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The Republican Party is wrong for America in the 21st century

December 3, 2017 Leave a comment

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“We don’t think that was my voice.”

November 30, 2017 Leave a comment

“Make America Prevaricate Again” copyright 2017 Justin Bass

November 26, 2017 Leave a comment

Catalan Independence: It’s about the Economy, but it’s also very personal

November 18, 2017 Leave a comment

Catalan Independence: It’s about the Economy, but it’s also very personal

By Justin Bass

November 18, 2017

On Saturday, November 11, 2017, almost a million people gathered on and near the busy Barcelona street of Carrer de la Marina to protest the Spanish government incarcerating eight elected representatives of the Catalan government. The pro-Independence crowds blocked cars on the thoroughfare that stretches from the Mediterranean Sea to the Gaudi-inspired and still unfinished Sagrada Familia church from about 5 in the afternoon to many hours later into the night. They waved hundreds of Catalan flags and many people wore Catalan flags as capes. They held up their flash-lit phones into the air to make a tapestry of stars for the viewing pleasure of the pilot in the patrolling helicopter above. They clapped their hands in unison and chanted Freedom in Catalan – “Llibertat, Llibertat, Llibertat” – in the same cadence that Americans chant “U.S.A., U.S.A., U.S.A.” They formed a drum circle at the main intersection at Marina and Gran Via de les Corts Catalanes, and they danced to their own rhythms.

It’s been over a month since more than 2 million Catalans, or 90 percent of those who voted, approved Independence from Spain on Sunday, the 1st of October 2017, known as 1-O. It’s the date, of course, but it also looks like a soccer score: 1-O. On October 1st, FC Barcelona, the local powerhouse soccer team with superstar Lionel Messi, publicly declared its support for the pro-Independence movement, and then the team played a match against the Spanish club, Las Palmas, with all of the stadium’s 99,354 seats empty for security precautions. The players from Las Palmas wore the Spanish flag as an addition to their uniforms that Sunday. FC Barcelona is now considering a move from the Spanish soccer league to the English Premier League if Catalonia achieves Independence from Spain.

The pro-Independence Catalans consider the 1-O referendum as a win for their cause. However, a Spanish court ruled the Independence vote illegal from the beginning. On the Sunday of the voting, Spanish police dressed in riot gear came to Barcelona, the capital of Catalonia, to confiscate ballot boxes and voting paperwork. There were multiple videos on social media and on TV showing Spanish police using their official-issue sticks to strike the heads and bodies of voters. Spanish police also brutalized people trying to vote by throwing them down to the ground.

The President of the Catalan government, Carles Puigdemont, issued a declaration of unilateral independence (DUI) on October 11th, and then he immediately suspended the DUI to have dialogue with the Spanish government, he said. Mariano Rajoy, Prime Minister of Spain, demanded that Puigdemont clarify if he did or did not declare Independence. When no clarification came, Rajoy got the votes from the Spanish Parliament to enact Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution (created in 1978 after the death of the dictator, Francisco Franco, in 1975), which allows Spain to take control of any region that does not fulfill its duties. Spain also jailed Jordi Cuixart and Jordi Sànchez, two of the leading organizers of the Catalan Independence vote on October 1st. On the night of October 17th, tens of thousands of Barcelona residents protested the imprisonment of the Jordis by organizing a candlelight vigil at the upscale intersection of Passeig de Gràcia and Diagonal (where you can buy a Tesla electric sports car and a Versace dress).

In response to the threat of 155, on Friday, October 27th, the Catalan Parliament approved Independence from Spain and President Puigdemont officially declared Catalonia as its own country. The TV cameras recorded many pro-Independence Catalans weeping for joy in the streets. That same night Spain took over Catalonia. The mood in the city of Barcelona soured. Rajoy dissolved the Catalan government and called for new local elections on December 21st, which also happens to be the Winter Solstice, the day that marks the increasing hours of sunlight on Earth until the apex of the Summer Solstice on June 21st.

Sometime over the weekend of October 28-29th, Puigdemont flew to Brussels, Belgium where he was joined by four of his fellow members of the Catalan government. They appealed to the Belgian courts and by extension the European Union to intercede on their behalf and protect them from prison. In the subsequent weeks, Spain jailed eight other members of the Catalan government, including Vice President, Oriol Junqueras, on charges of sedition, and ordered President Puigdemont to appear at the Spanish Parliament in Madrid. When Puigdemont did not comply, but rather stayed put in Brussels, the Spanish government issued a warrant for Puigdemont’s arrest. President Puigdemont and his fellow members of the Catalan government then turned themselves into the Belgian police.

In order to get out of jail, the Speaker of the Catalan government, Carme Forcadell, posted a €150,000 bail and she agreed not to participate in any activity against Spain, which rules her out for the election on December 21st. President Puigdemont and his four compatriots are still in Brussels. The eight incarcerated members of the Catalan government remain in Spanish custody.

That’s why on a Saturday night, instead of going out for a family dinner, playing pétanque (the French version of bocce) at the park, or having drinks at a café with friends, approximately 750,000 pro-Independence Catalans manifested their objection to having their elected political leaders imprisoned.

Alaura Alcoverro, 21, who studies at university, stood by the protest waiting for her friends. “I don’t feel Spanish. I think I have a different culture, different language, of course,” she said. “Flamenco, it’s not a Catalan thing.” However, Ms. Alcoverro does enjoy paella, a Spanish dish made of spicy rice & vegetables (with meat or not). “I love it,” she said about the somewhat controversial food.

“We cook apple crumble and we cook Indian food. We cook everything. So why not paella, if it’s nice. Because it’s not called paella in our house,” said the pediatrician, Dr. Gemma Talló, 47, who sat on a bench with her mother and father right next to the stream of pro-Independence Catalans that Saturday night.  “We call it rice. We do fish-rice. It doesn’t have to be Valencian paella. It doesn’t have to be Spanish omelet. We don’t call it Spanish omelet. We call it the patatas, the potato omelet.”

