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The Downside of the Boom

North Dakota took on the oversight of a multibillion-dollar oil industry with a regulatory system built on trust, warnings and second chances.

By DEBORAH SONTAG and ROBERT GEBELOFF   
NOV. 22, 2014
NYT

WILLISTON, N.D. — In early August 2013, Arlene Skurupey of Blacksburg, Va., got an animated call from the normally taciturn farmer who rents her family land in Billings County, N.D. There had been an accident at the Skurupey 1-9H oil well. “Oh, my gosh, the gold is blowing,” she said he told her. “Bakken gold.”

It was the 11th blowout since 2006 at a North Dakota well operated by Continental Resources, the most prolific producer in the booming Bakken oil patch. Spewing some 173,250 gallons of potential pollutants, the eruption, undisclosed at the time, was serious enough to bring the Oklahoma-based company’s chairman and chief executive, Harold G. Hamm, to the remote scene.

It was not the first or most catastrophic blowout visited by Mr. Hamm, a sharecropper’s son who became the wealthiest oilman in America and energy adviser to Mitt Romney during the 2012 presidential campaign. Two years earlier, a towering derrick in Golden Valley County had erupted into flames and toppled, leaving three workers badly burned. “I was a human torch,” said the driller, Andrew J. Rohr.

Blowouts represent the riskiest failure in the oil business. Yet, despite these serious injuries and some 115,000 gallons spilled in those first 10 blowouts, the North Dakota Industrial Commission, which regulates the drilling and production of oil and gas, did not penalize Continental until the 11th.

In 2011, Andrew J. Rohr and two other workers were badly burned when a towering derrick erupted into flames and toppled. “I was a human torch,” Mr. Rohr said.

The commission — the governor, attorney general and agriculture commissioner — imposed a $75,000 penalty. Earlier this year, though, the commission, as it often does, suspended 90 percent of the fine, settling for $7,500 after Continental blamed “an irresponsible supervisor” — just as it had blamed Mr. Rohr and his crew, contract workers, for the blowout that left them traumatized.

Since 2006, when advances in hydraulic fracturing — fracking — and horizontal drilling began unlocking a trove of sweet crude oil in the Bakken shale formation, North Dakota has shed its identity as an agricultural state in decline to become an oil powerhouse second only to Texas. A small state that believes in small government, it took on the oversight of a multibillion-dollar industry with a slender regulatory system built on neighborly trust, verbal warnings and second chances.

In recent years, as the boom really exploded, the number of reported spills, leaks, fires and blowouts has soared, with an increase in spillage that outpaces the increase in oil production, an investigation by The New York Times found. Yet, even as the state has hired more oil field inspectors and imposed new regulations, forgiveness remains embedded in the Industrial Commission’s approach to an industry that has given North Dakota the fastest-growing economy and lowest jobless rate in the country.

For those who champion fossil fuels as the key to America’s energy independence, North Dakota is an unrivaled success, a place where fracking has provoked little of the divisive environmental debate that takes place elsewhere. Its state leaders rarely mention the underside of the boom and do not release even summary statistics about environmental incidents and enforcement measures.

Over the past nine months, using previously undisclosed and unanalyzed records, bolstered by scores of interviews in North Dakota, The Times has pieced together a detailed accounting of the industry’s environmental record and the state’s approach to managing the “carbon rush.”

The Times found that the Industrial Commission wields its power to penalize the industry only as a last resort. It rarely pursues formal complaints and typically settles those for about 10 percent of the assessed penalties. Since 2006, the commission has collected an estimated $1.1 million in fines. This is a pittance compared with the $33 million (including some reimbursements for cleanups) collected by Texas’ equivalent authority over roughly the same period, when Texas produced four times the oil.

“We’re spoiling the child by sparing the rod,” said Daryl Peterson, a farmer who has filed a complaint seeking to compel the state to punish oil companies for spills that contaminated his land. “We should be using the sword, not the feather.”

North Dakota’s oil and gas regulatory setup is highly unusual in that it puts three top elected officials directly in charge of an industry that, through its executives and political action committees, can and does contribute to the officials’ campaigns. Mr. Hamm and other Continental officials, for instance, have contributed $39,900 to the commissioners since 2010. John B. Hess, chief executive of Hess Oil, the state’s second-biggest oil producer, contributed $25,000 to Gov. Jack Dalrymple in 2012.

State regulators say they deliberately choose a collaborative rather than punitive approach because they view the large independent companies that dominate the Bakken as responsible and as their necessary allies in policing the oil fields. They prefer to work alongside industry to develop new guidelines or regulations when problems like overflowing waste, radioactive waste, leaking pipelines, and flaring gas become too glaring to ignore.

Mr. Dalrymple’s office said in a statement: “The North Dakota Industrial Commission has adopted some of the most stringent oil and gas production regulations in the country to enhance protections for our water, air and land. At the same time, the state has significantly increased staffing to enforce environmental protections. Our track record is one of increased regulation and oversight.”

Researchers who study government enforcement generally conclude that “the cooperative approach doesn’t seem to generate results” while “the evidence shows that increased monitoring and increased enforcement will reduce the incidence of oil spills,” said Mark A. Cohen, a Vanderbilt University professor who led a team advising the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling.

With spills steadily rising in North Dakota, evidence gathered by The Times suggests that the cooperative approach is not working that well for the state, where the Industrial Commission shares industry oversight with the state’s Health Department and federal agencies.

One environmental incident for every 11 wells in 2006, for instance, became one for every six last year, The Times found.

Through early October of this year, companies reported 3.8 million gallons spilled, nearly as much as in 2011 and 2012 combined.

Over all, more than 18.4 million gallons of oils and chemicals spilled, leaked or misted into the air, soil and waters of North Dakota from 2006 through early October 2014. (In addition, the oil industry reported spilling 5.2 million gallons of nontoxic substances, mostly fresh water, which can alter the environment and carry contaminants.)

The spill numbers derive from estimates, and sometimes serious underestimates, reported to the state by the industry. State officials, who rarely discuss them publicly, sometimes use them to present a rosier image. Over the summer, speaking to farmers in the town of Antler, Lynn D. Helms, the director of the Department of Mineral Resources, announced “a little bit of good news”: The spill rate per well was “steady or down.” In fact, the rate has risen sharply since the early days of the boom.

Presented with The Times’s data analysis, and asked if the state was doing an effective job at preventing spills, Mr. Helms struck a more sober note. “We’re doing O.K.,” he said. “We’re not doing great.”

He noted it is a federal agency, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, that regulates oil transmission pipelines. “You can’t use the spills P.H.M.S.A. was responsible for and conclude my approach to regulation is not working,” he said.

Oil and Wastewater Spills

More than 18 million gallons of oil and toxic wastewater were spilled in North Dakota from January 2006 to October 2014. Most individual spills were contained to the immediate drilling area, but many of the largest spills polluted surrounding farms and waterways.

Indeed, as the tangle of buried pipelines has grown, there have been no federal pipeline inspectors based in North Dakota. But there have been no state inspectors, either, to oversee the much larger network of gathering pipelines unregulated by the federal government — a fount of many spills.

Penalizing companies for every violation is imprudent and can be counterproductive, Mr. Helms said, potentially “leaving the citizens of North Dakota with enormous liabilities on their hands when bankrupt operators walk away.”

Continental Resources hardly seems likely to walk away from its 1.2 million leased acres in the Bakken. It has reaped substantial profit from the boom, with $2.8 billion in net income from 2006 through 2013.

But the company, which has a former North Dakota governor on its board, has been treated with leniency by the Industrial Commission.

From 2006 through August, it reported more spills and environmental incidents (937) and a greater volume of spillage (1.6 million gallons) than any other operator. It spilled more per barrel of oil produced than any of the state’s other major producers. Since 2006, however, the company has paid the Industrial Commission $20,000 out of $222,000 in assessed fines.

Continental said in a written response to questions that it was misleading to compare its spill record with that of other operators because “we are not aware other operators report spills as transparently and proactively as we do.” It said that it had recovered the majority of what it spilled, and that penalty reductions came from providing the Industrial Commission “with precisely the information it needs to enforce its regulations fairly.”

What Continental paid Mr. Rohr, the injured driller, is guarded by a confidentiality agreement negotiated after a jury was impaneled for a trial this September. His wife, Winnie, said she wished the trial had gone forward “so the truth could come out, but we just didn’t have enough power to fight them.”

Looking back now, one thing gnaws at her.

“You know what really bothered me?” Mrs. Rohr said. “Harold Hamm flew up to see the damage to the rig but didn’t go see the guys who were burned.”
Oil wells, shown in yellow, cover the agricultural landscape. Most have been built since 2006.
Thousands of lines drilled underground connect the fracking operations to surface wells.

Embracing the Oil Industry as Economic Salvation

Given the state’s history of population loss and economic decline, state officials delighted in the arrival of oil companies eager to exploit the tremendous untapped potential of the primeval Bakken formation deep beneath the sweeping prairies and rugged badlands of western North Dakota.

Especially during the first years, officials were anxious that this oil boom, like previous ones, could be fleeting, that oil companies, if not embraced, could shift their rigs and capital investment to fields with less severe winters and better access to markets.

“There was a mentality that we should be helping things along, not getting in the way with regulations,” said Todd Sattler, a lawyer who served as a state oil and gas hearing officer through mid-2011. “It wasn’t blatant disregard for bad things, just permissive.”

Mr. Sattler said he tried to establish a protocol for field investigations, preparing a three-page checklist of procedures, including how to conduct witness interviews. The response from the state’s chief inspector, he said, was: “I’m not going to be a cop out there, Todd.”

In 2006, the Industrial Commission issued 419 drilling permits, processing applications in five days. By 2011, when it handed out 1,927 permits, it was still managing to issue them in 10 days. At that point, concerned that the Environmental Protection Agency might establish a moratorium on fracking — the legislature set aside $1 million to sue the E.P.A. — there was a desire to establish facts on the ground.

Some officials in western North Dakota challenged the accelerating pace. “It was so ragtag and breathless,” said Dan Kalil, the Williams County Commission chairman. “Infrastructure in every facet wasn’t able to keep up.”

Ron Ness, president of the North Dakota Petroleum Council, said: “It’s easy to say it’s been too fast, too much. But this is what North Dakotans have hoped for, prayed for.” Investors from all over the country are now drawn to tiny, remote places like Watford City, where “there wasn’t a damn thing” seven years ago, he said.

“We’ve got the largest-producing Cinnabon anywhere in the world,” he said. (The Williston Cinnabon, more precisely, has the highest sales in a travel plaza, the company said.)

In the first five years, the “slow, nasty drip, drip, drip” of routine spills — as Edmund Baker, environmental director for the Fort Berthold Reservation in the heart of the oil patch, calls it — went largely unnoticed and sometimes unreported to the authorities.

In the spring thaw of 2011, however, after a winter of record snowfall, scores of oil waste pits overflowed at once. The large, open pits, adjacent to rigs throughout the Bakken at that point, disgorged oil-based drilling mud that mixed with snowmelt and streamed across farmland and into stock ponds, creeks and river tributaries.

Farmers were horrified; the local news media took note. And, in concert with the development of a new regulation outlawing liquid waste pits, the Industrial Commission undertook its first — and so far only — crackdown on spills. It filed several dozen formal complaints against companies that, Mr. Helms said, had defied the Mineral Resources Department’s warning to take precautions to prevent the predicted overflows.

Hess Oil was one target. It paid its fines in full: $112,500.

Continental, like some other companies, disputed its responsibility.

Its lawyer, a former counsel to the Industrial Commission, proposed that consent agreements state that the overflows were caused by unforeseeable extreme weather. Instead, the agreements attributed the violations “in part” to bad weather “unforeseen by Continental.”

Still, the Industrial Commission accepted $12,500 rather than $125,000.

That fall, at a commission meeting in Bismarck, Mr. Helms explained the logic behind the waste pit settlements.

Most companies would make “a voluntary 10 percent payment” and 90 percent would be suspended for a year, during which the operator would have to “keep completely clean” of the offense, Mr. Helms said, according to the meeting minutes. This works, he added, because “keeping that 90 percent hanging over their head for a year creates a culture change within the company.”

Mr. Helms said this had been departmental practice since the early 2000s when officials were trying to prod Earl Schwartz of GoFor Oil — his logo was a gopher in a hard hat — to plug some wells and start production on others.

Sarah Vogel, a former Industrial Commission member, said she considered it a startling admission that current policy was based on “the treatment of a small wildcatter from an earlier era.”

“It’s absurd to compare an Earl Schwartz to a Hess or any of these other enormous companies worth billions,” she said. “To me, announcing publicly that it is your practice to suspend the bulk of all fines makes a mockery of the whole enforcement system. Should we tell the general public that if they’re caught speeding, the fine is $100, but they only have to pay $10? It’s an invitation to violate the law.”

Bearded and deliberative, Mr. Helms is a petroleum engineer by trade, with a hand that bears the burn scars of an industrial accident. The state’s senior oil official since 2005, he previously worked at Texaco for two years and at Hess for 18.

To his critics, Mr. Helms personifies a cozy relationship between the commission and oil companies. His dual mission heightens this, they say, as he is compelled by statute both to promote “the greatest possible economic recovery of oil and gas” and to enforce regulations.

Mr. Helms, however, said that his background gives him access and authority, and that his job is to promote responsible development, not the industry.

“In order to effectively do that I have to be on a first-name basis with C.E.O.s and managers,” he said. “If they didn’t trust me, and if they expected every time they made a mistake they were going to get slapped with a great big fine or be singled out or profiled, I wouldn’t get straight answers.”

The commission has imposed its stiffest penalties on smaller companies. Last year, it fined Halek Operating, whose leader had a history of swindling investors in Texas, a record $1.5 million for a defective waste disposal well that threatened a town’s water supply. But Halek has gone out of business, and the state is unlikely to obtain more than the $140,000 in bonds it has seized.

Mr. Helms said that problems in the oil patch were often the fault not of the major companies but of the contractors who do their physical labor.

“The large independents — the bread and butter of the North Dakota oil industry — really understand their social license to operate and really try to emphasize environment, health and safety,” he said. “But there’s a disconnect.”

L. David Glatt, Mr. Helms’s counterpart in the Health Department’s environmental division, has voiced the same sentiment. Though the state’s chief environmental regulator, he described himself on a radio show last year as “not a regulations guy” — after the host said that “the word ‘regulation’ is like Lucifer” in North Dakota.

Before the boom, Mr. Glatt said in an interview, the Health Department had “a very hands-on, personalized approach, going out and helping people solve their problems.”

“Now with the oil boom bringing in people who are just here to make a living or make money,” he said, “we are being forced to change our regulatory approach to in some cases a very heavy-handed one, which is a paradigm shift for us.”

Judging by the data, the Health Department, overseen by civil servants and not elected officials, appears to have been tougher on the oil industry than the Industrial Commission has. It has collected over three-quarters of the fines levied, amounting to at least $4.1 million since 2006.

Still, most of that revenue derived from a single industrywide enforcement action that, Mr. Glatt said, the industry itself requested.

After years of underestimating volatile emissions from its oil storage tanks in the Bakken and allowing them to vent directly into the air, the industry “self-reported” the potential pollution and safety problem to the government.

A task force was formed; the companies devised a new model for estimating the emissions and pledged to control them through devices. And then they made a request: “They wanted fines to be collected by the state to reduce their exposure to lawsuits,” Mr. Glatt said. “We said, ‘Sure, we’d be more than happy to take your money.’ ”

The Health Department did not publicize that it collected record penalties for these violations last year: $2.64 million, including unprecedented sums like $418,500 from Hess and $305,400 from Continental.

“We are not wired like that,” Mr. Glatt said. “It goes to the fact that, honestly, when I get to the point where I have to collect a penalty, I look at that as a failure on our part.”

At her isolated farmhouse near Tioga, Patricia Jensen disarms guests — pipeline executives, oil spill cleaners — with a glistening berry pie fresh from the oven. She and her husband, Steven, are firm but nonconfrontational in their approach to what he calls the “ecological nightmare” in the backyard of the family’s century-old homestead.

“We’ve kind of taken a route of not being too sour, but yet we’re really concerned,” Mr. Jensen said.

What happened to them last fall — the largest on-land oil spill in American history — confronted North Dakota with the potential costs of the boom.

It shined a light on the state government’s lack of transparency when it went unreported to the public for 11 days. It raised awareness that spills of all magnitudes were daily and routine. It highlighted the inadequacy of pipeline monitoring.

And it made clear that even in the worst cases the authorities are hesitant to use punitive sanctions. More than a year after the spill, neither the federal nor the state government has penalized the company responsible, Tesoro Logistics of San Antonio.

“Clearly, they have impacted the groundwater system,” Mr. Glatt said. “There will be an enforcement action. But we use a carrot and stick approach. The carrot is if you get into it and clean it quickly, the stick won’t be as severe.”

Late last September, Mr. Jensen was harvesting waist-high durum wheat when he found his combine’s tires wet with an unmistakable sheen. His wife called the operator of a nearby well, which contacted Tesoro, and both companies immediately sent out representatives.

“It was dark out at this point,” Mrs. Jensen said. “We went to drive wide around what we thought was the spill and realized that we were not at the edge of it. We were still in it.”

Mr. Jensen continued: “There was a question of, well, whose line is it? It was squirting out of the ground. But the minute Tesoro shut its valve, there was a loud sucking sound.”

In its initial report, Tesoro seriously underestimated the contamination. A week and a half later, after a “subsurface assessment” request by the state, it tripled its estimate to 20,600 barrels, or 865,200 gallons. The lost oil had soaked a large stretch — equal to about six football fields — of the windswept land where the Jensens run cattle and rotate crops like sunflowers and sunshine-yellow canola.

The spill was publicly disclosed only after local reporters learned of it, provoking an outcry from environmentalists that led to the creation of a spills website.

In Tioga, a preliminary investigation found a small hole in the pipeline that appeared to have been caused by lightning, said the federal pipeline administration, whose final investigation has yet to be completed.

That cast the incident as an act of nature, but Tesoro officials now acknowledge that the hole had gone undetected for as long as two months.

“How do you lose over 20,000 barrels of oil and not realize it?” Mr. Glatt said. “That does kind of boggle the mind a little bit.”

In a statement to The Times, Tesoro expressed “deep regret.”

“Our systems did not prevent the spill, and we find that unacceptable,” it said. “We have put additional systems and controls in place and are committed to operating a safe pipeline system.”

Before the leak sprang in July 2013, Tesoro had not conducted an internal inspection of that segment of pipeline for eight years. Federal officials had last inspected the Tesoro network in North Dakota in 2010.

Pipeline leaks are not the most common cause of spills; valve or piping connection problems are, The Times found. But they spew the greatest volume of oil and wastewater and are the most likely to cause pollution.

Unlike several other major oil-producing states, North Dakota has until now relied on federal inspectors — based in Kansas City, Mo., 950 miles from Tioga — to monitor all its oil transmission lines, interstate and intrastate.

At the time of the spill, Brian Kalk, chairman of the state Public Service Commission, felt keenly frustrated, he said: “The company was not as forthright as they should have been. Everybody in the state was asking what’s going on, and I didn’t have jurisdiction on this pipeline. I didn’t like it.”

As a result, Mr. Kalk’s commission is seeking to take over the monitoring of the crude oil transmission pipelines that travel solely within the state.

Transmission pipelines, which carry oil to market, are not the only problem, however. Until this year, no authority, federal or state, monitored what Mr. Helms estimates to be 18,000 miles of gathering pipelines, which transport oil and wastewater from wells to collection sites. In fact, the North Dakota government does not even know their precise locations.

But, with legislative permission, Mr. Helms is taking the gathering lines under his aegis and hiring the state’s first three hazardous-liquid pipeline inspectors.

In Tioga, the Jensens are inclined to look at the bright side, though 33 acres of their farmland have been cordoned off for an industrial cleanup operation expected to take at least another year. They are glad that their spill was oil, not wastewater — “There’s no cleaning up of that,” Mr. Jensen said — and hope it served as “an eye-opener.”

“The industry really wants to fight putting monitoring devices on pipelines, but it’s a no-brainer, seems like,” Mr. Jensen said. “The cost of monitoring equipment is obviously far cheaper than the cost of cleanup.”

Tesoro said the cleanup would cost more than an initial estimate of $4 million and “less than $25 million.” It hired a Canadian company, Nelson Environmental Remediation, to treat the contaminated soil by burning it on site in “thermal desorption units.”

“We’re kind of like the proctologists of the industry,” said Warren Nelson, the company’s vice president. “We deal with the problems nobody wants to talk about.”

“We’ve kind of taken a route of not being too sour, but yet we’re really concerned,” said Steven Jensen, whose farmland was covered by oil from a pipeline break.

“The industry really wants to fight putting monitoring devices on pipelines, but it’s a no-brainer, seems like,” Mr. Jensen said.

One August evening this year, after a barbecue dinner beneath an elaborate skull-and-antler chandelier in the Outlaw Shack at Antler Memorial Park, Mr. Helms and Mr. Glatt faced an audience of farmers disgruntled by the wastewater contamination of northwestern North Dakota.

Their corner of the state is like a cautionary tale. It is pocked with the remnants of 1980s oil production: abandoned wastewater ponds, some of which leached brine downward and outward, sterilizing the soil and shriveling crops. State officials have estimated it would cost $2 million each to reclaim what might amount to 1,000 ponds, said State Representative Marvin E. Nelson.

“Well, we have more than $2 billion in our Legacy Fund,” he said, referring to a set-aside fund containing oil tax revenues. “So why not take the legacy from this oil boom to fix the legacy from the last oil boom?”

Though the industry now disposes of oil field brine primarily by injecting it deep underground, it still needs to be transported to disposal wells and remains a stubborn pollution problem. For every barrel of oil, about 1.4 barrels of brine is produced, state officials say, and far more of it spills than does oil.

And while the industry calls it saltwater — “which makes it sound harmless, like something you would gargle with,” said Derrick Braaten, a lawyer who represents farmers — it is highly saline and can be laced with toxic metals and radioactive substances.

Three years ago, a farmer in the Antler audience experienced one of the largest oil field wastewater spills ever in North Dakota. A leaking wastewater line contaminated some 24 acres of farmland and eight surface ponds, and the site has yet to be restored to health.

