10 months ago
Nine Circles of Hell!: Tuesday, January 3, 2012 Nine Circles of Hell!
The Nine Circles of Hell! – all the news that gives you fits in print – today’s nine most hellish news stories, including a bonus story for Chicago activists on non-lethal weapons, an extra comment on college athletes’ pay, two additional articles on drilling’s dangers, and one more on climate change, for Tuesday, January 3, 2011, are:
Mayor Rahm readies Chicago for NATO/G8 summits by limiting protests
Parade ordinance power grab
A City Hall rewrite to tighten rules for protesters at this spring’s gathering of international leaders in Chicago would also place permanent and little-publicized restrictions on all future demonstrations.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel proposed the changes to the city’s parade ordinance in his December request to the City Council for expanded powers to deal with the NATO and G-8 summits, set to overlap between May 19-21. The mayor said his request for new spending authority and additional restrictions on public gatherings “is temporary and it’s just for the conference and it’s appropriate.”
But the mayor’s office now acknowledges the protest rules would be permanent. And a closer look at Emanuel’s proposals reveals a series of changes to arcane parade regulations that would be accompanied by a large boost in fines for violations — from the current $50 for some to a minimum $1,000 per violation.
Stiffening rules on typically fluid demonstrations will increase the likelihood of violations, giving police more opportunity to crack down and making it more costly for demonstrators, free speech advocates said.
“It’s clear the more stringent the provisions, the more numerous, the greater the difficulty in complying with those provisions,” said Harvey Grossman, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois. “It’s an unnecessary show of authority and something that will have very little meaning in terms of altering conduct.”
- Meanwhile, Wired reports on “The Military’s Freakiest ‘Non-Lethal’ Weapon Ideas.” Maybe Rahm can turn the protests into a trade show for non-lethal weapons makers, including a built-in test market:
Tasers that elicit excruciating spasms in one person at a time? Foam pellets that send an entire crowd fleeing in agony? Pfft. So 2011. Where non-lethal weapons are concerned, the future’s all about sonic microwaves that can make swimmers puke mid-stroke, and aircraft with laser beams that can redirect an entire enemy plane mid-flight.
Or, at least, those are the deepest, darkest wishes of the Pentagon agency responsible for non-lethal weapons.
The military’s Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Directorate’s “Non-Lethal Weapons Reference Book,” leaked online last week by PublicIntelligence.org, is a terrifying treasure trove that describes dozens of ways — some already in-use, others in development or still mere fantasy — for military and law enforcement officials to make you wish they were using the real bullets.
A total of 14 weapons, according to the reference book, are currently being fielded. Some of ‘em, you’ve heard of. Good old tasers, which the guide helpfully reminds us “can penetrate 2 inches of clothing” in order to “totally disable an individual,” and guns that shoot 600 rubber pellets filled with pepper spray to keep rowdy crowds — already used by law enforcement officials, sometimes with very lethal results — subdued.
Most of the guide, however, offers a sneak peak at the military’s dream non-lethal arms cache.
Dozens of the devices are currently in development. There’s an “Impulse Swimmer Gun” that uses “pulsed sound waves” to cause “auditory impairment and/or nausea” among scuba divers engaged in “unauthorized underwater activities”; A system that relies on “high-power microwaves” to block oncoming cars and any (oops) “unintended targets within the target area”; A vehicle-mounted tube launcher that’ll unleash “ocular and auditory impairment” combined with “thermal heating” to utterly devastate a horde of wrongdoers.
And then there are the fantasy projects. The agency want a new and improved taser that can “substantially increase the duration of disabling effects.” They’re also after a high-powered microwave system that can be hooked up to a drone or a ship, and then used to trigger “electrical system malfunction” on enemy boats. Danger Room’s personal favorite, though, is a system of “pulsed laser[s]” on the tip of an airplane, used to “externally control the steering forces” of a foe’s aircraft, in order to “divert [it] from restricted area.”
Of course, the directorate can’t spend all its time dreaming up torturous new toys. They’ve still gotta fix the busted up old ones.
Take their oft-derided “Active Denial System,” (ADS) a pain beam likened by one Pentagon official to “an intolerable heating sensation…like opening up an oven door.”
The system cost a whopping $55 million to develop before being canceled in 2008, only to be hustled into Afghanistan two years later despite myriad technical problems that made the ADS “logistic[ally] too tough to bring to a warzone.”
College football coaches rake in millions as players make nothing
The New York Times
From the Sideline to the Bottom Line
Before their teams take the field in the Bowl Championship Series title game on Jan. 9, Alabama Coach Nick Saban and his Louisiana State counterpart, Les Miles, will, from a financial standpoint, have already won.
Saban will receive $200,000 from Alabama because his team will be playing for the national title, while Miles will receive the same amount from L.S.U. Those bonuses represent a small fraction of the annual income for each, yet they are indicative of the increasingly complicated nature of compensation in major college football, where actual coaching is just one of the many things for which coaches find themselves financially rewarded.
