"GasLand" is the most important and politically incendiary documentary we've seen since "Sicko". Kudos to HBO for showing this Sundance award winning film; do whatever you can to make sure you (and everyone you know) see it. (You'll never quite get over the shots of officials insisting there's nothing harmful in the drinking water, juxtaposed with a scene of fire coming out of someone's tap water. And of course, officials consistently decline to sample the water they keep insisting is "safe".)
The film focuses on damage to water supplies done by the high-powered natural gas mining process known as "fracking," and the shameless efforts by industry and politicians to cover it up. It's all too resonant with what just happened in the Gulf. (The energy industry has already issued a point by point rebuttal. Fox says he's putting together his own response.)
This story is of special interest to people like me who live in the NY-NJ-PA watershed that supplies clean drinking water to nine million people, because industry is now drilling in the Marcellus Shale in northern PA, thought to be the site of massive gas deposits.
Near the end of the film, Josh Fox interviews John Hanger, PA's secretary of environmental protection, who says look, you're on the other side of a camera, you're not the person who has to sit here and make these hard decisions. And he's right -- we as a nation have some hard choices to make about how we get our energy, and why. What price are we willing to pay?
(In a jarring epilogue, Fox notes that shortly after they spoke, the state's Department of Environmental Protection announced massive layoffs.)
Narrating a first-person account, Fox relates how a natural gas company made him a lease offer for $100,000 from a natural gas company to explore on his land, which includes the house his parents built in Pennsylvania's Delaware River Basin abutting upstate New York.Fox begins to do his own research on drilling, and leaves countless unreturned messages with natural gas drillers like Halliburton.
Congress' 2005 Energy Policy Act, crafted by former vice president (and ex-Halliburton exec) Dick Cheney, exempts the hydraulic fracturing drilling process used by natural gas companies (known as "fracking") from long-held environmental regulations such as the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts. Freed from customary laws, natural gas companies have drilled like wildcatters in 34 states where huge shale fields contain gas deposits.
Once Fox learns that his beloved Delaware River watershed is being targeted by drillers as part of the massive Marcellus Shale field, he goes on the road to track down residents living near drilling sites. This is seat-of-pants investigating that yields astonishing and disturbing findings, not least of which is how the residents can customarily light a flame near their tap water outlet and set the polluted water on fire. As Fox ventures west, to Colorado, Wyoming and Texas, states riddled with natural gas drill sites, he documents horror story after horror story.
The primary cause is the cornucopia of toxic chemicals, blended with water, which must be used in fracking. Infrared-camera footage records venting of polluting gases coming off drill rigs, crushing the myth that natural gas is "clean" and a greenhouse solution. In vivid animation and graphics, Fox illustrates how the continent-wide explosion of fracking projects threatens watersheds and river basins, the source of drinking water.
For all of its engaging information, the film itself is a piece of beautiful cinema, rough-hewn and poetic, often musical in its rhythms and about as far from the "professional" doc that's the stock-and-trade of Sundance, where "GasLand" is vying in the U.S. competish. The marriage of sound and image (Fox joins Matthew Sanchez on lensing, and Brian Scibinico on sound) veers between nightmarish moods and lyrical reveries, even while the camera peers into the faces of government and corporate officials.
A combo of fest and grassroots exhibition, with viral networking, is part of the pic's goal to push for new federal controls on fracking (now being considered in Congress). But if a film can ever enact social change, which is rare, the potency of "GasLand" suggests that this may be that film.
The White House has published President Obama's proposal for a House-Senate compromise on health care reform. You can download the official summary here. More material is available at the White House website.
To be clear, Obama is not introducing an entirely new health care plan or even a mostly new health care plan. In fact, strictly speaking, he's not introducing a health care plan at all. He is, instead, proposing a set of changes to the bill that the Senate passed in December. If both chambers pass these changes--and if the House passes the Senate bill--health care reform will become law.