After the leak was detected, cleanup crews pumped out two million gallons of severely contaminated water, with chloride levels 2,700 times higher than normal, and a generator was still pumping out contaminants this summer.

“Three years!” the farmer, Darwin Peterson, exclaimed at the meeting. “Three years, and this spill has been addressed in a Band-Aid fashion. Meanwhile, that 24 acres has expanded, with Mother Nature, to the neighbors. When is enough enough?”

State officials say the spill far exceeded the 12,600 gallons originally reported by the company, Petro Harvester, though it remains listed that way on the state’s spills website. Mr. Helms, in an email last year to his spokeswoman, Alison Ritter, estimated it at 332,000 gallons. Mr. Nelson, the legislator and agronomist, thinks it probably was three times that much.

The state has not yet penalized Petro Harvester.

Underlying the state’s regulatory posture is the premise that spills are all but inevitable and will increase alongside increases in drilling. But that is not a universally shared perspective.

“There’s this idea that spills are just the cost of doing business,” said Amy Mall, a senior policy analyst with the Natural Resources Defense Council. “But there’s no technical justification for all these spills. And it’s not acceptable. It’s just not. It just shows how poorly the oil and gas industry is doing its job, and that nobody is making them do it right.”

To a skeptical audience in Antler, Mr. Helms proclaimed that North Dakota was “head and shoulders above our sister states” in the region for its vigilance as measured by the ratio of wells to inspectors, the frequency of inspections and the authority to fine up to $12,500 per offense a day.

He said that almost all problems found by his inspectors were corrected within 30 days of verbal warnings. Some 2,500 warnings were issued last year, Ms. Ritter said; only 4 percent resulted in a written violation and only nine complaints were filed (up from four in 2012).

In the park, Mr. Helms offered a boardroom-style PowerPoint presentation, including a graphic that he said contained the “good news” that the spill rate per well was steady or down.

His figures, however, provided to The Times later, show that the number of spills continued to grow faster than the number of wells — just not as fast as before. All told, the number of wells is up 200 percent and spills 650 percent since 2004.

The farmers in Antler said they assumed Mr. Helms’s spills data was comprehensive, but he told The Times later that he was including only spills under his jurisdiction. That omitted hundreds of incidents, including the Jensens’ spill and the 464,000 gallons of oil that gushed from a fiery train derailment near Casselton last December.

The most encouraging statistic, Mr. Helms told the farmers, was that a higher proportion of individual spills were being contained to production sites. That is true according to the numbers he uses. But, looking at the actual volume of pollutants and all reported spills, The Times found a decline, not an improvement, in spill containment — with 45 percent contained from 2011 to 2013, down from 62 percent in the previous three years.

Without engaging in any data analysis, the farmers in Antler were suspicious of the spill estimates because they were based on self-reporting by the industry. “You take the word of the operators? That’s your first mistake,” one man said, to laughter. They remarked that their own spills were often drastically underestimated on the state’s spills website.

Indeed, The Times found scores of cases on that website where the release of pollutants was not just undercounted but marked as zero. One supposedly zero-volume wastewater spill in Bottineau County last year required the removal of 600 dump-truck loads of contaminated soil.

For a North Dakotan trying to make sense of the state’s environmental and enforcement records, numbers are essentially inaccessible. The state spills site posts incidents in chronological order, without summary statistics, and it is not searchable. Oil and gas enforcement data is not made public at all, unlike in Texas, where the legislature mandates quarterly reports.

The Times built a database to analyze the state’s raw information from a variety of perspectives, including a company-by-company assessment. It found that companies in the Bakken spill at different rates. This suggests to some experts that companies could do more to prevent and minimize environmental incidents.

“Whether it’s maintaining equipment properly, monitoring equipment routinely, training individuals well, having backup equipment on site or having containment machinery — there are all kinds of things that can be done,” Professor Cohen of Vanderbilt said. “But they all require money and attention.”

Statoil, a multinational company whose largest shareholder is the Norwegian government, now ranks as the state’s fifth-biggest producer. With a professed goal of “zero incidents, zero releases,” according to Russell Rankin, its regional manager, it has reported no blowouts and has the best record in the state among the major producers in terms of how many gallons of oil it produces for each incident.

Based on volume, Statoil has produced 9,000 gallons of oil for every gallon of spillage; Continental has produced 3,500. Statoil contained some 70 percent of its spill volume to production sites. Continental contained less than half, The Times found.

In its written response, Continental disputed The Times’s “math,” but did not respond further after it was sent a spreadsheet of reported incidents that formed the basis for the findings.

Continental, which on its website calls itself “America’s oil champion,” said it has “implemented a corporate policy focused on reporting, spill reduction and, ultimately, elimination.” It emphasized that it was the largest producer in the Bakken and “managed the largest volume of liquids.” It underscored that “our diligent spill response efforts have enabled us to recover the majority of all volumes spilled.”

And, Continental said, The Times should not imply that “volumes spilled remain in the environment in perpetuity and that we and other operators have no concern for doing anything more than reporting spills as ‘an inevitable byproduct of oil production.’ ”

At a park in Antler this summer, Lynn D. Helms, the state’s senior oil official, addressed an audience of farmers disgruntled by wastewater contamination.

The Golden Egg

When the Skurupey well blew out last summer, Continental waited some 10 hours to notify the local authorities.

“They should have called us a lot sooner, but when these things happen, the oil companies pretty much take over, " said Sheriff Dave Jurgens of Billings County. “They have their own security, and they don’t let anybody on location, unless you’re with Continental or the state Industrial Commission. And I totally understand why. It’s specialized-type stuff.”

The public never knew the blowout had occurred because the well, like many new wells, had been granted confidential status by the state for competitive reasons; almost everything except its existence was off the record for six months.

Oil, water and chemicals shot 40 feet into the air from the wellhead but did not ignite. One worker was injured with a broken finger and bruises to his head and chest, the sheriff said. “They didn’t call an ambulance, just put him in a pickup and took him to the E.R.,” he said. “That was not very wise on their part.”

The oil misted over hundreds of acres, contaminating hundreds of bales of hay and alfalfa fields.

“They redid the land, washed all the tanks,” Mrs. Skurupey said. “Continental was super-nice. They left no stones unturned, as far as I was concerned. They paid us all for damages, and we signed agreements that we wouldn’t sue.”

Defending itself against the commission’s enforcement action this year, Continental argued that its own investigation revealed that “an irresponsible supervisor’s callous disregard of” its “well-established standard operating procedures” caused the Skurupey blowout.

At the Williston courthouse in September, Continental’s lawyer, Steven J. Adams of Tulsa, Okla., placed the responsibility for the previous blowout in Golden Valley County squarely on Mr. Rohr and his crew, who worked for Cyclone Drilling of Wyoming.

“It was the Cyclone crew that failed to do its job,” he told the jury.

Mr. Rohr’s lawyer, Justin L. Williams of Corpus Christi, Tex., opened by suggesting that Continental prized speed over safety: “Pedal to the metal, no brakes, lives shattered.”

Mr. Rohr, the injured driller, sued Continental Resources. The case was settled. His wife, Winnie, said she wished the trial had gone forward “so the truth could come out, but we just didn’t have enough power to fight them.”

During the voir dire process, many prospective jurors had revealed just how interwoven their lives were not only with the oil industry, but also with Continental. Some had worked for or done business with Continental; others owned its stock or received royalty checks from Continental wells.

Asked if they had strong feelings about the oil boom, almost all, even those who saw the positive, raised their hands to say they thought it had had negative consequences, too. A landowner referred to oil sludge buried and flares burning on her property, a nurse to injured oil workers treated at her clinic, an oil field technician to a “hurry up and wait world” that put profits first.

The next morning, a settlement was reached.

Later, in a nearby hotel, sitting with his lawyers, his wife and a former co-worker, Mr. Rohr lifted his T-shirt to reveal what he had been prepared to show the jury: his pink, waffled back, patched together through skin grafts after the rig at the Beaver Creek State 1-36H well exploded into flames on July 24, 2011.

“My memories of it are bad,” he said. “I seen a big, bright, white light, and I didn’t think I’d make it out. And then that big blast hit me. I was a big ball of flame, running out of there, my safety glasses melting around my eyes. I thought I was blind. Dying.”

Mr. Rohr, who is called A.J., stared into his coffee cup, crying.

Erick Hartse, 23, who had been his assistant driller and escaped injury in the blowout, winced. “I have a lot of guilt,” he said. “I sent A.J. down to check the inside choke that day. It was per our blowout procedures, but I was the last one to see this guy unhurt, unscathed.”

Mr. Rohr and two colleagues were airlifted to a burn center in Minneapolis. With serious burns over 60 percent of his body. Mr. Rohr spent a month hospitalized. Still in constant pain and reliant on painkillers, he has not returned to the oil fields, the only job he has ever known.

The two men and their boss, Wally Dschaak, said they thought from the start that the well, situated in a remote, serene spot about a mile from the Little Missouri River, was going to give them trouble.

“From the day we moved onto that miserable, slimy, dirty location, things had been fighting us,” Mr. Hartse said.

Mr. Dschaak said, “That well was one step away from getting out of control at all times.”

Continental, which declined to discuss the case, imported oil fire specialists from Texas to extinguish the blaze. Later, Cyclone sent Mr. Hartse to Wyoming to help build a replacement rig, he said, but did not allow him to accompany it back to North Dakota. “Continental wanted no part of anybody who was there that day,” Mr. Hartse said.

“I understood Cyclone’s position,” he added. “You can’t kill the goose that lays the golden egg.”

 12 
 on: Nov 23, 2014, 08:17 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
continued.........

“Now with the oil boom bringing in people who are just here to make a living or make money,” he said, “we are being forced to change our regulatory approach to in some cases a very heavy-handed one, which is a paradigm shift for us.”

Judging by the data, the Health Department, overseen by civil servants and not elected officials, appears to have been tougher on the oil industry than the Industrial Commission has. It has collected over three-quarters of the fines levied, amounting to at least $4.1 million since 2006.

Still, most of that revenue derived from a single industrywide enforcement action that, Mr. Glatt said, the industry itself requested.

After years of underestimating volatile emissions from its oil storage tanks in the Bakken and allowing them to vent directly into the air, the industry “self-reported” the potential pollution and safety problem to the government.

A task force was formed; the companies devised a new model for estimating the emissions and pledged to control them through devices. And then they made a request: “They wanted fines to be collected by the state to reduce their exposure to lawsuits,” Mr. Glatt said. “We said, ‘Sure, we’d be more than happy to take your money.’ ”

The Health Department did not publicize that it collected record penalties for these violations last year: $2.64 million, including unprecedented sums like $418,500 from Hess and $305,400 from Continental.

“We are not wired like that,” Mr. Glatt said. “It goes to the fact that, honestly, when I get to the point where I have to collect a penalty, I look at that as a failure on our part.”

At her isolated farmhouse near Tioga, Patricia Jensen disarms guests — pipeline executives, oil spill cleaners — with a glistening berry pie fresh from the oven. She and her husband, Steven, are firm but nonconfrontational in their approach to what he calls the “ecological nightmare” in the backyard of the family’s century-old homestead.

“We’ve kind of taken a route of not being too sour, but yet we’re really concerned,” Mr. Jensen said.

What happened to them last fall — the largest on-land oil spill in American history — confronted North Dakota with the potential costs of the boom.

It shined a light on the state government’s lack of transparency when it went unreported to the public for 11 days. It raised awareness that spills of all magnitudes were daily and routine. It highlighted the inadequacy of pipeline monitoring.

And it made clear that even in the worst cases the authorities are hesitant to use punitive sanctions. More than a year after the spill, neither the federal nor the state government has penalized the company responsible, Tesoro Logistics of San Antonio.

“Clearly, they have impacted the groundwater system,” Mr. Glatt said. “There will be an enforcement action. But we use a carrot and stick approach. The carrot is if you get into it and clean it quickly, the stick won’t be as severe.”

Late last September, Mr. Jensen was harvesting waist-high durum wheat when he found his combine’s tires wet with an unmistakable sheen. His wife called the operator of a nearby well, which contacted Tesoro, and both companies immediately sent out representatives.

“It was dark out at this point,” Mrs. Jensen said. “We went to drive wide around what we thought was the spill and realized that we were not at the edge of it. We were still in it.”

Mr. Jensen continued: “There was a question of, well, whose line is it? It was squirting out of the ground. But the minute Tesoro shut its valve, there was a loud sucking sound.”

In its initial report, Tesoro seriously underestimated the contamination. A week and a half later, after a “subsurface assessment” request by the state, it tripled its estimate to 20,600 barrels, or 865,200 gallons. The lost oil had soaked a large stretch — equal to about six football fields — of the windswept land where the Jensens run cattle and rotate crops like sunflowers and sunshine-yellow canola.

The spill was publicly disclosed only after local reporters learned of it, provoking an outcry from environmentalists that led to the creation of a spills website.

In Tioga, a preliminary investigation found a small hole in the pipeline that appeared to have been caused by lightning, said the federal pipeline administration, whose final investigation has yet to be completed.

That cast the incident as an act of nature, but Tesoro officials now acknowledge that the hole had gone undetected for as long as two months.

“How do you lose over 20,000 barrels of oil and not realize it?” Mr. Glatt said. “That does kind of boggle the mind a little bit.”

In a statement to The Times, Tesoro expressed “deep regret.”

“Our systems did not prevent the spill, and we find that unacceptable,” it said. “We have put additional systems and controls in place and are committed to operating a safe pipeline system.”

Before the leak sprang in July 2013, Tesoro had not conducted an internal inspection of that segment of pipeline for eight years. Federal officials had last inspected the Tesoro network in North Dakota in 2010.

Pipeline leaks are not the most common cause of spills; valve or piping connection problems are, The Times found. But they spew the greatest volume of oil and wastewater and are the most likely to cause pollution.

Unlike several other major oil-producing states, North Dakota has until now relied on federal inspectors — based in Kansas City, Mo., 950 miles from Tioga — to monitor all its oil transmission lines, interstate and intrastate.

At the time of the spill, Brian Kalk, chairman of the state Public Service Commission, felt keenly frustrated, he said: “The company was not as forthright as they should have been. Everybody in the state was asking what’s going on, and I didn’t have jurisdiction on this pipeline. I didn’t like it.”

As a result, Mr. Kalk’s commission is seeking to take over the monitoring of the crude oil transmission pipelines that travel solely within the state.

Transmission pipelines, which carry oil to market, are not the only problem, however. Until this year, no authority, federal or state, monitored what Mr. Helms estimates to be 18,000 miles of gathering pipelines, which transport oil and wastewater from wells to collection sites. In fact, the North Dakota government does not even know their precise locations.

But, with legislative permission, Mr. Helms is taking the gathering lines under his aegis and hiring the state’s first three hazardous-liquid pipeline inspectors.

In Tioga, the Jensens are inclined to look at the bright side, though 33 acres of their farmland have been cordoned off for an industrial cleanup operation expected to take at least another year. They are glad that their spill was oil, not wastewater — “There’s no cleaning up of that,” Mr. Jensen said — and hope it served as “an eye-opener.”

“The industry really wants to fight putting monitoring devices on pipelines, but it’s a no-brainer, seems like,” Mr. Jensen said. “The cost of monitoring equipment is obviously far cheaper than the cost of cleanup.”

Tesoro said the cleanup would cost more than an initial estimate of $4 million and “less than $25 million.” It hired a Canadian company, Nelson Environmental Remediation, to treat the contaminated soil by burning it on site in “thermal desorption units.”

“We’re kind of like the proctologists of the industry,” said Warren Nelson, the company’s vice president. “We deal with the problems nobody wants to talk about.”

“We’ve kind of taken a route of not being too sour, but yet we’re really concerned,” said Steven Jensen, whose farmland was covered by oil from a pipeline break.

“The industry really wants to fight putting monitoring devices on pipelines, but it’s a no-brainer, seems like,” Mr. Jensen said.

One August evening this year, after a barbecue dinner beneath an elaborate skull-and-antler chandelier in the Outlaw Shack at Antler Memorial Park, Mr. Helms and Mr. Glatt faced an audience of farmers disgruntled by the wastewater contamination of northwestern North Dakota.

Their corner of the state is like a cautionary tale. It is pocked with the remnants of 1980s oil production: abandoned wastewater ponds, some of which leached brine downward and outward, sterilizing the soil and shriveling crops. State officials have estimated it would cost $2 million each to reclaim what might amount to 1,000 ponds, said State Representative Marvin E. Nelson.

“Well, we have more than $2 billion in our Legacy Fund,” he said, referring to a set-aside fund containing oil tax revenues. “So why not take the legacy from this oil boom to fix the legacy from the last oil boom?”

Though the industry now disposes of oil field brine primarily by injecting it deep underground, it still needs to be transported to disposal wells and remains a stubborn pollution problem. For every barrel of oil, about 1.4 barrels of brine is produced, state officials say, and far more of it spills than does oil.

And while the industry calls it saltwater — “which makes it sound harmless, like something you would gargle with,” said Derrick Braaten, a lawyer who represents farmers — it is highly saline and can be laced with toxic metals and radioactive substances.

Three years ago, a farmer in the Antler audience experienced one of the largest oil field wastewater spills ever in North Dakota. A leaking wastewater line contaminated some 24 acres of farmland and eight surface ponds, and the site has yet to be restored to health.

After the leak was detected, cleanup crews pumped out two million gallons of severely contaminated water, with chloride levels 2,700 times higher than normal, and a generator was still pumping out contaminants this summer.

“Three years!” the farmer, Darwin Peterson, exclaimed at the meeting. “Three years, and this spill has been addressed in a Band-Aid fashion. Meanwhile, that 24 acres has expanded, with Mother Nature, to the neighbors. When is enough enough?”

State officials say the spill far exceeded the 12,600 gallons originally reported by the company, Petro Harvester, though it remains listed that way on the state’s spills website. Mr. Helms, in an email last year to his spokeswoman, Alison Ritter, estimated it at 332,000 gallons. Mr. Nelson, the legislator and agronomist, thinks it probably was three times that much.

The state has not yet penalized Petro Harvester.

Underlying the state’s regulatory posture is the premise that spills are all but inevitable and will increase alongside increases in drilling. But that is not a universally shared perspective.

“There’s this idea that spills are just the cost of doing business,” said Amy Mall, a senior policy analyst with the Natural Resources Defense Council. “But there’s no technical justification for all these spills. And it’s not acceptable. It’s just not. It just shows how poorly the oil and gas industry is doing its job, and that nobody is making them do it right.”

To a skeptical audience in Antler, Mr. Helms proclaimed that North Dakota was “head and shoulders above our sister states” in the region for its vigilance as measured by the ratio of wells to inspectors, the frequency of inspections and the authority to fine up to $12,500 per offense a day.

He said that almost all problems found by his inspectors were corrected within 30 days of verbal warnings. Some 2,500 warnings were issued last year, Ms. Ritter said; only 4 percent resulted in a written violation and only nine complaints were filed (up from four in 2012).

In the park, Mr. Helms offered a boardroom-style PowerPoint presentation, including a graphic that he said contained the “good news” that the spill rate per well was steady or down.

His figures, however, provided to The Times later, show that the number of spills continued to grow faster than the number of wells — just not as fast as before. All told, the number of wells is up 200 percent and spills 650 percent since 2004.

The farmers in Antler said they assumed Mr. Helms’s spills data was comprehensive, but he told The Times later that he was including only spills under his jurisdiction. That omitted hundreds of incidents, including the Jensens’ spill and the 464,000 gallons of oil that gushed from a fiery train derailment near Casselton last December.

The most encouraging statistic, Mr. Helms told the farmers, was that a higher proportion of individual spills were being contained to production sites. That is true according to the numbers he uses. But, looking at the actual volume of pollutants and all reported spills, The Times found a decline, not an improvement, in spill containment — with 45 percent contained from 2011 to 2013, down from 62 percent in the previous three years.

Without engaging in any data analysis, the farmers in Antler were suspicious of the spill estimates because they were based on self-reporting by the industry. “You take the word of the operators? That’s your first mistake,” one man said, to laughter. They remarked that their own spills were often drastically underestimated on the state’s spills website.

Indeed, The Times found scores of cases on that website where the release of pollutants was not just undercounted but marked as zero. One supposedly zero-volume wastewater spill in Bottineau County last year required the removal of 600 dump-truck loads of contaminated soil.

For a North Dakotan trying to make sense of the state’s environmental and enforcement records, numbers are essentially inaccessible. The state spills site posts incidents in chronological order, without summary statistics, and it is not searchable. Oil and gas enforcement data is not made public at all, unlike in Texas, where the legislature mandates quarterly reports.

The Times built a database to analyze the state’s raw information from a variety of perspectives, including a company-by-company assessment. It found that companies in the Bakken spill at different rates. This suggests to some experts that companies could do more to prevent and minimize environmental incidents.

“Whether it’s maintaining equipment properly, monitoring equipment routinely, training individuals well, having backup equipment on site or having containment machinery — there are all kinds of things that can be done,” Professor Cohen of Vanderbilt said. “But they all require money and attention.”

Statoil, a multinational company whose largest shareholder is the Norwegian government, now ranks as the state’s fifth-biggest producer. With a professed goal of “zero incidents, zero releases,” according to Russell Rankin, its regional manager, it has reported no blowouts and has the best record in the state among the major producers in terms of how many gallons of oil it produces for each incident.

Based on volume, Statoil has produced 9,000 gallons of oil for every gallon of spillage; Continental has produced 3,500. Statoil contained some 70 percent of its spill volume to production sites. Continental contained less than half, The Times found.

In its written response, Continental disputed The Times’s “math,” but did not respond further after it was sent a spreadsheet of reported incidents that formed the basis for the findings.

Continental, which on its website calls itself “America’s oil champion,” said it has “implemented a corporate policy focused on reporting, spill reduction and, ultimately, elimination.” It emphasized that it was the largest producer in the Bakken and “managed the largest volume of liquids.” It underscored that “our diligent spill response efforts have enabled us to recover the majority of all volumes spilled.”

