Friday, April 20, 2012


The EPA unveils new rules regarding fracking, but don't get too excited:
“It sets a floor for what the industry needs to do,” said attorney Erik Schlenker-Goodrich of the Western Environmental Law Center. “The reality is we can do far better.”

Over the past few years, more information has come out about fracking’s potential harms to the environment and human health, particularly relating to the risk of groundwater contamination. In addition to the many potentially toxic components of the highly pressurized fluid injected into the ground during the natural gas drilling process, fracking can also release cancer-causing chemicals like benzene and greenhouse gases like methane into the air. The federal government has made moves to tighten regulations, and we’ve chronicled the history of those regulations.

The EPA’s new rules don’t cover most of those issues. Instead, they address a single problem with natural gas: air pollution.

“These rules do not resolve chronic water, public health and other problems associated with fracking and natural gas,” Schlenker-Goodrich said.

The agency is actually barred from regulating the impact of fracking on groundwater because, in 2005, Congress exempted fracking from the Safe Water Drinking Act. Congressional proposals to give the EPA more oversight have so far failed.

The for-profit college industry is a scam, supported by welfare-hating/crony capitalism-loving GOP legislators (with a bit of assistance from Dems, as well):
The for-profit educational sector is an industry almost entirely subsidized by the federal government. Around 70-80 percent of for-profit revenues are generated by federal student loans. At the same time, judging by sky-high dropout rates, the for-profit schools do a terrible job of educating students. The Obama administration’s efforts to define a credit hour and require state accreditation were motivated by a very understandable desire: to ensure that taxpayers are getting their money’s worth when federal cash pays for a student’s education. In contrast, Foxx’s legislation is designed to remove that taxpayer protection. So here’s a more accurate title for her bill: “The Protecting the Freedom of For-Profit Schools to Suck off the Government Teat Without Any Accountability Whatsoever Act.”

The for-profit educational sector has been growing extraordinarily rapidly for the past decade: 12 percent of all post-secondary students are now enrolled in for-profit schools, up from 3 percent 10 years ago. But the main beneficiaries of the growth appear to be the shareholders and executives of the largest publicly traded for-profit schools, not the students.


One would imagine that Republicans, who theoretically oppose government involvement in the private sector, and are always looking for ways to cut government spending, would approve of efforts to seek greater accountability for taxpayer funds. Virginia Foxx, after all, was notorious for being one of only 11 members of Congress to vote against a federal relief package for victims of Hurricane Katrina, citing the “high potential for the waste, fraud and abuse of federal tax dollars.”

But as it turns out, Foxx herself is benefiting from the waste and abuse of federal tax dollars. Among the top 20 financial contributors to Foxx in the 2011-2012 cycle are the Association of Private Sector Colleges/Universities, the Apollo Group (owner of the University of Phoenix), and Corinthian Colleges. Since federal student loans comprise the vast majority of the revenues of those for-profit schools, it follows that their campaign contributions to Foxx are also made possible by U.S. taxpayers.
And it's not just taxpayers that lose, it's students, too:
The lead plaintiff in the class-action suit, Chinea Washington, claims The Art Institute of California, Hollywood, led her to believe that federal grants and loans would cover the entire $89,000 cost for a bachelor's degree in interior design.

In November 2011, after three years of study, Washington was provided notice by the "college" that she had reached the federal loan/grant aggregate limit of $52,340 and that it would cost $37,000 to complete the degree. Washington dropped out with $52,160 in debt. Because The Art Institute's credits are not transferable, Washington has been swindled out of $52,000 and three years of her life.

The only way to describe $89,000 for a four-year degree with non-transferable credits from a non-academic college is as a fraud and a swindle, and that characterization possibly fails to convey the frustration and downright victimization students like Washington must feel.

Like subprime mortgages, for-profit colleges are a scam driven by payment of commissions to sales staff known as recruiters. The payment of commissions to high-pressure salespeople is so central to the scam that the umbrella trade group for for-profits, the Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities (APSCU), has sued the federal government to overturn its ban on incentive pay.