A review of the contracts for more than 40 major college coaches — including Saban, Miles and many of the other men whose teams are appearing in the B.C.S. games that begin Monday — shows that agreements that once seemed simple and straightforward have morphed into an ever more intricate combination of guaranteed salary increases, lucrative bonuses and desirable perks that cover everything from country-club memberships to free travel on private airplanes.
Where once coaches may have been paid merely an annual salary, now the bulk of their compensation often comes from the portion of their contracts that deals with media appearances and endorsement revenues. And the deals also frequently include issues as varied as how their players’ uniforms must look and whether coaches can endorse certain kinds of products or services.
“This business has changed so much,” said Robert Lattinville, the chairman of the sports division at the law firm Stinson Morrison Hecker LLP, which represents coaches in contract matters. “Twenty years ago it was not uncommon to have a coach’s employment secured with a handshake. This practice has given way to 20- and 30-page employment contracts that require a working knowledge of state and federal employment law, income taxation, and a host of esoteric N.C.A.A. and athletic conference rules and procedures. You’ve got to know a whole lot more today to understand the economics and operation of a college coach’s contract.”
The contracts for both Saban and Miles, which are public documents, were provided upon request by Alabama and L.S.U., though neither university responded to requests for comment. The deals, though more lucrative than those for most other coaches, are in many ways typical. Saban receives $4.68 million in total compensation — not counting performance or academic bonuses — and Miles is paid $3.75 million before the same bonuses. While contracts for most major college football coaches are similar in structure and content, the amount of detail varies. Saban’s contract lays out many of the perks he receives, while Miles’s is more vague. A contract’s degree of specificity can often be determined by how the contract was written for the coach who previously held the job.
Both Saban and Miles have a relatively low base salary, with the bulk of their pay coming from performing duties related to news media and public appearances, which some lawyers call personal services clauses. Saban’s contract calls for a “talent fee” of $3.93 million while Miles’s “radio/television/Internet” payment is $2.90 million. In addition, if Saban remains at Alabama, he gets an annual retention bonus of $533,333, which is larger than his base salary, $225,000. Miles’s base salary, $300,000, is also supplemented with an annual guarantee of $550,000.
Certain provisions in their contracts are common, like the requirement that they receive permission from the athletic director to use their own images and the expectation that they will report possible violations of the law or university rules to their superiors. Yet, Saban has at least one unorthodox matter that he must attend to. According to his contract, Saban is expected to “cooperate with the university by preventing the unnecessary spatting of athletic shoes worn” in games. In other words, Crimson Tide players are not allowed to put white tape over their shoes and cover the logo for Nike, which has a contract with the university.
There are also plenty of perks. Saban and his immediate family get two full-size automobiles for business and personal use, and do not have to pay operating expenses or purchase insurance. Miles’s contract calls for a “courtesy vehicle allowance” of $7,200 a year.
Saban has the use of a noncommercial airplane for a maximum of 25 hours per year. Time required for the plane to return home after delivering Saban or his family is not counted toward that time. Saban gets the use of a 15-seat luxury box and 22 luxury box tickets for football games at Bryant-Denny Stadium, 12 additional general-admission season tickets, and free tickets to other Alabama sporting events.
Both coaches receive bonuses if their players meet targeted academic performance levels. Miles can earn up to $200,000 for various academic achievements; Saban can earn up to $100,000 if the football team’s graduation rate is in the top 25 percent of the Southeastern Conference. Both are rewarded more substantially for athletic achievement. If L.S.U. wins the B.C.S. title, Miles’s salary will be adjusted so that it is the highest in the SEC plus $1,000. Saban would receive $400,000 if the Crimson Tide wins the title …
Like many other coaches, Saban and Miles also have corporations and foundations that handle their media appearances and endorsements. Saban’s corporation, Sideline Inc., receives income related to “fees, royalty payments, advance payments or similar compensation” in addition to money from his endorsement deals with Coca-Cola and Ford.
Coaches can use these corporations for sophisticated tax planning that is not available to state employees who are not affiliated with similar organizations. But because a portion of their income is earned as state employees, they remain eligible for state employee benefits such as pensions, retirement savings matches, medical insurance, vacation pay and tuition waivers.
Funneling expenses through such a corporation converts nondeductible personal expenses, to fully deductible business expenses. Loan-outs also can be used to defer income and establish additional retirement savings. In many cases, the corporation can deduct retirement benefits, which are tax-free until the funds are distributed upon retirement. There is also great latitude in designing fringe and retirement benefits since either they or their spouses are the majority shareholder in the corporation.