And, Continental said, The Times should not imply that “volumes spilled remain in the environment in perpetuity and that we and other operators have no concern for doing anything more than reporting spills as ‘an inevitable byproduct of oil production.’ ”

At a park in Antler this summer, Lynn D. Helms, the state’s senior oil official, addressed an audience of farmers disgruntled by wastewater contamination.

The Golden Egg

When the Skurupey well blew out last summer, Continental waited some 10 hours to notify the local authorities.

“They should have called us a lot sooner, but when these things happen, the oil companies pretty much take over, " said Sheriff Dave Jurgens of Billings County. “They have their own security, and they don’t let anybody on location, unless you’re with Continental or the state Industrial Commission. And I totally understand why. It’s specialized-type stuff.”

The public never knew the blowout had occurred because the well, like many new wells, had been granted confidential status by the state for competitive reasons; almost everything except its existence was off the record for six months.

Oil, water and chemicals shot 40 feet into the air from the wellhead but did not ignite. One worker was injured with a broken finger and bruises to his head and chest, the sheriff said. “They didn’t call an ambulance, just put him in a pickup and took him to the E.R.,” he said. “That was not very wise on their part.”

The oil misted over hundreds of acres, contaminating hundreds of bales of hay and alfalfa fields.

“They redid the land, washed all the tanks,” Mrs. Skurupey said. “Continental was super-nice. They left no stones unturned, as far as I was concerned. They paid us all for damages, and we signed agreements that we wouldn’t sue.”

Defending itself against the commission’s enforcement action this year, Continental argued that its own investigation revealed that “an irresponsible supervisor’s callous disregard of” its “well-established standard operating procedures” caused the Skurupey blowout.

At the Williston courthouse in September, Continental’s lawyer, Steven J. Adams of Tulsa, Okla., placed the responsibility for the previous blowout in Golden Valley County squarely on Mr. Rohr and his crew, who worked for Cyclone Drilling of Wyoming.

“It was the Cyclone crew that failed to do its job,” he told the jury.

Mr. Rohr’s lawyer, Justin L. Williams of Corpus Christi, Tex., opened by suggesting that Continental prized speed over safety: “Pedal to the metal, no brakes, lives shattered.”

Mr. Rohr, the injured driller, sued Continental Resources. The case was settled. His wife, Winnie, said she wished the trial had gone forward “so the truth could come out, but we just didn’t have enough power to fight them.”

During the voir dire process, many prospective jurors had revealed just how interwoven their lives were not only with the oil industry, but also with Continental. Some had worked for or done business with Continental; others owned its stock or received royalty checks from Continental wells.

Asked if they had strong feelings about the oil boom, almost all, even those who saw the positive, raised their hands to say they thought it had had negative consequences, too. A landowner referred to oil sludge buried and flares burning on her property, a nurse to injured oil workers treated at her clinic, an oil field technician to a “hurry up and wait world” that put profits first.

The next morning, a settlement was reached.

Later, in a nearby hotel, sitting with his lawyers, his wife and a former co-worker, Mr. Rohr lifted his T-shirt to reveal what he had been prepared to show the jury: his pink, waffled back, patched together through skin grafts after the rig at the Beaver Creek State 1-36H well exploded into flames on July 24, 2011.

“My memories of it are bad,” he said. “I seen a big, bright, white light, and I didn’t think I’d make it out. And then that big blast hit me. I was a big ball of flame, running out of there, my safety glasses melting around my eyes. I thought I was blind. Dying.”

Mr. Rohr, who is called A.J., stared into his coffee cup, crying.

Erick Hartse, 23, who had been his assistant driller and escaped injury in the blowout, winced. “I have a lot of guilt,” he said. “I sent A.J. down to check the inside choke that day. It was per our blowout procedures, but I was the last one to see this guy unhurt, unscathed.”

Mr. Rohr and two colleagues were airlifted to a burn center in Minneapolis. With serious burns over 60 percent of his body. Mr. Rohr spent a month hospitalized. Still in constant pain and reliant on painkillers, he has not returned to the oil fields, the only job he has ever known.

The two men and their boss, Wally Dschaak, said they thought from the start that the well, situated in a remote, serene spot about a mile from the Little Missouri River, was going to give them trouble.

“From the day we moved onto that miserable, slimy, dirty location, things had been fighting us,” Mr. Hartse said.

Mr. Dschaak said, “That well was one step away from getting out of control at all times.”

Continental, which declined to discuss the case, imported oil fire specialists from Texas to extinguish the blaze. Later, Cyclone sent Mr. Hartse to Wyoming to help build a replacement rig, he said, but did not allow him to accompany it back to North Dakota. “Continental wanted no part of anybody who was there that day,” Mr. Hartse said.

“I understood Cyclone’s position,” he added. “You can’t kill the goose that lays the golden egg.”

 13 
 on: Nov 23, 2014, 08:17 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
USA...

Obama hits back at Republicans

Obama has shown courage to stand with us, say America’s joyful Latinos

President’s move to grant amnesty to 5 million immigrants delights Hispanics at rally in Las Vegas

Rory Carroll in Las Vegas
The Observer, Saturday 22 November 2014 15.45 GMT    

Should Hillary Clinton, or any other Democrat, become the next US president, you may be able to trace their victory to a roll of the political dice played out last week beside a Las Vegas highway. Barack Obama’s cavalcade trundled up the road and into Del Sol high school on Friday to bring his case for the most sweeping immigration reform in decades to a rally in Nevada’s gambling capital.

A bright desert sun illuminated two contrasting tableaux. From the school entrance snaked hundreds of people, mostly Latino, giddy and upbeat, come to hear and cheer a president who had decided to shield almost five million illegal immigrants from deportation by offering them temporary legal status and work permits. Across the street stood about two dozen protesters – white, indignant and angry – with megaphones. Placards amplified the message: “No amnesty!” “Deport them all!” “Oust Obama!”

Democrats from Washington who hitched a ride to the event on Air Force One could not resist smiling. It was a banner day for civil rights. But, more prosaically, the scenes on both sides of the highway sprinkled optimism on their chances of keeping the White House after Obama.

“The Latino vote is going to stay solid Democratic,” said Bill Richardson, a former New Mexico governor and one of the party’s leading Latino figures. “I think the party in deep trouble is the Republican party. They’re digging themselves in a very bad hole with Latino voters for 2016.” Dolores Huerta, a veteran and well-known labour activist, agreed. “I think they can win Congress, but not the presidency. There are 50,000 Latino kids that turn 18 every month – not just on the west coast or in the south-west; you’re talking about Georgia, North Carolina, Maryland.” Obama’s unilateral action, taken without congressional approval, is a political gamble. A Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll found that 48% of Americans disapproved of him going solo, versus 38% who approved. But 57% supported a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants. Analysts on both sides say it could pave the way for another Democrat in the White House, especially if Republicans fall into the trap of overreacting.

Obama electrified the Las Vegas audience. “We’re not a nation that kicks out strivers and dreamers,” he said. “We welcome them as fellow children of God.” He exuded brio, a contrast to two weeks ago when the GOP swept the midterm elections, seizing control of the Senate and strengthening its grip on the House, a rout that seemed to repudiate an unpopular, apparently lame-duck president. A conservative agenda – picking apart Obamacare, cutting spending – beckoned. Obama’s executive order, made in an emotional White House address on Thursday and reinforced in Las Vegas, wrested back the initiative, forcing his foes to fight on treacherous terrain.

Mitt Romney sabotaged his 2012 campaign when he urged undocumented people to “self-deport”. It alienated Latinos, the fastest-growing group of voters. The GOP’s official postmortem made a blunt conclusion: “If Hispanics think that we do not want them here, they will close their ears to our policies.” Moderate Republicans later backed a bipartisan Senate immigration bill, hoping to detoxify their image, only to see conservative colleagues in the House kill it.

Latinos, however, turned much of their ire on Obama for his refusal to take unilateral action. Worse, deportation levels soared, prompting the nickname “deporter-in-chief”. Disenchantment depressed Latino turnout in the mid-terms, costing Democrats several races.

Last week’s executive action leaves about six million of the estimated 11 million undocumented Latinos vulnerable to deportation, and grants only three-year protection to beneficiaries. The most far-reaching aspect is the creation of a “deferred action” programme that will benefit the estimated 3.7 million undocumented immigrants who are parents of US citizens or permanent legal residents. Activists call it a first step to comprehensive reform. Politically, however, it is a leap that has restored Latino faith in Obama and the Democrats. “This goes a long way,” said Maria Elena Durazo, a leader in the hotel workers’ union Unite. “It will show that a Democratic president had the courage to stand with Latino families.”

Latinos lag white and black people in election turnout, but their demographic clout – 14% of the electorate – weighs more at every election. Delia Lago, 53, a Vegas hotel worker, had a chilling message for Republicans. She hopes to become a citizen – a voting citizen – next year and has 14 US-born grandchildren, all citizens. Would they ever vote Republican? Her nose wrinkled: “They don’t make us feel welcome.”

Pickets outside the school exemplified the GOP’s perceived hostility to Latinos. “As a taxpayer I’m done paying bills for illegal immigrants,” said Gary Adams, 61. “All they do is take and Obama gives, gives, gives.” Ty Romsa, 54, held a placard comparing Obama to Mussolini.

Latinos queuing to see Obama heard the protesters’ chants. Some laughed, others rolled their eyes. “I think they’re uneducated,” said Jason Eusteqio, 16. “Or they just don’t get what the president is saying,” said his friend Jorge Ramirez, also 16. “Immigrants built this country.”

Huerta, the activist said racism plagued Republicans: “It’s just too much for them, they can’t overcome it.” Durazo was equally dismissive. “Republicans just don’t like Latinos, period. They want you to be a cheap labour force, to be quiet and just do what they tell you to do.”

Republican leaders reject such accusations but admit the perception of intolerance damages chances of capturing the White House. “If you overreact, it becomes about us, not President Obama,” said Senator Lindsey Graham. Michele Bachmann, a House Republican, did not get the message. Obama’s action, she told the Washington Post, was an effort to increase the number of “illiterate” Democratic voters.
IN NUMBERS

■ America’s Hispanic population topped 54 million as of 1 July, 2013, an increase of 2.1% over 2012.

■ US births have been the main driving force behind that increase since 2000, a trend continued in 2012 and 2013.

■ Natural increase (births minus deaths) accounted for 78% of the total change from 2012 to 2013.

■ At 47%, New Mexico has the highest Hispanic population share. California has the largest Hispanic population (14.7 million).

■ Texas, second-largest state by Hispanic population, saw the greatest numerical increase in Hispanics from 2012 to 2013, growing by 213,000.

*************

Paul Krugman destroys arguments against Obama’s immigration plan

Janet Allon, AlterNet
23 Nov 2014 at 05:08 ET                   

Now, that Obama has taken his much-needed and way overdue executive action to shield millions of undocumented families from heart-rending deportation, the fact that it was simply the right thing to do is abundantly clear. It also gives columnist Paul Krugman an opportunity to wax lyrical about his own family’s immigrant roots, and one of his favorite tourist attractions in New York City, the Tenement Museum on the Lower East Side. “When you tour the museum, you come away with a powerful sense of immigration as a human experience, which — despite plenty of bad times, despite a cultural climate in which Jews, Italians, and others were often portrayed as racially inferior — was overwhelmingly positive,” he writes in his Friday column. “I get especially choked up about the Baldizzi apartment from 1934. When I described its layout to my parents, both declared, “I grew up in that apartment!” And today’s immigrants are the same, in aspiration and behavior, as my grandparents were — people seeking a better life, and by and large finding it.”

President Obama’s new immigration initiative, Krugman says, is “a simple matter of human decency.”

Krugman goes on to parse the issue, and to point out that supporting the humane treatment of children born in this country to undocumented immigrant parents is not the same as supporting completely open borders. Under F.D.R., he points out, “Once immigration restrictions were in place, and immigrants already here gained citizenship, this disenfranchised class at the bottom shrank rapidly, helping to create the political conditions for a stronger social safety net. And, yes, low-skill immigration probably has some depressing effect on wages, although the available evidence suggests that the effect is quite small.”

Yes, it is normal to be conflicted about immigration issues, Krugman allows. What is not normal is the desire to punish innocent children, who are already here, for their parents’ decision to bend the rules to give them a better life. Predictably, as we all know, there are far too many right-wing zealots and haters in politics and the media who are quite happy to exact this punishment. Krugman:

    Who are we talking about? First, there are more than a million young people in this country who came — yes, illegally — as children and have lived here ever since. Second, there are large numbers of children who were born here — which makes them U.S. citizens, with all the same rights you and I have — but whose parents came illegally, and are legally subject to being deported.

    What should we do about these people and their families? There are some forces in our political life who want us to bring out the iron fist — to seek out and deport young residents who weren’t born here but have never known another home, to seek out and deport the undocumented parents of American children and force those children either to go into exile or to fend for themselves.

Krugman gets downright sentimental about the issue, stating his belief that Americans are simply not “that cruel.” And anyway a crackdown on these families would cost money, which Republicans don’t want to spend.  (One hopes.) The real question is how they should be treated, he asks. his answer is not only humane but economical.

    Today’s immigrant children are tomorrow’s workers, taxpayers and neighbors. Condemning them to life in the shadows means that they will have less stable home lives than they should, be denied the opportunity to acquire skills and education, contribute less to the economy, and play a less positive role in society. Failure to act is just self-destructive.

But more importantly, it’s the humane thing to do.

******************

Immigration and the Shoddy Pretense of Journalism that is CNN

By: Hrafnkell Haraldsson
PoliticusUSA
Saturday, November, 22nd, 2014, 8:00 pm      

It’s funny how the mainstream media can pretend to report on the immigration issue by detailing Republican complaints about President Obama’s executive order on immigration – questioning its constitutionality, for example – without once mentioning that other presidents have issued executive orders on immigration.

In fact, the best CNN could do in its piece Friday, Republicans hammer legal case against Obama on immigration, in which they somehow manage not to mention that the Republicans have no legal case, is this tidbit:

“The GOP seemed to take little comfort in Obama’s explanation that his actions were in line with other actions past presidents had made.”

You would think they could dig a little deeper than that. The Republican claims are, after all, particularly blatant lies. They can’t even be bothered to mention that Nancy Pelosi has already shown their claims to be lies.

They’re allegedly journalists over there at CNN – at least they pretend to be – yet they can’t be troubled to fact check. After, the allegations cited by CNN are pretty sensationalist:

    “‘By ignoring the will of the American people, President Obama has cemented his legacy of lawlessness and squandered what little credibility he had left,’ House Speaker John Boehner said in a statement after the speech.” (In fact, the will of the American people is that they want immigration reform, but CNN doesn’t mention this little fact)
    “Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul said he ‘will not sit idly by and let the President bypass Congress and our Constitution.'”
    “‘His actions are not only unconstitutional and in defiance of the American people who said they did not want amnesty in the 2014 elections, but they are also unfair to every immigrant who has come to our nation legally,’ Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas posted to his Facebook profile.”
    “Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, the second-place finisher in the 2012 battle for the GOP presidential nod and a potential 2016 contender, called the executive order ‘just another in a long line of power-grabs by this administration…this President simply does not believe that the Executive is a co-equal branch of government.'”
    John McCain “said in a statement that Obama’s executive action ‘lacks legal justification…'”
    “Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus…blasted Obama for both his policies and for acting as a ‘one-man legislature.'”

Not only did they put together this list without mentioning a single Democrat response to these claims, but the claims themselves are easily fact-checked. Not doing so is an inexcusable omission by CNN’s writers, Eric Bradner and Jedd Rosche, who are content instead to pass on these lies unquestioned.

By happy coincidence, however, the American Immigration Council has pointed out that,

“In fact, the history books reveal that President Obama’s action follows a long line of presidents who relied on their executive branch authority to address immigration challenges.”

    Since at least 1956, every U.S. president has granted temporary immigration relief to one or more groups in need of assistance. This chart collects 39 examples, which span actions large and small, taken over many years, sometimes by multiple administrations. They even provide a handy chart showing these executive orders.

The list includes five Republican presidents: Eisenhower, Ford, Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and George W. Bush. None of them were accused of violating the U.S. Constitution.

Of course, none of them were Democrats. And none of them were black. They were old white guys.

See how easy that was, CNN? Rather than simply providing your services as a propaganda mouthpiece for the GOP, you can actually be the journalists you claim to be. Is it so hard?

After all, even Sen. Tom Coburn {R-OK), of whom President Obama once said, mistakenly as it turns out, that he is “someone who speaks his mind (and) sticks to his principles,” admitted on Morning Joe that the facts don’t matter when he let slip that, “And whether it’s factual or perceptual, it really doesn’t matter. And the glue that holds our country together is this common belief in the rule of law.”

And it’s not like the Republicans haven’t had plenty of opportunities to pass immigration reform. They just haven’t bothered to do it, and the president has hammered them for it. Heck, they even admitted they were not doing it in order to punish President Obama. None of this gets a mention from CNN.

So it’s a mite hypocritical for them now to complain that Obama is doing what he can to alleviate the suffering of immigrants. What I’ve pointed out here could as easily have been pointed out by CNN. That they omitted these critical facts and more, tells us more about CNN than CNN tells us about Obama.

The facts don’t matter to the Republicans. We get that. Coburn admitted it and they’ve shown it to be true repeatedly (and here and here just for a couple of examples).

But you’re supposed to be news people, CNN. Facts should matter to you. Couldn’t you at least try to show a little integrity?

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G.O.P.-Led Benghazi Panel Bolsters Administration

By MICHAEL S. SCHMIDT
NOV. 22, 2014
NYT

WASHINGTON — A report released late Friday about the fatal 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya, left Republicans in the same position they have been in for two years: with little evidence to support their most damning critiques of how the Obama administration, and then-Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, responded to the attacks.

Similar to five other government reports, the one released by the House Intelligence Committee on Friday said that the administration had not intentionally misled the public about what occurred during the attacks in talking points it created for officials to use in television appearances that turned out to be inaccurate.

It also said that no order was given by the military to “stand down” in responding to try to save the four Americans killed in the attacks, a claim that Republicans have made based on the account of a member of the security team in Benghazi that day.
Continue reading the main story
Related Coverage

    National Briefing | Washington: New Benghazi Investigation Finds No Fault in ResponseNOV. 21, 2014

Coming six months after Speaker John A. Boehner created a separate special committee to investigate the Benghazi attacks, the report raised questions about what that panel might uncover that the Intelligence Committee — whose chairman, Representative Mike Rogers, Republican of Michigan, is leaving Congress — and the other investigations missed.

The special committee that Mr. Boehner created is led by Representative Trey Gowdy, Republican of South Carolina, who has a budget of $3.3 million for the investigation.

Mr. Gowdy, in a written statement, said that his committee had reviewed the latest findings along with the other reports. “It will aid the select committee’s comprehensive investigation to determine the full facts of what happened in Benghazi, Libya, before, during and after the attack and contribute toward our final, definitive accounting of the attack on behalf of Congress,” he said.

Democrats have asserted that the special committee was created by Republicans only to try to discredit Mrs. Clinton, who is expected to seek the Democratic nomination for president in 2016.

“The effort to turn the Benghazi tragedy into a political scandal never had a factual basis,” said David Brock, founder of Correct the Record, a group that defends Mrs. Clinton in the news media, and author of the e-book “The Benghazi Hoax.”

“The Republican committee report should close the case,” he added. “If the scandal persists into 2016, it will only be for partisan reasons.”

While the report backed up many of the administration’s longstanding claims that its response was proper, it agreed with the other reports that criticized the State Department for having inadequate security at the compound where the ambassador to Libya, J. Christopher Stevens, was killed.

“The State Department security personnel, resources and equipment were unable to counter the terrorist threat that day and required C.I.A. assistance,” it said.

The panel’s findings reflected well on the intelligence apparatus, particularly the Central Intelligence Agency. The agency “ensured sufficient security” for its facilities in Benghazi and “without a requirement to do so, ably and bravely assisted the State Department on the night of the attacks,” according to the report.

“Their actions saved lives,” the report said.

The report said the C.I.A. did not have an “intelligence failure” in the months before the attacks. In fact, the report said, the agency had increased its security because of intelligence reports showing that attacks had intensified in the area.

In the course of the investigation, the committee reviewed thousands of pages of intelligence assessments, cables, emails and other documents, and it interviewed many senior intelligence officials and people who were on the ground during the attacks — including eight security personnel who responded to them, it said.

Republican lawmakers have said that the administration, fearing political fallout from the attacks — which occurred on Sept. 11, 2012, less than two months before the presidential elections — tried to mislead the public.

In particular, the Republicans have said that Susan E. Rice, who was the ambassador to the United Nations at the time, lied on several Sunday television talk shows when she said the attacks were set off by a protest over an anti-Muslim video. They claimed that she glossed over whether the fatalities were the result of “terrorist” attacks by Al Qaeda because that would have undermined the administration’s narrative that it had all but defeated the group.

The panel found that in the days after the attacks, there was contradictory intelligence about what precipitated them and who was behind them. Ultimately, Ms. Rice’s assertions were wrong, the committee said, but there was no evidence that the administration was attempting to misconstrue the facts.

Even today, the report said, the government is still uncertain about much of what happened that day.

“Much of the early intelligence was conflicting, and two years later, intelligence gaps remain,” the report said. A mix of individuals, “including those affiliated” with Al Qaeda, participated in the attacks, it said, adding, however, that “the intelligence was and remains conflicting about the identities, affiliations and motivations of the attackers.”

A man accused of being the ringleader of the attackers was apprehended in a raid by American commandos in Benghazi in June, and will likely go on trial in Washington next year on murder charges.

The report also debunked a few accusations against the C.I.A. It said that the agency had not intimidated or prevented “any officer from speaking to Congress or otherwise telling their story.” It also said that the agency had not administered “any unusual polygraph exams” to officers about their assignment in Benghazi. And it said that the C.I.A. was not collecting arms in Libya and sending them to rebel groups in Syria.

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It Is Time To Investigate and Expel Boehner For Ethics and SEC Violations

By: Rmuse
PoliticusUSA
Saturday, November, 22nd, 2014, 10:39 am   

It is a near certainty that all parents, school teachers, members of the clergy, and members of the criminal justice system would agree that the one thing that deters any kind of rule or law violations is not conscience, but the threat of punishment. Obviously, just the threat of punishment does not deter some people from violating rules and laws, but actually being punished more-than-likely does the trick. For over three years Republicans have investigated fabricated scandals, and alleged law violations, in their incessant crusade to punish the Obama Administration, or at least to deter the President from breaking the law. However, they have ignored, by design, a serial ethics violator in their own midst because he is serving their cherished money machine and personally profiting which in Republican ideology is heroic.

