Category Archives: Resources

DroughtWatch: Another week, no changes


From the United States Drought Monitor:

BLOG Drought

ChevronTexaco’s deadly Ecuadorian legacy


During our years reporting for the Berkeley Daily Planet, we wrote any number of stories about the Chevron refinery in nearby Richmond on the shores of San Francisco Bay.

As the dominant economic power in a city on of the region’s poorest city, one with a large minority population and in a state of economic implosion, the company was the target of considerable community concerns about fires [they had ‘em] and pollution.

The firm was represented by Willie Brown, the former powerful speaker of the lower house of the legislature of the richest and most populous state in the country, the same Willie Brown casino developers hired to sell the black population of Atlantic City on the ballot measure that legalized casinos there. Willie promised them jobs and good housing; they got neither.

Sophisticated at public relations and press-spinning, Chevron played a dominant role in funding city council elections and turning out supporters, sometimes financed by contributions to churches and other organizations, to ensure their messages got across at city council meetings.

But Richmond’s concerns pale compared to those experienced by thousands of Ecuadorians, the subject of former Bay Area journalist Abby Martin’s latest episode of her series for teleSUR English:

The Empire Files: Chevron vs. the Amazon – Inside the Killzone

Program notes:

A U.S. court just handed another victory to the oil giant Chevron Texaco, in its decades-long battle to avoid paying damages it owes in one of the worst environmental disasters in history. In the Ecuadorean Amazon, the most biodiverse area of the world, the energy titan deliberately poisoned 5 million acres of pristine habitat and subjected tens of thousands of indigenous peoples to destruction of their health and culture. In Part 1 of ‘Chevron vs. the Amazon,’ Abby Martin takes The Empire Files inside Chevron Texaco’s Amazon killzone to see the areas deemed “remediated” by Chevron, and spoke with the people living in the aftermath.

Obama administration’s private prison payoff


The whole notion of letting private corporations run American prisons is abominable, going back to 1852 when California opened the first such institution, the now state-run San Quentin Prison.

Privatization failed to gain traction, and governments ran prisons, which, after all, are extensions of the governments’ judicial systems, until Ronald Reagan took over the White House.

Reagan, an avid proponent of turning public institutions into centers for private profits, inaugurated a building boom, with privately owned and operated prisons proliferating like noxious weeds across the country.

The prison contractors have emerged as the nation’s most potent lobbying force, reported the Washington Post in April, 2o15:

The two largest for-profit prison companies in the United States – GEO and Corrections Corporation of America – and their associates have funneled more than $10 million to candidates since 1989 and have spent nearly $25 million on lobbying efforts. Meanwhile, these private companies have seen their revenue and market share soar. They now rake in a combined $3.3 billion in annual revenue and the private federal prison population more than doubled between 2000 and 2010, according to a report by the Justice Policy Institute. Private companies house nearly half of the nation’s immigrant detainees, compared to about 25 percent a decade ago, a Huffington Post report found. In total, there are now about 130 private prisons in the country with about 157,000 beds.

>snip<

The Justice Policy Institute identified the private-prison industry’s three-pronged approach to increase profits through political influence: lobbying, direct campaign contributions, and building relationships and networks.

One current presidential candidate, Libertarian Gary Johnson, won the New Mexico governorship on a platform which included the promise to privatize all prisons in his state.

From the Sentencing Project:

Gary Johnson’s platform during his initial 1994 run for governor of New Mexico included a pledge to privatize every prison in the state. By the time he left office in 2003 44.2 percent of the state’s prisoners were in privately run facilities.

And the Obama administration jumped on the bandwagon, no doubt with the prompting of his former chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, who since decamping to win the job of mayor of Chicago has ruthlessly privatized public housing, schools, parking meters, nursing services, and more.

It’s no wonder that private prisons are an American corporate success story: With only five percent of the planet’s population, the U.S. accounts for 25 percent of the global incarceration population.

Mapping the Prison/Industrial Complex

This map, from the federal Bureau of Prisons, shows the locations of prisons currently run by private corporations on behalf of the notional government:

BLOG Prisons

Another map, this time from The Private Prison Project, shows the locations of state and federal prisons run by the three largest private prison corporations:

BLOG Prisons all

Federal prisons mushroom, violence reigns

So how effective are private contractors at running their prisons?