These corporations often are included in the coaches’ contracts with the university. L.S.U.’s contract with Miles stipulates that he can require the university to contract with another corporation for services that are part of his fee for media appearances. The name of the corporation is not cited in his contract but Miles and his wife, Kathy, have five registered corporations in Louisiana. In this, as in many other aspects of their contracts, Saban and Miles are following an increasingly standard practice. Kansas State’s Bill Snyder has a contract that states the university’s athletic corporation must pay more than $700,000 annually to a corporation he is affiliated with, SSM Inc., to license his image.
One thing that becomes clear is that coaches like Saban and Miles are treated more and more like celebrity entertainers. Saban, after all, had a cameo in “The Blind Side.” (Sandra Bullock’s character said of him, “I find him extremely handsome.”) Miles has almost 60,000 Twitter followers.
- It’s no wonder The New York Times’ Joe Nocera wrote a column last week entitled, “Let’s Start Paying College Athletes“:
The hypocrisy that permeates big-money college sports takes your breath away. College football and men’s basketball have become such huge commercial enterprises that together they generate more than $6 billion in annual revenue, more than the National Basketball Association. A top college coach can make as much or more than a professional coach; Ohio State just agreed to pay Urban Meyer $24 million over six years. Powerful conferences like the S.E.C. and the Pac 12 have signed lucrative TV deals, while the Big 10 and the University of Texas have created their own sports networks. Companies like Coors and Chick-fil-A eagerly toss millions in marketing dollars at college sports. Last year, Turner Broadcasting and CBS signed a 14-year, $10.8 billion deal for the television rights to the N.C.A.A.’s men’s basketball national championship tournament (a k a “March Madness”). And what does the labor force that makes it possible for coaches to earn millions, and causes marketers to spend billions, get? Nothing. The workers are supposed to be content with a scholarship that does not even cover the full cost of attending college. Any student athlete who accepts an unapproved, free hamburger from a coach, or even a fan, is in violation of N.C.A.A. rules.
This glaring, and increasingly untenable, discrepancy between what football and basketball players get and what everyone else in their food chain reaps has led to two things. First, it has bred a deep cynicism among the athletes themselves. Players aren’t stupid. They look around and see jerseys with their names on them being sold in the bookstores. They see 100,000 people in the stands on a Saturday afternoon. During the season, they can end up putting in 50-hour weeks at their sports, and they learn early on not to take any course that might require real effort or interfere with the primary reason they are on campus: to play football or basketball. The N.C.A.A. can piously define them as students first, but the players know better. They know they are making money for the athletic department. The N.C.A.A.’s often-stated contention that it is protecting the players from “excessive commercialism” is ludicrous; the only thing it’s protecting is everyone else’s revenue stream. (The N.C.A.A. itself takes in nearly $800 million a year, mostly from its March Madness TV contracts.) “Athletes in football and basketball feel unfairly treated,” Leigh Steinberg, a prominent sports agent, says. “The dominant attitude among players is that there is no moral or ethical reason not to take money, because the system is ripping them off.”
It’s a system that enables misconduct to flourish. The abuse scandals that have swirled around Penn State football and Syracuse basketball. The revelation that a University of Miami booster — now in prison, convicted of running a Ponzi scheme — provided dozens of Miami football players with money, cars and even prostitutes. The Ohio State merchandise scandal that cost the coach, Jim Tressel, his job. The financial scandal at the Fiesta Bowl that led to the firing of its chief executive and the indictment of another top executive.
Another consequence of this economic discrepancy between the players and everyone else, though, is the increasingly loud calls for reform. Not the kind of reform that Emmert talks about — change that nibbles around the edges, while trying to maintain the illusion that college football and men’s basketball players are merely partaking in an extracurricular activity like theater or the chess club. That illusion was shattered long ago, surely. “The huge TV contracts and excessive commercialization have corrupted intercollegiate athletics,” says Brit Kirwan, the chancellor at the University of Maryland system. “To some extent they have compromised the integrity of the universities.”
The new breed of reformers, whose perspective I share, believes that the only way the major sports schools can achieve any integrity is to end the hypocrisy and recognize that college football and men’s basketball are big businesses. Most of these new reformers love college sports — as do I. They realize that having universities in charge of a major form of American entertainment is far from ideal, but they are also realistic enough to know that scaling back big-time college sports is implausible, given the money at stake. Instead, the best approach is to openly acknowledge their commercialization — and pay the work force. This is, by now, a moral imperative. The historian Taylor Branch, who in October published a lengthy excoriation of the N.C.A.A. in The Atlantic, comparing it to “the plantation,” was only the most recent voice to call for players to be paid. Like most such would-be reformers, however, he didn’t offer a way to go about it.
That’s what I’m setting out to do here. Over the last few months, in consultation with sports economists, antitrust lawyers and reformers, I put together the outlines of what I believe to be a realistic plan to pay those who play football and men’s basketball in college. Although the approach may appear radical at first glance, that’s mainly because we’ve been brainwashed into believing that there’s something fundamentally wrong with rewarding college athletes with cold, hard cash. There isn’t. Paying football and basketball players will not ruin college sports or cause them to become “subcontractors.” Indeed, given the way big-time college sports are going, paying the players may be the only way to save them.