The Benefits Tax: By far, the biggest substantive divide between the House and Senate bill was on financing, since the Senate bill placed a tax on benefits and the House bill did not. In January, congressional leadership had agreed with the White House to modify the Senate tax, so that it would have a higher threshold and so that collective bargaining plans had a few extra years of exemption, on the theory that unions needed more time to adjust their contracts. But critics attacked that deal (not unreasonably) as a special interest giveaway. So now the White House is proposing simply to delay implementation for everybody, rather than union plans alone. This means collecting less revenue in the first decade. But it doesn't mean sacrificing the tax's projected ability to control costs, which is what economists, including the ones who work at the Congressional Budget Office, care about.
Affordability: The House bill offered more assistance to low-income people buying coverage through the insurance exchanges. Obama is proposing to improve the Senate's financial assistance, so that it more closely approximates the House's numbers.
The Donut Hole: Relative to the Senate bill, the House bill offered more prescription drug relief for seniors, filling in more of the "donut hole" in Medicare Part D coverage. Obama would like the final bill to do the same as the House bill.
Medicare Advantage Plans: The Medicare program famously pays private insurers serving beneficiaries too much money, at least in eyes of most experts. The Senate bill sought to reduce those payments, but the House bill sought to reduce them more. Obama would move the number closer to the House's.
Consumer Protections: In general, the House bill applied consumer protections to all insurance plans, while the Senate bill left many of them exempt. Obama would like the final reform bill to use the House model.
WASHINGTON — On a mild evening last September, Citigroup lobbyists mingled with South Carolina Rep. James Clyburn at a rooftop reception — complete with miniature putting greens — as the company hosted a party to honor the third most powerful Democrat in the House and raise money for one of his favorite golf charities.
Health insurers and hospitals, meanwhile, are donating millions to help build an institute in Boston to celebrate the career of Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., who is attempting to overhaul the nation's health care system.
Despite a ban on gifts to lawmakers and limits on campaign contributions, lobbyists and groups that employ them can spend unlimited money to honor members of Congress or donate to non-profits connected to them or their relatives. The public — until now — had little insight into the scope of this largely hidden world of special-interest influence.
Under ethics rules passed in 2007, lobbyists for the first time last year had to report any payment made for an event or to a group connected to a lawmaker and other top federal officials.
USA TODAY undertook the first comprehensive analysis of the lobbying reports and found 2,759 payments, totaling $35.8 million, were made in 2008. The money went to honor 534 current and former lawmakers, almost 250 other federal officials and more than 100 groups, many of which count lawmakers among their members.
The total cost is roughly equivalent to what the U.S. government spends to operate Yellowstone National Park each year.
Most of the money — about $28 million — went to non-profit groups, some with direct ties to members of Congress. In two cases, USA TODAY found, the donations to non-profits associated with a member of Congress came in response to a personal appeal for funds from the lawmaker.
"It's another example of the many pockets of a politician's coat," says Ellen Miller of the Sunlight Foundation, a watchdog group. The spending amounts to an "end-run" around campaign-finance laws "that are designed to limit the appearance of undue influence," she says.
The money came from companies, trade associations and labor groups that lobby Congress and the government on a range of issues, from seeking a share of last year's $700 billion financial bailout package to trying to shape the debate on climate change.
The donations cover various activities — from a golf tournament that raises money for a lawmaker's non-profit to gifts to the alma mater of a powerful House committee chairman.
"You can still have a gala or something or the other for a charity and earn some favor with members of Congress, which is what the gift ban was put in place to avoid," says Dan Danner, CEO of the National Federation of Independent Business and a veteran Washington lobbyist.
Addressing California's 14 billion dollar deficit, Ahnold is a one-trick nightmare.
For everyone living in CA like myself, Governor Schwarzenegger's State of the State earlier this year was reprehensible. You can see it here.
We now have no way out except to face our budget demons. It does not raise taxes, it cuts the increase in spending and it cuts that spending across the board. As governor, I of course see first hand that the consequences of cuts are not just dollars but people. I recently brought leaders and advocates of various communities into my office to tell them about what we face financially. I had to look them in their eyes and tell them. I mean talking about fiscal responsibility sounds so cold when you have a representative for AIDS patients or poor children or the elderly sitting across from you. It's one of the worst things about being governor---yet, fiscal responsibility like compassion is a virtue because it allows the necessary programs in the first place.