A just-released review of private federal prisons by the Justice Department’s Office of the Inspector General concluded:

We found that in a majority of the categories we examined, contract prisons incurred more safety and security incidents per capita than comparable BOP [Bureau of Prisons — esnl] institutions. We analyzed data from the 14 contract prisons that were operational during the period of our review and from a select group of 14 BOP institutions with comparable inmate populations to evaluate how the contract prisons performed relative to the selected BOP institutions.  Our analysis included data from FYs [fiscal years — esnl] 2011 through 2014 in eight key categories: (1) contraband, (2) reports of incidents, (3) lockdowns, (4) inmate discipline, (5) telephone monitoring, (6) selected grievances, (7) urinalysis drug testing, and (8) sexual misconduct. With the exception of fewer incidents of positive drug tests and sexual misconduct, the contract prisons had more incidents per capita than the BOP institutions in all of the other categories of data we examined.

And just how much more violent are private prisons compared to prisons run by Uncle Sam?

One chart from the Inspector General’s report says it all:

BLOG Prisons assaults

A massive release of documents acquired by The Nation revealed a stunning lack of concern:

[N]ew records show that BOP monitors documented, between January 2007 and June 2015, the deaths of 34 inmates who were provided substandard medical care. Fourteen of these deaths occurred in prisons run by CCA. Fifteen were in prisons operated by the GEO Group. The BOP didn’t respond to repeated requests for comment or to written questions before deadline.

The records and interviews with former BOP officials reveal a pattern: Despite dire reports from dozens of field monitors, top bureau officials repeatedly failed to enforce the correction of dangerous deficiencies and routinely extended contracts for prisons that failed to provide adequate medical care.

The Obama administration greases the skids

And that brings us to the latest boondoggle, reported by the Washington Post:

As Central Americans surged across the U.S. border two years ago, the Obama administration skipped the standard public bidding process and agreed to a deal that offered generous terms to Corrections Corporation of America, the nation’s largest prison company, to build a massive detention facility for women and children seeking asylum.

The four-year, $1 billion contract — details of which have not been previously disclosed — has been a boon for CCA, which, in an unusual arrangement, gets the money regardless of how many people are detained at the facility. Critics say the government’s policy has been expensive but ineffective. Arrivals of Central American families at the border have continued unabated while court rulings have forced the administration to step back from its original approach to the border surge.

In hundreds of other detention contracts given out by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, federal payouts rise and fall in step with the percentage of beds being occupied. But in this case, CCA is paid for 100 percent capacity even if the facility is, say, half full, as it has been in recent months. An ICE spokeswoman, Jennifer Elzea, said that the contracts for the 2,400-bed facility in Dilley and one for a 532-bed family detention center in Karnes City, Tex., given to another company, are “unique” in their payment structures because they provide “a fixed monthly fee for use of the entire facility regardless of the number of residents.”

The rewards for CCA have been enormous: In 2015, the first full year in which the South Texas Family Residential Center was operating, CCA — which operates 74 facilities — made 14 percent of its revenue from that one center while recording record profit. CCA declined to specify the costs of operating the center.

Prisons and presidential politics

Marco Rubio was the private prison industry’s favorite son, the source of both their largess and of legislation that gained them even greater profits, as the Washington Post reported last year:

Marco Rubio is one of the best examples of the private prison industry’s growing political influence, a connection that deserves far more attention now that he’s officially launched a presidential bid. The U.S. senator has a history of close ties to the nation’s second-largest for-profit prison company, GEO Group, stretching back to his days as speaker of the Florida House of Representatives. While Rubio was leading the House, GEO was awarded a state government contract for a $110 million prison soon after Rubio hired an economic consultant who had been a trustee for a GEO real estate trust. Over his career, Rubio has received nearly $40,000 in campaign donations from GEO, making him the Senate’s top career recipient of contributions from the company. (Rubio’s office did not respond to requests for comment.).