Dr. Talló said she stayed up all night at a school the night before 1-O to ensure that it would be used for voting and then she helped to tally the overwhelming votes for Independence well into the night. She said the computers were hacked, so it took longer to count the votes.

“It’s a long-standing problem. Why now? It’s an ancient problem. This is a historical problem,” Dr. Talló continued. “As my parents always say, it’s not only the suppression, the repression. The Spanish government is very subtle. They just keep cutting and cutting and cutting more things, like the solar energy. We’re not allowed to use the energy of the Sun. Because the government is earning lots of money from the other energy.”

The Catalan government and the Catalan people voted for pro-solar energy reforms in 2006, but the Spanish government denied the vote, according to Dr. Talló.

Dr. Gemma Talló (right) with her parents

“If you use your own solar [panels], you have to pay. You have to pay to buy them and also to use them. The free electricity is not free here anymore,” said Helena, 36, (she did not want to give her last name), who works as a scientist and who attended the Saturday night protest with her husband, their two children, and her friend.  “I don’t like things that are happening in Spain, such as we have a King and Mariano Rajoy in the government. I need a new country. The fact that we can’t change laws from 40 years ago. This old way of living, I don’t like this country.” She also complained about having to protect her children and run from the Spanish police when she was trying to vote on 1-O.

Spain, as a country, and Barcelona, as a city, are renowned as sunny vacation destinations. The Spanish people like to use the good weather as an excuse to party or to relax as much as possible, many people in Barcelona will claim while making the distinction that they work long hours only to give away much of the taxes to other parts of Spain. Barcelona is a wealthy port town and tourist haven that contributes about 20 percent to the approximately €1 Trillion Spanish economy, the fifth largest among the European Union member countries, according to Eurostat, “the statistical office of the European Union.” Yet the train system outside of Catalonia gets the investment in high-speed rail for the most part, while the cities in Catalonia are forced to use older train cars.

“We need better infrastructure. Spain is now building a lot of busy-bee railroads to a lot of places in Spain. There is no need to take high-speed trains to some places. It’s a waste of money,” said Jordi Fernandez, 60, a pensioner who attended the Saturday protest with his wife. “We need [better] trains between Mataró and Barcelona, or Sitges or Manresa, or around Barcelona.”

Jordi Fernandez

Although there is a new high-speed train from Barcelona to Girona, the two major cities in Catalonia, almost all train trips from Barcelona to other major cities in Spain require a stop in the capital of Madrid before connecting to the final destination.

“We need a high-speed train linking all the Mediterranean. We want to develop our country. We want to be our owners. We are proud of our country. We want to show the world. Spain is like an anchor. They don’t want that we can grow,” said Pep Mallol, 49, a computer programmer, who came to the protest from the Catalonian city of Sabadell with his wife, daughter, and their family friend. “Also we are hard workers, people who think in the future. New technology, to be involved in the technology. We can’t be in the same packet as siesta todos, paella, we don’t feel like that.”

Siesta is the Spanish tradition of a long lunch from about 2 to 5 pm during the workweek, Monday to Friday. The practice of siesta started centuries ago to take a break from the hot, sunny afternoons in Spain, but it was reinforced after the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s and throughout Franco’s nearly 40 years of ruling the country when the Catalan language was officially banned.

“In my house, my children, my wife and me, we are waking up at 6:30 and we don’t stop until 7:30 in the afternoon. Let’s say, we don’t know siesta,” Mr. Mallol emphasized. “It’s only party, no we don’t feel like that.”

Pep Mallol (left) with his wife, daughter, and friend.

The Great Recession that hit the United States hard in 2007 and dragged on into the 20-teens hit Spain even harder. Spanish unemployment “peaked at 26 percent” due to “its real estate investment bubble, combined with the global financial crisis,” according to a report from The New York Times on July 28, 2017. In October 2017, Spain’s unemployment rate was 16.38 percent, “its lowest since 2008,” according to a report from Reuters this November 3rd. However, the Spanish youth unemployment rate (for those under 25 years of age) is still at Depression levels: 37.2 percent in September 2017, according to Eurostat. Spain’s youth unemployment reached a record 56.1 percent in 2013, according to reporting from the UK Guardian on August 30, 2013.

After 1-O, many companies moved their headquarters from Catalonia to other parts of Spain, including the #3 and #5 biggest banks in the country, CaixaBank and Sabadell Bank, respectively, as well as Gas Natural, the utility company.

“Suddenly a lot of companies have moved. They [Spain] have facilitated the way to move. Maybe there are some pressures that if you continue working in Catalonia you won’t work anymore in Spain,” surmised Helena, the scientist and mother of two. “But there are also other voices saying that a lot of companies want to move to Catalonia once it separates from Spain.”

The renewable energy sector, of which the solar electricity industry makes up a large portion, is one of the fastest growing sectors in the United States economy.

“Solar and wind jobs have grown at rates of about 20% annually in recent years and are each creating jobs at a rate 12 times faster than that of the rest of the U.S. economy,” reads a January 2017 report from the Environmental Defense Fund.

Maybe if Spain incentivizes rather than discourages the use of its overabundant solar energy, then the country can create good-paying jobs for the unemployed Spanish workers and accelerate its lagging economy. Or maybe Catalonia will achieve its Independence and rejuvenate its own economy by using the Sun to create good-paying jobs for unemployed Catalan workers.

For perspective, there have been two pro-Spanish-only rallies in Barcelona during the month of October, on separate Sundays. They are not Spanish-unity gatherings as many news outlets have reported. Unlike the feel-good, festival vibe of the Catalans at their pro-Independence protests, the pro-Spanish-only protesters are antagonistic and hyper-aggressive. Spanish-only protesters have kicked or pushed people taking their photographs in public. On Sunday, October 29th, the people wearing and waving Spanish flags banged on the police vans of the Mossos d’Esquadra, Barcelona’s police force, right outside of the Catalan government’s office building and palace façade, called the Generalitat. The pro-Spanish-only people called the Mossos police “perros”/dogs and forced the police vans to drive in reverse away from the Generalitat. The Catalan police did not use violence against the pro-Spanish-only crowd.