It cannot be stated strongly enough: for-profit colleges could not engage in the ongoing exploitation of students and theft of federal money without the direct cooperation and assistance of the federal government in what can only be termed an immoral economy. The same forces that demonize everything government does or attempts to do are busy feeding from the government trough. The hypocrisy is untenable, the federal subsidies unfathomable and the lack of criminal prosecution unconscionable.

For-profit colleges are a kickback scheme where politicians enact favorable legislation and regulations that allow for-profit colleges to maintain access to student loans and grant money. The for-profit colleges then "give" a small cut of the federal money back to the politicians to enact favorable legislation.
Meanwhile, one of the biggest boosters of for-profit colleges doesn't have a lick of understanding about how expensive college has gotten and illustrates it in her typical compassionate-free, bile-filled ignorant ways :
I went through school, I worked my way through, it took me seven years, I never borrowed a dime of money. He borrowed a little bit because we both were totally on our own when we went to college, totally. [...] I have very little tolerance for people who tell me that they graduate with $200,000 of debt or even $80,000 of debt because there’s no reason for that. We live in an opportunity society and people are forgetting that. I remind folks all the time that the Declaration of Independence says “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” You don’t have it dumped in your lap.
Nope, she really doesn't have a clue at all:
Representative Virginia Foxx (R – N.C.) has no patience for students who whine about their student loan debt. After all, she was able to work her way through college without taking on a single penny of debt. According to Foxx, “We live in an opportunity society… You don’t sit on your butt and have [a college education] dumped in your lap.” Thank goodness we have someone like Foxx who is willing to push back against those lazy, whiny, and entitled student borrowers. “Kids these days have no work ethic,” you can almost hear her say, “when I was at the University of North Carolina, I worked hard to pay my exorbitant tuition of $87.50.”

That’s right, Virginia Foxx paid $87.50 in tuition. That was the price of a full semester’s tuition at UNC in 1961. The Chair of the Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Training is completely out of touch with the very different realities facing today’s students.

To be fair, prices have gone up a lot since 1961. If you take that $87.50 and adjust it for inflation, the actual dollar amount is a whopping $671.30 per semester. Including tuition and fees, Representative Foxx would have paid $279 for the academic year—about $2,140 today. That’s about equivalent to what students pay right now at community colleges, not public four-year institutions—especially not public flagships.

In-state students at Representative Foxx’s alma mater pay $7,008—more than three times what Foxx paid. It took Foxx seven years to graduate, probably because she was working to put herself through college. During the 7-year period she was at UNC, tuition and fees increased about 0.6 percent per year. Compare that to UNC students who have seen their tuition and fees increase on average 7.2 percent per year since 2005. UNC students who take fewer classes in order to subsidize their tuition through work have found themselves in a losing battle with steep tuition increases.

They have also come up against work that pays less and less. When Representative Foxx was working her way through college, the minimum wage was worth about $9.62 in today’s dollars. Today’s students who work minimum wage jobs earn about 30 percent less per hour while paying much more in tuition. If Representative Foxx worked 20 hours a week for an entire year during her time at UNC, she would have made approximately $9,795 before taxes, which would probably cover her entire cost of attendance. Using the same calculation, a student today working 20 hours a week for an entire year would make $7,176. This would barely cover tuition and fees. It wouldn’t even make a dent in the estimated full cost of attendance of $20,660. Indeed, if a student worked 40 hours a week, a situation not feasible for a full-time student, he would only net $14,352—still leaving a considerable gap. That gap is exactly where student loans have come into play.
Her ignorance is best captured by Wonkette:
So yes, you’re right, we do in fact have a leader of a House education committee who is not aware of exponential rise in higher education costs over the last 20 years, which, along with exponentially rising health care costs and exponentially rising mortgage/rent payments, are the three most visible threats to our viability as an “opportunity society” that doesn’t randomly fuck people over with hundreds of millions of dollars in debt, at birth, for the crime of trying to secure basic modern needs.
Meanwhile, elsewhere in academia, the corporatized university doesn't have a problem with professors being whores for industry:
Scores of animal scientists employed by public universities have helped pharmaceutical companies persuade farmers and ranchers to use antibiotics, hormones, and drugs like Zilmax to make their cattle grow bigger ever faster. With the use of these products, the average weight of a fattened steer sold to a packing plant is now roughly 1,300 pounds—up from 1,000 pounds in 1975.