And while Hillary Clinton has made some statements about reining in the trend, as with so many things, her promises may well prove a facade, and the Intercept reported in June:

The chief executive of the largest private prison company in America reassured investors earlier this month that with either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton in the White House, his firm will be “just fine.” Damon Hininger, the chief executive of Corrections Corporation of America, was speaking at the REITWeek investor forum.

Private prisons have received a great deal of criticism this election cycle, first with Bernie Sanders campaigning to end for-profit incarceration, followed by Clinton taking up a similar pledge.

After The Intercept revealed that the Clinton campaign had received campaign donations from private prison lobbyists, a number of activist groups confronted Clinton, leading her to announce that she would no longer accept the money and later declaring that “we should end private prisons and private detention centers.”

But Corrections Corporation is apparently not concerned. Asked about prospects under Trump or Clinton, Hininger argued that his company has prospered through political turnover by taking advantage of the government’s quest for lower costs.

Map of the day: European noise pollution


From the European Environment Agency, a look at regions in Europe and their relative exposure to noise pollution and possibility suitable for designation as quiet zones:

BLOG Euroquiet

Another Game of Zones front heats up again


While most of the world’s attention on the rising tensions of rights to the resources of the China Seas and the Sea of Japan has focused on the conflict between China and Japan, another front is also heating up.

A planned Monday visit to a disputed site by South Korean legislators has upped the tension between that Seoul and Tokyo.

From The Japan Times:

Kenji Kanasugi, director-general of the Foreign Ministry’s Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau, phoned a minister at the South Korean Embassy in Tokyo and said the plan is regrettable and totally unacceptable in light of Japan’s position on the sovereignty of the islands.

The rocky islets, called Takeshima in Japan and Dokdo in South Korea, are controlled by Seoul but claimed by Tokyo.

A Japanese diplomat in Seoul also protested to Chung Byung-won, director-general of the South Korean Foreign Ministry’s Northeast Asian Affairs Bureau.

According to South Korean media reports, both ruling party and opposition lawmakers are planning to make the visit on Monday, the 71st anniversary of the Korean Peninsula’s liberation from Japanese colonial rule.

UPDATE: Japan makes an escalation of its own

With the Obama administration backing the rearming of Japan, the first American government to do so since World War II, Japan has been ramping up its armed forces, and now it’s making a provocative move directly aimed at at China.

From the Yomiuri Shimbun:

The government intends to develop a new surface-to-ship missile for reinforcing the defense of remote islands, including the Senkaku Islands in Okinawa Prefecture, The Yomiuri Shimbun has learned.

The government aims to deploy the missile, which will have a maximum range of 300 kilometers, on Miyakojima and other major islands of the Sakishima islands. This will put the territorial waters around the Senkaku Islands within its range.

Funding for the development will be included in the Defense Ministry’s initial budget requests for fiscal 2017. The government aims to deploy the missiles around fiscal 2023.

More lethal endocrine disruptors in water supplies


From the study, “Detection of Poly- and Perfluoroalkyl Substances (PFASs) in U.S. Drinking Water Linked to Industrial Sites, Military Fire Training Areas, and Wastewater Treatment Plants,” open access.

From the study, “Detection of Poly- and Perfluoroalkyl Substances (PFASs) in U.S. Drinking Water Linked to Industrial Sites, Military Fire Training Areas, and Wastewater Treatment Plants,” open access.

Yet another class of corporate-created powerful carcinogenic endocrine disruptors [previously and extensively] has been found lurking in our environment, this time in the water supplies.

The compounds, used in firefighting foam and a whole host of consumer products [including cookware, clothing, and food wrappers] have spread through the environment both through runoff and from sewage sludge used as fertilizer.

The chemicals are notably present in California’s water supplies, as indicated in the map above.

From Harvard University:

Levels of a widely used class of industrial chemicals linked with cancer and other health problems — polyfluoroalkyl and perfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs) — exceed federally recommended safety levels in public drinking-water supplies for 6 million people in the United States, according to a new study led by researchers from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS).

The study will be published Aug. 9 in the journal Environmental Science & Technology Letters.