Conversely, on 1-O, the Spanish police used violence and drove into the crowds. After Spanish police used rubber bullets and batons to injure Barcelona residents trying to vote in the neighborhood near the intersection of Marina and Gran Via, dozens of Barcelona residents chased the Spanish police vans down Marina. There were many reporters with video cameras on the scene, which probably de-escalated the ensuing altercation. Spanish police in riot gear with batons in their hands approached the Barcelona residents impeding the movement of the Spanish police vans. The first van in the line of five vans drove slowly forward through the crowd. Then the van in front stopped when many people in front of the van yelled. A moment later the first Spanish police van drove forward again and sped away. All of the other Spanish vans followed. In the aftermath, one man limped to the side of the street because the first Spanish police van drove into his knee.

Buildings all over Barcelona are festooned with flags, both Catalan and Spanish. The city is divided. About half of Barcelona residents want Independence and the other half want to stay a part of Spain, because they want to stay in the European Union. If Catalonia becomes its own country, it would have to apply for European Union membership, which requires a unanimous vote from the existing member countries, including Spain. However, if it does achieve Independence, Catalonia could apply for a special permit to trade with European Union countries and continue to use the Euro as its currency.

Sagrada Familia Catalan Flag

Sagrada Familia with Catalan Flag on National Day of Catalonia, September 11, 2017

 

Gaudi building Catalan flag

Gaudi-designed apartment building in Barcelona with Catalan Flag on National Day of Catalonia, September 11, 2017

Catalan Flag 1

Apartment building in Barcelona with Catalan flags

Apartment building in Barcelona with Spanish and Catalan flags

For now, the pro-Independence Catalans are protesting Spanish hegemony in the streets of Barcelona and they are speaking freely.

“It looks like we are in a fascist country,” said Alejandro Elsehimihinga, 24, a cabin crewmember for an airline, who attended the Saturday protest with his friend. “The Catalonian flag or even the laws were created before the Spanish laws or flag, but we have always been forbidden, we have always been forgotten. Every time when the Catalonian people try to make their voice like loud, they [the Spanish government] always try to cut us. So it makes me feel like, try to be stronger, be more proud to be Catalan, and fight for these rights.”

Mr. Elsehimihinga said he plans to vote for Carles Puigdemont as President of Catalonia on December 21st.

“I’m not against Spanish people,” he added. “Because I have a lot of Spanish friends, but I mean Spanish politicians are corrupt.”

Alejandro Elsehimihinga (left) with his friend

Fande = Fact & Evidence; Cande = Conjecture & Exaggeration

Bring your Fande, leave your Cande!

____________________________________________________________________________________________

For lagniappe…

Catalan Independence Day 1

By Justin Bass

October 1, 2017

The people of Catalunya defied the obstruction of the Spanish government and its police force by voting for their Independence on Sunday, October 1, 2017. Barcelona is the capital of the economically powerful Mediterranean port city in the northeastern region of Spain where the natives prefer to speak their own language, Catalan, and to practice their own customs, which differ from those in Madrid.

As early as 5 am, Catalans lined up outside of Escola Ramon Llull, a prominent school in Barcelona’s Monumental neighborhood, to cast their ballots when the voting started at 9 am. But the Spanish police, on orders from Madrid, confiscated the voting paperwork.

“There are ten thousand police, most of them secret. We closed the school because they already took the ballots. People were voting and then they took them away,” explained Jaume Cabaní Massip, a representative of the Barcelona government who was helping at the school that was turned into a voting station.

A Spanish police helicopter patrolled from above as Spanish police wearing black riot gear drove multiple dark-blue vans down one of the main thoroughfares, Marina Street, in front of the old bullfighting arena that has been closed now for five years since Catalans outlawed the bloody, spectacle sport. Barcelona is proud of doing things differently from the rest of Spain, where bullfighting is still in practice.

Dozens of protesters followed the Spanish police vans, marked with the red and yellow stripes of the Spanish flag, and chanted at their oppressors who had just stopped them from voting. Some people yelled obscenities. Neighbors living in high-rise apartments banged their pots and pans in support of Independence and the protesters below. The police on foot pushed protesters out of the way when the crowd impeded the movement of the vans. One police van drove slowly into a portion of the protesters and injured a man’s leg. He stood next to one of the many palm trees lining the street massaging his knee and wiping tears away from his face as his friend consoled him.

“Of course then people were not happy to let the police vans leave without some interruption. So that’s what we were doing. We were just making it known to them that we are the teachers, we are the nurses of their families, we have families ourselves,” said Helena Miguélez-Carballeira, senior lecturer in Hispanic Studies at Bangor University in Wales. “I have come here to be with the Catalan people and show my support and my solidarity.”

Just a few blocks over, police used more violent measures to control the throngs of protesters.

“They took the boxes to vote from the school there and we tried to stop the baggage with all the policemen, and they just started hitting everyone and shooting bullets of rubber,” described Miriam Latasa, an IT professional. “I’m just sad to live in a world, or in a country, that lets this happen. The oppression, everything that is going on, I mean we are in 2017. It does not make any sense. We just want to vote, and using such violence is nonsense.”

Nearby, a medic dabbed the bloody head wound of a man sitting on the back of an ambulance just as another injured man was swiftly carried on a stretcher toward the same ambulance. Journalists and photographers swarmed into the scene.

Members of foreign governments and the European Union, who came to Barcelona to witness the Independence vote, stood on the street near the school.

“It’s a pity that we have to observe this,” decried Rita Bellens, a representative of the Belgian Parliament. “I’ve been to other countries because I am also a member of OSCE parliamentarians. And I’ve gone to a few observations in Russia. With the election of president we didn’t see these kinds of things. This is worse than Russia, isn’t it?”

