy’s wartime fleet. Its main plant in Bethlehem employed a workforce of 31,000 and was the second largest steel foundry in the United States. Bethlehem Steel produced the steel that was used in the construction of the George Washington Bridge, the Golden Gate Bridge, the Lincoln Tunnel, the Holland Tunnel, the Empire State Building, the Chrysler Building, Rockefeller Center, and the Hoover Dam, among many other American landmarks. Bethlehem Steel closed in 1995 – after 140 years of operation – as our jobs moved overseas. Today, the Sands Casino Resort Bethlehem, which opened in 2009, is located on the site of the former Bethlehem Steel. Ironically, the casino developers had difficulty securing the 16,000 tons of structural steel that were required during construction. A year after its opening, the Sands employs no more than 1,000 people, is hemorrhaging money, and recently laid off 80 employees.
Our manufacturing jobs have moved to China, a country with a cultural propensity for gambling, but where the government is overseeing the construction of a new wave of industrial manufacturing plants rather than casinos. The only casinos in China are the 31 properties in the former Portuguese colony of Macau, a so-called “special administrative region” (along with the former British colony of Hong Kong) which was turned over to China in 1999, where legalized gambling has a 150 year history, and where casino tourism accounts for 50% of the local economy in what is essentially the sole Las Vegas of the world’s most populous country. Is China building casinos anywhere else? The answer is no. When will we ever learn?