There are five elements to my plan. The first is a modified free-market approach to recruiting college players. Instead of sweet-talking recruits, college coaches will instead offer athletes real contracts, just as professional teams do. One school might think a star halfback is worth $40,000 a year; another might think he’s worth $60,000. When the player chooses a school, money will inevitably be part of the equation. For both coaches and players, sweet-talking will take a back seat to clear-eyed financial calculations.
The second element is a salary cap for every team, along with a minimum annual salary for every scholarship athlete. The salary caps I have in mind are pretty low, all things considered: $3 million for the salaries for the football team, and $650,000 for basketball, with a minimum salary of $25,000 per athlete. I would keep the number of basketball scholarships the same, at 13, while reducing the number of football scholarships from 85 to a more reasonable 60, close to the size of N.F.L. rosters. Thus, each football team would spend $1.5 million on the minimum salaries, and have the rest to attract star players. Basketball teams would use $325,000 on minimum salaries, and have another $325,000 to allocate as they wish among players. Every player who stays in school for four years would also get an additional two-year scholarship, which he could use either to complete his bachelor’s or get a master’s degree. That’s the third element.
The fourth: Each player would have lifetime health insurance. And the fifth: An organization would be created to represent both current and former college athletes. It may well turn out to be that this body takes on the form of a players’ union, since a salary cap is illegal under antitrust law unless it is part of a collective-bargaining agreement. (That’s why most professional sports leagues embrace players’ unions.) This organization — let’s call it the College Players Association — would manage the health insurance, negotiate with the N.C.A.A. to set the salary caps and salary minimums, distribute royalties and serve as an all-around counterweight to the N.C.A.A.
There have been other pay-the-player schemes put forward recently, in particular a Sports Illustrated proposal that would pay every athlete on campus a small stipend, including lacrosse players, golfers and volleyball players. But I think it’s better to acknowledge forthrightly that those who play football and men’s basketball are different from other college athletes — and that the players in those two revenue sports should be treated accordingly. Baseball and hockey players have a choice that football and basketball players don’t have: they can go pro as soon as they leave high school, thanks to the existence of minor leagues. And sports like wrestling and rowing don’t offer the possibility of a pro career — wrestlers and rowers are true amateurs. As James Duderstadt, the former president of the University of Michigan, told me: “Most sports can be justified as part of what a university does. But big-time football and men’s basketball are clearly commercial entertainment and have been pulled away from the fundamental purpose of a university.” The denial of that central fact is the primary reason those sports are so troubled today. Paying the players will cause the vast majority of the scandals to go away. In economic terms, the players’ incentives will be realigned.
Drug-sniffing dogs have day in Supreme Court
The Associated Press
US Supreme Court asked to ponder drug dog’s sniff
Franky the drug dog’s supersensitive nose is at the heart of a question being put to the U.S. Supreme Court: Does a police dog’s sniff outside a house give officers the right to get a search warrant for illegal drugs, or is the sniff an unconstitutional search?
Florida’s highest state court has said Franky’s ability to detect marijuana growing inside a Miami-area house from outside a closed front door crossed the constitutional line. The state’s attorney general wants the Supreme Court to reverse that ruling.
The justices could decide this month whether to take the case, the latest dispute about whether the use of dogs to find drugs, explosives and other illegal or dangerous substances violates the Fourth Amendment protection against illegal search and seizure.
Many court watchers expect the justices will take up the case.
“The Florida Supreme Court adopted a very broad reading of the Fourth Amendment that is different from that applied by other courts. It’s an interpretation that a majority of the U.S. Supreme Court will question,” said Tom Goldstein, who publishes the widely read SCOTUSblog website and teaches at the Harvard and Stanford law schools.
The case, Florida v. Jardines, is being closely monitored by law enforcement agencies nationwide, which depend on dogs for a wide range of law enforcement duties.
“Dogs can be a police officer’s best friend because they detect everything from marijuana or meth labs to explosives,” said Kendall Coffey, a former U.S. attorney in Miami now in private practice.
The 8-year-old Franky retired in June after a seven-year career with the Miami-Dade Police Department. He’s responsible for the seizure of more than 2.5 tons of marijuana and $4.9 million in drug-contaminated money. And because he’s an amiable chocolate Labrador, he was used extensively in airports, sports arenas and other places where people congregate.
“He’s a friendly, happy dog,” said his former handler, Detective Douglas Bartelt, who kept Franky after he retired. “People don’t have fear because of his appearance.”
The U.S. Supreme Court has approved drug dog sniffs in several other major cases. Two of those involved dogs that detected drugs during routine traffic stops. In another, a dog found drugs in airport luggage. A fourth involved a drug-laden package in transit.
