You’ve heard about “fracking” — hydraulic fracturing — but perhaps you’ve wondered how it actually works. The video below offers a quick and entertaining explanation of the process. It was produced in partnership with ProPublica by David Holmes and his fellow journalism students at Jay Rosen’s Studio 20 at NYU.
Good morning! Babe Ruth, Bob Marley and Ronald Reagan were all born on this day. Here are some of the stories we’re reading this a.m….
Working out great –> 26 Florida children or teenagers have been killed in “stand your ground”-related cases, reports Nicole Flatow for TP.
Pen, phone –> Coral Davenport reports for the NYT that Obama’s next executive action will be the creation of “regional climate hubs” to help people prepare for extreme weather events.
Corrections –> WaPo’s Erik Wemple looks at all the media outlets that changed their headlines or offered corrections after botching reports on the CBO’s new Obamacare projections.
Oops –> The Koch brothers left a list of VIP donors at a hotel. MoJo’s Andy Kroll and Daniel Schulman report its significance.
Bizarre case –> A disgruntled former Mormon has convinced a British court to hear his suit charging that the church is a fraudulent operation because it makes theological claims that aren’t demonstrably true. Scott Kaufman runs down the details for The Raw Story.
Tacky, corrupt –> Western journalists arriving in Sochi for the Olympic games are finding the accommodations rough and wondering where the $51 billion Russia spent to give the city a facelift actually went. Justin Peters reports for Slate. ALSO: US authorities warned Russia-bound airlines to be on the lookout for explosives contained in toothpaste tubes. Brian Ries recalls the history of toothpaste bombs for the Daily Beast.
Big bill, horrible band –> Steve Hsieh reports for The Nation that the industrial rock band Skinny Puppy billed the Pentagon $666,000 in royalties for using its music to torture prisoners at Gitmo without permission.
Smoking gun –> Scientists think they’ve determined the exact mechanism for the extinction of woolly rhinos, mammoths and other extinct ice age mammals. Via: Science Daily.
Good morning! Today is National Weatherman’s Day, celebrating the birthday of John Jeffries, who began recording weather patterns in the Boston Colony in 1774. Perfect day for it here in NYC, where a winter storm warning is in effect. Here are some of the stories we’re reading as we try to stay warm…
Scenes from a militarized America –> At the WaPo, Radley Balko analyses a viral video showing an Iowa family being “terrorized” during a SWAT raid over alleged credit card fraud (of which police found no evidence).
Privatized problems –> At The Atlantic, Andrew Cohen continues his reporting on the problems with private probation companies supervising the release of convicts for a fee.
Heckuva job –> Emma Graham-Harrison reports for The Guardian: “A new Afghan law will allow men to attack their wives, children and sisters without fear of judicial punishment…”
Progress –> Josh Eidelson reports for Salon that the NLRB is considering adopting a rule for union elections that corporate America — and Mitt Romney — loathes.
Senator Elizabeth Warren (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
The Postal Service (USPS) could spare the most economically vulnerable Americans from dealing with predatory financial companies under a proposal endorsed over the weekend by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA).
“USPS could partner with banks to make a critical difference for millions of Americans who don’t have basic banking services because there are almost no banks or bank branches in their neighborhoods,” Warren wrote in a Huffington Post op-ed on Saturday. The op-ed picked up on a report from the USPS’s Inspector General that proposed using the agency’s extensive physical infrastructure to extend basics like debit cards and small-dollar loans to the same communities that the banking industry has generally ignored. The report found that 68 million Americans don’t have bank accounts and spent $89 billion in 2012 on interest and fees for the kinds of basic financial services that USPS could begin offering. The average un-banked household spent more than $2,400, or about 10 percent of its income, just to access its own money through things like check cashing and payday lending stores. USPS would generate savings for those families and revenue for itself by stepping in to replace those non-bank financial services companies.
Good morning — and a happy birthday to Dan Quayle! Here are some of the stories we’re reading this a.m. at Moyers & Company HQ…
Stat of the Day: 41.4 percent — the share of Americans who are “very religious,” according to Gallup.
The revolution won’t be globalized –> At Salon, Michael Lind argues that there won’t be a global movement against inequality because those at the top have rigged the rules in such a way as to make it impossible.
America needs a raise vacation –> Washington may become the first state to mandate that employers offer some paid vacation, as every EU country does. Bryce Covert reports for ThinkProgress.