Ms. Bellens was standing on the street next to Mark Demesmaeker, Belgian member of the European Union. “This is a shame for the European Union,” Mr. Demesmaeker said. “A political issue should be solved with political dialogue. Not in the courts. It’s the job of politicians, not of judges, not of police.”

The Prime Minister of Spain, Mariano Rajoy, and the Spanish courts declared the vote for Independence illegal. This is the second time that Barcelona has organized a vote to gain sovereignty. In 2014, the capital voted 80 percent in favor of Independence, but only approximately 2 million of the 5.4 million people living in the region of Barcelona voted. It was a non-binding vote and Madrid cited the low voter turnout as a reason to disregard the outcome.

This time approximately 2 million people of the more than 7 million eligible voters in all of Catalunya voted. Despite the intimidation from the Spanish police, or because of it, 90 percent of Catalans voted in favor of Independence. Videos circulated on social media depicting the central government’s police swinging freely with their clubs to hit men and women, young and old, all over Barcelona, from the beach to the hills. It still remains to be seen if the region will successfully secede from Spain to establish its own economy and borders.

Barcelona’s residents have been clamoring for weeks just to be able to vote. Every night, at 10 o’clock on the dot, neighbors in support of Catalan Independence continue to bang their pots and pans. They have been doing this for more than three weeks. The nighttime noise begins slowly as one person starts a steady percussive beat, and then dozens of neighbors join in. They stand on their balconies and at their open windows clanking their kitchenware until the cacophony grows louder and louder. Usually at the 15-minute mark, the ruckus subsides and sometimes finishes with an explosion from a firecracker. But not on Sunday night when the people were still waiting for a result from the vote count. In the Gothic Quarter, where Barcelona’s medieval prowess as a shipping center is still felt in the centuries’ old buildings and where the Romans once ruled, the residents rattled the night from their balconies for almost a half hour.

There are many Catalans and residents of the area who want to stay a part of Spain and who wear the Spanish flag or display its colors to make their opinions known. Barcelona is a very progressive place that allows conflicting viewpoints to coexist peacefully. Last week, the pro-Independence students from Barcelona University took over one of the administration buildings in protest. Thousands of Catalans paraded in the streets wearing the Catalan flag every day since National Day of Catalunya on September 11, which commemorates the day that the armed forces of Philip V of Spain took control of Barcelona in 1714. Catalans celebrate this day in defiance of their Spanish rulers.

So when the Spanish police shut down one school for voting, the Catalans simply walked five blocks to Escola Fort Pienc, another school set up for the Independence vote.

Hundreds of Catalans queued up to vote and hundreds more waited after they had voted. Every time the voters exited the school all of the people in the crowd cheered and applauded with joyous clapping of hands.

One man who voted held up two fingers in the shape of the letter “V” for victory. It was a symbolic gesture that mirrored the sentiment Ms. Miguélez-Carballeira, the university lecturer, shared with me earlier. “We have already won,” she said.

Catalan Independence Day 3

By Justin Bass

October 3, 2017

Today, Tuesday, October 3, 2017, there is a general strike in the Catalan capital of Barcelona to rebuke the violence of the Spanish police during Sunday’s vote for Independence, organized by the Catalan government and deemed illegal by the central government in Madrid.

Using clubs and guns firing rubber bullets, the police from Madrid bloodied and brutalized many of the people of Barcelona trying to vote. Scenes of Spanish police in riot gear violently beating defenseless men and women circulated on social media. Videos of men and women later being treated for bloody head wounds were on the TV and the internet.

At a school for voting in the hills, Spanish police threw people, including a gray-haired man, down to the ground. At the beach, one Spanish policeman used two hands on his official-issue, black stick to push the face of a young woman. When she continued toward the policeman from Madrid, dressed like Darth Vader (with helmet minus the cape), he swung his stick backhanded to connect with her head. It was all captured on somebody’s phone and shared on WhatsApp.

Ninety percent of the voters approved Catalan Independence over the weekend. However, less than 3 million of the 7 million registered voters in Catalunya cast a ballot. Partly because the Spanish police were taking the ballots from the schools used as voting places.

The Catalan government has not yet declared Independence, but every night at exactly 10 pm the residents of Barcelona continue to bang their pots and pans and cowbells as loud as they can for roughly 20 minutes or more. Before the vote, they made a din for 15 minutes and no more. Now they are getting rowdy and losing track of time.

This morning, thousands of people gathered around Escola Ramon Llull, a school in Barcelona where police confiscated voting ballots in an attempt to stop the Independence vote. The protesters hung multi-colored flowers and handmade signs on the school gate. A typed sign announced in Catalan, “You will never silence the voice of the citizens. On October 1 we won all those who believe in freedom.” Then the mothers and fathers with their children marched down Gran Via, one of the major streets in Barcelona, to join the thousands of other groups of pro-Independence protesters.

Today, there are very few shops open for business. Most of the grocery stores and restaurants are closed. The Metro, or subway, is not operating. Cars with the green light have had to wait for the steady stream of Catalan-flag caped protesters and fluorescent-orange clad firefighters, and all of the thousands of people with them, to pass by the intersection before motorized transportation could continue.

The people of Barcelona are singing and chanting together in the streets today. They are on strike and they are celebrating their Independence.

Photo of the main gate at Escola Ramon Llull on Tuesday, October 3, 2017, two days after Spanish police raided the school-cum-voting-place and took the paper ballots to be used in the Independence vote. Translation: “You will never silence the voice of the citizens. On October 1 we won all those who believe in freedom.” by Justin Bass 

 

The Truth

The truth is as hard to grasp as water in your hand. – Justin Bass, copyright June 5, 2015.

Google search for %22water EPA%22 on June 5, 2015

Google search for “water EPA” on June 5, 2015

WARNING: Cancer in the Water

Carcinogens in oil-drilling wastewater pose a threat to California’s drinking water. That is why on July 1, 2015, the State Water Resources Control Board will craft its first groundwater-protection program. The final criteria will be based partly on input from the public in May and June. Unfortunately, the Water Board has no plan for a public-awareness campaign to let the people know about the public-comment period, other than the Water Board’s website.

