Picture this: You’re at the airport, about to board your flight. As you wait by the gate a pair of airline pilots chat nearby. They are your crew.
“I’m so exhausted,” says one, sipping a large coffee. “This’ll put me at 15 duty hours today. And I haven’t had a day off in a month – at least 12 hours every single day for the last 30 days. The stress is just killing me.”
“I know,” replies the other, yawning widely. “I haven’t really seen my family in a month. When I was driving home last night I could barely keep my eyes open. I hope I can do better on the flight tonight.”
Would you get on the plane? Of course not. The public wouldn’t buy tickets under these circumstances, which is why we have rigorously enforced laws against airlines overworking pilots.
But what if your job depended on getting on that plane? What if your job depended on boarding that plane not just once, but every day – would you get on it?
That’s the choice workers whose products we consume every day have been forced to make. They are refinery workers, subjected to Big Oil’s penchant for working people beyond exhaustion in the name of profits. The jobs inside refineries and cockpits, though of course technically dissimilar, share a common intolerance for error. But we have strict laws governing the safety of airline pilots, while the inhumane overwork of refinery workers proceeds largely within the shadows of our economy, outside of our view and beyond our daily consciences.
That may be changing, however.
Currently more than 6,000 oil refinery workers and their families are walking picket lines, the first national oil walkout since 1980. Workplace safety is the main issue – for the workers and their families, as well as for communities surrounding refineries. In the coming weeks the number of strikers could swell.
In exposing unsafe working conditions to the public, the refinery workers are raising not only contract demands, but also a deeper challenge about the immorality of a profit-driven production system that simply monetizes the loss of human life on corporate spreadsheets. Spiritual progressives would do well to join this growing call, lifting up the values of humanity, justice, and community, and contrasting them with the ethos of destructive capitalism. We are all consumers of the hydrocarbons that these plants produce, and will be for the foreseeable future. We may not know the refinery workers personally, but we have a vested interest in the outcome of this battle. What’s at stake is not just whether refinery workers will have safe working conditions, but whether we will let rampant capitalism trample the human spirit for caring and community.A Risky Staffing Plan
“We boil oil for a living,” explains Ryan Anderson, a striking Tesoro maintenance operator in Anacortes, Washington. Anderson and his colleagues are responsible for piping crude oil into the refinery and heating it to several hundred degrees. They channel the oil into a distillation column, where the various components separate out. Chemicals are added to the distinct products. They may heat the brew further, compress and process it into gasoline, jet fuel, diesel, butane, and other hydrocarbons that we use every day without a second thought. Besides the danger of manipulating super-heated oil, workers have to continually worry about caustics and poisonous byproducts like benzene and sulphuric acid, which can burn, give them cancer, or just kill them outright.
Refinery workers typically are assigned 12-hour shifts, sometimes switching from day to night shift and then back to day shift with only a brief interlude, according to Erin McNutt, an operator at the Philips Ferndale plant, located 30 miles north of Anacortes. Staff cutbacks exacerbate stress. Schedules are tight, with no accommodation for people being out sick or on vacation, McNutt says.
McNutt says she’s worked as much as 45 days in a row. Her colleague, Gabriel Westergreen, has done up to 62 consecutively. At the Ferndale plant, they draw samples of oil to test for hydrogen sulphide levels. Too much of the stuff can kill a person. Some of the pipes they work around have crumbling asbestos insulation. Sometimes the sampling station valves don’t work properly.
At the Tesoro plant in Anacortes, Anderson is responsible for maintaining the refinery’s motors, electrical wiring, safety systems, and pressure and flow transmitters. As with other jobs at the refinery, there’s no margin for error. Anderson says that newly enacted Tesoro fatigue policies have eased the brutal schedule: Now, when doing facility maintenance work, they get a single day off after 13 consecutive days of 12-hour shifts. But even then, management can file an “exception report” and cancel the day off.
“More and more, we use less and less people to do the same amount of work we did in the past,” says Anderson. “It leads to multiple overtime shifts, fatigue at home, stressed marriages, stressed family life, even stress leaving the job. If you’ve worked a 14-hour shift six days in a row, that doesn’t make you a safe driver on the road,” let alone perform safely at work. Anderson recognizes that overtime won’t ever disappear from refinery work, “but the amounts of it are becoming obscene.”
To an outsider, it seems reckless to operate in this matter. Refinery employee costs account for only three cents a gallon on the pump price, according to Westergreen. But there is constant management pressure to trim costs. Hiring and training additional workers costs more than paying overtime to existing staff. Backfilling sick or vacationing workers also costs money. So management does what is known in the corporate world as “lean staffing.”
And then there are company incentives. Solomon Associates provides reports to energy firms like Tesoro, among other things, measuring operating costs at competing refineries and analyzing “workforce optimization.” Tesoro refinery managers compete against other refineries to get lower cost figures in the Solomon reports. “If you have a lower Solomon number,” Westergreen says, “that means you’ve managed to get your staffing costs down even more. If you’re a manager, you win a bigger bonus.”Texas City: A Man-Made Disaster
What are the consequences of this overwork?
On March 23, 2005, workers at BP’s Texas City, Texas plant were restarting the refinery after a scheduled maintenance shutdown. Many were exhausted from the two-month maintenance overhaul. Some had worked 29 days in a row of long shifts. A tower overfilled with oil, sending a geyser shooting upward and casting a plume of vaporized fuel all around.
Veteran refinery worker Pat Nickerson was on-site driving a truck when the tower blew. “I looked down the road. It looked like fumes, like on a real hot day, you see these heat waves coming up and then, I saw an ignition and a blast. Then my windshield shattered. The roof of the vehicle I was driving caved in on me,” Nickerson told CBS News.