“For many years, chemicals with unknown toxicities, such as PFASs, were allowed to be used and released to the environment, and we now have to face the severe consequences,” said lead author Xindi Hu, a doctoral student in the Department of Environmental Health at Harvard Chan School, Environmental Science and Engineering at SEAS, and Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. “In addition, the actual number of people exposed may be even higher than our study found, because government data for levels of these compounds in drinking water is lacking for almost a third of the U.S. population — about 100 million people.”

PFASs have been used over the past 60 years in industrial and commercial products ranging from food wrappers to clothing to pots and pans. They have been linked with cancer, hormone disruption, high cholesterol, and obesity. Although several major manufacturers have discontinued the use of some PFASs, the chemicals continue to persist in people and wildlife. Drinking water is one of the main routes through which people can be exposed.

The researchers looked at concentrations of six types of PFASs in drinking-water supplies, using data from more than 36,000 water samples collected nationwide by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from 2013 to 2015. They also looked at industrial sites that manufacture or use PFASs; at military fire-training sites and civilian airports where firefighting foam containing PFASs is used; and at wastewater-treatment plants. Discharges from these plants — which are unable to remove PFASs from wastewater by standard treatment methods — could contaminate groundwater. So could the sludge the plants generate, which is frequently used as fertilizer.

The study found that PFASs were detectable at the minimum reporting levels required by the EPA in 194 out of 4,864 water supplies in 33 states across the United States. Drinking water from 13 states accounted for 75 percent of the detections: California, New Jersey, North Carolina, Alabama, Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio, New York, Georgia, Minnesota, Arizona, Massachusetts, and Illinois, in order of frequency of detection.

Sixty-six of the public water supplies examined, serving 6 million people, had at least one water sample that measured at or above the EPA safety limit of 70 parts per trillion (ng/L) for two types of PFASs, perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA). Concentrations ranged as high as 349 ng/L for PFOA (Warminster, Pa.) and 1,800 ng/L for PFOS (Newark, Del.). The highest levels of PFASs were detected in watersheds near industrial sites, military bases, and wastewater-treatment plants.

“These compounds are potent immunotoxicants in children and recent work suggests drinking-water safety levels should be much lower than the provisional guidelines established by EPA,” said Elsie Sunderland, senior author of the study and associate professor at both the Harvard Chan School and SEAS.

Other Harvard Chan authors of the study included Philippe Grandjean and Courtney Carignan. Funding for the study came from the Smith Family Foundation and a private donor.

Game of Zones heats up, confrontation looms


From BBC News, one of the venues for the Game of Zones in Asian waters.

From BBC News, one of the venues for the Game of Zones in Asian waters.

The Game of Zones, our term for the escalating multinational confrontations in the China Seas, are reaching the boiling point, with military encounters between China, Japan, Vietnam, and the Philippines occurring on a daily basis as a nuclear-armed North Korea watches from the sidelines.

The looming crisis is the result of the Asian Pivot, a strategy created by Barack Obama and his then-Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton.

Five tears ago, Michael T. Klare, professor of peace and world security studies at Hampshire College, dissected the Obama/Clinton Asian policy for The Nation:

The South China Sea has had increased prominence in Washington’s strategic calculus in recent years as China has asserted its interests there and as its importance as an economic arena has grown. Not only does the sea sit atop major oil and natural gas deposits—some being developed by US companies, including ExxonMobil—it also serves as the main route for ships traveling to and from Europe, Africa and the Middle East to China, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan. The Chinese say the South China Sea is part of their national maritime territory and that the oil and gas belongs to them; but Washington is insisting it will fight to preserve “freedom of navigation” there, at whatever cost. Whereas Taiwan once topped the list of US security challenges in the western Pacific, Hillary Clinton said on November 10 that “ensuring freedom of navigation in the South China Sea” is now Washington’s principal challenge.

Focusing on the South China Sea achieves several White House goals. It shifts the emphasis in US security planning from ideological determinism, as embedded in the increasingly unpopular drive to impose American values on the Middle East and fight a never-ending war against Islamist jihadism, to economic realism, as expressed through protecting overseas energy assets and maritime commerce. By dominating sea lanes the United States poses an implied threat of economic warfare against China in any altercations by cutting off its access to foreign markets and raw materials. And, through its very location, the South China Sea links US strategic interests in the Pacific to its interests in the Indian Ocean and to those of the rising powers of South Asia. According to Secretary Burns, a key objective of the administration’s strategy is to unite India with Japan, Australia and other members of the emerging anti-Chinese bloc.