Sleazy –> Michael O’Brien reports for NBC News that Republicans have created a series of websites that look like they belong to Democratic candidates but redirect contributions to their GOP opponents. Read the fine print while browsing.
Ladies, don’t move to Laredo –> At NYMag, Maggie Lange lists the ten cities where women earn the most. (Laredo, Texas, is where they earn the least.)
The war-zone next door –> Lois Beckett reports for ProPublica that living in high-crime neighborhoods can lead to PTSD like being in combat often does.
LIZ!! –> Sen. Elizabeth Warren proposes to do away with payday lenders and save the USPS by allowing post offices to offer basic banking products.
A nation of laws? –> TNR’s Noam Scheiber calls for “socialized law” to address the disparities in our justice system.
Interesting question –> “Is freeing a duck terrorism?” asks Ryan Shapiro — an animal rights activist who once freed several — at Truthout.
Tonight on PBS’s excellent POV series, don’t miss American Promise, a film that chronicles the education of two Brooklyn children. For 13 years, Joe Brewster and Michèle Stephenson, middle-class African-American parents in Brooklyn, NY, filmed their son, Idris, and his best friend, Seun, as they made their way through Dalton, one of the most prestigious private schools in the country. Chronicling the boys’ divergent paths from kindergarten through high school graduation, this provocative, intimate documentary presents complicated truths about America’s struggle to come of age on issues of race, class and opportunity. MORE
The State Department has released a long-awaited environmental impact statement (EIS) for the Keystone XL pipeline. Here’s the key section:
[A]pproval or denial of any one crude oil transport project, including the proposed project, is unlikely to significantly impact the rate of extraction in the oil sands or the continued demand for heavy crude oil at refineries in the United States based on expected oil.
In other words, the State Department believes that oil from Alberta’s tar sands will be extracted, shipped and burnt regardless of whether the pipeline is built or not. That conclusion is disappointing for anyone hoping that the review would give President Obama clear justification to reject the pipeline. Last August, he declared that it would not be in the national interest to greenlight any project unless it “does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution.”
Instead, the EIS leaves the administration considerable room to maneuver as the decision process enters the next stage: a more comprehensive assessment of whether the pipeline serves the national interest. That determination will consider climate change, foreign policy and energy security. “This is not a document that deals with approving and denying” the pipeline, Assistant Secretary of State Kerri-Ann Jones emphasized on a call with reporters. There is no timeline for a final decision on the project, although eight federal agencies have 90 days to weigh in, and a month-long public comment period begins on February 5, 2014.
The report affirmed a previous finding that oil produced from tar sands produces about 17 percent more greenhouse gas pollution when burned, compared to traditional crude.
While the EIS does not lay out a clear reason to reject the pipeline, neither does it deny the environmental implications of the project completely. The report affirmed a previous finding that oil produced from tar sands produces about 17 percent more greenhouse gas pollution when burned, compared to traditional crude. Jones said it would be “a bit of an oversimplification” to conclude from the report that Keystone XL would have no impact on climate change. Jones also acknowledged that the report’s assumptions about oil markets are “uncertain and changeable.”
One figure we’re likely to hear cited by proponents of the pipeline is 42,100. That’s the number of temporary jobs the pipeline is expected to generate, according to the report. However, the more significant number is 50. According to the EIS, that’s how many people would still have a job once construction ends in a year or two.
The timing of the release is itself controversial. The State Department’s inspector general has yet to complete a conflict of interest investigation into the contractor hired to conduct the EIS, a London-based company called Environmental Resource Management (ERM). The inspector general launched its investigation after Friends of the Earth and other groups obtained information indicating that ERM failed to disclose connections to TransCanada, the company backing the pipeline, and other industry groups.
In December, 25 Democrats in Congress sent a letter urging officials to delay the publication of the EIS until the allegations had been fully investigated. “It would be unwise and premature for the Department of State to release an EIS prepared by ERM while it remains under investigation for lying to federal officials about its ties to TransCanada and over a dozen oil companies with a direct stake in whether or not Keystone XL gets approved,” the letter reads.
Asked why the State Department did not wait for the inspector general’s report to publish the EIS, Jones said that the two studies were “completely separate processes,” and that the agency was confident in its conflict of interest procedures. “I feel that it’s important for us to move forward in our process,” she continued. “We wanted to get this document out and keep moving.”
“This document will be seen by the entire environmental community — in which I certainly include myself — as a sham,” Representative Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ).