Anyone can make suggestions to the Board’s headquarters in Sacramento by email, fax, standard mail or in person, until May 29. Then the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory will make its recommendations available to the public on June 16. Public comment on the final draft of the groundwater model criteria will be open until June 29. If all goes according to schedule, the Board will finalize the groundwater plan July 1 and adopt it officially on July 7.

In contrast to New York’s moratorium on hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”), California decided to regulate all methods of well stimulation used by the oil companies. California is not only the 7th largest economy on the planet, it is also the 3rd largest oil-producing state in the country.

The black dots represent California’s active oil wells regulated by the state’s Department of Conservation (map procured from http://maps.conservation.ca.gov/doggr/index.html#close):

California's Active Oil Wells

This is the first time in the history of the state that California will regulate enhanced methods of oil extraction used by oil companies, since oil drilling started in the Golden State over 120 years ago. Long, metal straws, as oil-drilling pipes, pierce the groundwater on the way to the pools of fossil fuels thousands of feet below the surface. Any leak in the oil-drilling pipe could contaminate the groundwater. The oil companies also use injection wells to dispose of wastewater. Likewise, the injection wells stick through the groundwater, and any hole in the injection wells could pollute the groundwater.

California does not even know how much groundwater it has because nobody has ever bothered to measure and track it. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency allowed oil companies to dump waste into certain areas of California’s groundwater because it was thought that the water was so deep and dirty it would never need to be used. Farmers who typically drilled to a depth of 500 feet to access drinking water now have to drill past 1,000 feet to reach the potable groundwater. Corporations, like Crystal Geyser, Coca-Cola and Nestlé, also drill for California’s groundwater to make as much bottled water as they want, and they do so legally because the state currently allows property owners to access the water under the land they own. Some parts of the state are sinking, or subsiding, because taking water out of the sediment is similar to letting air out of a tire.

Now in the fourth year of a debilitating drought, Governor Jerry Brown and the Water Board enacted a 25 percent reduction in urban water use. California farmers, who grow the overwhelming majority of fruits, nuts and vegetables for the rest of the country, have also agreed to a 25 percent reduction in water use. On top of that, the Metropolitan Water District, which supplies drinking water for most of the 22 million people living in Southern California, announced a 15 percent reduction in imported water from the Colorado River and Northern California. The panoply of water-rationing programs will go into effect on July 1.

There is less water to go around for California’s 38 million people and to grow the fresh produce shared with America’s 300 million-plus thirsty and hungry mouths. Yet oil companies continue to use well-stimulation techniques that could contaminate drinking and irrigation water. The state’s oil regulators admitted that oil companies have been illegally dumping drilling waste into underground sources of drinking water that were not exempted by the EPA. Recently 23 of the offending injection wells were shut down.

The U.S. Clean Water Act protects surface waters, such as lakes and rivers, from which California draws about 25 percent of its potable water. The U.S. Safe Drinking Water Act protects the other 75 percent of the Golden State’s drinkable water, which comes in the form of groundwater. There is one exception to the SDWA: the Republican-majority Congress of 2005 exempted fracking fluids from federal regulation, thus leaving it up to the states to regulate fracking contamination of groundwater. Now California’s oil regulators are investigating all 50,000 injection wells in California, and they suspect approximately 2,500 injection wells may be operating in violation of the SDWA.

In addition, President Barack Obama will announce a new rule to protect all United States drinking water, surface water and groundwater, The New York Times reported on May 22, 2015.

“There are enough chemicals in oils that are carcinogens,” but when acid-mixes are used to stimulate the oil well and then injection wells shoot the hazardous materials underground “that’s even worse. That creates all the chlorinated hydrocarbons, which are all carcinogens. Like chloroform, that’s a carbonate. All the PCBs, all the polychlorinated biphenyls, are even more toxic,” said Dr. Robert Schiestl, who is a professor of Pathology, Environmental Health Science and Radiation Oncology at the University of California, Los Angeles, as well as a member of the University’s Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center. “Epidemiological studies lag behind 40 years because that’s how long it takes for the people to get cancer.”

Many times health professionals, like those at the Children’s Hospital Los Angeles for example, treat the symptoms of leukemia without anyone ever asking what caused the leukemia in the first place. A mother, who for many years has lived on the same block as a residential oil-drilling site in the City of LA, gave birth to a child with leukemia, her neighbor said. The baby died and the mother does not want to talk about it for public consumption, according to the neighbor, who did not want to be named. When asked if a woman could give birth to a child with leukemia as a result of drinking water with oil-drilling contaminants in it, Dr. Schiestl answered, “It is possible.”

Since January 1, 2014, oil companies operating in California are required by the law, known as Senate Bill 4, to inform neighbors of any well stimulation within 1,500 feet (or the length of five football fields), so that the neighbors can request tests of the local groundwater. The oil companies and their state regulators keep changing the definition of well stimulation. Therefore, the public is not notified and never knows its rights. Likewise, California’s first groundwater-monitoring program is supposed to be open for public comment, starting with a public workshop in Sacramento on May 19. Again, the majority of the public did not know about Tuesday’s open event and most people do not know about the problem of oil companies contaminating the public groundwater.

In March, Governor Brown staged a photo-op in front of a desiccated, Sierra Nevada mountainside, where there is historically a visible covering of white snow for scientists to measure. April storms provided enough snow for popular winter resorts in Mammoth Mountain and Tahoe to extend their ski seasons, but 2015 was the driest winter in California since the state started recordkeeping of droughts in the 1800s. California needs snow more than rain, because snow melts slowly and accumulates in underground aquifers whereas rain runs off into the gutters and out to the ocean before state and local agencies can collect it for drinking. Not only does the oil industry contaminate groundwater with its use of injection wells dumping into pristine aquifers, but the burning of oil creates warmer precipitation events and thus depletes California’s essential snowpack. The snowpack is the state’s slow-drip supply of drinking water. Snow we can hold in our hands, rain runs through our fingers.