Nickerson jumped out and began digging through the wreckage. “Out of the corner of my eye, there was somebody on the ground. A guy named Ryan Rodriguez, and he was just kind of staring at me. He couldn’t move because his face was so, you know, deformed and everything from the blast. And some, you know, bones and stuff that were, you know, protruding from his chin,” he told the journalists.
The blast shattered windows ¾ of a mile away. Rodriguez died, as did 14 other workers. Some 180 workers were injured. But tragedy was not new to workers there. The 2005 explosion brought the 30-year Texas City death toll to 38 workers.
The Texas City catastrophe is one of the many waypoints in a trail of fatalities in the U.S. refinery industry. Some called it an accident, suggesting an unfortunate but unintentional event. But the Texas City explosion was a predictable – and in fact, predicted – man-made disaster. The year before, BP executives had ordered managers to cut plant safety investments by 25 percent. In mid-March, 2005, BP’s own health and safety team warned that the refinery likely would “kill someone in the next 12-18 months.” Their timeline was optimistic; just a week later, the plant blew up.Big Fines but Small Consequences
It’s because of places like Texas City that workers are on strike today. The workers’ demands are fairly straightforward: hire more staff, reduce overtime, provide the skill development people need to protect themselves, and invest in safe equipment.
After Texas City, the federal government instituted new rules on fatigue prevention. But they aren’t being followed, according to McNutt and other workers. Federal safety inspectors are stretched beyond capacity. For the workers, the failure of government to act decisively means they have to demand safety in the most demonstrative way they know: stop working.
Five years after the 2005 Texas City explosion, during which time three more Texas City refinery workers were killed, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration announced $87 million in fines against BP for hundreds of safety violations. It was by far the largest OSHA penalty in history, and it came on top of the company’s guilty felony plea for violating the Clean Air Act at the refinery. “There’s a new sheriff in town,” Labor Secretary Hilda Solis declared triumphantly.
Her pronouncement may well have produced gales of laughter in BP’s executive suites: The government’s 2010 fine represented less than three hours of BP’s annual revenues; budget dust for a company that took in well over $300 billion that year. A real sheriff would have yanked BP’s license to operate and – since corporations insist on being treated as people, at least in the political arena – would have thrown the criminally-convicted executives in prison.More Preventable Deaths
Just months before the sheriff issued her Texas City reprimand, another refinery blew up. On April 2, 2010, at Ryan Anderson’s Tesoro refinery, supervisor Lew Janz and his night shift crew were restarting a heat exchanger. The 40-year-old unit had not been inspected properly. It was notorious for leaking during startup, but management had told the workers to treat the leaks as “normal occurrences.” The heat exchanger ruptured violently, spewing 500-degree naphtha Janz and six other workers. A huge fireball lit up the night sky and buildings shook miles away. Five workers died quickly. Janz, gruesomely burned over much of his body, was airlifted to a trauma hospital along with another worker. He lay in a medically-induced coma, clinging precariously onto the knife edge of life as stunned Anacortes residents prayed, donated blood, and mourned and buried five of their sons and daughters. Burn specialists and surgeons gingerly tried to coax Janz’ body into recovery. But the medical heroics were not enough; the damage proved beyond repair. Two weeks after the accident, Janz slipped away, surrounded by his two daughters and the woman he had been planning to marry that summer. He was 41. A week later, a seventh worker died from his burns.
The state of Washington cited Tesoro for 44 workplace safety violations. “This explosion and the deaths of these men and women would never have occurred had Tesoro tested their equipment in a manner consistent with standard industry practices, their own policies and state regulations,” said Judy Schurke, director of the state workplace safety and health agency. Schurke’s agency fined Tesoro $2.38 millionand underscored the severity of the fine by noting it was a Washington state record.
Industry insiders were blasé. “Relative to how most of these accidents go, that seems like a fairly significant fine but not something that would be material to the firm,” Roger Read, an analyst with Natixis Bleichroeder LLC in Houston, dryly observed. “Between insurance, cash on hand, cash flow, they should be able to absorb a fine of that size.” Even so, Tesoro appealed the fine and got a judge to knock it down by nearly three-quarters, to less than $700,000. That equates to less than 10 minutes of revenue for Tesoro. Any payout to the state, or to Janz’ widow and children, was just a cost of doing business, and a minor one at that.
The Tesoro explosion flung the rural community of Anacortes into all-too-familiar collective shock. Just 11 years prior, an explosion had ripped through the Equilon Puget Sound Refinery, also in Anacortes. Six refinery workers had been burned to death. State investigators found the company negligent. Equilon, now a subsidiary of Shell Oil, agreed to pay the victims’ families $45 million, which works out to how much Shell takes in every 51 minutes today.Five Rich CEOs, Two More Dead Workers
In 2013, the five largest oil companies announced combined profits of $93 billion, yet another banner year for Big Oil. Much of the profit was plowed back into stock repurchase plans, which, as the Center for American Progress has noted, “increases the value of the remaining shares, providing a bounty to senior executives, boards of directors, and other large shareholders.” The CEOs of BP, Chevron, ExxonMobil, Conoco and Shell took in a combined $100 million that year.
The same year, a refinery worker was burned to death in Beaumont, Texas. Another worker collapsed and died at an Oklahoma refinery. But there were no Texas City-sized disasters. BP was rebounding from the Deepwater Horizon blowout three years prior—where 11 workers had been killed, and the Gulf of Mexico was ruined in the worst oil spill in history. Overall, with only a couple of deaths, 2013 was not a bad year for U.S. refinery safety.Toward a New Bottom Line
How the current struggle resolves is far from certain. The workers are determined and united. They have power as long as they can hold out. But they are taking on companies that possess vast resources. Key to the outcome is how much economic pain the companies are willing to endure as a result of tapered production. At some point, as with most contentious labor-management bargaining, there will be an agreement; not a peace treaty, but a stasis of forces, a temporary resting place in the ongoing class struggle between workers who want to be treated fairly and go home to their loved ones at night, versus profit-maximizing corporate executives who pore over their Solomon reports and their revenue-and-expense spreadsheets, searching for that extra slice of income.