It's been a profitable venture for the drug companies, as well as for the professors and their universities. Agriculture schools increasingly depend on the industry for research grants, a sizable portion of which cover overhead and administrative costs. And many professors now add to their personal bank accounts by working for the companies as consultants and speakers. More than two-thirds of animal scientists reported in a 2005 survey that they had received money from industry in the previous five years.

Yet unlike a growing number of medical schools around the country, where administrators have recently tightened rules to better police their faculty's ties to pharmaceutical companies, the schools of agriculture have largely rejected critics' concerns about industry cash. Administrators have set few limits on how much corporate money agricultural professors can accept. Faculty work with industry is governed by confidentiality rules that veil it from public view.

In certain ways, the close relationship between animal scientists and pharmaceutical companies has never served the public well. Few animal scientists have been interested in looking at what harm the livestock drugs may be causing to the cattle, the environment, or the people eating the meat. They've left most of that work to scientists outside of agriculture, consumer groups, and others who take interest.

But with the introduction of Zilmax, the situation may have reached a tipping point. Critics say some academic animal scientists have become so closely tied to the drug companies that they may be working more in the companies' interests than in those of farmers and ranchers—the very groups that land-grant universities were created to serve.


Responding via e-mail to questions from The Chronicle, Lawrence says he has a consulting arrangement with Intervet that pays him "no set amount" each year. He says the company has also paid him fees for lecturing and had reimbursed his travel expenses, but he declines to say how much he has received or whether he was paid to write the response in Beef magazine.

Lawrence says he doesn't view his speeches or articles as work done to promote Zilmax. "I do not tell beef producers to use or not use Zilmax. I report the data." He adds that it isn't necessary for him to tell ranchers that some packing plants won't accept cattle fed Zilmax, because that wasn't part of "our data collection."

West Texas A&M officials decline to say how much Lawrence had received in research grants from Intervet, arguing that the information is proprietary to the pharmaceutical firm. And executives at Merck, which acquired Intervet in 2009, decline to reveal how much the company has paid Lawrence and other animal scientists in consulting and speaking fees. By contrast, in response to Congressional pressure, the company recently began disclosing payments it makes to medical academics and physicians who have similarly helped sell its human medicine products.

In response to a list of questions from The Chronicle, the company sent a one-paragraph reply that says it has financed a variety of "scientific education initiatives" aimed at "helping animal health and livestock professionals achieve improved standards of overall animal care." It delivers "balanced scientific information to these audiences," the statement says. For those events, the company says, it selects speakers, "many of whom are considered scientific leaders in their particular field, who have knowledge and expertise in the subject matter."

Indeed, Lawrence is not the only professor who has added academic luster to corporate-sponsored research, taking grants or other money from Intervet and then helping promote Zilmax. Bradley J. Johnson, a professor of meat science and muscle biology at Texas Tech University, has been a paid consultant to Intervet on the subject of "growth-enhancement technologies" since 2004, according to his curriculum vitae. He has made several presentations about Zilmax at events held by Intervet, including one in July 2009 titled "Understanding the Zilmax Advantage."

Both Lawrence and Johnson have written scientific articles about Zilmax with company employees. One of those, by Johnson, published in the Journal of Animal Science in 2010, was a review of previously published research on the drug—much of it financed by Intervet. The team concluded that, even though Zilmax made beef less tender, it had "minimal effects on consumer acceptance" of the meat. Zilmax, they wrote, "can be an important management tool in the U.S. beef industry." There was no disclosure that Johnson was a consultant to Intervet.

In an e-mail, Johnson says he stands behind those conclusions. He says the drug has "a well-established advantage" in producing more meat when fed to cattle in their last 20 days.

Editors at the Journal of Animal Science do not require authors to publicly disclose their ties to companies, even when an article discusses the product of a company from which they have received fees. The journal is the main scientific publication of the American Society of Animal Science, which has received financial support from Intervet and other pharmaceutical companies. The lack of a disclosure policy stands in contrast to policies at many other scientific publications. For example, The New England Journal of Medicine requires authors to detail their ties to companies in a lengthy statement, which is available on the journal's Web site. The medical journal also won't allow scientists to write review articles like the one Johnson wrote with the Intervet scientist if they have "significant financial associations" with a company selling a product under review.