On Tuesday prior to the Senate vote to, unconstitutionally, subvert the Executive branch’s authority, “official” Speaker of the House John A. Boehner said that the idea of President Obama “Vetoing an overwhelmingly popular bill (KeystoneXL pipeline approval) would be a clear indication that he doesn’t care about the American peoples’ priorities.” There are fallacies in Boehner’s remark, but none more mendacious than the President “doesn’t care about the peoples’ priorities.” Boehner has told all manner of lies about a foreign corporation’s money-making pipeline, but it is time to get one thing clear; the so-called priorities to subvert the President’s Constitutional authority in approving the Keystone pipeline are not “the peoples.” They are a foreign corporation’s, the oil export industry’s, the Koch brothers’, and Speaker of the House John A. Boehner’s; the cabal that stands to profit from the environmental disaster waiting to happen.

This was not the first, and likely not the last, time Boehner lied about the KeystoneXL project, but if he had been punished three-and-a-half years ago for lying profusely about the KeystoneXL pipeline to profit his stock portfolio, likely through share manipulation, and his masters the Koch brothers, he would at least stop lying for profit. At best, the cretin would be expelled from Congress, face a Securities and Exchange Commission investigation, be tried in a court of law, convicted, and sent to prison.  In fact, if Boehner had been punished, and evicted from Congress, in 1995 for handing out tobacco industry bribes for favorable votes on the floor of the House, the nation may be unaware Boehner even exists. However, he was not punished and it is why he continues lying for profit, taking oil bribes for KeystoneXL votes, and likely violating SEC rules.

Throughout 2011 after becoming Speaker of the House, Boehner began ardently promoting a virtually unheard of Canadian company’s oil pipeline across America’s agricultural heartland. By early 2012, Boehner started threatening to tie approval of the KeystoneXL pipeline to various pieces of crucial legislation to force President Obama into approving TransCanada’s international permit to build their rupture-prone KeystoneXL pipeline across America. Canadians forbade TransCanada from building the pipeline on Canadian soil due to its repeated ruptures and breakdowns that threatened Canada’s sovereign land. Since becoming Speaker in January 2011, Boehner promised (the Koch brothers) he would “do everything we can to make sure this Keystone pipeline project is approved,” and he was not exaggerating or bluffing. Boehner has told Americans myriad debunked lies about the benefits of building the pipeline, but he has never admitted that besides the foreign corporation TransCanada, the Koch brothers, and the foreign export industry, another beneficiary of constructing the Keystone pipeline is John A. Boehner.

Boehner has a history of unethical, behavior as a congressman, so it is curious why there was no investigation, or at least probing questions, into why in less than a year a project few knew existed was suddenly paramount to Boehner; or why within a year he suddenly was heavily invested in Canada’s tar sand. According to Boehner’s 2010 financial disclosure, he invested in seven different Canadian tar sand companies to the tune of between $15,001 to $50,000 in each of the foreign entities. All of the companies are in the tar sand oil industry that Boehner stands to profit handsomely from if KeystoneXL is built.

The timing of Boehner’s sudden advocacy for a Canadian company’s project also garnered little, if any, attention; particularly since his 2009 disclosure shows that he held zero stock or interest in Canadian tar sand. That revelation should have informed any semi-intelligent person, and government regulators, that Boehner bought stock in Canada’s tar sands just in time to reap financial benefits if and when the pipeline was completed and carrying Canadian oil to Koch Industries refineries before going Texas for sale on the foreign export market. Boehner’s push, as Speaker of the House, to build the pipeline is beyond simple conflict of interest; he is performing official acts for favors (campaign contributions) and money in the form of dividends from his oil sands stocks. Boehner’s gifts in exchange for performing official acts for the oil industry were $144,150 in campaign contributions in 2010 alone.

In the 1990s when Boehner was confronted and questioned about why he was blatantly violating House ethics rules by handing out tobacco industry checks before an important vote to discontinue subsidies to the cigarette industry, his excuse for using the House to buy Republican votes was that the tobacco company told him to do it; “so I complied.” Unknown to most Americans, the Koch brothers control 1.1 million acres in the northern Alberta oil sands, an area nearly the size of Delaware; so when the Kochs told Boehner to lie and push construction of KeystoneXL, “he complied.”

Boehner needs to be thoroughly investigated by a House Ethics Committee and the Securities and Exchange Commission, thrown out of Congress, and sent straight to prison. There is precedent to expel Boehner from Congress that involves another Ohio representative, James A. Traficant. Traficant was expelled in July 2002 after he was convicted of receiving favors, gifts and money in return for performing official acts on behalf of campaign donors.  Boehner is doing precisely the same thing in performing official acts on behalf of the Koch brothers, oil export industry, a foreign corporation (TransCanada), and seven Canadian tar sands companies he will profit from if the Keystone XL pipeline is built.

To show the level of Boehner’s arrogance due to never being punished for, at least, ethics violations, less than ten years after confessing he assisted big tobacco by bribing other Republicans to vote as ordered, Boehner had the temerity to tell his Republican colleagues that “when it comes to institutional ethics, I’ve got some experience.” Boehner is at least truthful about one thing; he does have a lot of experience when it comes “institutional ethics;” how to violate them with impunity. It is why he must be investigated for House ethics violations and  the SEC must go forward with its investigation; because every one of  Boehner’s sleazy lies are to profit his stock portfolio and Koch Industries.

An active petition demanding an investigation to force Boehner’s resignation or expulsion can be found here.

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A Deep 2016 Republican Presidential Field Reflects Party Divisions

By MICHAEL BARBARO and JONATHAN MARTIN
NOV. 22, 2014
NYT

BOCA RATON, Fla. — Republican presidential primaries have for decades been orderly affairs, with any momentary drama mitigated by the expectation that the party would inevitably nominate its tested, often graying front-runner.

But as the 2016 White House campaign effectively began in the last week, it became apparent that this race might be different: a fluid contest, verging on chaotic, that will showcase the party’s deep bench of talent but also highlight its ideological and generational divisions.

As Democrats signal that they are ready to rally behind Hillary Rodham Clinton before their primary season even begins, allowing them to focus their fund-raising and firepower mostly on the general election, the Republicans appear destined for a free-for-all.

“I can think of about 16 potential candidates,” said Haley Barbour, the former governor of Mississippi and a veteran of Republican presidential politics dating to 1968. “Almost every one of them have a starting point. But there is no true front-runner.”

The sprawling nature of the race was on display Thursday as an array of would-be candidates took steps to position themselves.

At a gathering of Republican governors here, Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey sought to capitalize on the party’s victories this year in Democratic-leaning states while at least six fellow governors tested their messages and met with potential donors.

On the same day in Washington, Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor, addressed an education conference and tried to tamp down differences with the right on the Common Core standards. On Capitol Hill, Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky continued his outreach to African-Americans by having breakfast with the Rev. Al Sharpton, while Senator Ted Cruz of Texas appealed to conservatives by citing Cicero on the Senate floor in a speech castigating President Obama’s executive action on immigration.

And in California, Mike Huckabee, the former governor of Arkansas, just back from taking a group of evangelicals from early primary states on a trip to Europe honoring Ronald Reagan’s Cold War leadership, venerated Mr. Reagan in a speech at his presidential library.

If the dizzying activity on a single day captured the depth of the Republican field, it also underlined its factions, split among pragmatists, hard-liners and those trying to bridge the blocs.

Foster Friess, a major Republican donor whose contributions to Rick Santorum’s “super PAC” helped keep alive the former Pennsylvania senator’s presidential campaign two years ago, acknowledged that the coalescence around Mrs. Clinton was a “huge advantage” for Democrats.

“That’s why the Democrats run the government and the Republicans run the museums,” Mr. Friess said.

But the eventual choice for the nomination will not merely speak to philosophical direction. Republicans also confront a generational decision: They have several energetic governors and senators in their 40s and early 50s lining up to run. Yet there is also an older group of potential candidates, such as Mr. Bush and Mitt Romney, who could arrest the ambitions of the next generation of Republicans but whose experience could be appealing.

To date, Mrs. Clinton, 67, has been the target of the age-oriented attacks by the younger Republicans. But some of that fire is now from within, albeit subtly. After Gov. John Kasich of Ohio, 62, mentioned 1980s-era congressional doings, when he was in the House, at a news conference here, Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, 47, shot back: “John talked about ‘86? That’s when I was in high school.”

Democrats have had their share of intergenerational battles, but this is relatively new terrain for Republicans. With the exception of George W. Bush, every Republican nominee since 1976 has been over 60. Now, the wide range of age, experience and viewpoints could lead to an unusually turbulent contest.

“It is unpredictable as I can recall, but I worry less about it because we’ve changed the calendar and we’ll have a de facto nominee by late April and a convention by late June,” said Charles R. Black Jr., a longtime Republican strategist, referring to the changes made by the Republican National Committee to compress the primary schedule and nominating convention.

While the would-be candidates are taking public steps to assert themselves, the action has been just as intense behind the scenes as they build political operations.

Jeb Bush has started reaching out to Republicans in early primary states, including Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, whom he called on election night. And he met with Spencer Zwick, Mr. Romney’s finance director, this year. Yet Mr. Bush has not decided on a bid, and those familiar with his thinking say he will give no indication until next year. Some of his private comments in recent months — musing about the need for a “pain threshold” to run and complaining about a video tracker that the liberal group American Bridge assigned to him — raise doubts about his intentions.

Still, some of Mr. Bush’s confidants have had informal conversations with potential aides. Sally Bradshaw and Mike Murphy, his two closest advisers, have quietly met with campaign lawyers, data specialists and donors. While Mr. Bush was in Washington to attend his education foundation’s conference, Ms. Bradshaw spent days in the capital visiting with a number of Republicans. They included two of the party’s most in-demand strategists after its success this month: Rob Collins, executive director of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, and Liesl Hickey, executive director of the National Republican Congressional Committee.

Mr. Christie’s supporters have been just as aggressive. They envision him establishing a political organization in the coming months to raise money. They also foresee a top role for Phil Cox, who is stepping down as executive director of the Republican Governors Association.

“The governor has really come to appreciate Phil’s talents and counsel,” said William J. Palatucci, one of Mr. Christie’s closest advisers. Mr. Christie may also look to Rick Wiley, a former Republican National Committee political director who is close to Mike DuHaime, Mr. Christie’s chief strategist.

Mr. Paul has been perhaps the most open about his presidential intentions, and last week he hired away a strategist from Mr. Cruz. But Mr. Paul has not found a campaign manager, having been turned down by Ward Baker, who accepted a job running the Republicans’ senatorial committee.

There is also some uncertainty about who will run Mr. Walker’s expected campaign. Mr. Wiley, if he does not work for Mr. Christie, would be a possibility. Another prospect is Mr. Walker’s strategist, Keith Gilkes, but he is said to be in the running for the top staff job at the Republican Governors Association.

Senator Marco Rubio of Florida has a seasoned group of advisers in place, and his team has begun considering aides for early primary states. Gov. Rick Perry of Texas also has a team ready and is inviting donors to Austin.

Gov. Mike Pence of Indiana said in an interview that he would not decide on his future until after his state’s legislative session. “After that concludes in the spring, we will sit down and make decisions about our future,” he said. The nomination season is likely to be effectively underway at that point, which gives pause to some in the party who fear a replay of the long and contentious battle in 2012.

“You might argue it was more divisive than it needed to be,” Mr. Friess said, adding that this time, “the donors are not going to let that happen.”

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The House That Kochs Bought Passes Bill Muzzling EPA Scientists

By: Rmuse
PoliticusUSA
Saturday, November, 22nd, 2014, 2:00 pm   

For many Americans it is stunning that in the 21st  Century there is a vibrant anti-science movement, especially in a highly technological nation. Of course, there is a reason two specific groups hate science and it is either because it debunks their superstition and mythos, or exposes their dirty industry practices as detrimental to the nation’s security and the people’s health. Republicans, particularly those beholden to the fossil fuel industry, claim that since they are “not scientists,” they can’t comment on, or accept,  that fossil fuel emissions are responsible for anthropogenic climate change threatening the nation’s health and security, and now they are attempting “real scientists” who can explain climate change.

On Tuesday, to ensure that the “right kind of scientists” are doling out advice on environmental protections, Republicans in the House passed legislation to guarantee that oil industry scientists loyal to the Kochs, and not independent scientists, serve on the Environmental Protection Agency’s Science Advisory Board. The rule change prohibits scientists not in the employ of the oil industry from talking about, or giving advice  based on, independent scientific research, and prevents them from applying for grants from the EPA for further research.

The bill does, however, make it easier for “scientists” with financial ties to big oil and corporations to serve on the SAB and set environmental policy. The EPA, and the SAB, already allows some scientists and advisors with oil industry “expertise” to serve on the board, but the bill’s sponsor, Chris Stewart (R-UT) says it is not enough because the Koch brothers’ interests cannot control the direction of the EPA; his legislation remedies that.


The bill, the Science Advisory Board Reform Act, fulfills all of the industry, and Republicans’ requirements for their vision of environmental policy. Stewart has never concealed his profound distrust of scientists, an ardent  hatred of the EPA, and support for the oil and gas industry bordering on religious fanaticism; a typical Republican. In fact, the Mormon Stewart not only disbelieves real science proving the existence of climate change, he openly wants and has called for, like most Republicans, the summary elimination of the EPA over something related to faith.

According to Stewart, the SAB required a Koch-inspired change and oil industry-financed “scientists” to counterbalance those other experts for the sake of transparency. He said “We’re losing valuable insight and valuable guidance because we don’t include them, (oil industry-funded) scientists in the process” of advising on environmental policies. Democrats in the House did not believe Stewart’s motivation had anything whatsoever to do with transparency and everything to do with “balancing” scientific reality with oil industry fallacies.

Representative Jim McGovern (D-MA) was blunt in saying, “I get it, you don’t like science. And you don’t like science that interferes with the interests of your corporate clients. But we need science to protect public health and the environment.” Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson concurred with McGovern and said, “The supposed intent of the bill is to improve the process of selecting advisors, but in reality, the bill would allow the board to be stacked with industry representatives, while making it more difficult for academics to serve. It benefits no one but the industry, and it harms public health.” That is, after all, the intent of the bill that Americans are going to see a lot more of when Republicans begin repaying the Koch brothers for their multimillion dollar investment in buying Congress.

Real scientists, various environmental groups, and real health experts, the people protecting Americans,  rightly cited the real intent of the Koch-inspired bill; “compromise the scientific independence of the SAB and EPA,” and at the least “increase the length of time it takes the EPA to implement clean air and water regulations,” and if Republicans can fulfill the Koch’s wildest dreams, make it impossible for the Environmental Protection Agency to function. The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), real academics, fervently came out against the Koch bill and were outraged that the bill prohibits real scientists on the SAB from discussing peer-reviewed research they may have been involved or have an academic interest in such as the effect of carbon emissions on climate change.

In a letter to Congress prior to the bill’s passage, the UCS director Andrew A. Rosenberg wrote that, “This bill effectively turns the idea of conflict of interest on its head, with the bizarre presumption that corporate experts with direct financial interests are not conflicted while academics who work on these issues are. Of course, a scientist with expertise on topics the Science Advisory Board addresses likely will have done peer-reviewed studies on that topic. That makes the scientist’s evaluation more valuable, not less.” But Mr. Rosenberg fails to understand that valuable scientific evaluation is exactly what the Koch-Republicans do not want; or they would not have passed a bill prohibiting real scientists from both serving on the SAB or discussing important scientifically-researched empirical data as it relates to environmental protections.

The only good news, thus far, is that in the current incarnation of the Senate, there is no companion oil industry bill to take up. That will surely change when Republicans begin doling out remunerative gifts to the Koch’s for funding their campaigns and handing them control of the Senate. Also, in what is proving to be one of the lone champions for protecting the environment, national security, and Americans’ health, the Obama Administration has pledged to veto the bill if it makes it to the President’s desk. However, now that the Koch brothers control of both houses of Congress, there will be a flood of Republican legislation either muzzling real scientists or dispensing of the one agency protecting Americans health, air, and water; the EPA.

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The Downside of the Boom

North Dakota took on the oversight of a multibillion-dollar oil industry with a regulatory system built on trust, warnings and second chances.

By DEBORAH SONTAG and ROBERT GEBELOFF   
NOV. 22, 2014
NYT

WILLISTON, N.D. — In early August 2013, Arlene Skurupey of Blacksburg, Va., got an animated call from the normally taciturn farmer who rents her family land in Billings County, N.D. There had been an accident at the Skurupey 1-9H oil well. “Oh, my gosh, the gold is blowing,” she said he told her. “Bakken gold.”

It was the 11th blowout since 2006 at a North Dakota well operated by Continental Resources, the most prolific producer in the booming Bakken oil patch. Spewing some 173,250 gallons of potential pollutants, the eruption, undisclosed at the time, was serious enough to bring the Oklahoma-based company’s chairman and chief executive, Harold G. Hamm, to the remote scene.

It was not the first or most catastrophic blowout visited by Mr. Hamm, a sharecropper’s son who became the wealthiest oilman in America and energy adviser to Mitt Romney during the 2012 presidential campaign. Two years earlier, a towering derrick in Golden Valley County had erupted into flames and toppled, leaving three workers badly burned. “I was a human torch,” said the driller, Andrew J. Rohr.

Blowouts represent the riskiest failure in the oil business. Yet, despite these serious injuries and some 115,000 gallons spilled in those first 10 blowouts, the North Dakota Industrial Commission, which regulates the drilling and production of oil and gas, did not penalize Continental until the 11th.

In 2011, Andrew J. Rohr and two other workers were badly burned when a towering derrick erupted into flames and toppled. “I was a human torch,” Mr. Rohr said.

The commission — the governor, attorney general and agriculture commissioner — imposed a $75,000 penalty. Earlier this year, though, the commission, as it often does, suspended 90 percent of the fine, settling for $7,500 after Continental blamed “an irresponsible supervisor” — just as it had blamed Mr. Rohr and his crew, contract workers, for the blowout that left them traumatized.

Since 2006, when advances in hydraulic fracturing — fracking — and horizontal drilling began unlocking a trove of sweet crude oil in the Bakken shale formation, North Dakota has shed its identity as an agricultural state in decline to become an oil powerhouse second only to Texas. A small state that believes in small government, it took on the oversight of a multibillion-dollar industry with a slender regulatory system built on neighborly trust, verbal warnings and second chances.

In recent years, as the boom really exploded, the number of reported spills, leaks, fires and blowouts has soared, with an increase in spillage that outpaces the increase in oil production, an investigation by The New York Times found. Yet, even as the state has hired more oil field inspectors and imposed new regulations, forgiveness remains embedded in the Industrial Commission’s approach to an industry that has given North Dakota the fastest-growing economy and lowest jobless rate in the country.

For those who champion fossil fuels as the key to America’s energy independence, North Dakota is an unrivaled success, a place where fracking has provoked little of the divisive environmental debate that takes place elsewhere. Its state leaders rarely mention the underside of the boom and do not release even summary statistics about environmental incidents and enforcement measures.

Over the past nine months, using previously undisclosed and unanalyzed records, bolstered by scores of interviews in North Dakota, The Times has pieced together a detailed accounting of the industry’s environmental record and the state’s approach to managing the “carbon rush.”

The Times found that the Industrial Commission wields its power to penalize the industry only as a last resort. It rarely pursues formal complaints and typically settles those for about 10 percent of the assessed penalties. Since 2006, the commission has collected an estimated $1.1 million in fines. This is a pittance compared with the $33 million (including some reimbursements for cleanups) collected by Texas’ equivalent authority over roughly the same period, when Texas produced four times the oil.

“We’re spoiling the child by sparing the rod,” said Daryl Peterson, a farmer who has filed a complaint seeking to compel the state to punish oil companies for spills that contaminated his land. “We should be using the sword, not the feather.”

North Dakota’s oil and gas regulatory setup is highly unusual in that it puts three top elected officials directly in charge of an industry that, through its executives and political action committees, can and does contribute to the officials’ campaigns. Mr. Hamm and other Continental officials, for instance, have contributed $39,900 to the commissioners since 2010. John B. Hess, chief executive of Hess Oil, the state’s second-biggest oil producer, contributed $25,000 to Gov. Jack Dalrymple in 2012.

State regulators say they deliberately choose a collaborative rather than punitive approach because they view the large independent companies that dominate the Bakken as responsible and as their necessary allies in policing the oil fields. They prefer to work alongside industry to develop new guidelines or regulations when problems like overflowing waste, radioactive waste, leaking pipelines, and flaring gas become too glaring to ignore.

Mr. Dalrymple’s office said in a statement: “The North Dakota Industrial Commission has adopted some of the most stringent oil and gas production regulations in the country to enhance protections for our water, air and land. At the same time, the state has significantly increased staffing to enforce environmental protections. Our track record is one of increased regulation and oversight.”

Researchers who study government enforcement generally conclude that “the cooperative approach doesn’t seem to generate results” while “the evidence shows that increased monitoring and increased enforcement will reduce the incidence of oil spills,” said Mark A. Cohen, a Vanderbilt University professor who led a team advising the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling.

With spills steadily rising in North Dakota, evidence gathered by The Times suggests that the cooperative approach is not working that well for the state, where the Industrial Commission shares industry oversight with the state’s Health Department and federal agencies.

One environmental incident for every 11 wells in 2006, for instance, became one for every six last year, The Times found.

Through early October of this year, companies reported 3.8 million gallons spilled, nearly as much as in 2011 and 2012 combined.

Over all, more than 18.4 million gallons of oils and chemicals spilled, leaked or misted into the air, soil and waters of North Dakota from 2006 through early October 2014. (In addition, the oil industry reported spilling 5.2 million gallons of nontoxic substances, mostly fresh water, which can alter the environment and carry contaminants.)