The Florida case is different because it involves a private residence. The high court has repeatedly emphasized that a home is entitled to greater privacy than cars on the road or a suitcase in an airport. In another major ruling, the justices decided in 2001 that police could not use thermal imaging technology to detect heat from marijuana grow operations from outside a home because the equipment could also detect lawful activity.
“We have said that the Fourth Amendment draws a firm line at the entrance to the house,” the court ruled in that case, known as Kyllo v. United States. The justices added that the thermal devices could detect such intimate details as “at what hour each night the lady of the house takes her daily sauna and bath.”
It’s well-settled that law enforcement officials can walk up to a home and knock on the front door, in hopes that someone will open up and talk. But if a person inside refuses, the officers must get a search warrant — and for that they need evidence of a crime.
On the morning of Dec. 5, 2006, Miami-Dade police detectives and U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agents set up surveillance outside a house south of the city after getting an anonymous tip that it might contain a marijuana grow operation. Bartelt arrived with Franky. The dog quickly detected the odor of pot at the base of the front door and sat down as he was trained to do.
That sniff was used to get a search warrant from a judge. The house was searched and its lone occupant, Joelis Jardines, was arrested trying to escape out the back door. Officers pulled 179 live marijuana plants from the house, with an estimated street value of more than $700,000.
Jardines, now 39, was charged with marijuana trafficking and grand theft for stealing electricity needed to run the highly sophisticated operation. He pleaded not guilty and his attorney challenged the search, claiming Franky’s sniff outside the front door was an unconstitutional law enforcement intrusion into the home.
The trial judge agreed and threw out the evidence seized in the search, but that was reversed by an intermediate appeals court. In April a divided Florida Supreme Court sided with the original judge.
Oil, gas drilling wastewater well ‘almost certainly’ behind Ohio quakes
The Associated Press
Expert: Wastewater well for oil and gas drillers triggered minor earthquakes in Ohio
A northeast Ohio well used to dispose of wastewater from oil and gas drilling almost certainly caused a series of 11 minor quakes in the Youngstown area since last spring, a seismologist investigating the quakes said Monday.
Research is continuing on the now-shuttered injection well at Youngstown and seismic activity, but it might take a year for the wastewater-related rumblings in the earth to dissipate, said John Armbruster of Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory in Palisades, N.Y.
Brine wastewater dumped in wells comes from drilling operations, including the so-called fracking process to extract gas from underground shale that has been a source of concern among environmental groups and some property owners. Injection wells have also been suspected in quakes in Ashtabula in far northeast Ohio, and in Arkansas, Colorado, and Oklahoma, Armbruster said.
Thousands of gallons of brine were injected daily into the Youngstown well that opened in 2010 until its owner, Northstar Disposal Services LLC, agreed Friday to stop injecting the waste into the earth as a precaution while authorities assessed any potential links to the quakes.
After the latest and largest quake Saturday at 4.0 magnitude, state officials announced their beliefs that injecting wastewater near a fault line had created enough pressure to cause seismic activity. They said four inactive wells within a five-mile radius of the Youngstown well would remain closed. But they also stressed that injection wells are different from drilling wells that employ fracking.
Armbruster said Monday he expects more quakes will occur despite the shutdown of the Youngstown well.
“The earthquakes will trickle on as a kind of a cascading process once you’ve caused them to occur,” he said. “This one year of pumping is a pulse that has been pushed into the ground, and it’s going to be spreading out for at least a year.”
The quakes began last March with the most recent on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve each occurring within 100 meters of the injection well. The Saturday quake in McDonald, outside of Youngstown, caused no serious injuries or property damage.
- Mike Klink of Auburn, Indiana, who works for the company building the controversial Canada-US oilseeds pipeline project and is seeking whistleblower protection from the US Department of Labor gets his chance in his own Lincoln (Nebraska) Journal Star story, “Keystone XL pipeline not safe“:
There has been a lot of talk about the safety of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline.
I am not an environmentalist, but as a civil engineer and an inspector for TransCanada during the construction of the first Keystone pipeline, I’ve had an uncomfortable front-row seat to the disaster that Keystone XL could bring about all along its pathway.
Despite its boosters’ advertising, this project is not about jobs or energy security. It is about money. And whenever my former employer Bechtel, working on behalf of TransCanada, had to choose between safety and saving money, they chose to save money.
As an inspector, my job was to monitor the construction of the first Keystone pipeline. I oversaw construction at the pump stations that have been such a problem on that line, which has already spilled more than a dozen times. I am coming forward because my kids encouraged me to tell the truth about what was done and covered up.
When I last raised concerns about corners being cut, I lost my job — but people along the Keystone XL pathway have a lot more to lose if this project moves forward with the same shoddy work.