When that truce moment is reached, the workers will return to their pipes, tanks, valves, control rooms, chemicals, and super-heated oil, and the safety issues currently garnering prominent play will fade from the Internet and the nightly news. As spiritual progressives, we shouldn’t allow this struggle and the dynamic forces behind it to pass quietly from the public arena. We need to take the gift, that by going on strike, the refinery workers have given all of us. Their gift allows us to challenge the public’s conventional expectations of safety, to go beyond the visible airline pilot to the less visible workers whose vital labor allows us to live our everyday lives. No, we wouldn’t get on that plane with the exhausted pilot, and neither should we countenance people having to put themselves at such risk.
Into the foreseeable future, we will need oil and its byproducts. That much is certain. You can debate how much we should produce, and from where, but there’s no question that society will need refineries. It’s also clear that refinery work is inherently dangerous, and we can’t trust BP, Shell, and the other Big Oil companies to produce what society needs in a rational, ethical, or safe manner. There is no reconciling an ethos that elevates corporate profits above people and communities. The present strike may alter the balance of forces a bit, may improve conditions somewhat, but it isn’t going to resolve the underlying conflict of values and class. Yet just by striking, the workers have opened the discussion to basic questions of how and for whom our economy is organized.
We’ve arrived at an important moment to challenge, in a practical way, the values of the capitalist market that so many people internalize without questioning. And as we protest refinery injustice we also should advance a vision of a better system of economic production, one that prioritizes human need, safety, compassion, sustainability, and love for one another and our communities. The immediate issues in the strike are an important opening to extend the conversation about a New Bottom Line, one that judges society’s institutions not by how they maximize money, power, and production, but instead by how they maximize compassion, community, social and economic justice, and environmental sustainability. For the opportunity to engage those around us about fundamental questions of economic purpose, value and community, we have the striking refinery workers to thank.
Georgia wants to "encourage" middle schools and high schools in Georgia to show the latest right-wing propaganda project of an admitted felon in history classes. Which is totally cool, though, because, you see, this six-pack of Georgia right-wingers only wants to show this propaganda because they are convinced ... convinced! ... that history classes are already a cesspool of left-wing propaganda.Conservative contempt for academia has long been established, the conservative euphoria over Scott Walker's lack of a college degree being a recent example. But this goes deeper—this is not just a curious strain of anti-intellectualism that has long been a staple of Republican rhetoric. This is a war on the study of American History itself, and it seems entirely plausible, if not likely, that the driving force is far more about contemporary politics than it is about historical dispute about interpretations of the past.
Follow me past the jump for an explanation of why the War on History might have more to do with 21st century politics than events of the prior centuries.
Despite the fact that these two legislative assaults on the study of American History in schools are recent, by no means do they exist in isolation. Republican attempts to alternately stifle the study of American History, or attempt to retrofit common historical interpretations to better fit Republican ideological values, have been around for years.
Our own beloved Hunter offered a Sunday Kos essay on this exact subject nearly four years ago. In it, he perfectly encapsulated the longheld conservative zeitgeist on the subject of legitimacy in academic fields:To repeat myself: a hallmark of the modern conservative movement, including punditry, elected officials, and the base itself, is that science and knowledge is only valuable to the extent to which it can shore up conservative beliefs.
A historian is a "proper" historian if their history produces a perceivable conservative message. A work of art is "good" if it embraces a conservative position, and is "bad" if it is seen to promote a liberal one (often resulting in calls to remove the offending artwork – say, a historical mural depicting workers, etc.) A climate study is considered credible if it produces a conservative result, and is considered a conspiracy if it produces a perceived "liberal" one – which is to say, a result that a conservative listener does not like. The credentials of said scientists do not come into play, nor does the relevant process of peer review, nor does the relative scope of one study versus another: all of those things can be dismissed outright.Without question, Hunter's argument that part of the conservative rancor on the subject of American History (amid other topics) is based in a desire to suppress interpretations of history that do not offer affirmation to their preferred worldview is a big part of the puzzle. But I suspect that it is not the only part of the puzzle.
It has long been a staple of left-of-center critiques of the media that the press has been cowed into a supplicant state as it relates to coverage of conservative politicos due to fears of being labelled as "the liberal media." As Eric Alterman wrote in his decade-old essay on the subject, "Working the Refs":Using the very same media outlets that they complain don’t give their cause a fair shake to lodge their complaints, they know that slamming the other side is little more than a way to get their own ideas across, while drowning out opposing voices. Some have even admitted as much. During the 1992 presidential race, Rich Bond, then chair of the Republican Party, outlined the right’s game plan, saying that "There is some strategy to it [bashing the 'liberal' media]. If you watch any great coach, what they try to do is ‘work the refs.’ Maybe the ref will cut you a little slack on the next one."In other words, "working the refs" means that by incessantly claiming to be the victims of media witch hunts, this means that every criticism in the press of a conservative politician, or the actions of said politician, should be automatically discounted, or even ignored, because ... after all ... everyone knows that the press has a consistent axe to grind against "us."
An excellent recent case in point: Scott Walker. When Walker punted on a reporter's question as to whether President Obama was a Christian, the conservative reaction was neither to hail Walker's answer, nor to criticize it. It was, instead, to excoriate the media for asking the question in the first place. The headline in a National Review commentary on the matter was succinct: "The Media’s Embarrassing Scott Walker Spectacle."
In the nearly unanimous opinion of the right, the fault was not on Walker for an absurd response to what should be a very simple question. It was on the media for asking the question, which clearly showed an underlying animus toward Walker that, in all probability, ought to disqualify them from any future commentary or analysis about his presumptive presidential bid.