Steve Lopez of the LA Times wrote a great piece about the Governor and said that we're basically in the same situation that California was in when the Davis recall was instituted.
Only a year ago, Gov. Schwarzenegger was telling us we were in good shape financially, with no need for a rainy day fund. Now he says the wolf is at the door. He's planning to lock the gates at 48 California state parks and beaches. And give get-out-of-jail-free cards to tens of thousands of prisoners statewide. And slash school budgets.
These and many other draconian horrors have been proposed by the governor who rose to power on three main recall promises: No more gaping budget holes. No more reckless borrowing. No more out-of-control fundraising and caving in to special interests. Is it time for Total Recall: The Sequel?
Scott Horton: The Bush Administration's Neoconservative team met their match for confidence artistry in a military man named Pervez Musharraf.
Economist's View: Does it make sense, in the current political and economic environment, for Democrats to lump unions in with corporate groups as examples of the special interests we need to stand up to?
So I'm reading Jamison Foser's usual excellent column at Media Matters discussing why John Edwards' $400 haircut is always in the news, and I come upon this really interesting nugget. According to the Providence Journal's Tom Mooney, apparently, NBC Pentagon correspondent Jim Miklaszewski was paid $30,000 to give a speech for the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce, a speech in which he bashed Edwards for the haircut incident. Let's leave aside Miklaszewski's Bushnik 'the enemy is patient and America has a short attention span' wingnut rhetoric, and focus on a very specific practice going on here known in the industry as 'buckraking'.
Buckraking is the practice whereby a journalist is paid to speak to a business or right-wing group for large sums of money, and buckraking is a serious offense (it's also apparently against NBC's corporate policy). [..]
Hullabaloo: The NRA is the most powerful special interest in America and nobody is allowed to mess with their agenda. Nobody.
Gristmill: Under the Bush administration, government action and funding has all but stopped the push to clean up America's most toxic sites, posing health and environmental threats all over the country
Discourse.net: A solid majority wants congress to send Bush another bill with timetables
The Brad Blog: The Kansas City Star whitewashed the brilliant McClatchy news story on Missouri as ground zero for the GOP 'voter fraud' hoax. Turns out the paper's corporate legal representatives are at the epicenter of the entire matter.
Freelance writer Michael Graham emails (I shortened it) and explains why Jim Hightower's piece is required reading:
"I have a special interest in this subject matter because, as some of you know, back in the late sixties I was a military "special agent" of the type to which Mr. Hightower refers. I did this work, in plainclothes. Our target was the anti-Vietnam protest movement--For one thing, I learned how these people think and how they operate -- and the spying technology now is 40 years beyond anything we could have dreamed up.
You really should read up on CIFA. It is more insidious even than the NSA eavesdropping. It's the operational side of counterintelligence. (The very term "counterintelligence" now has a sinister meaning; when I got into it, it was about detecting and catching Soviet spies, a perfectly honorable undertaking. Now it has come to mean dirty tricks aimed at political enemies. Watergate was a counterintelligence operation.)"
"Three years ago, the Pentagon set up a new, ultrasecret agency called CIFA, for Counterintelligence Field Activity. Its initial task was to detect terrorist plots against military installations in the United States, but two years ago, a directive from the Pentagon's top ranks ordered CIFA to broaden its scope by creating and maintaining "a domestic law enforcement database." The agency's motto became "Counterintelligence to the Edge."...read on"
"Weldon also suggested Sestak should have sent his daughter to a hospital in Philadelphia or Delaware, rather than the Washington hospital. Sestak said that as soon as doctors give his daughter the all-clear, hell buy in Pennsylvania."
"I believe these medical choices should be left in the hands of parents and family members throughout the country and not in the hands of beauracrats, special interests and especially not in the hands of politicians like Curt Weldon...read on"