What did I see? Cheap foreign steel that cracked when workers tried to weld it, foundations for pump stations that you would never consider using in your own home, fudged safety tests, Bechtel staffers explaining away leaks during pressure tests as “not too bad,” shortcuts on the steel and rebar that are essential for safe pipeline operation and siting of facilities on completely inappropriate spots like wetlands.
I shared these concerns with my bosses, who communicated them to the bigwigs at TransCanada, but nothing changed. TransCanada didn’t appear to care. That is why I was not surprised to hear about the big spill in Ludden, N.D., where a 60-foot plume of crude spewed tens of thousands of gallons of toxic tar sands oil and fouled neighboring fields.
TransCanada says that the performance has been OK. Fourteen spills is not so bad. And that the pump stations don’t really count. That is all bunk. This thing shouldn’t be leaking like a sieve in its first year — what do you think happens decades from now after moving billions of barrels of the most corrosive oil on the planet?
Let’s be clear — I am an engineer; I am not telling you we shouldn’t build pipelines. We just should not build this one.”
- Speaking of gas pipeline explosions, Lexington, Kentucky’s WKYT-TV reports on, “Fire in the sky: Crews respond to pipeline explosion“:
As of 10:00 p.m. Monday, The fire from a gas pipeline explosion has finally started to die down.
The explosion happened Monday evening at a horse farm in the 8000 block of Winchester Road in northern Estill county.
Officials tell NEWSFIRST at the fire’s peak, flames shot between 1,000 and 1,500 feet into the air. Callers to the NEWSFIRST newsroom reported seeing the glow as far away as Lexington, Cynthiana, Fleming county and Mount Olivet.
The Red Cross say 30 homes were evacuated from the blast area. The Red Cross has opened a shelter at Estill Springs Middle School. Anyone in need of a place to stay should proceed to the school before 11:00 p.m. They can also call the Bluegrass Chapter of the American Red Cross at 859-253-1331.
Officials say no one was hurt in the explosion. They also say no structures were ever threatened by the fire. No property damage has been reported.
Officials with Columbia Gas are on the scene. There’s no word, right now, on what caused the explosion.
Climate change sinks Alaskan communities
‘Venice of Northwest Alaska’ sinking because of climate change
The permafrost has sunk so much in one Northwest Alaska village that bridges are shifting, outdoor stairways hang over the ground and sagging water pipes are prone to break and freeze.
Those are a few of the ways climate change is affecting life in the Inupiat village of Selawik, according to the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium’s Center for Climate and Health.
“You essentially have the Venice of Northwest Alaska, where the whole community is gradually sinking and people are struggling with how they’ll possibly fix all this,” said Michael Brubaker, with the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium.
Brubaker runs the center, which is studying the effects of climate change on facilities and people in Northwest Alaska. The consortium plans to turn its attention next to Bristol Bay villages in Southwest Alaska.
The effects of a changing climate are widespread in Selawik, some 70 miles southeast of Kotzebue. The village has 180 homes and it seems each has suffered one problem or another related to unstable tundra, said Carrie Skin, the city bookkeeper.
Windows are cracking. Doors are jamming. Ceilings are breaking loose from joists.
Stand a distance from her house and you’ll notice it’s not level. One side “lops toward the Selawik River,” which is five feet away and coming closer as it erodes, she said.
Skin signed up with the tribal housing department to have her house leveled, but that won’t happen any time soon. The list for leveling work is long and tribal funds are limited.
“You have to be very lucky to be the chosen one,” she said.
At her mother’s house elsewhere in the village, the earth has shrunk away. Steps to the front door had to be extended in order to reach the ground, Skin said.
Selawik isn’t alone in its efforts to grapple with climate change. In numerous trips to five Northwest Alaska communities over the last year and a half, Brubaker reports finding warmer temperatures are changing life in the Arctic, and often not for the better.
Snowmachiners are increasingly at risk of plunging through ice. Chunks of shoreline are crashing away. Electric poles are leaning. Boardwalks are breaking. And water plants are struggling with algae blooms and increased sediment from erosion, raising questions about how villages will pay for such problems.
The reports released by the consortium are unique because of Alaska’s position on the leading edge of climate change, and the impacts to the state’s most remote communities are rarely studied.
“Everywhere we go, we’re identifying big impacts to infrastructure, quite often in places that haven’t been talked about before,” Brubaker said.
So far, the consortium has published extensive findings on four villages. Some brief highlights from each include:
In Point Hope, underground ice cellars carved out of the permafrost are melting and filling with water. Meat has spoiled as a result, leading to more stomach infections from botulism, salmonella, and E. coli.
In Kivalina, erosion at a leach field in 2004 contributed to frozen water pipes at the washateria, the town water source. Nearly the entire village lacks running water, so residents were forced to melt ice to take sponge baths and wash hands through the winter. Health aides reported more respiratory and skin diseases during the shut-down.