Meghan Wulster-Radcliffe, the animal-science society's chief executive, says Johnson's corporate connections were revealed internally when the article was peer-reviewed. If the reviewers had found the article to be biased, she says, it would have been rejected.

In response to questions about the lack of disclosure in the articles about Zilmax, she says, the journal's editors have decided to change its policy and will begin requiring authors to publicly reveal their industry ties. "We have no problem adding a public declaration," she says.

As for Johnson, he says he doesn't recommend any specific pharmaceutical product, because he has done research on "every approved growth-promoting agent used in beef-cattle production." In fact, he became a consultant to Elanco, manufacturer of Optaflexx, in June 2010. In his public presentations for Intervet, he says, he focuses on explaining the science of how the drug increases muscle growth.

His compensation from Intervet, he says, averaged less than $7,500 a year from 2005 through 2011. "This modest income has no impact on my overall lifestyle, and I am not dependent on any consulting income to sustain my lifestyle," he says. "In addition, due to the nature of my endowed-chair position, I am not dependent on research grants from these companies, either."
Lack of accountability in academia seems to be a recurring theme today; even after the UC-Davis pepper spray incident show the complete failure of the leadership of that school, Linda Katehi gets away with offering faux apologies and has the support of her highers-up:
Linda Katehi, of course, will likely remain where she is. UC President Mark Yudof gave a nice demonstration of how things work, for example, when he instantly responded to his ”cursory reading” of the report (on the day it was released) with a vow to work with Katehi to move forward:
Even a cursory reading of the report confirms what we have known from the start: Friday, Nov. 18 was a bad day for the UC Davis community and for the entire UC system. We can and must do better. I look forward to working with Chancellor Katehi to repair the damage caused by this incident and to move this great campus forward.
It’s a neat rhetorical trick, allowing him to take cognizance of the report, and to speak about it, but without being burdened by any necessary knowledge or apprehension of its contents. He’s only given it a “cursory reading,” you see. And yet his first response — the one he gives before really reading the thing — will, in all likelihood, be his last, neatly underscoring how basically and totally indifferent he is to its actual contents: by vowing to work with her, apparently, no matter what the report said about her, the one thing shown not to be on the table, as far as he was concerned, is her replacement.

Katehi’s recent “state of the campus” speech makes her personal immunity just as clear: after uttering the words “I take full responsibility for the incident” she follows them up with (in the same sentence) a remarkable redefinition of “responsibility” as “authority,” continuing with:
“and I consider myself accountable for all the actions that need to be taken to make sure our campus is a safe and welcoming place.”
It’s a radically warped and self-serving misunderstanding of what accountability is, the claim that having fucked up to a tremendous extent is precisely what gives her the obligation to be the one that cleans up the mess. In her mind, apparently, showing yourself to be unworthy of trust is precisely what necessitates staying on to formulate the policies and reforms which will reassure us that such a thing will never happen again. The crucial point would be, then, that a variety of policies and procedures were already in place to prevent exactly this sort of thing from happening. The problem was that Linda Katehi and company simply ignored them and did whatever they felt like.

On Fresh Air, we are reminded of just how little the NYPD cares about the Constitution; if you're a suspected Muslim or radical, you're guilty and Constitutional protections don't apply to you:
[W]hat we've seen in the documents is that the police department uses officers to sit in parking lots or sit outside mosques and just collect license plates and take pictures and videos of people coming and going from mosques.

We know that they train video cameras on poles and point them at mosques. We know that they use informants called mosque crawlers to just sort of soak up everything that happens inside the mosque, and even stuff about lawful protests and, you know, write your congressman, all ends up in intelligence files — even if it has no connection to terrorism.