Despite having a law to protect drinking water from oil-drilling contamination, the enforcement of the law is still up to the oil regulators at the Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources (under the aegis of the Department of Conservation), who are operating in the best interest of the oil companies’ profits and the $6 billion worth of annual taxes they produce for the state, rather than informing the public of potential well-stimulation contaminants in the groundwater, beneath their homes and near the oil drilling sites.

The $6 billion tax figure comes from a December 24, 2013 Op-Ed published in the Los Angeles Times by Catherine Reheis-Boyd, the president of the Western States Petroleum Association. The WSPA lobbies for the oil industry in California and five other states. When the LA City Council voted to ban hydraulic fracturing within the city limits in 2014, the oil companies and their lobbyists threatened to sue the City. So there is no ban on hydraulic fracturing in the City of LA.

To date, California has conducted only one SB 4-related, water-quality test, and that test was for surface water not groundwater, according to Andrew DiLuccia, Public Information Officer at California’s Water Board. “The test results indicated no impacts associated with well stimulation,” he said about the lone water test near Fillmore, in Ventura County, California. None of the underground sources of drinking water polluted by the oil companies’ 23 illegal injection wells have been tested under SB 4 regulations. However, benzene, a known human carcinogen, was detected inside fracking wastewater at “levels thousands of times greater than state and federal agencies consider safe” in 2013, according to an article from the Pulitzer-Prize winning reporter, Julie Cart, of the Los Angeles Times.

“Benzene is the most toxic of the fuel components and can seriously affect the blood cells. Industrial workers exposed to high levels of benzene in the air were at higher risk of developing a type of anemia and of having a low white blood cell count than other unexposed workers,” reads a July 1997 report from the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services, titled Volatile Organic Compounds in Drinking Water. “Leukemia, a form of cancer of the white blood cells, was more likely to occur in industrial workers as compared to other workers. There is also limited evidence that benzene can injure the fetus or cause miscarriage.”

Statewide water rationing goes into effect this summer for all Californians, while the oil companies continue to use known carcinogens and stimulate oil wells with thousands of gallons of hydrochloric acid mixed with thousands of gallons of water. For instance, Breitburn Energy and Pacific Coast Energy operate dozens of active oil wells, called West Pico, at the corner of Pico Boulevard and Doheny Drive in the City of Los Angeles. The City is host to hundreds of active oil wells, many of which are in residential neighborhoods, where people in cars navigate the streets and pedestrians walk in the shade of tree-lined sidewalks.

The black dots represent the City of LA’s active oil wells:

LA's Active Oil Wells

The Department of Conservation’s public records show that on January 2, 2014, DOGGR’s engineer, John Huff, approved the West Pico 12 oil well to begin “stimulation of the Hauser Formation & new Repetto perforations with 15% HCl [Hydrochloric Acid],” in the Beverly Hills-adjacent neighborhood represented by LA City Councilmember, Paul Koretz. (Hauser and Repetto are millions-of-years-old geological formations.) This use of acid to stimulate the oil well is considered “maintenance” by the oil regulators, but it still creates wastewater that the oil company injects deep into the ground, in the same neighborhood as moms pushing baby strollers and dads pitching to bat-wielding kids in the front yards.

“DOGGR does not do an adequate job of regulation,” Koretz said.

Many of the local residents have no idea about the toxic chemicals being used down the block. “If we had known about the oil drilling, we never would’ve moved here,” said Lyndsey Vlaicu, who lives with her husband and their 2-year-old son within a stone’s throw of Pacific Coast Energy’s West Pico oil derrick, which is disguised behind a building-like façade and a fringe of trees. “I can smell gas four to five times a week.” Acrid fumes pervade the air more so when the workers show up with their trucks, Vlaicu added.

Full disclosure: I used to live on the same block as the West Pico oil wells, but moved away in March 2015. I did not know Mrs. Vlaicu until after I moved from the neighborhood and began reporting this story. Like many of the residents on the block, I was not notified about the productive oil derrick, which is located about the length of one football field away from my former apartment.

The black dots represent the active West Pico oil wells:

West Pico Active Oil Wells

In practice, the regulators at DOGGR determine what constitutes well stimulation, no matter what the text of SB 4 states. There is no agency other than DOGGR to enforce the law and there is no recourse for the people of California to challenge DOGGR’s authority. The EPA gave California “primacy” to regulate its oil drilling and groundwater, which the state ostensibly fulfills through DOGGR and the law, SB 4. The oil companies’ lobbyists helped to write the law and their regulators assist the oil companies to get around the required public disclosure of well stimulation.

“This is the well that we want to perforate the Repetto and do an acid job,” wrote Frank Smith of Breitburn Energy to Huff, the oil regulator at DOGGR, on January 27, 2014. “We believe that there is adequate protection of any USDW [Underground Source of Drinking Water]. Tom [McCollum of Pacific Coast Energy] and I would like to call you around 9:15 am this morning to discuss with you. Our West Pico rig is awaiting orders and not having to do a cement squeeze would save us about $100,000.”

West Pico 1

West Pico 2

West Pico 3

Breitburn got the approval for Pacific Coast Energy to go ahead with the acid job.

“To follow up on our phone conversation, based on the results of the cement bond log, no cement squeeze is necessary at this time,” wrote Huff, the oil regulator.

A cement bond log calculates the thickness and quality of the cement around the oil pipe.

Not only would it have added to the cost, but the cement squeeze at West Pico 12 would have also added an extra layer of protection between the groundwater and the toxic chemicals in the oil/acid mix running through the industrial piping. For a reference point, the inadequate cement job and the overdue cement bond log at the Deepwater Horizon oil drill in the Gulf of Mexico were largely to blame for the catastrophic ocean spill in 2010.

The cause of the massive oil spill in the California ocean water near Santa Barbara on May 19 is still unknown, as of this reporting.