In Noatak, dwindling water in the river has for years prevented barge deliveries. Freight must be flown in, boosting the price of groceries and other products, including fuel, which cost around $9 a gallon this spring.
In Kiana, the riverbanks are rapidly eroding. Four feet vanished last year. “At the current rate, houses and infrastructure located on the bluffs will be vulnerable to damage and landslide over the next decade,” that community report notes.
- While we can add ‘infrastructure damage’ to the long list of climate change’s horrible side effects, there may be hope – and we always stress may when we mention hope and global warming, especially when it comes to a new technological fix – as reported in Scientific American’s article, “Floating Wind Turbines Set to Conquer Deep Ocean.” As a cynical Luddite, this must be better than overfishing or drilling the ocean, right?:
In the race for bigger offshore wind turbines, what’s under the water can be just as much trouble as what’s above.
Turbine makers are building giant machines that must withstand powerful storms in the inhospitable waters of the North Sea — but they will also need to spend money on sturdy foundations, specialized installations and ships that can nail the turbines to the ocean floor at depths of 115 feet.
But what if such turbines with rotors that sweep three football fields could just be towed out to sea and simply tethered to the bottom of the ocean at virtually any depth, kept steady amid the waves by a flotation device? As far-fetched as it may sound, giant floating wind turbines will carve their own niche in the offshore wind sector if they can provide access to locations with excellent wind conditions at cheaper prices, industry experts say.
Last month, the first offshore turbine ever to be installed without using heavy lift vessels gently floated away on a platform built at a shipyard in Portugal and was towed by a boat 217 miles to the coast of Aguçadoura for a year-long test. It’s a regular 2-megawatt turbine made by Denmark’s Vestas bolted on one of three columns of a triangular floating platform made by Seattle-based Principle Power.
“We are making a similar leap towards new energy resources as the oil and gas industry did in the 1970s when it began using floating structures,” said Alla Weinstein, CEO of Principle Power.
The floating technology allows turbines to be located in previously inaccessible locations where water depth exceeds 50 meters and wind resources are superior. Once in place, the platform is moored with four lines, two of which are connected to the column stabilizing the turbine, thus increasing stability and reducing motion, the manufacturer said. As the wind shifts direction and changes the loads on the turbine and foundation, pumps will shift ballast water between foundation chambers. The prototype, dubbed WindFloat, cost $30 million. It is now undergoing testing before completing the startup procedure. After early trials, it will gradually increase its power production to full capacity.
“The deep ocean is the next big energy frontier,” said Antonio Vidigal, CEO of EDP Inovação, which together with Principle Power, Vestas and other partners owns the joint venture WindPlus, which developed the project. “Deep offshore wind technology will allow us to harness stronger and more stable winds and in the medium term deliver sustainable energy into our electrical system.”
Santorum won’t ‘make blacks lives better by giving them’ other’s money
Santorum targets blacks in entitlement reform
At a campaign stop in Sioux City, Iowa on Sunday, Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum singled out blacks as being recipients of assistance through federal benefit programs, telling a mostly-white audience he doesn’t want to “make black people’s lives better by giving them somebody else’s money.”
Answering a question about foreign influence on the U.S. economy, the former Pennsylvania senator went on to discuss the American entitlement system – which he argued is being used to politically exploit its beneficiaries.
“It just keeps expanding – I was in Indianola a few months ago and I was talking to someone who works in the department of public welfare here, and she told me that the state of Iowa is going to get fined if they don’t sign up more people under the Medicaid program,” Santorum said. “They’re just pushing harder and harder to get more and more of you dependent upon them so they can get your vote. That’s what the bottom line is.”
He added: “I don’t want to make black people’s lives better by giving them somebody else’s money; I want to give them the opportunity to go out and earn the money.”
“Right,” responded one audience member, as another woman can be seen nodding.
“And provide for themselves and their families,” Santorum added, to applause. “The best way to do that is to get the manufacturing sector of the economy rolling again.”
It is unclear why Santorum pinpointed blacks specifically as recipients of federal aid. The original questioner asked “how do we get off this crazy train? We’ve got so much foreign influence in this country now,” adding “where do we go from here?”
When asked about the comments in an interview with “CBS Evening News” anchor Scott Pelley, Santorum said he wasn’t aware of the context of his remark, but mentioned that he had recently watched the movie “Waiting for Superman,” which analyzes the American public education system through the stories of several students and their families. (The students and their families portrayed in the movie represent several races.)
“I’ve seen that quote, I haven’t seen the context in which that was made,” Santorum told Pelley, of the Sunday remarks. “Yesterday I talked for example about a movie called, um, what was it? ‘Waiting for Superman,’ which was about black children and so I don’t know whether it was in response and I was talking about that.”
States say it’s time to rethink medical marijuana
Medical marijuana advocates are hoping state governments can succeed where their efforts have failed by asking federal authorities to reclassify pot as a drug with medical use.