The timing of the release infuriated some members of Congress. “This document will be seen by the entire environmental community — in which I certainly include myself — as a sham. The fact that the Canadian government and the oil industry were reportedly briefed on today’s news before Congress was given the courtesy of a heads-up speaks volumes,” Representative Raúl Grijalva, a Democrat on the House Committee on Natural Resources, said in a statement. “The only way to approve Keystone XL is to ignore the multiple lies TransCanada told the State Department in its application. I’m sorry to see the State Department is comfortable with that.”
The allegations against ERM appear serious. Furthermore, internal State Department documents obtained by the Sierra Club suggest that the State Department did not verify ERM’s claim to be free of conflicts of interest. If it had done so, the agency would have found that ERM failed to disclose relationships with several companies that could benefit from tar sands development, including ExxonMobil, Shell, Chevron, Conoco Phillips and Canadian Natural Resources. Several oil and gas industry associations that have advocated for the pipeline list ERM as a member, including the American Petroleum Institute, which has spent $22 million on Keystone XL and tar sands lobbying, according to Friends of the Earth. A Mother Jones investigation found evidence that the State Department knew about, and tried to conceal, connections between TransCanada and one of the ERM employees leading the Keystone XL review.
Now that the decision is in President Obama’s hands, expect new action from environmental groups. Vigils are planned around the country for Monday. Sixteen organizations have sent a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry, complaining that the scope of the environmental review was too narrow and threatening legal action based on the National Environmental Policy Act.
Spinning faster –> NYT’s Eric Lipton and Ben Protess report that new rules designed to slow down the revolving door between government and K Street aren’t working.
Lashing out –> Slate’s David Weigel is unimpressed with the “goofy talking points” Chris Christie is using to discredit David Wildstein, who claims to have evidence that contradicts what Christie said about the Fort Lee lane closures.
Unregulatable –> Richard Wolff writes for Truthout that corruption is “endemic” to capitalism, and may be its Achilles’ heel.
This Town –> At National Journal, Daniel Libit has a remarkable story of a 25 year-old who managed to work his way up the Beltway social ladder — and allegedly swindle some of the biggest movers and shakers — by claiming to be close to Hillary Clinton.
Safe, legal, rare –> Sandhya Somashekhar reports for the WaPo that the US abortion rate has hit a 40-year low.
Ghosts of a dark past –> Missouri executed a black man who had been convicted by an all-white jury while his appeal was still being reviewed. At The Atlantic, Andrew Cohen reports that guards dragged him away from the phone while he was discussing the appeal with an attorney.
BENGHAZI!!!! –> During an interview with Bill O’Reilly, Obama called out Fox News for promoting conspiracy theories. Elias Isquith has a recap at Salon.
Middle class squeeze –> Nelson Schwartz reports for the NYT that high-end retailers and discount stores are doing OK, but businesses that cater to those in a shrinking middle class are struggling.
California is experiencing an epic drought. Paul Rogers reports for the San Jose Mercury News that some communities could actually run out of water in the next few months if the Golden State doesn’t get some rain:
In some communities, wells are running dry. In others, reservoirs are nearly empty. Some have long-running problems that predate the drought.
The water systems, all in rural areas, serve from 39 to 11,000 residents. They range from the tiny Lompico County Water District in Santa Cruz County to districts that serve the cities of Healdsburg and Cloverdale in Sonoma County.
Good morning — and happy Friday! Here are some of the stories we’re reading as we push toward the weekend…
Stat of the day: 23.8 percent. That’s the amount by which spending cuts and the government shutdown reduced economic growth last quarter.
Not dead yet –> House GOP leaders unveiled their principles for immigration reform this week. Salon’s Brian Beutler explains that Dems could face a tough choice if Republicans offer to legalize the undocumented without the possibility of citizenship. ALSO: Buzzfeed’s John Stanton reports that some Republicans quietly acknowledge that racism within their party is a big reason reform has been stalled for so many years.
Reverse Hoboken –> According to a Newark Star-Ledger editorial, there’s new evidence that Chris Christie promised additional Sandy relief funds to the mayor of Belleville, who then endorsed the governor for re-election.
Drugwar –> Justice Department is trying to identify low-level, non-violent drug offenders who would make good candidates for clemency, according to David Ingram at Reuters.
Dark money and the electoral college –> MoJo’s Mariah Blake reports that Koch brothers-backed groups were involved in a campaign to rig the electoral college in Republicans’ favor in 2012.