[T]he intelligence division, in addition to sort of monitoring Muslims for potential terrorist attacks, they also used their undercover officers to keep tabs on protests and groups that might protest inside New York City. So one document we were able to obtain showed an undercover officer going down to the People's Summit in New Orleans, which is just a gathering of liberal groups kind of loosely under the banner of repealing NAFTA and free trade agreements, and equalizing the division of wealth in the United States. And what we saw is political activists being put into place documents for, you know, one guy introduced a film about the plight of the Palestinians. One person was in there, you know, just noted that she was in attendance and she is a labor organizer for housekeepers and nannies. They talked about, you know, all the different groups that were there and who might protest, what their issues were. And the whole idea is that, if there were ever a going to be a big protest in New York City, we'd know who the key players were and we'd know, you know, what to expect. And I think the feeling was that nobody wants a repeat of, you know, Seattle or Quebec riots, so we have to keep tabs on this. And that was surprising to us, because even though we had known there had been some spying ahead of the Republican Convention in 2004, we didn't realize that it continued along the same vein, long after the convention was over.
But it's not just in New York where being a Muslim is a crime; the feds are in on the act, too, stripping Muslims of their free speech rights, for instance:
In 2009, Tarek Mehanna, who has no prior criminal record, was arrested and placed in maximum security confinement on “terrorism” charges. The case against him rested on allegations that as a 21-year old he had traveled with friends to Yemen in 2004 in an unsuccessful search for a jihadist training camp in order to fight in Iraq, and that he had translated several jihadist tracts and videos into English for distribution on the Internet, allegedly to spur readers on to jihad. After a two-month trial, he was convicted of conspiring to provide material support to a terrorist organization. The jury did not specify whether it found him guilty for his aborted trip to Yemen—which resulted in no known contacts with jihadists—or for his translations, so under established law, the conviction cannot stand unless it’s permissible to penalize him for his speech. Mehanna is appealing.

Under traditional (read “pre-9/11”) First Amendment doctrine, Mehanna could not have been convicted even if he had written “39 Ways” himself, unless the government could shoulder the heavy burden of demonstrating that the document was “intended and likely to incite imminent lawless action,” a standard virtually impossible to meet for written texts. In 1969, in Brandenburg v. Ohio, the Supreme Court established that standard in ruling that the First Amendment protected a Ku Klux Klansman who made a speech to a Klan gathering advocating “revengeance” against “niggers” and “Jews.” It did so only after years of experience with federal and state governments using laws prohibiting advocacy of crime as a tool to target political dissidents (anarchists, anti-war protesters, and Communists, to name a few).

But in Mehanna’s case, the government never tried to satisfy that standard. It didn’t show that any violent act was caused by the document or its translation, much less that Mehanna intended to incite imminent criminal conduct and was likely, through the translation, to do so. In fact, it accused Mehanna of no violent act of any kind. Instead, the prosecutor successfully argued that Mehanna’s translation was intended to aid al-Qaeda, by inspiring readers to pursue jihad themselves, and therefore constituted “material support” to a “terrorist organization.”


The government provided no evidence that Mehanna ever met or communicated with anyone from al-Qaeda. Nor did it demonstrate that the translation was sent to al-Qaeda. (It was posted by an online publisher, Al-Tibyan Publications, that has not been designated as a part of or a front for al-Qaeda.) It did not even claim that the “39 Ways” was written by al-Qaeda. The prosecution offered plenty of evidence that in Internet chat rooms Mehanna expressed admiration for the group’s ideology, and for Osama bin Laden in particular. But can one provide “material support” to a group with which one has never communicated?

Water wars: American-style. (h/t Wifey)

Get antibiotics out of ag.

Large cities are what drives the US economy.

Kill first, take names later.

Colonialism was awful, so let's get rid of the evidence.

Open the proceedings at Gitmo.

To the Pope, women's rights and social justice are fundamentally at odds with Catholicism.

Sex discrimination doesn't matter at SCOTUS.

Could it be that Sheriff Joe is finally going to be taken down?

No, Facebook probably isn't making us sad and lonely.

Small towns with great Main Streets.

What things look like on the inside. (h/t Wifey)

Revisiting Greil Marcus on The Band's final show. (h/t Wifey)

And in Heather's Happy Link of the Day, Wifey finds the GREATEST THING EVER:

And there are some accompanying animated GIFs, which are also THE GREATEST.

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