The problem is: the question is a fair one. Can someone who wants to be president manage to resist the temptation to offer an absurdist pander that has its roots in an "otherness" argument that can easily be interpreted through a racial lens? After all, the reason Walker got the question is because one of his most high-profile supporters, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, made an even more strident criticism of Obama, in which he questioned his love of country, and he did so at a Walker fundraiser.
None of which, of course, matters to the right. To them, the story is that the media was mean to Scott Walker. Which is example #943,394 (in their minds) that the press is out to get them. Which is how a joke of an outlet like Fox News manages to gain such a faithful following. By constantly reinforcing conservative talking points, even at the expense of basic journalistic accuracy, they become the "fair" outlet in the minds of their devoted right-of-center audience.
Viewed through that lens, it becomes incredibly easy to understand why there is a renewed attack on how history is taught in schools. Having successfully (to some extent) worked the refs on interpretations of current events, the right is now training its guns on "working the refs" on interpretations of the past.
Consider the rationale for some of these recent examples of conservative attempts to implement revisionist history in classrooms under their purview. In 2010, when the state of Texas revised its statewide standards for social studies, one of the conservatives of the board gave a fairly typical "work the refs" interpretation of their rationale for tweaking the existing standards:“We are adding balance,” said Dr. Don McLeroy, the leader of the conservative faction on the board, after the vote. “History has already been skewed. Academia is skewed too far to the left.”Dr. McLeroy did not hold a doctorate in American history, or any branch of the social sciences, for what it is worth. He is, in fact, a dentist.
Last year, the Huffington Post outlined several examples of how the Texas standards fail to square with the broad consensus of historians on a wide range of issues. Among the alterations, the new standards defended McCarthyism as having been vindicated by later evidence. In addition, any references to Jim Crow laws had been cut from the standards, according to HuffPo.
The same philosophy has permeated the most recent two attempts to undermine the study of history in American secondary schools. The recent attempt by some Florida legislators to foistD'Souza's documentary as part of the history curriculum was rooted in the same rhetoric:Bill sponsor state Sen. Alan Hays told the News-Press that it is needed to counter "erroneous" information being taught in history classrooms, which he said is overly negative. "Frankly, it's embarrassing that we allow these lies to be taught in our school system," Hays said. "Unfortunately, our parents and our school board members have not kept up with the misrepresentation of American history that is being perpetrated in our school system, and this movie gives a totally different view."Coincidentally, Hays is not only also not a historian by trade, but he, like McLeroy, is a dentist.
Perhaps more disturbing is the entirely plausible notion that something is more sinister at work here than merely "working the refs" to try to present a sanitized (err ... positive) view of American History.
For example, it is far easier for conservatives to reintroduce Jim Crow-esque voting restrictions that largely fall on the shoulders of minority voters if history classes are compelled to pretend as if racial discrimination never existed in America in the first place.
It is easier to enact economic policy that is the essential re-enactment of the Gilded Age if any criticism of said Gilded Age is muted, on the grounds that it paints an image of America that is not celebratory.
It is easier to deny civil liberties to people if, as the Texas social science standards are compelled to do, it is drilled into students heads that said denial is vindicated over time by ferreting out souls with evil intent, and all at no real "cost" to the rest of the citizenry.
"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." The quotation from Santayana would seem appropriate here, except that it does not appear to simply be a matter of being unable to remember the past. It is more about wanting to erase any recollection of the more troublesome aspects of our past, so that some of the solutions to those past abuses and usurpations can be undone with a lesser amount of complaint. That this is argued under the cloak of wanting to somehow prevent the reputation of the nation from being sullied is what makes this recent surge doubly disturbing.
Fox News Medical A-Team member Dr. David Samadi asserted over the weekend that “crack babies” were caused by women “smoking this whole marijuana business.”
On the Saturday edition of Fox & Friends, host Clayton Morris reported that a recent study published in Scientific Reports found that marijuana was less dangerous than any other common recreational drug, including alcohol and cigarettes.
“I think it’s a very dangerous study,” Samadi argued. “People need to be very careful about not getting the wrong message from this study. They’re using a lethal dose as a comparison. For example, they’re putting pot against or weed against cocaine or alcohol. We know you need less amount of alcohol to die. So, they’re using death to see what’s dangerous and what’s not.”
“They’re extrapolating a lot of these animal studies and surveys that doesn’t make a lot of sense and coming with this whole thing that pot is safer,” the doctor insisted. “Absolutely not. It’s a huge fraud.”
Samadi warned that marijuana could cause memory loss, mood changes and psychosis.
“It actually causes heart attacks,” he added. “It increases your heart rate. And on and on.”
“We’re seeing in Colorado that we had 13 kids that came to the emergency [room] and ended up in the ICU as a result of overdose from marijuana,” Samadi said. “Now we have crack babies coming in because pregnant women are smoking this whole marijuana business.”
The Fox News Medical A-Team doctor concluded by calling medical marijuana “the biggest scam I’ve ever seen.”
“I challenge any doctors, come to my Facebook, convince me how this is healthy for you. I’m 100 percent against this.”
Watch the video below from Fox News’ Fox & Friends, broadcast Feb. 28, 2015.
A bill approved by the Kansas Senate on Wednesday would enable prosecutors to bring charges against teachers and school administrators for assigning or distributing materials judged harmful to students, the Kansas City Star reports.
The bill, proposed by conservative state Sen. Mary Pilcher-Cook (R-Shawnee), deletes a provision in current state law that exempts schoolteachers and officials from such prosecutions. Senators passed the bill 26 to 14.
After introducing the bill earlier this month, Pilcher-Cook told the Topeka Capital-Journal that she did so in response to a poster displayed at a Shawnee Mission middle school in 2013. The poster posed the question, “How do people express their sexual feelings?” and listed such examples as oral sex, kissing, intercourse, and talking. Media outlets pounced on the controversy after some parents complained, and though the poster was part of a broader sex education curriculum that emphasized abstinence, the school suspended use of the material.