The spill numbers derive from estimates, and sometimes serious underestimates, reported to the state by the industry. State officials, who rarely discuss them publicly, sometimes use them to present a rosier image. Over the summer, speaking to farmers in the town of Antler, Lynn D. Helms, the director of the Department of Mineral Resources, announced “a little bit of good news”: The spill rate per well was “steady or down.” In fact, the rate has risen sharply since the early days of the boom.

Presented with The Times’s data analysis, and asked if the state was doing an effective job at preventing spills, Mr. Helms struck a more sober note. “We’re doing O.K.,” he said. “We’re not doing great.”

He noted it is a federal agency, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, that regulates oil transmission pipelines. “You can’t use the spills P.H.M.S.A. was responsible for and conclude my approach to regulation is not working,” he said.

Oil and Wastewater Spills

More than 18 million gallons of oil and toxic wastewater were spilled in North Dakota from January 2006 to October 2014. Most individual spills were contained to the immediate drilling area, but many of the largest spills polluted surrounding farms and waterways.

Indeed, as the tangle of buried pipelines has grown, there have been no federal pipeline inspectors based in North Dakota. But there have been no state inspectors, either, to oversee the much larger network of gathering pipelines unregulated by the federal government — a fount of many spills.

Penalizing companies for every violation is imprudent and can be counterproductive, Mr. Helms said, potentially “leaving the citizens of North Dakota with enormous liabilities on their hands when bankrupt operators walk away.”

Continental Resources hardly seems likely to walk away from its 1.2 million leased acres in the Bakken. It has reaped substantial profit from the boom, with $2.8 billion in net income from 2006 through 2013.

But the company, which has a former North Dakota governor on its board, has been treated with leniency by the Industrial Commission.

From 2006 through August, it reported more spills and environmental incidents (937) and a greater volume of spillage (1.6 million gallons) than any other operator. It spilled more per barrel of oil produced than any of the state’s other major producers. Since 2006, however, the company has paid the Industrial Commission $20,000 out of $222,000 in assessed fines.

Continental said in a written response to questions that it was misleading to compare its spill record with that of other operators because “we are not aware other operators report spills as transparently and proactively as we do.” It said that it had recovered the majority of what it spilled, and that penalty reductions came from providing the Industrial Commission “with precisely the information it needs to enforce its regulations fairly.”

What Continental paid Mr. Rohr, the injured driller, is guarded by a confidentiality agreement negotiated after a jury was impaneled for a trial this September. His wife, Winnie, said she wished the trial had gone forward “so the truth could come out, but we just didn’t have enough power to fight them.”

Looking back now, one thing gnaws at her.

“You know what really bothered me?” Mrs. Rohr said. “Harold Hamm flew up to see the damage to the rig but didn’t go see the guys who were burned.”
Oil wells, shown in yellow, cover the agricultural landscape. Most have been built since 2006.
Thousands of lines drilled underground connect the fracking operations to surface wells.

Embracing the Oil Industry as Economic Salvation

Given the state’s history of population loss and economic decline, state officials delighted in the arrival of oil companies eager to exploit the tremendous untapped potential of the primeval Bakken formation deep beneath the sweeping prairies and rugged badlands of western North Dakota.

Especially during the first years, officials were anxious that this oil boom, like previous ones, could be fleeting, that oil companies, if not embraced, could shift their rigs and capital investment to fields with less severe winters and better access to markets.

“There was a mentality that we should be helping things along, not getting in the way with regulations,” said Todd Sattler, a lawyer who served as a state oil and gas hearing officer through mid-2011. “It wasn’t blatant disregard for bad things, just permissive.”

Mr. Sattler said he tried to establish a protocol for field investigations, preparing a three-page checklist of procedures, including how to conduct witness interviews. The response from the state’s chief inspector, he said, was: “I’m not going to be a cop out there, Todd.”

In 2006, the Industrial Commission issued 419 drilling permits, processing applications in five days. By 2011, when it handed out 1,927 permits, it was still managing to issue them in 10 days. At that point, concerned that the Environmental Protection Agency might establish a moratorium on fracking — the legislature set aside $1 million to sue the E.P.A. — there was a desire to establish facts on the ground.

Some officials in western North Dakota challenged the accelerating pace. “It was so ragtag and breathless,” said Dan Kalil, the Williams County Commission chairman. “Infrastructure in every facet wasn’t able to keep up.”

Ron Ness, president of the North Dakota Petroleum Council, said: “It’s easy to say it’s been too fast, too much. But this is what North Dakotans have hoped for, prayed for.” Investors from all over the country are now drawn to tiny, remote places like Watford City, where “there wasn’t a damn thing” seven years ago, he said.

“We’ve got the largest-producing Cinnabon anywhere in the world,” he said. (The Williston Cinnabon, more precisely, has the highest sales in a travel plaza, the company said.)

In the first five years, the “slow, nasty drip, drip, drip” of routine spills — as Edmund Baker, environmental director for the Fort Berthold Reservation in the heart of the oil patch, calls it — went largely unnoticed and sometimes unreported to the authorities.

In the spring thaw of 2011, however, after a winter of record snowfall, scores of oil waste pits overflowed at once. The large, open pits, adjacent to rigs throughout the Bakken at that point, disgorged oil-based drilling mud that mixed with snowmelt and streamed across farmland and into stock ponds, creeks and river tributaries.

Farmers were horrified; the local news media took note. And, in concert with the development of a new regulation outlawing liquid waste pits, the Industrial Commission undertook its first — and so far only — crackdown on spills. It filed several dozen formal complaints against companies that, Mr. Helms said, had defied the Mineral Resources Department’s warning to take precautions to prevent the predicted overflows.

Hess Oil was one target. It paid its fines in full: $112,500.

Continental, like some other companies, disputed its responsibility.

Its lawyer, a former counsel to the Industrial Commission, proposed that consent agreements state that the overflows were caused by unforeseeable extreme weather. Instead, the agreements attributed the violations “in part” to bad weather “unforeseen by Continental.”

Still, the Industrial Commission accepted $12,500 rather than $125,000.

That fall, at a commission meeting in Bismarck, Mr. Helms explained the logic behind the waste pit settlements.

Most companies would make “a voluntary 10 percent payment” and 90 percent would be suspended for a year, during which the operator would have to “keep completely clean” of the offense, Mr. Helms said, according to the meeting minutes. This works, he added, because “keeping that 90 percent hanging over their head for a year creates a culture change within the company.”

Mr. Helms said this had been departmental practice since the early 2000s when officials were trying to prod Earl Schwartz of GoFor Oil — his logo was a gopher in a hard hat — to plug some wells and start production on others.

Sarah Vogel, a former Industrial Commission member, said she considered it a startling admission that current policy was based on “the treatment of a small wildcatter from an earlier era.”

“It’s absurd to compare an Earl Schwartz to a Hess or any of these other enormous companies worth billions,” she said. “To me, announcing publicly that it is your practice to suspend the bulk of all fines makes a mockery of the whole enforcement system. Should we tell the general public that if they’re caught speeding, the fine is $100, but they only have to pay $10? It’s an invitation to violate the law.”

Bearded and deliberative, Mr. Helms is a petroleum engineer by trade, with a hand that bears the burn scars of an industrial accident. The state’s senior oil official since 2005, he previously worked at Texaco for two years and at Hess for 18.

To his critics, Mr. Helms personifies a cozy relationship between the commission and oil companies. His dual mission heightens this, they say, as he is compelled by statute both to promote “the greatest possible economic recovery of oil and gas” and to enforce regulations.

Mr. Helms, however, said that his background gives him access and authority, and that his job is to promote responsible development, not the industry.

“In order to effectively do that I have to be on a first-name basis with C.E.O.s and managers,” he said. “If they didn’t trust me, and if they expected every time they made a mistake they were going to get slapped with a great big fine or be singled out or profiled, I wouldn’t get straight answers.”

The commission has imposed its stiffest penalties on smaller companies. Last year, it fined Halek Operating, whose leader had a history of swindling investors in Texas, a record $1.5 million for a defective waste disposal well that threatened a town’s water supply. But Halek has gone out of business, and the state is unlikely to obtain more than the $140,000 in bonds it has seized.

Mr. Helms said that problems in the oil patch were often the fault not of the major companies but of the contractors who do their physical labor.

“The large independents — the bread and butter of the North Dakota oil industry — really understand their social license to operate and really try to emphasize environment, health and safety,” he said. “But there’s a disconnect.”

L. David Glatt, Mr. Helms’s counterpart in the Health Department’s environmental division, has voiced the same sentiment. Though the state’s chief environmental regulator, he described himself on a radio show last year as “not a regulations guy” — after the host said that “the word ‘regulation’ is like Lucifer” in North Dakota.

Before the boom, Mr. Glatt said in an interview, the Health Department had “a very hands-on, personalized approach, going out and helping people solve their problems.”

 14 
 on: Nov 23, 2014, 08:14 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
USA...

Obama hits back at Republicans

Obama has shown courage to stand with us, say America’s joyful Latinos

President’s move to grant amnesty to 5 million immigrants delights Hispanics at rally in Las Vegas

Rory Carroll in Las Vegas
The Observer, Saturday 22 November 2014 15.45 GMT     

Should Hillary Clinton, or any other Democrat, become the next US president, you may be able to trace their victory to a roll of the political dice played out last week beside a Las Vegas highway. Barack Obama’s cavalcade trundled up the road and into Del Sol high school on Friday to bring his case for the most sweeping immigration reform in decades to a rally in Nevada’s gambling capital.

A bright desert sun illuminated two contrasting tableaux. From the school entrance snaked hundreds of people, mostly Latino, giddy and upbeat, come to hear and cheer a president who had decided to shield almost five million illegal immigrants from deportation by offering them temporary legal status and work permits. Across the street stood about two dozen protesters – white, indignant and angry – with megaphones. Placards amplified the message: “No amnesty!” “Deport them all!” “Oust Obama!”

Democrats from Washington who hitched a ride to the event on Air Force One could not resist smiling. It was a banner day for civil rights. But, more prosaically, the scenes on both sides of the highway sprinkled optimism on their chances of keeping the White House after Obama.

“The Latino vote is going to stay solid Democratic,” said Bill Richardson, a former New Mexico governor and one of the party’s leading Latino figures. “I think the party in deep trouble is the Republican party. They’re digging themselves in a very bad hole with Latino voters for 2016.” Dolores Huerta, a veteran and well-known labour activist, agreed. “I think they can win Congress, but not the presidency. There are 50,000 Latino kids that turn 18 every month – not just on the west coast or in the south-west; you’re talking about Georgia, North Carolina, Maryland.” Obama’s unilateral action, taken without congressional approval, is a political gamble. A Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll found that 48% of Americans disapproved of him going solo, versus 38% who approved. But 57% supported a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants. Analysts on both sides say it could pave the way for another Democrat in the White House, especially if Republicans fall into the trap of overreacting.

Obama electrified the Las Vegas audience. “We’re not a nation that kicks out strivers and dreamers,” he said. “We welcome them as fellow children of God.” He exuded brio, a contrast to two weeks ago when the GOP swept the midterm elections, seizing control of the Senate and strengthening its grip on the House, a rout that seemed to repudiate an unpopular, apparently lame-duck president. A conservative agenda – picking apart Obamacare, cutting spending – beckoned. Obama’s executive order, made in an emotional White House address on Thursday and reinforced in Las Vegas, wrested back the initiative, forcing his foes to fight on treacherous terrain.

Mitt Romney sabotaged his 2012 campaign when he urged undocumented people to “self-deport”. It alienated Latinos, the fastest-growing group of voters. The GOP’s official postmortem made a blunt conclusion: “If Hispanics think that we do not want them here, they will close their ears to our policies.” Moderate Republicans later backed a bipartisan Senate immigration bill, hoping to detoxify their image, only to see conservative colleagues in the House kill it.

Latinos, however, turned much of their ire on Obama for his refusal to take unilateral action. Worse, deportation levels soared, prompting the nickname “deporter-in-chief”. Disenchantment depressed Latino turnout in the mid-terms, costing Democrats several races.

Last week’s executive action leaves about six million of the estimated 11 million undocumented Latinos vulnerable to deportation, and grants only three-year protection to beneficiaries. The most far-reaching aspect is the creation of a “deferred action” programme that will benefit the estimated 3.7 million undocumented immigrants who are parents of US citizens or permanent legal residents. Activists call it a first step to comprehensive reform. Politically, however, it is a leap that has restored Latino faith in Obama and the Democrats. “This goes a long way,” said Maria Elena Durazo, a leader in the hotel workers’ union Unite. “It will show that a Democratic president had the courage to stand with Latino families.”

Latinos lag white and black people in election turnout, but their demographic clout – 14% of the electorate – weighs more at every election. Delia Lago, 53, a Vegas hotel worker, had a chilling message for Republicans. She hopes to become a citizen – a voting citizen – next year and has 14 US-born grandchildren, all citizens. Would they ever vote Republican? Her nose wrinkled: “They don’t make us feel welcome.”

Pickets outside the school exemplified the GOP’s perceived hostility to Latinos. “As a taxpayer I’m done paying bills for illegal immigrants,” said Gary Adams, 61. “All they do is take and Obama gives, gives, gives.” Ty Romsa, 54, held a placard comparing Obama to Mussolini.

Latinos queuing to see Obama heard the protesters’ chants. Some laughed, others rolled their eyes. “I think they’re uneducated,” said Jason Eusteqio, 16. “Or they just don’t get what the president is saying,” said his friend Jorge Ramirez, also 16. “Immigrants built this country.”

Huerta, the activist said racism plagued Republicans: “It’s just too much for them, they can’t overcome it.” Durazo was equally dismissive. “Republicans just don’t like Latinos, period. They want you to be a cheap labour force, to be quiet and just do what they tell you to do.”

Republican leaders reject such accusations but admit the perception of intolerance damages chances of capturing the White House. “If you overreact, it becomes about us, not President Obama,” said Senator Lindsey Graham. Michele Bachmann, a House Republican, did not get the message. Obama’s action, she told the Washington Post, was an effort to increase the number of “illiterate” Democratic voters.
IN NUMBERS

■ America’s Hispanic population topped 54 million as of 1 July, 2013, an increase of 2.1% over 2012.

■ US births have been the main driving force behind that increase since 2000, a trend continued in 2012 and 2013.

■ Natural increase (births minus deaths) accounted for 78% of the total change from 2012 to 2013.

■ At 47%, New Mexico has the highest Hispanic population share. California has the largest Hispanic population (14.7 million).

■ Texas, second-largest state by Hispanic population, saw the greatest numerical increase in Hispanics from 2012 to 2013, growing by 213,000.

*************

Paul Krugman destroys arguments against Obama’s immigration plan

Janet Allon, AlterNet
23 Nov 2014 at 05:08 ET                  

Now, that Obama has taken his much-needed and way overdue executive action to shield millions of undocumented families from heart-rending deportation, the fact that it was simply the right thing to do is abundantly clear. It also gives columnist Paul Krugman an opportunity to wax lyrical about his own family’s immigrant roots, and one of his favorite tourist attractions in New York City, the Tenement Museum on the Lower East Side. “When you tour the museum, you come away with a powerful sense of immigration as a human experience, which — despite plenty of bad times, despite a cultural climate in which Jews, Italians, and others were often portrayed as racially inferior — was overwhelmingly positive,” he writes in his Friday column. “I get especially choked up about the Baldizzi apartment from 1934. When I described its layout to my parents, both declared, “I grew up in that apartment!” And today’s immigrants are the same, in aspiration and behavior, as my grandparents were — people seeking a better life, and by and large finding it.”

President Obama’s new immigration initiative, Krugman says, is “a simple matter of human decency.”

Krugman goes on to parse the issue, and to point out that supporting the humane treatment of children born in this country to undocumented immigrant parents is not the same as supporting completely open borders. Under F.D.R., he points out, “Once immigration restrictions were in place, and immigrants already here gained citizenship, this disenfranchised class at the bottom shrank rapidly, helping to create the political conditions for a stronger social safety net. And, yes, low-skill immigration probably has some depressing effect on wages, although the available evidence suggests that the effect is quite small.”

Yes, it is normal to be conflicted about immigration issues, Krugman allows. What is not normal is the desire to punish innocent children, who are already here, for their parents’ decision to bend the rules to give them a better life. Predictably, as we all know, there are far too many right-wing zealots and haters in politics and the media who are quite happy to exact this punishment. Krugman:

    Who are we talking about? First, there are more than a million young people in this country who came — yes, illegally — as children and have lived here ever since. Second, there are large numbers of children who were born here — which makes them U.S. citizens, with all the same rights you and I have — but whose parents came illegally, and are legally subject to being deported.

    What should we do about these people and their families? There are some forces in our political life who want us to bring out the iron fist — to seek out and deport young residents who weren’t born here but have never known another home, to seek out and deport the undocumented parents of American children and force those children either to go into exile or to fend for themselves.

Krugman gets downright sentimental about the issue, stating his belief that Americans are simply not “that cruel.” And anyway a crackdown on these families would cost money, which Republicans don’t want to spend.  (One hopes.) The real question is how they should be treated, he asks. his answer is not only humane but economical.

    Today’s immigrant children are tomorrow’s workers, taxpayers and neighbors. Condemning them to life in the shadows means that they will have less stable home lives than they should, be denied the opportunity to acquire skills and education, contribute less to the economy, and play a less positive role in society. Failure to act is just self-destructive.

But more importantly, it’s the humane thing to do.

******************

Immigration and the Shoddy Pretense of Journalism that is CNN

By: Hrafnkell Haraldsson
PoliticusUSA
Saturday, November, 22nd, 2014, 8:00 pm      

It’s funny how the mainstream media can pretend to report on the immigration issue by detailing Republican complaints about President Obama’s executive order on immigration – questioning its constitutionality, for example – without once mentioning that other presidents have issued executive orders on immigration.

In fact, the best CNN could do in its piece Friday, Republicans hammer legal case against Obama on immigration, in which they somehow manage not to mention that the Republicans have no legal case, is this tidbit:

“The GOP seemed to take little comfort in Obama’s explanation that his actions were in line with other actions past presidents had made.”

You would think they could dig a little deeper than that. The Republican claims are, after all, particularly blatant lies. They can’t even be bothered to mention that Nancy Pelosi has already shown their claims to be lies.

They’re allegedly journalists over there at CNN – at least they pretend to be – yet they can’t be troubled to fact check. After, the allegations cited by CNN are pretty sensationalist:

    “‘By ignoring the will of the American people, President Obama has cemented his legacy of lawlessness and squandered what little credibility he had left,’ House Speaker John Boehner said in a statement after the speech.” (In fact, the will of the American people is that they want immigration reform, but CNN doesn’t mention this little fact)
    “Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul said he ‘will not sit idly by and let the President bypass Congress and our Constitution.'”
    “‘His actions are not only unconstitutional and in defiance of the American people who said they did not want amnesty in the 2014 elections, but they are also unfair to every immigrant who has come to our nation legally,’ Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas posted to his Facebook profile.”
    “Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, the second-place finisher in the 2012 battle for the GOP presidential nod and a potential 2016 contender, called the executive order ‘just another in a long line of power-grabs by this administration…this President simply does not believe that the Executive is a co-equal branch of government.'”
    John McCain “said in a statement that Obama’s executive action ‘lacks legal justification…'”
    “Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus…blasted Obama for both his policies and for acting as a ‘one-man legislature.'”

Not only did they put together this list without mentioning a single Democrat response to these claims, but the claims themselves are easily fact-checked. Not doing so is an inexcusable omission by CNN’s writers, Eric Bradner and Jedd Rosche, who are content instead to pass on these lies unquestioned.

By happy coincidence, however, the American Immigration Council has pointed out that,

“In fact, the history books reveal that President Obama’s action follows a long line of presidents who relied on their executive branch authority to address immigration challenges.”

    Since at least 1956, every U.S. president has granted temporary immigration relief to one or more groups in need of assistance. This chart collects 39 examples, which span actions large and small, taken over many years, sometimes by multiple administrations. They even provide a handy chart showing these executive orders.

The list includes five Republican presidents: Eisenhower, Ford, Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and George W. Bush. None of them were accused of violating the U.S. Constitution.

Of course, none of them were Democrats. And none of them were black. They were old white guys.

See how easy that was, CNN? Rather than simply providing your services as a propaganda mouthpiece for the GOP, you can actually be the journalists you claim to be. Is it so hard?

After all, even Sen. Tom Coburn {R-OK), of whom President Obama once said, mistakenly as it turns out, that he is “someone who speaks his mind (and) sticks to his principles,” admitted on Morning Joe that the facts don’t matter when he let slip that, “And whether it’s factual or perceptual, it really doesn’t matter. And the glue that holds our country together is this common belief in the rule of law.”

And it’s not like the Republicans haven’t had plenty of opportunities to pass immigration reform. They just haven’t bothered to do it, and the president has hammered them for it. Heck, they even admitted they were not doing it in order to punish President Obama. None of this gets a mention from CNN.

So it’s a mite hypocritical for them now to complain that Obama is doing what he can to alleviate the suffering of immigrants. What I’ve pointed out here could as easily have been pointed out by CNN. That they omitted these critical facts and more, tells us more about CNN than CNN tells us about Obama.

The facts don’t matter to the Republicans. We get that. Coburn admitted it and they’ve shown it to be true repeatedly (and here and here just for a couple of examples).

But you’re supposed to be news people, CNN. Facts should matter to you. Couldn’t you at least try to show a little integrity?

*******************

G.O.P.-Led Benghazi Panel Bolsters Administration

By MICHAEL S. SCHMIDT
NOV. 22, 2014
NYT

WASHINGTON — A report released late Friday about the fatal 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya, left Republicans in the same position they have been in for two years: with little evidence to support their most damning critiques of how the Obama administration, and then-Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, responded to the attacks.

Similar to five other government reports, the one released by the House Intelligence Committee on Friday said that the administration had not intentionally misled the public about what occurred during the attacks in talking points it created for officials to use in television appearances that turned out to be inaccurate.

It also said that no order was given by the military to “stand down” in responding to try to save the four Americans killed in the attacks, a claim that Republicans have made based on the account of a member of the security team in Benghazi that day.
Continue reading the main story
Related Coverage

    National Briefing | Washington: New Benghazi Investigation Finds No Fault in ResponseNOV. 21, 2014

Coming six months after Speaker John A. Boehner created a separate special committee to investigate the Benghazi attacks, the report raised questions about what that panel might uncover that the Intelligence Committee — whose chairman, Representative Mike Rogers, Republican of Michigan, is leaving Congress — and the other investigations missed.