Take that, Rush –> Sandra Fluke may run for the House seat that’s opening up with Henry Waxman’s retirement. Kyle Cheney reports for Politico.
“Grim assessment” –> Pew/USA Today poll finds that a majority of Americans now believe we failed to achieve our goals in both Iraq and Afghanistan — and that the number holding those views has grown.
Hucksters –> At ThinkProgress, Zach Beauchamp takes a hard look at one of the scams that are frequently being pushed by conservative media organizations in exchange for a cut.
Death –> Feds to seek death penalty for alleged Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. Catherine Shoichet reports for CNN.
Hair trigger –> Some religious conservatives are boycotting Girl Scout cookies after the organization tweeted a link to an article about potential women of the year that listed Wendy Davis as a candidate. Tara Culp-Ressler reports for TP.
Sheriff Joe may get jealous –> Actor Steven Seagal says Vladimir Putin is dreamy, Russia should be our top ally and the Sochi Olympics will offer safe fun for everyone.
Ghoulish –> The OC Register is taking out life insurance on its employees. But the company’s pension fund, rather than the employees’ families, would be the beneficiary if they die, according to Michael Hiltzik at the LAT.
Painful cuts –> MoJo’s Erika Eichelberger: Republicans quietly won the battle over food stamps.
MyRA?? –> George Zornick explains what those new retirement accounts Obama unveiled in the SOTU are all about for The Nation.
“It’s frightening, it really is frightening” –> That’s what one chemical engineer said after formaldehyde was discovered in a water sample in Charleston, as the fallout from Freedom Industries’ spill continues. Ken Ward and David Gutman report for West Virginia’s Charleston Gazette.
He’ll break you in half! –> At The Daily Beast, David Freedlander alleges that Michael Grimm, the rep. who threatened to kill a reporter who asked him a tough question on Tuesday, has a long history of dangerously reckless behavior.
Thou shalt not lie –> Religious right group fabricates a story about a schoolchild being censored for expressing her Christian views, Fox News picks up the story and the school gets inundated with hateful emails from around the country. Travis Gettys has the details at The Raw Story.
Related –> At Salon, John Haggerty writes about his experience watching Fox News for three hours a day over the course of a very long month.
A heavy lift –> At the New York Review of Books, Jeff Madrick writes that Obama faces a difficult if not impossible task trying to deal with this economy without Congress’ help.
President Barack Obama delivers the State of Union address before a joint session of Congress in the House chamber Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2014, in Washington, as Vice President Joe Biden, and House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, listen. (AP Photo/Larry Downing, Pool)
While political pundits have been busy broadcasting their views on President Obama’s State of the Union address, we wanted to know what regular Americans thought of his speech last night. For that, we turned to our Facebook page, where close to 3,000 people weighed in when we asked for feedback.
A central theme that emerged from Obama’s speech was his call for the government to work on behalf of all Americans, along with his pledge to work independently of Congress if need be. “Let’s make this a year of action,” Obama said. “That’s what most Americans want — for all of us in this chamber to focus on their lives, their hopes, their aspirations.” That moment clearly resonated with our community, who expressed anger at the gridlock in Washington. As Melodie Milhoan put it: “[Obama] did a great job reminding Congress that they are supposed to represent the American people.”
On one issue after another, Obama’s promised to go it alone if Congress refused to work with him, which drew praise from some who felt that without cooperation from lawmakers, the president had no other choice. Debra Fraser wrote: ” I truly hope he uses his executive power to bypass the obstructionists in Congress.” But others were concerned that Obama’s confrontational tone — threatening to veto new Iran sanctions, warning against future votes against his health-care law and demanding action on a series of economic measures — sounded like a power grab.
As expected, Obama spoke about inequality, and when he did, a number of people re-posted his statements, especially this one: “No one who works full-time should ever have to raise a family in poverty.” The president was applauded for issuing an executive order requiring federal contractors to pay their employees a fair wage of at least $10.10 an hour. And others were enthusiastic when Obama called on American companies to raise the minimum wage. As Robin Cook Wooten put it: “SAY YES! Give America a raise! Yes Yes Yes!” Parthena Rodriguez used Obama’s “easy to remember” wage increase as a chance to take a swipe at legislatures. “$10.10 sounds like a perfect wage for Congress.”