Pilcher-Cook and other supporters of her measure also say that it’s necessary to prevent the distribution of pornography in schools — a problem that has not hitherto arisen. The Star reports that earlier this week, state Rep. Joseph Scapa (R-Wichita) cited as pornographic a book by Nobel Prize-winning author Toni Morrison.
Testifying against the bill earlier this month, Kansas National Education Association general counsel David Schnauer called the legislation “a solution looking for a problem,” arguing that its real effect would not be to protect minors from harmful materials, but to undermine “legitimate educational programs and curriculum.”
The legislation now moves to the deeply conservative House of Representatives. GOP Gov. Sam Brownback hasn’t commented on the measure, but as a hardline social conservative, it would hardly be out of character for him to sign it.
All political movements, to some extent, sound nonsensical to outsiders because groupthink elides the needs for certain connective thoughts to be voiced aloud. CPAC, a celebration of orthodoxy among a bullet-point-equipped faithful who all try to sound more stridently like everyone else than anyone else, magnifies this tendency to maddening degrees. Two separate subjects are mentioned with the causal relationship omitted. Facts appear without context; good things are named as though good outcomes inevitably eventuate. When cause-and-effect statements appear, they aren’t much better.
By this process, you can arrive at a conclusion like this: To win the War on Women, you better put a ring on it.
At CPAC, conservatives dedicated an entire panel to “The Future of Marriage.” One could be forgiven for assuming it tackled the issue via the sub-topic “Gays, and the Ickiness Thereof,” because that was the default assumption among those attending CPAC as part of an ongoing More Jaded Than Thou contest. Instead, the panel bypassed halting marriage equality and went straight for a return to celebrating a time when women had few stable life opportunities outside of marriage.
Heritage Foundation vice-president Jennifer Marshall signaled the need for conservative candidates to “be indivisible” on the matter of the “very interrelated” three legs of the conservative stool – marriage, small government and a stable economy. What a weird stool. Why these three things? Why not neighborhood bowling leagues, usury and the gibbet?
Marshall answered that question by explaining that “the sexual revolution has made relationships between men and women much more challenging”. Naturally, as polyamory and bed hopping have had very little effect on bowling or usury. Still, it was an important statement to make, because it implied that women had been complicit in the destabilization of their economic security.
Heather MacDonald of the Manhattan Institute – employer of such luminaries as Iraq War stooge Judith Miller, invariably wrong William Kristol and racist hack Charles Murray – was willing to go even further than Marshall in placing the blame for women’s economic travails on alienation from “the family” and then further blaming women’s thoughts for turning women against where they belong.
“Feminists have taken over college campuses. They run the bureaucracy. People are losing the vocabulary to say fathers are essential,” she said. “I predict there’s going to come a time when Father’s Day is hate speech because you’re dissing a lesbian couple.” Piles of unsold real, comfortable Wrangler Jeans clogging up landfills. Tasteful Methodist sex harnesses going unsold at tasteful Methodist sex harness shops. Ships teeming with rear spoilers for family sedans being turned away from the nation’s harbors. A chilling vision of dadless things to come.
Nonetheless, vague problems demand vague solutions. Thus MacDonald advised 2016 Republican candidates: “If you want to eliminate poverty overnight, you can wipe it out by having stable, two-parent households.” (Note the weaseling inclusion of “stable.”) After all, we determine income inequality by households, so take two people living together in poverty, marry ‘em, and presto! No more poverty. Statistical problems go away if you stop gathering statistics. That only sounds nutty if you don’t already know that global warming isn’t real because thermometers lie.
That more or less made sense if you’d listened to the previous hour’s explanations that everything is bad in the inner city, and too many urban folks don’t get married, so, like, the two things are connected, man. Meanwhile, according to MacDonald, “The most affluent members of American society are still getting married.”
Shortly after this, Wade Horn, former assistant secretary for children and families, weighed in with the observation that marriages save money and diversify productivity because “marriages allow for economies of scale and specialization” within the household. (For those scoring economies of scale at home, presumably because specialization has made one of you an actuary: economies of scale good when you are married to someone; bad when buying prescription drugs for nations.) When your bridesmaids give you bewildered looks at the altar, point at your groom and cross their eyes while miming throwing up, just hold your hands apart to show how much he scales your economy.
To a cynic, that might read like a heartless thought. But do you know what’s really heartless? Government. “Children need their mothers and fathers. There is no government program that can possibly substitute for the love and guidance and sense of place in the world that parents provide,” MacDonald explained. “What we’re seeing now in the inner city is catastrophic. Marriage has all but disappeared. When young boys are growing up, they grow up without any expectation that they will marry the mothers of their children.” And she’s right; people who think government will love you or your abandoned children are idiots. The Department of Love has been a failure since 1967, and large faceless institutions will never care for human beings no matter how well they claim to mean. Those “inner city” people shouldn’t have been trying to hug America. They should have hugged something more practical like each other and that smiley face from Wal-Mart.
But if these problems and solutions got too specific for you, there was always Kate Bryan of the American Principles Project and moderator of “The Future of Marriage in America” panel. Sometimes it’s all just The Culture. The Culture — the Great Silent Chobani — depicts marriage as negative. Example: “The old ball and chain.” Why, if we could just get rid of this expression that zero non-horrible people have used unironically for at least a generation, we could have this thing licked in no-time. Women, inequality, stability, stools, the Whole Chobani. Good talk, everyone.
CPAC is like a nonstop comedy show. One hit after another. Scott Walker tried to steal the show by comparing ISIS to those vicious union members he battled in his state, and he was rightfully and roundly ridiculed for that. It'll take some serious backtracking and spinning to undo the damage to the Republican darling. But he was far from the only standup comedian on the roster.