Shortly before Christmas, Colorado became the fourth state to ask the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration to reclassify marijuana as a narcotic in the same league as heavyweight painkillers including oxycodone. The governors of Washington and Rhode Island filed a formal petition with the agency in November, and Vermont signed onto that request shortly afterward.
All four are among the sixteen states and the District of Columbia that have laws on the books that allow the medical use of marijuana, even though the drug remains illegal under federal law. Meanwhile, federal authorities have asserted their power by raiding dispensaries in states including California and Washington.
Supporters say the public is on their side, and the state requests show the feds are increasingly isolated on the issue. But they acknowledge it’s still an uphill battle.
“I don’t think that we’re going to see to much change in Washington’s position on this until public opinion and state-level support reaches a little bit higher a tipping point,” said Morgan Fox, a spokesman for the D.C.-based Marijuana Policy Project.
The DEA said it would “reply accordingly,” but noted that similar petitions had been rejected before. DEA spokeswoman Barbara Carreno told CNN that the agency gives “great respect” to state governments, but their requests would get “the same attention as a petition from a medical group or anything else.”
Lower classes more attuned to poverty’s signs than the rich
UC Berkeley News Center
Lower classes quicker to show compassion in the face of suffering
Emotional differences between the rich and poor, as depicted in such Charles Dickens classics as “A Christmas Carol” and “A Tale of Two Cities,” may have a scientific basis. Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, have found that people in the lower socio-economic classes are more physiologically attuned to suffering, and quicker to express compassion than their more affluent counterparts.
By comparison, the UC Berkeley study found that individuals in the upper middle and upper classes were less able to detect and respond to the distress signals of others. Overall, the results indicate that socio-economic status correlates with the level of empathy and compassion that people show in the face of emotionally charged situations.
“It’s not that the upper classes are coldhearted,” said UC Berkeley social psychologist Jennifer Stellar, lead author of the study published online on Dec. 12 in the journal, Emotion. “They may just not be as adept at recognizing the cues and signals of suffering because they haven’t had to deal with as many obstacles in their lives.”
Stellar and her colleagues’ findings challenge previous studies that have characterized lower-class people as being more prone to anxiety and hostility in the face of adversity.
“These latest results indicate that there’s a culture of compassion and cooperation among lower-class individuals that may be born out of threats to their wellbeing,” Stellar said.
It has not escaped the researchers’ attention that the findings come at a time of rising class tension, expressed in the Occupy Wall Street Movement. Rather than widen the class divide, Stellar said she would like to see the findings promote understanding of different class cultures. For example, the findings suggest that people from lower socio-economic backgrounds may thrive better in cooperative settings than their upper-class counterparts.
“Upper-class individuals appear to be more self-focused, they’ve grown up with more freedom and autonomy,” she said. “They may do better in an individualist, competitive environment.”
Abbas threatens Israel over potential of failure in upcoming peace talks
Barak Ravid and The Associated Press
Abbas: Israel will face ‘hard measures’ if attempt to revive peace talks fails
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas threatened Tuesday to take “new measures” against Israel (if) attempts to renew Mideast peace talks fail, as chief Israeli and Palestinian negotiators met in Amman.
Abbas’ comments came a day after Haaretz reported that Palestinians were preparing a diplomatic campaign that aims to put Israel under “a real international siege,” and just before PA negotiator Saeb Erekat and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s envoy Yitzhak Molcho met in Jordan.
The measures could include more action at the UN. Mahmoud Abbas issued the warning shortly before the chief Israeli and Palestinian negotiators were to meet in Amman. The goal of their meeting, the first between the sides in more than a year, is to find an agenda for renewed peace talks.
The Palestinians say Israel must freeze settlement construction and agree to return to its pre-1967 lines for peace talks to resume. The Palestinians want to establish an independent state in the West Bank, east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip – areas that were captured in the 1967 Mideast war.
Mr. Abbas said that if Israel accepts the Palestinian conditions, “we will go to negotiations.” He said the Palestinians have set a Jan. 26 deadline for talks to resume. “After that date, we will take new measures. These measures might be hard,” he said.
Mr. Abbas said no decision has been made yet. But Palestinian officials have said they are considering resuming their push for UN membership as well as ways to isolate Israel at the United Nations, such as a new resolution condemning Israeli settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem.
Peace talks broke down in September 2010 after an Israeli slowdown on settlement construction expired. The Palestinians say there is no point in negotiating if Israel continues to settle captured lands. Some 500,000 Israelis now live in the West Bank and east Jerusalem.
Israel says peace talks should begin immediately without any preconditions. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu already has ruled out a return to the 1967 lines, saying they would be indefensible.
Tuesday’s meeting is taking place under the auspices of the Quartet of Mideast peace makers. The group, which includes the U.S., European Union, Russia and the United Nations, has been trying to restart peace talks for months, with the goal of brokering a peace deal by the end of the year.