It is important to note that solar-electric panels and plug-in cars never polluted the water in California. It’s time for all of us, as a civilization, to transition from using oil and other fossil fuels as soon as possible. We, the consumers, are causing our own problems by perpetuating the production and sale of dirty fossil fuels because almost all of us continue to use them in one way or another. We use oil and gas for our cars and we cook with natural gas flames. We heat our water with fire and we produce our electricity by burning fossils fuels. However, our cars, our cooking, our heated water and our electricity can all be energized by the Sun. If you want to point a finger at anyone for the problem of global warming, the prolonged drought and the scarcity of clean water in California, power down your computer or phone, extend your index finger toward the black screen and take a good, hard look at your reflection. What are you going to do? You can no longer plead ignorance. Now you know the problems and the solutions. So what are you going to do?

Here is the Water Board’s website:

http://www.waterboards.ca.gov/water_issues/programs/groundwater/sb4/docs/notice_model_criteria.pdf

For Perspective:

Go to page 4 of the highlighted document below to see “well stimulation” at the West Pico 40 oil well, as the South Coast Air Quality Management District, or AQMD, defines it:

COM – R1148.2 Chemical Report – PB – 11-5-2013 – Event ID#868 – Fac ID; …-3

After receiving a public records request in April 2015, the AQMD, has delayed the release of 2014 and 2015 chemical reports at the West Pico facility, due to possible trade secrets, said Lisa Ramos, Public Records Coordinator at AQMD. SB 4 protects trade secrets as long as the oil company reports the chemicals to DOGGR and defines the use of them as “well stimulation.”

Neither Breitburn Energy executives nor Pacific Coast Energy executives returned calls and emails requesting a comment about their residential oil drilling and “well stimulation” that runs through neighborhood groundwater.

Read the public document cited in this article for yourself:

West Pico 12 – Well Stimulation in 2014 – 03720146_DATA_2015-04-28

After many attempts to interview the oil regulators in California, the Assistant Chief Counsel for the Department of Conservation, Justin Turner, replied via email, “The Department does not make field inspectors available to the press for interviews, as a rule.  An exception will not be made in this case.”

Multiple requests for an interview with Governor Jerry Brown went unanswered, including a hard-copy request mailed in an envelope to his office in Sacramento, as is the policy of his office. For the past two weeks, Governor Brown’s phone number responds with an answering machine stating that nobody can take a call and to try again later.

After more than a month of requesting an interview with Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom, his Communications Director and Senior Advisor, Rhys Williams, emailed back, “At this time, we’re unable to accommodate your request.”

* I submitted many different versions of this article to Los Angeles Times, LA Weekly, The Orange County Register, The New York Times, The Atlantic, Rolling Stone, National Public Radio stations 89.3 KPCC and 89.9 KCRW, as well as to local and national television news stations and many other news outlets. None of them decided to publish the article, so I am publishing it here because the information in this article is in the public interest.

Justin Bass is a freelance reporter and environmental advocate living in Los Angeles. He has a Master’s degree in Journalism from Columbia University and previously reported on the financial markets in New York. He has worked for both SolarCity and Tesla Motors.

For lagniappe…

Head of California agency accused of favoring oil industry quits

http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-head-of-oil-regulating-agency-quits-20150605-story.html

“Get more out of your solar power system by using water as a battery”

https://theconversation.com/get-more-out-of-your-solar-power-system-by-using-water-as-a-battery-37807

Fande = Fact & Evidence; Cande = Conjecture & Exaggeration

Bring your Fande, leave your Cande!

Surveil You Later? — How the N.S.A. ruined the Information Age

November 14, 2013 Leave a comment


The National Security Agency (N.S.A.) headquarters at Ft. Meade, Maryland.

picture source: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/8/84/National_Security_Agency_headquarters,_Fort_Meade,_Maryland.jpg

The N.S.A. ruined the Information Age.
Who wants to shop online with somebody looking over your
shoulder? President Obama, you know what it’s like to be
followed while shopping. Why do it to us, in our homes, at
our offices, or wherever we may be connected to the world
wide web?

Maybe somebody was on his cellphone at the park and wanted to
check the score of the football game he just bet on. It’s
none of the government’s business if two consenting adults
make a gentleman’s wager on the outcome of the Giants vs.
Vikings game. Mitt Romney can make $10,000 bets all day, and
it’s none of the government’s business if Rick Perry takes
him up on it or not!

Video: Mitt Romney saying “Rick, I’ll tell you what, 10,000
bucks? $10,000 bet?”

Oh, Mitt!

Now, since Edward Snowden revealed the surveillance-software
suite at the disposal of U.S. government workers, we also
know that the N.S.A. can see our emails, internet search
activity, online bank accounts, and everything we do in the
digital world. So if that’s where we are in present-day
American society, let’s just admit we live in an age of
diminishing privacy. Sure, you can refrain from using the
internet, and give up calling and emailing people. But how
many people are going to stop using their iPhones and
Androids and other so-called smartphones? Once you get ‘em
hooked, you can’t just take away the candy. At least not
without a claim ticket.

That’s why we should use a cellphone check-in
service. In the name of bringing back conversation to
civilized society. Just listen to these two humans talk to
each other when there are no cellphones to interrupt their
natural state.

____________________________________________________________________________________________________

Two men in the audience waiting for a live
show to begin.

AUDIENCE MEMBER #1:
God, this is boring!

AUDIENCE MEMBER #2:
Totally.

AUDIENCE MEMBER #1:
And we can’t even get online.

AUDIENCE MEMBER #2:
Hey, by the way, what do you think
about the N.S.A.?

AUDIENCE MEMBER #1:
Seriously?

AUDIENCE MEMBER #2:
They can’t track us now.

AUDIENCE MEMBER #1:
Well, I think it’s bad that there’s
no oversight.

Two men in suits suddenly appear.

SUIT #1:
Sir, would you please come with us?

Audience Member #1 gets up to leave with Suit#1.

SUIT #2 (TO AUDIENCE MEMBER #2):
And what do you think about the
N.S.A.?