1. Duck Dynasty star to CPAC: Bring your Bible to the Oval Office, and your woman, 'cause the hippies are coming to get you.
Phil Robertson issued the above piece of advice to the CPAC audience, and no one is exactly clear what it means, honestly. Nor did the rest of his speech make a whole lot of sense. His biggest concern seems to be that Republicans not get sexually transmitted diseases.
“There is a penalty to be paid from what the beatniks, who morphed into the hippies (did)!” the Duck Commander rambled, rather incoherently. “What do you call the 110 million people who have sexually transmitted illnesses? It’s the revenge of the hippies! Sex, drugs and rock & roll have come back to haunt us!”
Head for the hills, people! With your Bible under one arm, and your woman under the other! "You lose your religion," Duck Commander bellowed. "And you lose your morality."
Robertson actually claimed, though he "hated to admit it," that he had done some research on the CDC website and found out that only one encounter was necessary to contract a sexually transmitted illness. “How many seconds does it take to get genital herpes?” he asked the CPAC audience, rhetorically. “It said 30 seconds. I’m like, whoa, that’s pretty quick.”
Well, thanks Phil. This has all been terribly enlightening.
Here's the video in case you'd like to enjoy it yourself:
2. Sarah Palin says a bunch of nonsense at CPAC, then inadvertently says something extremely true.
It’s a bit disorienting, really. In her speech at CPAC, Sarah Palin stayed in her usual history-mangling character when she suggested that the U.S. killed all the Nazis in WWII, when a passing acquaintance with the subject shows is laughably far from the truth. She said we should do the same to ISIS, just kill all of them—both impossible and plain old stupid and dangerous. So far, so good. Palin doing Palin.
Then she did something totally off brand, and wandered into the thickets of truth. It was a mistake, we’re sure. She said: “It’s said that old men declare wars, and then they send the young ones to fight ‘em. So it’s the duty of he who sends them to actually make sure that we can win those wars. And it’s our duty to elect an honorable commander-in-chief who is willing to make the same sacrifices he sends others away to make.”
So, as Raw Story figures, Palin is essentially saying that neither she, nor any other Republican hopeful is qualified to be president, since none has been willing to make such a sacrifice. Governors Jeb Bush of Florida, Chris Christie of New Jersey, Mike Huckabee of Arkansas, and Scott Walker of Wisconsin have not served, nor have Senators Ted Cruz of Texas, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Marco Rubio of Florida. Nor, of course, Sarah Palin herself, although her son Track, who served in Iraq for a year.
So, basically, everybody out of the pool!
Except Track. Track Palin for President! Woohoo!
3. Jim Inhofe reduces climate change debate to a snowball.
There has been some snow this winter, in case you have not heard. And to Senator Jim Inhofe, that can only mean one thing. It’s cold out! Also, snowball fight! Oh yeah, and obviously climate change must be a hoax.
To drive his point home, darned if the Senate’s chief climate change denier didn’t bring a snowball to the Senate floor and toss it. Oh! Feel the burn, all you science believers!
"In case we have forgotten, because we keep hearing that 2014 has been the warmest year on record, I ask the chair, 'You know what this is?'" Inhofe said, holding up his secret weapon. "It's a snowball, from outside here. So it's very, very cold out. Very unseasonable."
Yes it is. Very very cold.
Never mind that despite some record low temperatures in various parts of the country, 2014 remains the warmest year on record, and the nation overall has been experiencing a warmer-than-average winter. It’s cold where Inhofe is—he has to bundle up—and he’d rather just throw a snowball than deal with all that pesky data.
4. Stupid Giuliana Rancic makes racist comment about black hair and Solange Knowles has a great response.
Joan Rivers’ replacement, Giuliana Rancic, may have apologized for her idiotic and racist snark about 18-year-old actress and singer Zendaya’s dreadlocks at the Oscars, but the comments spoke volumes about Hollywood’s inability to regard African Americans as equals and creative forces to be reckoned with. In her “Fashion Police” roundup, Rancic ventured away from talking about Zendaya’s Vivienne Westwood gown, to suggest that her hair probably smells of “patchouli oil” and “weed.” Really? Why?
Twitter erupted in understandable outrage over the fact that black women's hair just keeps being an obnoxious topic of discussion and object of bewilderment and scrutiny by white powers that be. As HuffPo says, “From TSA agents patting down Afros, a woman having to cut her locks to keep her job, and the Army's discriminatory ban on particular African American hairstyles—the list goes on and on.”
It’s not a random comment, and Rancic’s “I’m sorry if I offended you” apology really does not wash. Zendaya’s eloquent outrage put the “Fashion Police” to shame, as did Solange Knowles’ nifty response.
just shut up, white people. Shut up.
5. Fox News doctor: Crack babies come from women who smoke weed!
Fox News Medical A-Team (ha!) doctor David Samadi is not one for scientific reports. Or science, or, like, facts. So he certainly was not going to admit that a recent study published in Scientific Reports found that pot is quite possibly the least harmful drug humans ingest, including alcohol and cigarettes.
“I think it’s a very dangerous study,” Samadi argued. “People need to be very careful about not getting the wrong message from this study. They’re using a lethal dose as a comparison. For example, they’re putting pot against or weed against cocaine or alcohol. We know you need less amount of alcohol to die. So, they’re using death to see what’s dangerous and what’s not.”
He went on to make various hysterical claims, such as that pot causes heart attacks and psychosis. Then this bit of nonsense: “Now we have crack babies coming in because pregnant women are smoking this whole marijuana business.”
They are smoking the whole marijuana business.