The special committee that Mr. Boehner created is led by Representative Trey Gowdy, Republican of South Carolina, who has a budget of $3.3 million for the investigation.

Mr. Gowdy, in a written statement, said that his committee had reviewed the latest findings along with the other reports. “It will aid the select committee’s comprehensive investigation to determine the full facts of what happened in Benghazi, Libya, before, during and after the attack and contribute toward our final, definitive accounting of the attack on behalf of Congress,” he said.

Democrats have asserted that the special committee was created by Republicans only to try to discredit Mrs. Clinton, who is expected to seek the Democratic nomination for president in 2016.

“The effort to turn the Benghazi tragedy into a political scandal never had a factual basis,” said David Brock, founder of Correct the Record, a group that defends Mrs. Clinton in the news media, and author of the e-book “The Benghazi Hoax.”

“The Republican committee report should close the case,” he added. “If the scandal persists into 2016, it will only be for partisan reasons.”

While the report backed up many of the administration’s longstanding claims that its response was proper, it agreed with the other reports that criticized the State Department for having inadequate security at the compound where the ambassador to Libya, J. Christopher Stevens, was killed.

“The State Department security personnel, resources and equipment were unable to counter the terrorist threat that day and required C.I.A. assistance,” it said.

The panel’s findings reflected well on the intelligence apparatus, particularly the Central Intelligence Agency. The agency “ensured sufficient security” for its facilities in Benghazi and “without a requirement to do so, ably and bravely assisted the State Department on the night of the attacks,” according to the report.

“Their actions saved lives,” the report said.

The report said the C.I.A. did not have an “intelligence failure” in the months before the attacks. In fact, the report said, the agency had increased its security because of intelligence reports showing that attacks had intensified in the area.

In the course of the investigation, the committee reviewed thousands of pages of intelligence assessments, cables, emails and other documents, and it interviewed many senior intelligence officials and people who were on the ground during the attacks — including eight security personnel who responded to them, it said.

Republican lawmakers have said that the administration, fearing political fallout from the attacks — which occurred on Sept. 11, 2012, less than two months before the presidential elections — tried to mislead the public.

In particular, the Republicans have said that Susan E. Rice, who was the ambassador to the United Nations at the time, lied on several Sunday television talk shows when she said the attacks were set off by a protest over an anti-Muslim video. They claimed that she glossed over whether the fatalities were the result of “terrorist” attacks by Al Qaeda because that would have undermined the administration’s narrative that it had all but defeated the group.

The panel found that in the days after the attacks, there was contradictory intelligence about what precipitated them and who was behind them. Ultimately, Ms. Rice’s assertions were wrong, the committee said, but there was no evidence that the administration was attempting to misconstrue the facts.

Even today, the report said, the government is still uncertain about much of what happened that day.

“Much of the early intelligence was conflicting, and two years later, intelligence gaps remain,” the report said. A mix of individuals, “including those affiliated” with Al Qaeda, participated in the attacks, it said, adding, however, that “the intelligence was and remains conflicting about the identities, affiliations and motivations of the attackers.”

A man accused of being the ringleader of the attackers was apprehended in a raid by American commandos in Benghazi in June, and will likely go on trial in Washington next year on murder charges.

The report also debunked a few accusations against the C.I.A. It said that the agency had not intimidated or prevented “any officer from speaking to Congress or otherwise telling their story.” It also said that the agency had not administered “any unusual polygraph exams” to officers about their assignment in Benghazi. And it said that the C.I.A. was not collecting arms in Libya and sending them to rebel groups in Syria.

*********************

It Is Time To Investigate and Expel Boehner For Ethics and SEC Violations

By: Rmuse
PoliticusUSA
Saturday, November, 22nd, 2014, 10:39 am   

It is a near certainty that all parents, school teachers, members of the clergy, and members of the criminal justice system would agree that the one thing that deters any kind of rule or law violations is not conscience, but the threat of punishment. Obviously, just the threat of punishment does not deter some people from violating rules and laws, but actually being punished more-than-likely does the trick. For over three years Republicans have investigated fabricated scandals, and alleged law violations, in their incessant crusade to punish the Obama Administration, or at least to deter the President from breaking the law. However, they have ignored, by design, a serial ethics violator in their own midst because he is serving their cherished money machine and personally profiting which in Republican ideology is heroic.

On Tuesday prior to the Senate vote to, unconstitutionally, subvert the Executive branch’s authority, “official” Speaker of the House John A. Boehner said that the idea of President Obama “Vetoing an overwhelmingly popular bill (KeystoneXL pipeline approval) would be a clear indication that he doesn’t care about the American peoples’ priorities.” There are fallacies in Boehner’s remark, but none more mendacious than the President “doesn’t care about the peoples’ priorities.” Boehner has told all manner of lies about a foreign corporation’s money-making pipeline, but it is time to get one thing clear; the so-called priorities to subvert the President’s Constitutional authority in approving the Keystone pipeline are not “the peoples.” They are a foreign corporation’s, the oil export industry’s, the Koch brothers’, and Speaker of the House John A. Boehner’s; the cabal that stands to profit from the environmental disaster waiting to happen.

This was not the first, and likely not the last, time Boehner lied about the KeystoneXL project, but if he had been punished three-and-a-half years ago for lying profusely about the KeystoneXL pipeline to profit his stock portfolio, likely through share manipulation, and his masters the Koch brothers, he would at least stop lying for profit. At best, the cretin would be expelled from Congress, face a Securities and Exchange Commission investigation, be tried in a court of law, convicted, and sent to prison.  In fact, if Boehner had been punished, and evicted from Congress, in 1995 for handing out tobacco industry bribes for favorable votes on the floor of the House, the nation may be unaware Boehner even exists. However, he was not punished and it is why he continues lying for profit, taking oil bribes for KeystoneXL votes, and likely violating SEC rules.

Throughout 2011 after becoming Speaker of the House, Boehner began ardently promoting a virtually unheard of Canadian company’s oil pipeline across America’s agricultural heartland. By early 2012, Boehner started threatening to tie approval of the KeystoneXL pipeline to various pieces of crucial legislation to force President Obama into approving TransCanada’s international permit to build their rupture-prone KeystoneXL pipeline across America. Canadians forbade TransCanada from building the pipeline on Canadian soil due to its repeated ruptures and breakdowns that threatened Canada’s sovereign land. Since becoming Speaker in January 2011, Boehner promised (the Koch brothers) he would “do everything we can to make sure this Keystone pipeline project is approved,” and he was not exaggerating or bluffing. Boehner has told Americans myriad debunked lies about the benefits of building the pipeline, but he has never admitted that besides the foreign corporation TransCanada, the Koch brothers, and the foreign export industry, another beneficiary of constructing the Keystone pipeline is John A. Boehner.

Boehner has a history of unethical, behavior as a congressman, so it is curious why there was no investigation, or at least probing questions, into why in less than a year a project few knew existed was suddenly paramount to Boehner; or why within a year he suddenly was heavily invested in Canada’s tar sand. According to Boehner’s 2010 financial disclosure, he invested in seven different Canadian tar sand companies to the tune of between $15,001 to $50,000 in each of the foreign entities. All of the companies are in the tar sand oil industry that Boehner stands to profit handsomely from if KeystoneXL is built.

The timing of Boehner’s sudden advocacy for a Canadian company’s project also garnered little, if any, attention; particularly since his 2009 disclosure shows that he held zero stock or interest in Canadian tar sand. That revelation should have informed any semi-intelligent person, and government regulators, that Boehner bought stock in Canada’s tar sands just in time to reap financial benefits if and when the pipeline was completed and carrying Canadian oil to Koch Industries refineries before going Texas for sale on the foreign export market. Boehner’s push, as Speaker of the House, to build the pipeline is beyond simple conflict of interest; he is performing official acts for favors (campaign contributions) and money in the form of dividends from his oil sands stocks. Boehner’s gifts in exchange for performing official acts for the oil industry were $144,150 in campaign contributions in 2010 alone.

In the 1990s when Boehner was confronted and questioned about why he was blatantly violating House ethics rules by handing out tobacco industry checks before an important vote to discontinue subsidies to the cigarette industry, his excuse for using the House to buy Republican votes was that the tobacco company told him to do it; “so I complied.” Unknown to most Americans, the Koch brothers control 1.1 million acres in the northern Alberta oil sands, an area nearly the size of Delaware; so when the Kochs told Boehner to lie and push construction of KeystoneXL, “he complied.”

Boehner needs to be thoroughly investigated by a House Ethics Committee and the Securities and Exchange Commission, thrown out of Congress, and sent straight to prison. There is precedent to expel Boehner from Congress that involves another Ohio representative, James A. Traficant. Traficant was expelled in July 2002 after he was convicted of receiving favors, gifts and money in return for performing official acts on behalf of campaign donors.  Boehner is doing precisely the same thing in performing official acts on behalf of the Koch brothers, oil export industry, a foreign corporation (TransCanada), and seven Canadian tar sands companies he will profit from if the Keystone XL pipeline is built.

To show the level of Boehner’s arrogance due to never being punished for, at least, ethics violations, less than ten years after confessing he assisted big tobacco by bribing other Republicans to vote as ordered, Boehner had the temerity to tell his Republican colleagues that “when it comes to institutional ethics, I’ve got some experience.” Boehner is at least truthful about one thing; he does have a lot of experience when it comes “institutional ethics;” how to violate them with impunity. It is why he must be investigated for House ethics violations and  the SEC must go forward with its investigation; because every one of  Boehner’s sleazy lies are to profit his stock portfolio and Koch Industries.

An active petition demanding an investigation to force Boehner’s resignation or expulsion can be found here.

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A Deep 2016 Republican Presidential Field Reflects Party Divisions

By MICHAEL BARBARO and JONATHAN MARTIN
NOV. 22, 2014
NYT

BOCA RATON, Fla. — Republican presidential primaries have for decades been orderly affairs, with any momentary drama mitigated by the expectation that the party would inevitably nominate its tested, often graying front-runner.

But as the 2016 White House campaign effectively began in the last week, it became apparent that this race might be different: a fluid contest, verging on chaotic, that will showcase the party’s deep bench of talent but also highlight its ideological and generational divisions.

As Democrats signal that they are ready to rally behind Hillary Rodham Clinton before their primary season even begins, allowing them to focus their fund-raising and firepower mostly on the general election, the Republicans appear destined for a free-for-all.

“I can think of about 16 potential candidates,” said Haley Barbour, the former governor of Mississippi and a veteran of Republican presidential politics dating to 1968. “Almost every one of them have a starting point. But there is no true front-runner.”

The sprawling nature of the race was on display Thursday as an array of would-be candidates took steps to position themselves.

At a gathering of Republican governors here, Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey sought to capitalize on the party’s victories this year in Democratic-leaning states while at least six fellow governors tested their messages and met with potential donors.

On the same day in Washington, Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor, addressed an education conference and tried to tamp down differences with the right on the Common Core standards. On Capitol Hill, Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky continued his outreach to African-Americans by having breakfast with the Rev. Al Sharpton, while Senator Ted Cruz of Texas appealed to conservatives by citing Cicero on the Senate floor in a speech castigating President Obama’s executive action on immigration.

And in California, Mike Huckabee, the former governor of Arkansas, just back from taking a group of evangelicals from early primary states on a trip to Europe honoring Ronald Reagan’s Cold War leadership, venerated Mr. Reagan in a speech at his presidential library.

If the dizzying activity on a single day captured the depth of the Republican field, it also underlined its factions, split among pragmatists, hard-liners and those trying to bridge the blocs.

Foster Friess, a major Republican donor whose contributions to Rick Santorum’s “super PAC” helped keep alive the former Pennsylvania senator’s presidential campaign two years ago, acknowledged that the coalescence around Mrs. Clinton was a “huge advantage” for Democrats.

“That’s why the Democrats run the government and the Republicans run the museums,” Mr. Friess said.

But the eventual choice for the nomination will not merely speak to philosophical direction. Republicans also confront a generational decision: They have several energetic governors and senators in their 40s and early 50s lining up to run. Yet there is also an older group of potential candidates, such as Mr. Bush and Mitt Romney, who could arrest the ambitions of the next generation of Republicans but whose experience could be appealing.

To date, Mrs. Clinton, 67, has been the target of the age-oriented attacks by the younger Republicans. But some of that fire is now from within, albeit subtly. After Gov. John Kasich of Ohio, 62, mentioned 1980s-era congressional doings, when he was in the House, at a news conference here, Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, 47, shot back: “John talked about ‘86? That’s when I was in high school.”

Democrats have had their share of intergenerational battles, but this is relatively new terrain for Republicans. With the exception of George W. Bush, every Republican nominee since 1976 has been over 60. Now, the wide range of age, experience and viewpoints could lead to an unusually turbulent contest.

“It is unpredictable as I can recall, but I worry less about it because we’ve changed the calendar and we’ll have a de facto nominee by late April and a convention by late June,” said Charles R. Black Jr., a longtime Republican strategist, referring to the changes made by the Republican National Committee to compress the primary schedule and nominating convention.

While the would-be candidates are taking public steps to assert themselves, the action has been just as intense behind the scenes as they build political operations.

Jeb Bush has started reaching out to Republicans in early primary states, including Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, whom he called on election night. And he met with Spencer Zwick, Mr. Romney’s finance director, this year. Yet Mr. Bush has not decided on a bid, and those familiar with his thinking say he will give no indication until next year. Some of his private comments in recent months — musing about the need for a “pain threshold” to run and complaining about a video tracker that the liberal group American Bridge assigned to him — raise doubts about his intentions.

Still, some of Mr. Bush’s confidants have had informal conversations with potential aides. Sally Bradshaw and Mike Murphy, his two closest advisers, have quietly met with campaign lawyers, data specialists and donors. While Mr. Bush was in Washington to attend his education foundation’s conference, Ms. Bradshaw spent days in the capital visiting with a number of Republicans. They included two of the party’s most in-demand strategists after its success this month: Rob Collins, executive director of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, and Liesl Hickey, executive director of the National Republican Congressional Committee.

Mr. Christie’s supporters have been just as aggressive. They envision him establishing a political organization in the coming months to raise money. They also foresee a top role for Phil Cox, who is stepping down as executive director of the Republican Governors Association.

“The governor has really come to appreciate Phil’s talents and counsel,” said William J. Palatucci, one of Mr. Christie’s closest advisers. Mr. Christie may also look to Rick Wiley, a former Republican National Committee political director who is close to Mike DuHaime, Mr. Christie’s chief strategist.

Mr. Paul has been perhaps the most open about his presidential intentions, and last week he hired away a strategist from Mr. Cruz. But Mr. Paul has not found a campaign manager, having been turned down by Ward Baker, who accepted a job running the Republicans’ senatorial committee.

There is also some uncertainty about who will run Mr. Walker’s expected campaign. Mr. Wiley, if he does not work for Mr. Christie, would be a possibility. Another prospect is Mr. Walker’s strategist, Keith Gilkes, but he is said to be in the running for the top staff job at the Republican Governors Association.

Senator Marco Rubio of Florida has a seasoned group of advisers in place, and his team has begun considering aides for early primary states. Gov. Rick Perry of Texas also has a team ready and is inviting donors to Austin.

Gov. Mike Pence of Indiana said in an interview that he would not decide on his future until after his state’s legislative session. “After that concludes in the spring, we will sit down and make decisions about our future,” he said. The nomination season is likely to be effectively underway at that point, which gives pause to some in the party who fear a replay of the long and contentious battle in 2012.

“You might argue it was more divisive than it needed to be,” Mr. Friess said, adding that this time, “the donors are not going to let that happen.”

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The House That Kochs Bought Passes Bill Muzzling EPA Scientists

By: Rmuse
PoliticusUSA
Saturday, November, 22nd, 2014, 2:00 pm   

For many Americans it is stunning that in the 21st  Century there is a vibrant anti-science movement, especially in a highly technological nation. Of course, there is a reason two specific groups hate science and it is either because it debunks their superstition and mythos, or exposes their dirty industry practices as detrimental to the nation’s security and the people’s health. Republicans, particularly those beholden to the fossil fuel industry, claim that since they are “not scientists,” they can’t comment on, or accept,  that fossil fuel emissions are responsible for anthropogenic climate change threatening the nation’s health and security, and now they are attempting “real scientists” who can explain climate change.

On Tuesday, to ensure that the “right kind of scientists” are doling out advice on environmental protections, Republicans in the House passed legislation to guarantee that oil industry scientists loyal to the Kochs, and not independent scientists, serve on the Environmental Protection Agency’s Science Advisory Board. The rule change prohibits scientists not in the employ of the oil industry from talking about, or giving advice  based on, independent scientific research, and prevents them from applying for grants from the EPA for further research.

The bill does, however, make it easier for “scientists” with financial ties to big oil and corporations to serve on the SAB and set environmental policy. The EPA, and the SAB, already allows some scientists and advisors with oil industry “expertise” to serve on the board, but the bill’s sponsor, Chris Stewart (R-UT) says it is not enough because the Koch brothers’ interests cannot control the direction of the EPA; his legislation remedies that.


The bill, the Science Advisory Board Reform Act, fulfills all of the industry, and Republicans’ requirements for their vision of environmental policy. Stewart has never concealed his profound distrust of scientists, an ardent  hatred of the EPA, and support for the oil and gas industry bordering on religious fanaticism; a typical Republican. In fact, the Mormon Stewart not only disbelieves real science proving the existence of climate change, he openly wants and has called for, like most Republicans, the summary elimination of the EPA over something related to faith.

According to Stewart, the SAB required a Koch-inspired change and oil industry-financed “scientists” to counterbalance those other experts for the sake of transparency. He said “We’re losing valuable insight and valuable guidance because we don’t include them, (oil industry-funded) scientists in the process” of advising on environmental policies. Democrats in the House did not believe Stewart’s motivation had anything whatsoever to do with transparency and everything to do with “balancing” scientific reality with oil industry fallacies.

Representative Jim McGovern (D-MA) was blunt in saying, “I get it, you don’t like science. And you don’t like science that interferes with the interests of your corporate clients. But we need science to protect public health and the environment.” Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson concurred with McGovern and said, “The supposed intent of the bill is to improve the process of selecting advisors, but in reality, the bill would allow the board to be stacked with industry representatives, while making it more difficult for academics to serve. It benefits no one but the industry, and it harms public health.” That is, after all, the intent of the bill that Americans are going to see a lot more of when Republicans begin repaying the Koch brothers for their multimillion dollar investment in buying Congress.

Real scientists, various environmental groups, and real health experts, the people protecting Americans,  rightly cited the real intent of the Koch-inspired bill; “compromise the scientific independence of the SAB and EPA,” and at the least “increase the length of time it takes the EPA to implement clean air and water regulations,” and if Republicans can fulfill the Koch’s wildest dreams, make it impossible for the Environmental Protection Agency to function. The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), real academics, fervently came out against the Koch bill and were outraged that the bill prohibits real scientists on the SAB from discussing peer-reviewed research they may have been involved or have an academic interest in such as the effect of carbon emissions on climate change.

In a letter to Congress prior to the bill’s passage, the UCS director Andrew A. Rosenberg wrote that, “This bill effectively turns the idea of conflict of interest on its head, with the bizarre presumption that corporate experts with direct financial interests are not conflicted while academics who work on these issues are. Of course, a scientist with expertise on topics the Science Advisory Board addresses likely will have done peer-reviewed studies on that topic. That makes the scientist’s evaluation more valuable, not less.” But Mr. Rosenberg fails to understand that valuable scientific evaluation is exactly what the Koch-Republicans do not want; or they would not have passed a bill prohibiting real scientists from both serving on the SAB or discussing important scientifically-researched empirical data as it relates to environmental protections.

The only good news, thus far, is that in the current incarnation of the Senate, there is no companion oil industry bill to take up. That will surely change when Republicans begin doling out remunerative gifts to the Koch’s for funding their campaigns and handing them control of the Senate. Also, in what is proving to be one of the lone champions for protecting the environment, national security, and Americans’ health, the Obama Administration has pledged to veto the bill if it makes it to the President’s desk. However, now that the Koch brothers control of both houses of Congress, there will be a flood of Republican legislation either muzzling real scientists or dispensing of the one agency protecting Americans health, air, and water; the EPA.

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The Downside of the Boom

North Dakota took on the oversight of a multibillion-dollar oil industry with a regulatory system built on trust, warnings and second chances.

By DEBORAH SONTAG and ROBERT GEBELOFF   
NOV. 22, 2014
NYT

WILLISTON, N.D. — In early August 2013, Arlene Skurupey of Blacksburg, Va., got an animated call from the normally taciturn farmer who rents her family land in Billings County, N.D. There had been an accident at the Skurupey 1-9H oil well. “Oh, my gosh, the gold is blowing,” she said he told her. “Bakken gold.”

It was the 11th blowout since 2006 at a North Dakota well operated by Continental Resources, the most prolific producer in the booming Bakken oil patch. Spewing some 173,250 gallons of potential pollutants, the eruption, undisclosed at the time, was serious enough to bring the Oklahoma-based company’s chairman and chief executive, Harold G. Hamm, to the remote scene.

It was not the first or most catastrophic blowout visited by Mr. Hamm, a sharecropper’s son who became the wealthiest oilman in America and energy adviser to Mitt Romney during the 2012 presidential campaign. Two years earlier, a towering derrick in Golden Valley County had erupted into flames and toppled, leaving three workers badly burned. “I was a human torch,” said the driller, Andrew J. Rohr.

Blowouts represent the riskiest failure in the oil business. Yet, despite these serious injuries and some 115,000 gallons spilled in those first 10 blowouts, the North Dakota Industrial Commission, which regulates the drilling and production of oil and gas, did not penalize Continental until the 11th.

In 2011, Andrew J. Rohr and two other workers were badly burned when a towering derrick erupted into flames and toppled. “I was a human torch,” Mr. Rohr said.