Audience Member #2 smiles and give two thumbs up.

Suit #2 nods and harrumphs before exiting.

Audience Member #2 slouches down in his seat, stealthily
looks over both shoulders, and turns around with a nervous
head twitch.

____________________________________________________________________________________________________

Let’s not let it get to this, People. Secret courts for
surveillance programs on American citizens is not what the
framers of the Constitution had in mind. Just in case, the
American Public demanded the first 10 Amendments.
The very first Amendment is Freedom of Religion, Freedom of
the Press, Freedom of Peaceful Assembly to protest the
government, and Freedom of Speech.

Speech is not free when you have somebody looking over your
shoulder the whole time. Just ask Edward Snowden.

Edward Snowden during interview in Hong Kong hotel with UK Guardian reporter, Glenn Greenwald, and Oscar-nominated documentary filmmaker, Laura Poitras.

Picture source: http://www.wired.com/images_blogs/threatlevel/2013/06/Edward-Snowden.jpg

The rest of Europe wants to give him an award, but he’s in
Vladimir Putin’s Russia now. And Snowden thought the N.S.A. was
bad? If he did any whistleblowing on Putin, he’d be in
Russian jail faster than you can say Pussy Riot.

In 2012, band members of Pussy Riot wearing their trademark balaclavas while performing “Punk Prayer” at the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow. Two of the women in the band are serving out two-year prison sentences for singing their political-protest song in church.

Picture source: http://rt.com/files/news/pussy-riot-court-hearing-355/if499a049ff6dce2e1c1bd012dd9466b2_1.jpg

We live in an age where the whistleblowers of secret U.S.
government surveillance have to hide out with our competitor
countries? How is that Freedom of Speech protection for
Snowden when he has to flee to China’s Hong Kong?

Map of Hong Kong as part of China.

Picture source: https://fandecande.files.wordpress.com/2013/11/14194-china-map-w-hong-kong200.jpeg

And then to Putin’s Russia?

Map of Russia, bordering Europe and Asia.  

Let’s get it all out in the open. Our government spies on
everybody, including its own citizens.

People using N.S.A.-tracked devices.

Picture source: http://www.redorbit.com/media/uploads/2013/09/smartphones-everywhere_TS_80404212_091613-617×416.jpg

If you reveal the secret surveillance, the government will
revoke your passport and you will be in No Man’s Land. All
you can do is throw up your hands and try to make calls for
help, much like being a Verizon Wireless customer near the
beach in L.A.

No, Technology does not always work. And when it does work,
we have no privacy. But our cellphones and our computers
provide those sugary snacks for the mind that we crave day
and night. We don’t really care who watches us, as long as
they let us have our candy.

Edward Snowden just pulled back the curtain on the Wizard of
Oz.

Wizard of Oz behind the curtain when Dorothy reveals him
in the classic film (in color).

But this Oz is very powerful. It’s going to take a lot of
Heart, Brains and Courage to overcome the all-powerful
National Security Agency. But, like I said, give people the
candy they want and they don’t really care what you do behind
the curtain. Especially if you tell them that it has
something to do with stopping terrorists. (Joe Q Public
voice.) “Of course you need everybody’s emails to stop
terrorists. I’m not a terrorist, go ahead.”

We’ll sing “God Bless America” at the 7th inning stretch and
you can track everybody in and out of the stadium.

Aerial view of Dodger Stadium.

Picture source: http://www.examiner.com/images/blog/EXID426/images/dodger-stadium-pic.jpg

Unless, we start doing cellphone check-ins at the ballpark, and
at the movies, and at every public venue! We could take back
our Freedom of Speech if, and only if, we willingly give up
our cellphones for moments during the day.
If we can have coat-check rooms, then we can have cellphone check-in
rooms. Or you can leave your cellphone at home or in
your car. Civilization is what we make of it. The
communication network provided by cellphones and the
internet, that’s the N.S.A.’s domain. But everything else, the
rest of the world, that’s ours. All of ours. Unless you’re
Edward Snowden.

Edward Snowden in Russia.

Picture source: http://img.welt.de/img/ausland/crop121424053/2238725298-ci3x2l-w620/title.jpg

He’s the hero, and yet he’s the one who has to hide. Think
about that the next time the N.S.A. tracks you online while
consuming your internet content.

It’s not so bad now, but just think of what somebody could do
if they wanted to take advantage of our private information:
our business contracts and financial investments, our
professional and personal relationships. This is not the place where government should be. We all have the right to our privacy! Unless you’re a terrorist!

Well, I guess that settles it: the N.S.A. can do whatever it
wants in the name of fighting terrorists and we should use
cellphone check-in rooms to get away from the N.S.A. at certain
points during the day.

Ah, America! The only country that
cares enough to monitor its citizens’ communications 24/7
just to make sure everything is O.K. Like an overbearing
parent!

“It’s for your own good,” they’ll say, as they store
everything we text and type in a super-huge server facility
in Utah, where you can’t even buy a beer on Sunday!


Frosty glass mug of beer.

Picture source: http://www.slate.com/content/dam/slate/articles/life/drink/2012/02/120224_DRINK_frostedBeerMug.jpg.CROP.rectangle3-large.jpg

What’s next? No tacos on Tuesdays?!

Taco, a happy-hour treat on Tuesdays.

Picture source: http://i.cdn.turner.com/dr/teg/tsg/release/sites/default/files/assets/meattaco.jpg

We have to draw the line somewhere, or the government will
continue to encroach on our privacy and our civil liberties.
I say beer on Sunday and tacos on Tuesdays, and cellphone check-in
rooms, and real regulation on the N.S.A. surveillance. No
secret courts. Let’s have our regulation in a regular court.
And let’s have our daily slice of Americana with our First
Amendment rights intact.

Map of the United States in the
middle of North America.

picture source: http://www.kidcyber.com.au/IMAGES/usa-politcal-map.jpg

Freedom of Speech makes America the best country in
the world. Without Freedom of Speech you might as well be living in Russia.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________