Looks like his brain is misfiring, and the dangerous drug he is on appears to be a combination anti-science pathology, anti-pot hysteria and just not having done his homework about the fact that the whole crack baby scare was a myth. Not to mention the fact that the mythological crack babies were not born to mothers who smoked pot.Related Stories
It is not unreasonable to expect the “Leader of the Free World” to be a pretty smart cookie. After all, as Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces, with codes to fire nuclear armaments, the ability to make life-and-death decisions, policy making, and just general 24/7 responsibility for the lives of 300 million American citizens, certain things like intelligence should be something we can take for granted. Right? Yet, just like the general population, there is big a disparity of intelligence among the elite group of men who have held the office of President. Some were brilliant, some were very dim bulbs. If we were to judge by the size of their vocabulary alone, it would seem that our Presidents are getting dumber as the centuries roll by. An interesting study by the Guardian newspaper graded presidential speeches by education level using the commonly-used Flesch-Kincaid readability test.
George Washington and his fellow Founding Fathers regularly registered reading levels in the 20s (i.e. a vocabulary reflecting 20 or more years of education). Today’s Presidents barely register a 10. Whether this is a reflection on presidential intelligence or modern speechmaking strategies aimed at a vastly different electorate might be debatable, but it is no coincidence that the two Bushes had some of the smallest ranges in vocabulary of all. In any case, there is little doubt that the following Presidents have exhibited extraordinary talents, both high and low. Here are the country’s smartest and dumbest Presidents:
The Head of the Class:
Anyone who could compose the words, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,” has got a few things going for him. Jefferson had that, and more. Not just a wordsmith, at which he had few equals, the third President of the United States was a whiz at math, philosophy, history, and the languages (he was proficient in French, Latin and Greek). And that was just as a college student at the College of William and Mary. He went on to become an accomplished architect (he designed the University of Virginia), horticulturalist, author, inventor, musician (he played the violin, cello, and the clavichord), lawyer, ornithologist, paleontologist, archaeologist, and poet. John F. Kennedy, in addressing a room full of Nobel Prize laureates, once remarked, “I think this is the most extraordinary collection of talent and of human knowledge that has ever been gathered together at the White House – with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone."
Another brilliant Founding Father, our fourth President, James Madison was as impressive an intellect as his colleagues Jefferson and Adams. Despite never having been a lawyer, he was the primary author of the very basis of the United States legal system, the Constitution, and its first ten amendments, collectively known as the Bill of Rights. Madison, like Jefferson, was proficient in Latin, Greek, French, Italian, and Spanish, math, science, and history. Studying at the College of New Jersey (which later became Princeton), he was influenced by the philosophers Aristotle and John Locke, which in turn influenced his thoughts on liberty and democracy.
John Adams, our second President, rivaled if not quite surpassed Jefferson in the intellect department. While Jefferson penned the magnificent Declaration, it was the result of many meetings with Adams (and others, though none so influential). Where Jefferson was a relatively quiet man, Adams was the master of oratory. His impassioned speeches to the Continental Congress tipped the scales in favor of passing the Declaration. Said Jefferson, “No man better merited, than Mr. John Adams to hold a most conspicuous place in the design [of the Declaration]. He was the pillar of it’s [sic] support on the floor of Congress, it’s [sic] ablest advocate and defender against the multifarious assaults it encountered.” Long after their presidencies, Adams and Jefferson continued to correspond, in terms both combative and sympathetic. They were two brilliant peas in a pod, so connected they, remarkably, died on the very same day in 1826, five hours apart. That day? The 4th of July. Of course.
Woodrow Wilson followed his presidential predecessor, James Madison, as a student and graduate of Princeton University. In fact, he did him one better. He became the University’s president in 1902, and, in 1912, he became our 28th President. Wilson was, of our 44 Presidents, the only one to hold a doctorate, and one of the few (which include Teddy Roosevelt, Jimmy Carter, and Barack Obama) to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, for his role in guiding the United States to victory in World War One, as well as his efforts to attain world peace through the fledgling League of Nations.
Teddy Roosevelt, one of America’s most popular Presidents, was known as the naturalist President. He was responsible for our National Parks system, an avid hunter and taxidermist, and a lover of the outdoors. But Teddy’s intellect was formidable too. Home-schooled, Roosevelt was proficient in French and German, and was a strong science and history buff. Teddy possessed a photographic memory, and was said to be able to memorize whole books. An accomplished multi-tasker (before the term was coined), he could dictate a letter at the same time he was reading (and presumably memorizing) a book. Roosevelt was the first U.S. President to receive a Nobel Peace Prize, for his work in settling the Russo-Japanese War. He once wrote, “Bodily vigor is good, and vigor of intellect is even better, but far above both is character.” Roosevelt had plenty of all three.
James Garfield, our 20th President, is relatively unknown among Americans today, primarily due to the fact that he only served two hundred days before a crazed assassin murdered him (agonizingly, it took Garfield 80 days to die after his shooting). Never able to establish a legacy, Garfield nevertheless was celebrated in his time as a man with a remarkable mind. Born into poverty, he held a number of jobs before becoming a teacher and then turning to politics. Educated at Hiram College in Ohio, Garfield was a fierce debater, and, like other presidential intellects before and after him, was proficient in Greek and Latin. However, setting him apart, not only could he speak the languages, he could write in them. And not only could he write in them but he could write in two of them simultaneously, one hand writing in Greek, the other Latin! Garfield served heroically in the Civil War and was ardently opposed to slavery. A quote attributed to him makes one wonder whether, having had the time, he might have become a fine President: "...if a man is black, be he friend or foe, he is thought best kept at a distance. It is hardly possible God will let us succeed while such enormities are practiced.”