The commission — the governor, attorney general and agriculture commissioner — imposed a $75,000 penalty. Earlier this year, though, the commission, as it often does, suspended 90 percent of the fine, settling for $7,500 after Continental blamed “an irresponsible supervisor” — just as it had blamed Mr. Rohr and his crew, contract workers, for the blowout that left them traumatized.

Since 2006, when advances in hydraulic fracturing — fracking — and horizontal drilling began unlocking a trove of sweet crude oil in the Bakken shale formation, North Dakota has shed its identity as an agricultural state in decline to become an oil powerhouse second only to Texas. A small state that believes in small government, it took on the oversight of a multibillion-dollar industry with a slender regulatory system built on neighborly trust, verbal warnings and second chances.

In recent years, as the boom really exploded, the number of reported spills, leaks, fires and blowouts has soared, with an increase in spillage that outpaces the increase in oil production, an investigation by The New York Times found. Yet, even as the state has hired more oil field inspectors and imposed new regulations, forgiveness remains embedded in the Industrial Commission’s approach to an industry that has given North Dakota the fastest-growing economy and lowest jobless rate in the country.

For those who champion fossil fuels as the key to America’s energy independence, North Dakota is an unrivaled success, a place where fracking has provoked little of the divisive environmental debate that takes place elsewhere. Its state leaders rarely mention the underside of the boom and do not release even summary statistics about environmental incidents and enforcement measures.

Over the past nine months, using previously undisclosed and unanalyzed records, bolstered by scores of interviews in North Dakota, The Times has pieced together a detailed accounting of the industry’s environmental record and the state’s approach to managing the “carbon rush.”

The Times found that the Industrial Commission wields its power to penalize the industry only as a last resort. It rarely pursues formal complaints and typically settles those for about 10 percent of the assessed penalties. Since 2006, the commission has collected an estimated $1.1 million in fines. This is a pittance compared with the $33 million (including some reimbursements for cleanups) collected by Texas’ equivalent authority over roughly the same period, when Texas produced four times the oil.

“We’re spoiling the child by sparing the rod,” said Daryl Peterson, a farmer who has filed a complaint seeking to compel the state to punish oil companies for spills that contaminated his land. “We should be using the sword, not the feather.”

North Dakota’s oil and gas regulatory setup is highly unusual in that it puts three top elected officials directly in charge of an industry that, through its executives and political action committees, can and does contribute to the officials’ campaigns. Mr. Hamm and other Continental officials, for instance, have contributed $39,900 to the commissioners since 2010. John B. Hess, chief executive of Hess Oil, the state’s second-biggest oil producer, contributed $25,000 to Gov. Jack Dalrymple in 2012.

State regulators say they deliberately choose a collaborative rather than punitive approach because they view the large independent companies that dominate the Bakken as responsible and as their necessary allies in policing the oil fields. They prefer to work alongside industry to develop new guidelines or regulations when problems like overflowing waste, radioactive waste, leaking pipelines, and flaring gas become too glaring to ignore.

Mr. Dalrymple’s office said in a statement: “The North Dakota Industrial Commission has adopted some of the most stringent oil and gas production regulations in the country to enhance protections for our water, air and land. At the same time, the state has significantly increased staffing to enforce environmental protections. Our track record is one of increased regulation and oversight.”

Researchers who study government enforcement generally conclude that “the cooperative approach doesn’t seem to generate results” while “the evidence shows that increased monitoring and increased enforcement will reduce the incidence of oil spills,” said Mark A. Cohen, a Vanderbilt University professor who led a team advising the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling.

With spills steadily rising in North Dakota, evidence gathered by The Times suggests that the cooperative approach is not working that well for the state, where the Industrial Commission shares industry oversight with the state’s Health Department and federal agencies.

One environmental incident for every 11 wells in 2006, for instance, became one for every six last year, The Times found.

Through early October of this year, companies reported 3.8 million gallons spilled, nearly as much as in 2011 and 2012 combined.

Over all, more than 18.4 million gallons of oils and chemicals spilled, leaked or misted into the air, soil and waters of North Dakota from 2006 through early October 2014. (In addition, the oil industry reported spilling 5.2 million gallons of nontoxic substances, mostly fresh water, which can alter the environment and carry contaminants.)

The spill numbers derive from estimates, and sometimes serious underestimates, reported to the state by the industry. State officials, who rarely discuss them publicly, sometimes use them to present a rosier image. Over the summer, speaking to farmers in the town of Antler, Lynn D. Helms, the director of the Department of Mineral Resources, announced “a little bit of good news”: The spill rate per well was “steady or down.” In fact, the rate has risen sharply since the early days of the boom.

Presented with The Times’s data analysis, and asked if the state was doing an effective job at preventing spills, Mr. Helms struck a more sober note. “We’re doing O.K.,” he said. “We’re not doing great.”

He noted it is a federal agency, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, that regulates oil transmission pipelines. “You can’t use the spills P.H.M.S.A. was responsible for and conclude my approach to regulation is not working,” he said.

Oil and Wastewater Spills

More than 18 million gallons of oil and toxic wastewater were spilled in North Dakota from January 2006 to October 2014. Most individual spills were contained to the immediate drilling area, but many of the largest spills polluted surrounding farms and waterways.

Indeed, as the tangle of buried pipelines has grown, there have been no federal pipeline inspectors based in North Dakota. But there have been no state inspectors, either, to oversee the much larger network of gathering pipelines unregulated by the federal government — a fount of many spills.

Penalizing companies for every violation is imprudent and can be counterproductive, Mr. Helms said, potentially “leaving the citizens of North Dakota with enormous liabilities on their hands when bankrupt operators walk away.”

Continental Resources hardly seems likely to walk away from its 1.2 million leased acres in the Bakken. It has reaped substantial profit from the boom, with $2.8 billion in net income from 2006 through 2013.

But the company, which has a former North Dakota governor on its board, has been treated with leniency by the Industrial Commission.

From 2006 through August, it reported more spills and environmental incidents (937) and a greater volume of spillage (1.6 million gallons) than any other operator. It spilled more per barrel of oil produced than any of the state’s other major producers. Since 2006, however, the company has paid the Industrial Commission $20,000 out of $222,000 in assessed fines.

Continental said in a written response to questions that it was misleading to compare its spill record with that of other operators because “we are not aware other operators report spills as transparently and proactively as we do.” It said that it had recovered the majority of what it spilled, and that penalty reductions came from providing the Industrial Commission “with precisely the information it needs to enforce its regulations fairly.”

What Continental paid Mr. Rohr, the injured driller, is guarded by a confidentiality agreement negotiated after a jury was impaneled for a trial this September. His wife, Winnie, said she wished the trial had gone forward “so the truth could come out, but we just didn’t have enough power to fight them.”

Looking back now, one thing gnaws at her.

“You know what really bothered me?” Mrs. Rohr said. “Harold Hamm flew up to see the damage to the rig but didn’t go see the guys who were burned.”
Oil wells, shown in yellow, cover the agricultural landscape. Most have been built since 2006.
Thousands of lines drilled underground connect the fracking operations to surface wells.

Embracing the Oil Industry as Economic Salvation

Given the state’s history of population loss and economic decline, state officials delighted in the arrival of oil companies eager to exploit the tremendous untapped potential of the primeval Bakken formation deep beneath the sweeping prairies and rugged badlands of western North Dakota.

Especially during the first years, officials were anxious that this oil boom, like previous ones, could be fleeting, that oil companies, if not embraced, could shift their rigs and capital investment to fields with less severe winters and better access to markets.

“There was a mentality that we should be helping things along, not getting in the way with regulations,” said Todd Sattler, a lawyer who served as a state oil and gas hearing officer through mid-2011. “It wasn’t blatant disregard for bad things, just permissive.”

Mr. Sattler said he tried to establish a protocol for field investigations, preparing a three-page checklist of procedures, including how to conduct witness interviews. The response from the state’s chief inspector, he said, was: “I’m not going to be a cop out there, Todd.”

In 2006, the Industrial Commission issued 419 drilling permits, processing applications in five days. By 2011, when it handed out 1,927 permits, it was still managing to issue them in 10 days. At that point, concerned that the Environmental Protection Agency might establish a moratorium on fracking — the legislature set aside $1 million to sue the E.P.A. — there was a desire to establish facts on the ground.

Some officials in western North Dakota challenged the accelerating pace. “It was so ragtag and breathless,” said Dan Kalil, the Williams County Commission chairman. “Infrastructure in every facet wasn’t able to keep up.”

Ron Ness, president of the North Dakota Petroleum Council, said: “It’s easy to say it’s been too fast, too much. But this is what North Dakotans have hoped for, prayed for.” Investors from all over the country are now drawn to tiny, remote places like Watford City, where “there wasn’t a damn thing” seven years ago, he said.

“We’ve got the largest-producing Cinnabon anywhere in the world,” he said. (The Williston Cinnabon, more precisely, has the highest sales in a travel plaza, the company said.)

In the first five years, the “slow, nasty drip, drip, drip” of routine spills — as Edmund Baker, environmental director for the Fort Berthold Reservation in the heart of the oil patch, calls it — went largely unnoticed and sometimes unreported to the authorities.

In the spring thaw of 2011, however, after a winter of record snowfall, scores of oil waste pits overflowed at once. The large, open pits, adjacent to rigs throughout the Bakken at that point, disgorged oil-based drilling mud that mixed with snowmelt and streamed across farmland and into stock ponds, creeks and river tributaries.

Farmers were horrified; the local news media took note. And, in concert with the development of a new regulation outlawing liquid waste pits, the Industrial Commission undertook its first — and so far only — crackdown on spills. It filed several dozen formal complaints against companies that, Mr. Helms said, had defied the Mineral Resources Department’s warning to take precautions to prevent the predicted overflows.

Hess Oil was one target. It paid its fines in full: $112,500.

Continental, like some other companies, disputed its responsibility.

Its lawyer, a former counsel to the Industrial Commission, proposed that consent agreements state that the overflows were caused by unforeseeable extreme weather. Instead, the agreements attributed the violations “in part” to bad weather “unforeseen by Continental.”

Still, the Industrial Commission accepted $12,500 rather than $125,000.

That fall, at a commission meeting in Bismarck, Mr. Helms explained the logic behind the waste pit settlements.

Most companies would make “a voluntary 10 percent payment” and 90 percent would be suspended for a year, during which the operator would have to “keep completely clean” of the offense, Mr. Helms said, according to the meeting minutes. This works, he added, because “keeping that 90 percent hanging over their head for a year creates a culture change within the company.”

Mr. Helms said this had been departmental practice since the early 2000s when officials were trying to prod Earl Schwartz of GoFor Oil — his logo was a gopher in a hard hat — to plug some wells and start production on others.

Sarah Vogel, a former Industrial Commission member, said she considered it a startling admission that current policy was based on “the treatment of a small wildcatter from an earlier era.”

“It’s absurd to compare an Earl Schwartz to a Hess or any of these other enormous companies worth billions,” she said. “To me, announcing publicly that it is your practice to suspend the bulk of all fines makes a mockery of the whole enforcement system. Should we tell the general public that if they’re caught speeding, the fine is $100, but they only have to pay $10? It’s an invitation to violate the law.”

Bearded and deliberative, Mr. Helms is a petroleum engineer by trade, with a hand that bears the burn scars of an industrial accident. The state’s senior oil official since 2005, he previously worked at Texaco for two years and at Hess for 18.

To his critics, Mr. Helms personifies a cozy relationship between the commission and oil companies. His dual mission heightens this, they say, as he is compelled by statute both to promote “the greatest possible economic recovery of oil and gas” and to enforce regulations.

Mr. Helms, however, said that his background gives him access and authority, and that his job is to promote responsible development, not the industry.

“In order to effectively do that I have to be on a first-name basis with C.E.O.s and managers,” he said. “If they didn’t trust me, and if they expected every time they made a mistake they were going to get slapped with a great big fine or be singled out or profiled, I wouldn’t get straight answers.”

The commission has imposed its stiffest penalties on smaller companies. Last year, it fined Halek Operating, whose leader had a history of swindling investors in Texas, a record $1.5 million for a defective waste disposal well that threatened a town’s water supply. But Halek has gone out of business, and the state is unlikely to obtain more than the $140,000 in bonds it has seized.

Mr. Helms said that problems in the oil patch were often the fault not of the major companies but of the contractors who do their physical labor.

“The large independents — the bread and butter of the North Dakota oil industry — really understand their social license to operate and really try to emphasize environment, health and safety,” he said. “But there’s a disconnect.”

L. David Glatt, Mr. Helms’s counterpart in the Health Department’s environmental division, has voiced the same sentiment. Though the state’s chief environmental regulator, he described himself on a radio show last year as “not a regulations guy” — after the host said that “the word ‘regulation’ is like Lucifer” in North Dakota.

Before the boom, Mr. Glatt said in an interview, the Health Department had “a very hands-on, personalized approach, going out and helping people solve their problems.”

 15 
 on: Nov 23, 2014, 07:38 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Boko Haram Kills 48 Fish Vendors in Northeast Nigeria

by Naharnet Newsdesk
23 November 2014, 12:16

Boko Haram gunmen killed 48 fish vendors in Nigeria's restive Borno State, near the border with Chad, the head of the fish traders association told AFP on Sunday.

"Scores of Boko Haram fighters blocked a route linking Nigeria with Chad near the fishing village of Doron Baga on the shores of Lake Chad on Thursday and killed a group of 48 fish traders‎ on their way to Chad to buy fish," Abubakar Gamandi said.

He said the insurgents set up a barricade at Dogon Fili, 15 kilometers (nine miles) from Doron Baga, and stopped a convoy of fish vendors around midday, slaughtering some of them and drowning others in the lake.

"The Boko Haram gunmen slit the throats of some of the men and tied the hands and legs of the others before throwing them into the lake to drown," Gamandi told AFP by telephone from Maiduguri, the Borno state capital.

Source: Agence France Presse

 16 
 on: Nov 23, 2014, 07:35 AM 
Started by Rose Marcus - Last post by Rad
Pope Canonizes 2 Indians, 4 Italians

By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
NOV. 23, 2014, 8:30 A.M. E.S.T.

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis canonized six new saints Sunday, including a priest and a nun from the Indian state of Kerala, in a packed ceremony in St. Peter's Square.

The pope said the new saints, four Italians from far-flung provinces and two Indians from the Syro-Malabar Church, one of 22 Eastern rite churches that operates in full communion with Rome, provided examples of service to "the smallest and the poorest."

"They dedicated themselves, without holding back, to serving the least and assisting the destitute, sick, elderly and pilgrims," Francis told the crowd.

Some 5,000 faithful traveled from Kerala state for the solemn event, which was also streamed live onto screens set up outside churches in the southern region of India.

"Today is a big day for Indian people, especially for Indian people coming from Kerala," said Elsy Chandy Plammoottil, a pilgrim from Kerala. "We got two saints: Eufrasia Eluvathingal and Kuriakose Elias Chavara. They are very important people for us."

The Rev. Chavara, who lived in the 19th century, contributed to the expansion of the Syro-Malabar Church, including setting up printing presses. Eluvathingal, born in 1877 and baptized Rose, led a secluded life of prayer, becoming known as a "praying mother."

The pope expressed hope that the four Italian saints, born in the provinces of Vicenza in the north, Naples in the south, Rimini on the Adriatic coast, and Cosenza near the tip of the Italian boot, would help "revive the spirit of cooperation and harmony for the common good."

 17 
 on: Nov 23, 2014, 07:33 AM 
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Mistrust Threatens Delicate Balance at a Sacred Site in Jerusalem

By JODI RUDOREN
NOV. 22, 2014
IHT

JERUSALEM — Amid roiling unrest over a contested Old City holy site, the Palestine Liberation Organization this month declared that the name used for the site by Jews, the Temple Mount, was “null and void.” Instead, the group said, the compound — “a symbol for all Palestinians” — must be called Al Aqsa Mosque or the Noble Sanctuary.

A less-known Arabic and Islamic term for the revered plateau is Bait al-Maqdis, or “house of the holy” — the linguistic twin of the Hebrew Beit HaMikdash, which refers to the two ancient temples that once stood there. The Prophet Muhammad is said to have ascended to heaven from the site precisely because of the holiness of the temples, reflecting the intertwined history of Muslims and Jews, Israelis and Palestinians, whose decades-long conflict is as much about competing narratives as it is about claiming territory.

The real struggle over the site, however, is not over semantics but over sovereignty, between two peoples who seem unable to find a way to simply share. After triumphantly seizing the site during the 1967 war, Israel quickly turned back all but security matters to the Islamic Waqf authorities.

Now, as more and more Jews challenge Israel’s prohibition on their prayer in their religion’s most sacred space, many Palestinians fear that what they really want is to take over the entire compound and replace its Dome of the Rock with a third temple.

“There’s the religious and there’s the political — they’ve both combined, and each one of them has become more sensitive than it was before,” said Sari Nusseibeh, a philosophy professor at Al Quds University whose family boasts a 1,300-year presence in Jerusalem.

“Today, the question becomes: Is it our story or theirs?” he added. “So the whole thing is just a battle of beliefs, and it touches the deep core in each side’s creeds, the denying as well as the asserting.”

Palestinian leaders, and relatives of the perpetrators of the five terrorist attacks that have killed 11 Israelis in the last month — including Tuesday’s deadly storming of a synagogue — contend that threats to the holy site were the prime motivation of the violence. The attacks, along with an attempted assassination of a leading agitator for Jewish presence at the site, have shattered Israelis’ sense of security but in many cases only strengthened their assertions of ownership.

“Enough is enough,” Rabbi Benny Lau, a renowned modern-Orthodox figure who had previously opposed Jewish visitation to the site, said recently. “It can’t be that Muslims stand on the Mount, pray as they wish under the Waqf rule, and the Israeli nation will be degraded to the depths.”

The site has been a flash point since the advent of modern Zionism. More than 100 people on each side died in a week of rioting in 1929 over access to the Western Wall below. In 1990, the Israeli border police killed 22 Palestinians protesting a Jewish group’s announced plans to lay the cornerstone of a third temple. More riots, after the 1996 opening of tunnels under the Western Wall, claimed the lives of about 60 Palestinians, including some security officers, and 15 Israeli troops.

And four years later, a visit by Ariel Sharon, then a candidate for Israeli prime minister, helped set off the second intifada.

“In the last 100 years, there were some waves,” said Yitzhak Reiter, a historian who specializes in conflict at sacred sites. “The extreme factions within both the Israeli and Palestinian communities realized that holy place is a symbolic asset, so to speak, in consolidating support for their struggle.”

Temple denial, increasingly common among Palestinian leaders, also has a long history: After Israel became a state in 1948, the Waqf removed from its guidebooks all references to King Solomon’s Temple, whose location at the site it had previously said was “beyond dispute.”

The 37-acre compound, sprawling over one-sixth of the Old City, has been a locus of Muslim worship since the seventh century. The entire site is considered a mosque called Aqsa — “farthest,” as the Quran describes it in Muhammad’s Night Journey. Besides the iconic Dome and Al Qibli, the shrine commonly referred to by the name Muslims prefer for the wider complex, Al Aqsa, it contains many mosques, domes, gates, schools, homes and a museum.

Images of Al Aqsa hang in virtually every Palestinian home and have become a central component of political propaganda. Thousands of Palestinians, some secular, visit every week.

Jewish history at the site dates back further — the First Temple was built by King Solomon in 957 B.C. — But only a small fraction of Israelis have ever set foot on the site, heeding longstanding rabbinical decrees that doing so is sacrilegious. Though Jews’ daily prayers include a petition that the Beit HaMikdash will “be speedily rebuilt in our days,” most imagine another temple as something that should await the Messiah.

In the current crisis, many Jews have pointed out that when Jordan occupied the Old City, between 1948 and 1967, they were barred not only from the Mount but also from the Western Wall, a remnant of the retaining wall around the Second Temple, which had become something of a stand-in and remains a pilgrimage point for Jews worldwide.

Palestinians, in turn, complain that those who live in the West Bank and Gaza Strip are only rarely granted permits to go to Al Aqsa. The Israeli police also frequently limit access by age and gender, citing security concerns, and closed the site altogether after the shooting of the activist, though they have imposed no restrictions the last two Fridays.

“The Israelis try to force it — it’s not through negotiation, it’s not through discussion, it’s not through any rational means: They use the police, they come in a brutal manner to take over the place,” said Ali Qleibo, a cultural anthropologist, who is not religious but still finds the site stirring. “It becomes political when other people try to take the symbol.”

Israel’s prime minister has insisted he will not change the status quo, but legislation pending in Parliament would, to enshrine freedom of worship for all at the site. Professor Reiter said Palestinians feared a repeat of what happened in Hebron, where Jews were granted limited time and space for prayer at the Cave of the Patriarchs that “the settlers gradually expanded, and today the shrine is divided almost 50-50.”

Mustafa Abu Sway, dean of Islamic studies at Al Quds University and a member of the Waqf council, said Islam does not prohibit outsiders from praying at Al Aqsa. The problem, he said, is that Parliament members have declared rebuilding the temple as their real goal.

Many in the movement have played down rebuilding in recent years and instead focused on the fact that in the self-declared Jewish state, guards at the gate search their bags not for weapons but for prayer books.

“I believe the temple has to be rebuilt because that is a very central and basic theme for the Jewish faith, but right now I’m not talking about rebuilding the temple, I’m talking about just being able to say ‘Shema Yisrael,’ ” said Rabbi Chaim Richman of the Temple Institute, referring to a Jewish prayer. “Of course I want to pray here. Why should I be ashamed? Isn’t that the most basic human right there is?”

In Ron E. Hassner’s 2009 book “War on Sacred Grounds,” a chapter on “Successful Conflict Management” is about the 1967 handling of the site, which seems like a cruel joke today. Professor Hassner, a political scientist at the University of California, Berkeley, said Israel’s leading rabbis at the time, guided by the government, made what was “primarily a pragmatic decision” that the place was “so sacred you should not go.”

“These rabbis never said the Temple Mount is not ours, they said it’s very much ours, the state of Israel ought to control it, we just aren’t permitted to walk there,” he said. “The security argument is also a religious argument, it’s an argument about the No. 1 principle in Judaism, which is thou shalt not spill blood.”