Chinese officials following these developments must see them as a calculated US effort to encircle China with hostile alliances. How, exactly, Beijing will respond to this onslaught remains to be seen, but there is no doubt that it will not be intimidated—resistance to foreign aggression lies at the bedrock of the national character and remains a key goal of the Chinese Communist Party, however attenuated by time. So blowback there will be.

Perhaps the White House believes that military competition will impede China’s economic growth and disguise US economic weaknesses. But this is folly: China has far greater economic clout than the United States. To enhance its position vis-à-vis China, America must first put its own house in order by reinvigorating its economy, reducing foreign debt, improving public education and eliminating unnecessary overseas military commitments.

Ultimately, what is most worrisome about the Obama administration’s strategic shift—which no doubt is dictated as much by domestic as foreign policy considerations, including the need to counter jingoistic appeals from GOP presidential candidates and to preserve high rates of military spending—is that it will trigger a similar realignment within Chinese policy circles, where military leaders are pushing for a more explicitly anti-American stance and a larger share of government funds. The most likely result, then, will be antagonistic moves on both sides, leading to greater suspicion, increased military spending, periodic naval incidents, a poisoned international atmosphere, economic disarray and, over time, a greater risk of war.

The Obama/Clinton push for a remilitarized Japan

The push for a Chinese confrontation has only grown stronger, and a key element is Japanese militarization, a full reversal of longstanding U.S. policy that began with the Gen. Douglas MacArthur, the U.S.-imposed military governor of Japan after World War II.

MacArthur’s chief accomplishment was a new national constitution, embraced by the Japanese, in which the nation was barred from creating all but a token military, one designed only for self-defense — hence the name, the Japanese Self Defense Forces.

But no more, as Roll Call’s Rachel Oswald reported in May:

In recent years, Japan, eager to show its commitment to working with the U.S. military, has moved past the strictly pacifist security posture it adopted after World War II. A little over a year ago, the United States and Japan finalized new defense cooperation guidelines allowing deeper military collaboration.

In September, Japan’s parliament, the Diet, approved legislation that would, in the words of the Abe government, “reactivate Japan’s innate right to collective self-defense,” authorizing the country’s Self-Defense Forces to come to the defense of threatened allies, namely the United States.

Abraham Denmark, deputy assistant secretary of Defense for East Asia, said “2015 was a historic year for us and for the alliance,” and the United States wants “to ensure that momentum continues.”

Japanese officials are trying to demonstrate to Washington they are working overtime to modernize their regional defense posture.

“Japan is the most determined military partner of the United States,” said Yoji Koda, a retired vice admiral of the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force. But Koda and others worry there is little awareness of Japan’s role in world security efforts. “Washington always complains, ‘free rider.’ But if there were no Japan, U.S. world strategy doesn’t function.”

The crisis begins to boil

The confrontation between China and the Japanese/U.S. partnership is heating up, with the latest developments especially troubling.

From BBC News:

Japan’s foreign minister has warned that ties with China are “significantly deteriorating”, after Chinese vessels repeatedly entered disputed waters in the East China Sea.

Fumio Kishida said he had called China’s ambassador to protest against the “incursions”.

On Friday, about 230 Chinese fishing boats and coast guard vessels sailed near islands claimed by both countries.

Beijing has been increasingly assertive about waters it believes are Chinese.

The Japan-controlled, uninhabited islands – known as the Senkaku in Japan and the Diaoyu in China – are the source of a long-running dispute.

The Japanese coast guard said on Monday that about 13 Chinese coast guard ships, some of them armed, had been seen near the islands, higher than the usual number.

“The situation surrounding the Japan-China relationship is significantly deteriorating,” Mr Kishida told Cheng Yonghua, Beijing’s envoy to Tokyo, according to a statement on the foreign ministry website.

“We cannot accept that [China] is taking actions that unilaterally raise tensions.”

Much more, after the jump. . . Continue reading