“You can’t say climate change is real and then promote dangerous fracking for fossil fuels.” — Amy Ward Brimmer
While inequality was billed as central to the president’s speech, some felt Obama didn’t delve deeply enough into the issue, such as Ann J Wyly who wrote: “There was not enough on inequality and the reasons why it has gotten so out of hand.”
While the president got the thumbs up for acknowledging that “climate change is a fact,” his push for natural gas was a major disappointment, with scores raising concerns about fracking. Here’s what Amy Ward Brimmer had to say: “You can’t say climate change is real and then promote dangerous fracking for fossil fuels.” And this from Mark Hackler: “He scored some cheap political points by calling out the Republicans on climate change, but he only gets real points if he cancels the [Keystone] pipeline.”
The president called for collaboration on the bipartisan trade promotion authority, which is expected to pave the way for the secretive Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), angering many. Jerry Ryberg wrote: “This corporate power-grab would NOT create good jobs, just the opposite. These “trade deals” have never been anything but a net job loss, and a bigger trade deficit for America.”
While the president did say he intended to keep trying to stop “more tragedies from visiting innocent Americans in our movie theaters and our shopping malls, or schools like Sandy Hook,” several people said they would have liked to have heard much more on gun control.
“This was the Obama I voted for, positive and demonstrative.” — Marna Lister
Overall, there was much positive feedback on Obama’s State of the Union address, with some going as far as saying it was one of the president’s best speeches yet. In fact, a number of people said Obama displayed the energy that helped him get elected in the first place. “This was the Obama I voted for, positive and demonstrative,” said Marna Lister and Nick Vukson, “I remember again why I voted for him.”
But not everyone was feeling optimistic following the speech, as Jonathan R. Espinal comment illustrates, “Gilded words that fall short on actually delivering what they promise.” And this from Corbin Fowler: “The State of the Union is awful for many Americans, and it will take a lot more than a good speech to remove the main problem: a political system wholly corrupted by big pockets. The major problems facing our society’s future, and the future of human civilization are being ignored. Fiddling while the planet burns.”
Doesn’t look good for Christie –> Shawn Boburg and Jean Rimbach report for the Bergen Record that Chris Christie’s brother Todd bought a bunch of property near a train station that was scheduled for a quarter-billion dollar renovation that the governor had championed.
Falling down –> One third of Americans who saw themselves as middle class in 2008 no longer do, reports MoJo’s Kevin Drum.
Busted –> Bitcoin pioneer arrested for laundering drug money. Antonio Regalado has the story for Tech Review.
Not lovin’ thy neighbor –> At The Monkey Cage, Lilliana Mason writes that political polarization is making us more prejudiced against our opponents.
In their quest to repeal Obamacare, Republicans have faced two political problems. First, while the Affordable Care Act isn’t a popular law, pollsshow that the idea of simply going back to the way things were is far less popular.
The second is that for the last three years they’ve been promising a replacement for the president’s signature legislation, and their failure to provide one made them look uninterested in — or incapable of –- addressing in a serious way a real problem for American families.
But on Monday, Sens. Richard Burr (R-NC), Tom Coburn (R-OK) and Orrin Hatch (R-UT) — three Republicans who have long worked on health care issues — tried to address these problems by finally unveiling a comprehensive alternative to Obamacare.
In one sense, it’s a sign of progress, an acknowledgement that Obamacare is changing the American health care system in ways that can’t easily be undone and a concrete proposal that can serve as a point of serious debate.
The problem is that it’s grounded in the same old conservative thinking about what ails our health care system. And, as such, a central piece of the lawmakers’ solution is making the vast majority of Americans pay more for their coverage. MORE
President Barack Obama addresses the nation in September 2013. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, Pool)
When President Obama takes the stage this evening for his annual State of the Union address, a likely theme will be how the Oval Office can work toward its goals on everything from income inequality to the federal debt without relying on an obstinate, unproductive Congress. In his speech last year, Obama threatened to sidestep the legislative branch on actions to mitigate climate change, specifically, if Congress failed to provide its own solutions. This year, environmentalists are hoping to hear more details on what that plan could entail.
Some of the major goals of climate policy wonks, like putting a price on carbon pollution, can’t happen without the help of Congress, but that doesn’t mean the president’s hands are completely tied; last week, the Center for the New Energy Economy at Colorado State University released a report co-authored by former Colorado governor Bill Ritter that details 200 climate actions Obama could take without Congress.
So what options does the president have? Here are a few ideas: MORE