*************

Israeli cabinet votes on enshrining ‘Jewish state’ into law

Agence France-Presse
23 Nov 2014 at 08:13 ET   

Ministers were to vote Sunday on a controversial proposal to anchor in law Israel’s status as the national homeland of the Jewish people, at the expense of its democratic character.

The proposal would mean Israel would no longer be defined in its Basic Laws as “Jewish and democratic” but instead as “the national homeland of the Jewish people.”

Critics, who include the government’s top legal adviser, say the proposed change to the laws that act as Israel’s effective constitution could institutionalise discrimination against its 1.7 million Arab citizens.

By giving preeminence to the “Jewish” character of Israel over its democratic nature, the law in its current format is “anti-democratic,” they say.

But Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu insisted the law would give equal weight to both characteristics.

“There are those who would like the democratic to prevail over the Jewish and there are those who would like the Jewish to prevail over the democratic. And in the principles of the law that I will submit today, both of these values are equal and both must be considered to the same degree,” he said.

As well as Netanyahu presenting his own vision of the bill to the cabinet, ministers were to be asked to vote on two other more extreme versions of the proposed law, drafted by far-right members of his Likud party.

The proposal has provoked uproar among MPs and ministers from the centre and the left, who fear the text only institutionalises discrimination.

Israel’s Arab minority, who make up around 20 percent of the population, are descendants of the Palestinians who remained on their land after the establishment of Israel in 1948.

- ‘Racist change’ -

If the proposal becomes law, it would mean “the institutionalisation of racism, which is already a reality on the street, in both law and at the heart of the political system,” warned Majd Kayyal of Adalah, the Legal Centre for Arab Minority Rights in Israel.

“Democracy guarantees that all citizens have the same rights and are equal before the state but this racist change introduces a distinction on the basis of religion,” he said.

Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein, the government’s legal adviser, has also criticised the proposal, saying it weakens the state’s democratic character.

Last week, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni managed to postpone an earlier attempt to put the proposal to the vote.

The two versions of the bill which were to be put to ministers on Sunday represent a nod from Netanyahu to the most hardline elements of his party as talk grows of an early election.

But the final version of the text is likely to be more moderate, predicted Denis Charbit, a political scientist at Israel’s Open University.

“This is a political charade. Netanyahu knows that voting on an unacceptable bill which has been criticised by the government’s legal adviser is extremely problematic,” he told AFP.

“The text proposed by Netanyahu is more moderate but it is still problematic because he disassociates the Jewish character from the democratic character of the state and this institutionalises a hierarchy between them, to the detriment of democracy.”

Parliament is to vote on a preliminary draft of the bill on Wednesday, the Haaretz newspaper reported.

 18 
 on: Nov 23, 2014, 07:28 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
An Ethnic Chinese Christian, Breaking Barriers in Indonesia

By JOE COCHRANE
NOV. 22, 2014
IHT

JAKARTA, Indonesia — Jakarta, the sprawling Indonesian megacity of 10 million people, has a new governor with a difference.

It’s not just Basuki Tjahaja Purnama’s hard-charging style that sets him apart from his predecessors. It’s also the fact that he is Christian and ethnic Chinese, and is improbably running the capital of the world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation.

Mr. Basuki, a 48-year-old Protestant whose grandfather was a tin miner from Guangzhou, China, was sworn in Wednesday at the State Palace by President Joko Widodo.

None of Jakarta’s previous governors have been Christian or of Chinese ancestry, except for one who served briefly as an appointee half a century ago (like Mr. Basuki, he was both). And despite Indonesia’s history of discrimination — and, at times, savage violence — against ethnic Chinese, Mr. Basuki says he considers neither his faith nor his ethnicity to be a political handicap.

“When people told me ‘the Chinese are a minority,’ my father would say to tell them that we are more patriotic,” Mr. Basuki said in a recent interview. “If one day Indonesia is occupied by a foreign country, my father said he would be in front of the front line to fight for our independence again.”

Mr. Basuki was Jakarta’s deputy governor under Mr. Joko, who was elected president in July, and he has run the city for much of this year in Mr. Joko’s absence. Like Mr. Joko, Mr. Basuki is one of a small but growing group of political upstarts who gained national attention for running clean, effective local governments, in a country where corruption has long been a fact of life.

Known for being brash and speaking bluntly, Mr. Basuki — popularly known as Ahok — is very different from the soft-spoken Javanese politicians the capital is used to. He began turning heads just weeks after he and Mr. Joko took office in 2012, when videos of Mr. Basuki berating civil servants for incompetence appeared on YouTube.

Since then, he has added to his confrontational reputation by closing the capital’s most notorious nightclub after an off-duty police officer died there of a drug overdose, and by evicting thousands of illegal street vendors who had been compounding Jakarta’s chronic traffic problems.

“If you want to live in comfort, you have to get everything in order,” Mr. Basuki said. “And if you want to put everything in order, you have to have law enforcement.”

Mr. Basuki’s rise is a mark of the gains made by ethnic Chinese politicians since Indonesia’s transition to democracy in 1999 — particularly since direct elections were implemented at all levels of government, including local offices that were once filled by appointment.

“While there were no actual political restrictions, for all intent and purposes, Chinese were restricted from the public domain for decades,” said Kevin Evans, founder of Pemilu Asia, an Indonesian firm that collects political data. “With direct elections of district chiefs, mayors and lawmakers at the provincial level, ethnic Chinese are running and winning, and winning in districts where the Chinese population is a small minority.”

Though Chinese-Indonesians make up just over 1 percent of the vast Indonesian archipelago’s population, historically they have tended to wield economic clout beyond their numbers, which has often led to resentment. For decades, they were subjected to discriminatory laws and regulations.

Anti-Chinese sentiment exploded into rioting in cities across Indonesia in 1998, amid protests against then-President Suharto’s authoritarian rule. In Jakarta, more than a thousand people were killed in the rioting, more than 150 women were raped and entire blocks in the Chinatown district were razed.

While some affluent Chinese families fled to neighboring Singapore after the riots, Mr. Basuki’s family stayed. “We are descendants of China, but our motherland is Indonesia,” he said.

A former mining consultant, Mr. Basuki first ran for office in 2005, winning a local election on his native island of Belitung, off the southeast coast of Sumatra, in a district where 93 percent of the voters were Muslim. “I asked them why they wanted me to run, because I am of Chinese descent and a Christian,” he recalled of the local residents who approached him. “They said, ‘We don’t care — we know who you are. We know your character.’ ”

Bambang Harymurti, who was an editor in chief of Tempo magazine, a leading Indonesian newsweekly, said that some Indonesians, particularly in Jakarta’s more affluent circles, have a phobia about Chinese-Indonesians’ growing participation in high-level politics.

“The indigenous Indonesians may have the numbers, but Chinese dominate the economy,” Mr. Bambang said. “So these people are thinking, ‘Will they control the politics with Ahok as governor?’ ”

Opponents made Mr. Basuki’s ethnicity and religion an issue during Jakarta’s 2012 gubernatorial race, when he was Mr. Joko’s running mate. And when Mr. Joko, a Muslim, ran for president, he was subjected to a rumor campaign that characterized him as an ethnic-Chinese Christian.

Still, the electorate has evolved, said Philips J. Vermonte, head of the department of politics and international relations at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Jakarta, noting that the ethnicity-based attacks against Mr. Basuki and Mr. Joko were unsuccessful.

Mr. Basuki’s “just get it done” attitude has been applauded by many Jakartans, but he has critics. Last month, members of the hard-line Islamic Defenders Front clashed with the police outside the Jakarta City Council and City Hall buildings as they protested Mr. Basuki’s pending swearing-in, saying that a non-Muslim should not be governor.

Nonetheless, he is preparing to move into the colonial-style governor’s office on the southern end of Jakarta’s National Monument Park, opposite the State Palace. He is already thinking about what’s next.

“I think it’s easier to solve national problems like corruption if you are a president than as a governor,” Mr. Basuki said. “Who knows? I’d only need to move just across the park.”

 19 
 on: Nov 23, 2014, 07:26 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Asia’s ‘Big Guy’ Spreads Cash and Seeks Influence in Pacific Region

By JANE PERLEZ
NOV. 22, 2014
IHT

BEIJING — When China’s leader, Xi Jinping, visited the Australian state of Tasmania last week, he was greeted by a front page of the local newspaper written in Mandarin. He ate the island’s salmon, which will soon be available in China, and met a rare beast known as the Tasmanian devil.

While President Obama quickly returned to the White House after a series of Asian summits, Mr. Xi kept going. He spent more days than Mr. Obama did in Australia, America’s staunch ally; toured New Zealand, another American ally; and flew to the tiny Pacific island of Fiji.

Everywhere Mr. Xi went, he left a trail of money, a bounty aimed at showcasing China as the dominant economic power in Asia. The largess was wrapped in a long-range message: Don’t worry, he suggested in his speeches. China, the “big guy,” is friendly and worthy of consideration not only as an economic partner, but a strategic one, too.

From the opening of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Beijing nearly two weeks ago through Mr. Xi’s tour in the Pacific, China announced that it would spend $70 billion on loans and infrastructure in the Asia Pacific region, according to an analysis by the Australian National University.

The impact of some of the money, like $40 billion for a Silk Road infrastructure fund in Central and East Asia, could be decades away, the university’s East Asia Bureau of Economic Research said. Still, it noted that the $20 billion for loans and infrastructure for the 10 countries in the Association for Southeast Asian Nations was a substantial amount for projects that could come on line quite soon.

The figures were particularly stark when stacked against American promises. The White House pledged $150 million for Myanmar during Mr. Obama’s recent visit for an Asian summit. On the edges of the same meeting, China pledged $7.8 billion to refurbish decrepit roads and increase energy production.

Mr. Xi has his own challenges in the region. China’s ambitions to control more of the South China and East China Seas — including territory claimed by other countries — has set many of its neighbors on edge. Still, its financial ties in the region are undeniable.

Besides promising money, the Chinese pushed hard on trade agreements that, analysts say, they view as being as much about diplomacy as business.

During the APEC summit, China called for the start of a new free trade area in the Asia Pacific that Beijing advertised as more inclusive and less demanding in its rules than the Obama administration’s pet project, the Trans-Pacific Partnership. The partnership, or T.P.P. for short, is still being negotiated and does not include China.

In Australia, Mr. Xi and the Australian prime minister, Tony Abbott, declared the completion of a China-Australia free trade pact, 10 years in the making, that will open China’s markets to Australian beef, dairy products and that Tasmanian salmon.

“The last two weeks showed that in Asia, even though China is not a security partner, China is an important economic partner,” said Wu Xinbo, director of American studies at the Institute of International Studies at Fudan University. “It shows the United States can say a lot about regional prosperity but doesn’t do much. China only says some things, but does a lot.”

What Mr. Xi did say in Australia, though, was intended as reassurance backed by resolve.

In an address to the Parliament, he spoke of China’s power relative to its regional neighbors. “China is a large country of over 1.3 billion people,” he said. “It is like the big guy in the crowd. Others naturally wonder how the big guy will move and act, and they may be concerned that the big guy may push them around, stand in their way or even take up their place.”

China, he said, was interested in delivering development to the Asia Pacific region through its own prosperity in “a virtuous cycle of development and security.”

Beneath the reassurance, though, was a sharp message, reminding Australia that China would stand firm in upholding the “core interests” of its sovereignty and territorial integrity.

Looking at the longer term, Mr. Xi seemed to be trying to entice Australia, one of America’s closest intelligence-sharing allies, away from its more than half-century alliance with Washington. “We have every reason to go beyond a commercial partnership to become strategic partners who have a shared vision and pursue common goals,” Mr. Xi said.

Hugh White, professor of strategic studies at Australian National University, said: “Xi and his colleagues are very serious about their strategic ambitions. In the long run they believe that the gravitational force of China’s economy will pull Australia into its political and strategic orbit and keep it there.”

Mr. Obama was apparently attuned to what Mr. Xi might offer. Two days before the Chinese leader appeared at the Parliament while in Australia for the Group of 20 summit, President Obama, in an address to university students there, essentially warned America’s ally not to get too close to China.

In not-so-oblique references to China’s assertive behavior in strategic waters, Mr. Obama said: “An effective security order for Asia must be based — not on spheres of influence, or coercion, or intimidation where big nations bully the small — but on alliances of mutual security, international law and international norms.”

Momentarily, at least, Australia seemed giddy about Mr. Xi. The Australian press, usually an unwavering proponent of the United States alliance, embraced the Chinese leader. Mr. Obama, by contrast, was criticized for implicitly raising objections in his speech at the university to Mr. Abbott’s opposition to ambitious climate-change goals.

After appearing in the national Parliament, Mr. Xi, who was on his fifth visit to Australia — he visited several times as vice president — flew to Tasmania. In doing so, he completed a circuit of all of Australia’s seven states. Not even Mr. Obama had accomplished that, Australian commentators said.

The cold smoked Tasmanian salmon served to Mr. Xi at a Government House lunch was a product that, under the terms of the China-Australia free trade pact, will start arriving in China next month. Tariffs on sales of the fish will disappear over the next four years, said Mark A. Ryan, chief executive of the Tassal Group, which farms and exports the salmon.

The appearance of the salmon in Chinese markets will carry an early strategic favor for the Chinese government: The Tasmanian variety is expected to cut further into the sales of Norwegian salmon that have already dwindled since Norway’s Nobel Committee awarded the 2010 Peace Prize to the jailed Chinese dissident, Liu Xiaobo.

****************

Prosecution of Uighur Students Underscores Perils of Chinese Clampdown

By ANDREW JACOBS
NOV. 23, 2014
IHT

BEIJING — Ambitious and fluent in Mandarin, the young Uighur strivers from the Xinjiang region of northwest China had earned coveted slots at the nation’s top university for ethnic minorities. Most were the first in their families to attend college.

But since last January, at least five men and women who attended Minzu University in Beijing have been incommunicado after they were swept up by Chinese security forces alongside their mentor, Ilham Tohti, a prominent Uighur professor who in September was convicted of separatism and sentenced to life in prison.

Among those in detention are a young Uighur couple who fell in love while studying at Minzu University, a web designer from the Yi minority of China’s mountainous southwest and a sociology student whose mother is a Communist Party member. “No one will tell us what is happening to him,” one relative of the sociology student said. “We have nowhere else to turn.”

The White House and international rights advocates have condemned Mr. Tohti’s conviction as politically motivated, noting his reputation as a proponent of nonviolence and ethnic reconciliation. On Friday, Xinjiang’s highest court rejected his appeal.

On Tuesday, at least three of the students are expected to stand trial on charges that their volunteer work for the news website Mr. Tohti ran constituted “splittism” or involved “revealing state secrets,” presumably because some of the articles they translated or posted were critical of government policies in Xinjiang, the turbulent homeland of China’s Turkic-speaking Uighur minority.

Human rights advocates have few illusions that the students will escape serious punishment. “This is potentially one of the biggest tragedies of China’s human rights of the past years,” said William Nee, a China researcher at Amnesty International in Hong Kong. “These students are scapegoats being used in the prosecution of Tohti, but the evidence that they were part of a network that sought to subvert the state isn’t very compelling.”

Their prosecution, cloaked in intense secrecy, underscores the perils facing Uighurs amid a harsh clampdown on intellectual and religious life in Xinjiang, the vast borderlands that have become a geopolitical linchpin of China’s plans to expand its influence in Central Asia. In recent months, hundreds of young men across the region have been detained by Chinese security forces in a campaign that is ostensibly aimed at stanching jihadist activity but which critics say is often arbitrary and abusive.

In the days after Mr. Tohti’s conviction, three of his students, dressed in orange prison vests, appeared on state-run television to confess that they had exaggerated ethnic tensions on Uighur Online, the website run by Mr. Tohti. In his confession, Perhat Halmurat, the sociology student and a former editor of the website, blamed his teacher for an article he posted about a fight between a Han and Uighur student that had taken place on campus. “His unspeakable goal is to split the country,” he said.

Those who know Mr. Halmurat say he was popular among his classmates and proud of his Uighur heritage. “His bedroom is filled with awards that attest to his academic achievements,” a relative said.

Among the best-known detainees are Mutellip Imin, another sociology student, and his girlfriend, Atikem Rozi, a spirited young woman from the northern city of Hami. In 2012, Ms. Rozi caused a stir after she published an essay about the government’s refusal to issue her a passport, thwarting her plans to study abroad.

In the piece, first published by Uighur Online and later picked up by a Chinese newspaper, Ms. Rozi, 23, said she was likely being punished for an earlier social media post she had written about the frustrations of living in a Han-dominated world. “There is nothing to believe,” she wrote, “nothing to rely on, nowhere to go — pushed to the road of ruin.”

For Uighur academics and students, the sliver of space once available to discuss politics and matters of ethnic identity has all but disappeared. Many Uighur websites are blocked in China, and those that remain are scoured of the day’s most trenchant topics: the endemic poverty of southern Xinjiang, the economic disparity between Uighurs and Han, and the intrusive religious restrictions that many analysts say are stoking antigovernment violence.

Henryk Szadziewski, a senior researcher at the Uyghur Human Rights Project in Washington, said the Internet had become a perilous place for Uighurs. “Even getting caught with a VPN on your computer is viewed as highly suspicious,” he said, referring to the software millions of Chinese use to circumvent government censors.

In a measure of the fear that pervades Uighur society, all the parents and students interviewed for this article asked that their names be withheld. “We know anything we say that sounds critical of the government can get us arrested,” said one second-year student at Minzu University who audited one of Mr. Tohti’s popular classes on Xinjiang.

Family members have not been allowed to see the detainees, nor have they been given information about the charges against them. Several said they were simply told to show up Tuesday at the same courthouse in Xinjiang’s regional capital, Urumqi, where Mr. Tohti was convicted in a closed trial.

Wei Chunxia, a court spokesperson, refused to discuss when the trials might take place and referred a reporter to a phone number that was answered by a fax machine. Administrators at Minzu University declined to comment on the plight of their students.

Like Ms. Rozi, her boyfriend, Mr. Imin, was unafraid to publicly express his frustration over perceived injustices. Last year, Mr. Imin, 25, wrote a searing account of how the Chinese police stopped him at Beijing International Airport and prevented him from continuing his graduate studies at Istanbul University in Turkey. Hauled back to Xinjiang, he spent the next 79 days shuttling between hotel rooms and being interrogated about his relationship with Mr. Tohti.

He said he was made to hand over the passwords for his cellphone, email and Facebook accounts, and with the police listening in, forced to tell friends and relatives he was either in Turkey, or back in his hometown, Hotan, taking care of his mother.

Although most people assumed he was in police custody, he was told to insist the news articles they read about his detention were “fabrications by Xinjiang separatists,” he later said.

Eager to return to school and threatened with up to two years in jail, he said he signed a confession claiming he had been “blinded by Ilham Tohti,” and he acknowledged that his work as a volunteer for Uighur Online during his undergraduate days at Minzu had threatened ethnic harmony.

Once free, however, the police refused to give back his passport and national identification card, forcing him to remain in Hotan, an isolated city on the edge of the Taklimakan Desert. “In Xinjiang, if you don’t have an ID card, you can’t do anything, you can’t go anywhere,” he told Radio Free Asia last November. “I feel like I’ve been left high and dry.”

Furious, Mr. Imin in December published the account of his extralegal odyssey and included photographs of himself holding placards protesting what he called his enforced disappearance.

Less than six weeks later, he would vanish again, this time along with his girlfriend and his former professor.

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 on: Nov 23, 2014, 07:24 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
N.Korea Warns of 'Catastrophic Consequences' over U.N. Rights Ruling

by Naharnet Newsdesk
23 November 2014, 10:22

North Korea's top military body warned Sunday of "catastrophic consequences" for supporters of a U.N. resolution censuring its human rights record, as state media reported its leader presiding over a fresh military exercise.

A resolution urging the United Nations Security Council to refer the North's leadership to the International Criminal Court for possible charges of "crimes against humanity" passed by 111 to 19 with 55 abstentions at a U.N. General Assembly human rights committee last week.

The resolution, introduced by Japan and the European Union and co-sponsored by some 60 nations, drew heavily on the work of a U.N. inquiry which concluded in February that the North was committing rights abuses "without parallel in the contemporary world".

The North since then has repeatedly slammed the resolution as a political "fraud". On Thursday it warned that it was being pushed into conducting a fresh nuclear test.

The National Defense Commission (NDC), chaired by the country's leader Kim Jong-Un, said Sunday the resolution amounted to a "war declaration" which "dared take issue with the dignity of our supreme leadership".

The resolution makes no mention of Kim but notes the U.N. inquiry’s finding -- that the "highest level of the state" has responsibility for the rights abuses.

The dignity of its leader "cannot be bartered for anything", the NDC said in a statement, adding that Japan as well as South Korea and the U.S. -- co-sponsors of the U.N. resolution -- were Pyongyang's "primary target."

"The U.S. and its followers will be wholly accountable for the unimaginable and catastrophic consequences to be entailed by the frantic 'human rights' racket against the (North)," it said.

As Pyongyang ramped up its threats, Kim guided a major military drill involving sea transport and amphibious landing craft, the state-run news agency KCNA said.

The NDC also said that South Korean President Park Geun-Hye would not be safe "if a nuclear war breaks out" on the Korean peninsula, and its attacks could make Japan "disappear from the world map for good".

The isolated state has staged three atomic tests -- most recently in 2013, which was its most powerful test to date.

Last week the U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University said on its 38 North website that new satellite imagery suggested Pyongyang may be firing up a facility for processing weapons-grade plutonium.

South Korea said last week its military was on standby, and the U.S. Thursday described the North's renewed threat of a nuclear test as a "great concern".

Sunday's threat and the report of Kim's military trip coincided with the anniversary of Pyongyang's shock bombardment of a border island that killed four South Koreans.

The shelling of Yeonpyeong island in 2010 was the first such attack on civilians since the end of the 1950-53 Korean War and briefly sparked fear of all-out conflict.

Seoul's military, which since then has reinforced troops and weaponry on the island, on Friday staged a live-fire exercise there as part of a major annual nationwide drill.

The North reacted angrily to the drill, accusing the South of pushing the peninsula to the "brink of war."

The South's Hoguk exercise, which ended on Friday, involved a record number of 330,000 troops this year.

Source: Agence France Presse

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