How do you judge a president’s intelligence? One way is by observing his behavior, and by that standard, Warren Harding, America’s 29th president, on the short list as America’s worst President, was hands down our dumbest Commander-in-Chief. Harding was an indifferent senator who became a detached President. In his inaugural address, he said, "Our most dangerous tendency is to expect too much from the government and at the same time do too little for it." He certainly followed the latter. During his presidency, scandals lurked behind every door (including the White House closets, where he was rumored to have had sexual liaisons), and he was clueless about all of it. The Republicans nominated Harding partially because he was a handsome fellow and women were voting for the first time in 1920. Of course, Harding couldn’t bother to even be present when, as senator, he had a chance to actually vote for the bill granting women’s suffrage. But he did like women, at least judging from his numerous extramarital affairs. He also enjoyed alcohol-fueled parties in the White House, which was awkward, considering his presidency was smack dab in the middle of Prohibition. H.L. Mencken, famous journalist and literary critic of the time said of Harding, “He writes the worst English I have ever encountered. It reminds me of a string of wet sponges; it reminds me of tattered washing on the line; it reminds me of stale bean soup, of college yells, of dogs barking idiotically through endless nights.” Pretty much says it all.
George W. Bush
No one can really be surprised at Bush 43’s presence on the Dumbest President roster, can they? After all, when entire books are compiled of “Bushisms”, his reputation precedes (and follows) him. He was a “C” student at Yale, where he no doubt was accepted due to his wealthy and distinguished political family, and no sane person would have predicted great things from him. Yet, as George W. said, “They misunderestimated me.” Despite dodging the Vietnam War by joining the Air Force Reserve, and failing at numerous businesses, he somehow parlayed ineptitude into becoming, first, a do-nothing governor of Texas (where the governor, by state law, literally does almost nothing), and then 43rdPresident of the United States. As President, he enjoyed vacations, taking 879 days of leisure time, more than two years of his tenure. He also disregarded the threat from Al Quaeda, screwed up the search for Osama bin Laden, blundered into the Iraqi War, checked out on Hurricane Katrina, presided over the beginning of the Great Recession, and generally managed to drive the country into deeper debt than ever before. In the immortal words of George W., "I'll be long gone before some smart person ever figures out what happened inside this Oval Office."
Our 17th President was a drunk, a bigot, and a terrible leader. Moving into the Oval Office upon the murder of Abraham Lincoln, it is hard to imagine two Presidents further apart in intellect or ability. Although a supporter of slavery, his ambition to be President kept him in the Union camp during the Civil War. No favorite of Lincoln or his wife, when he entered the hotel room in which the dying Lincoln lay, Mrs. Lincoln began screaming for him to get out. Off he went to his room and tied a mighty drunk on. He had to be awakened in order to be sworn in as the new President. One account describing him that day, said, "he had puffy eyes and his hair was caked with mud from the street." Still apparently drunk, he gave an impromptu “inaugural” address that was abusive of the defeated South and wildly inappropriate. As President, he imposed a harsh rule over the former Confederacy, made enemies in both the Republican and Democratic parties, and was eventually impeached (although narrowly escaping conviction and removal from office).
Gerald Ford, the 38th President, ascended the office upon the resignation of Richard Nixon after the Watergate scandal. A Yale graduate, Ford also played football in college, and his jock side certainly dominated his academic credentials. Lyndon Johnson once remarked that Ford had been, “playing too much football without a helmet.” More colorfully, he opined, "Jerry Ford is so dumb he can't fart and chew gum at the same time." Despite his athletic background, Ford was often caught on camera tripping over steps, and was endlessly lampooned by comedian Chevy Chase on the then-fledgling Saturday Night Live. In a battle for his political life during the close-fought 1976 election, Ford debated Jimmy Carter on national television, where he proceeded to assert that Poland, a virtual puppet state of the Soviet Union, was not a Soviet satellite. The nation begged to differ, and he lost to Carter. For anyone who may doubt Jerry’s place on the dunce list, perhaps a quote from him will serve to convince. “If Lincoln were alive today, he’d roll over in his grave.”
40th President Ronald Reagan was no rocket scientist, his saint status among the current Republican Party notwithstanding. Famous for doodling during cabinet and policy meetings, in between gobbling down jellybeans, the Gipper was a middling athlete in college and a charismatic but mediocre Hollywood actor. Though his diary entries proved bestselling material after his death, they exhibited the same literary acumen as his acting abilities. Reagan remained detached from the day-to-day grind of his presidency, preferring to leave the details to his underlings, which led to scandals like Iran-Contra. He preferred giving speeches, and although dubbed “The Great Communicator”, some of his classic quotes betray a less-than-nimble mind. As Ronnie once said, with a wink and a smile, "Facts are stupid things."
In January 2014, The Globe and Mail published an op-ed by James Bell, editor of Nunatsiaq News and winner of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal for his journalistic contribution to Northern politics. The piece was entitled “Nunavut is no longer Canada’s colony. It needs to end its own deprivation.” In the article Mr. Bell argues, “though its traumatic legacy persists within the hearts of northern people, the colonial period is all but over.” This view seems to have become common within Northern politics. It is increasingly rare to hear politicians in Nunavut use the term “colonialism” to describe the territory’s present predicament.
An examination of contemporary struggles over mineral extraction, however, suggests that Nunavut is still being governed as a resource colony. Proposals for resource exploration and extraction are being approved despite widespread opposition from communities and local institutions. Key concerns from communities and local institutions are being ignored in decision making processes. What is more, the extractive colonial economy initiated by commercial whalers and entrenched through the fur trade, persists to the degree that many plans for the “development” of Nunavut’s resources point towards long-term underdevelopment.
Mineral extraction, especially on the scale encouraged by the Canadian state, poses serious risks to the Inuit hunting economy. Extraction is being encouraged at a pace far beyond what Inuit require for employment purposes, and will serve to deplete Nunavut’s mineral resources for the benefit of multinational capital. These projects render Inuit vulnerable to a future where the wildlife resources they depend upon have been destroyed, their physical health has been compromised, and they are left with few mineral resources to maintain an industrial labour force over the long term. The net result would be the enrichment of multinational capital at the expense of the wealth and well-being of the majority of the people of Nunavut.
Seismic Surveys in Baffin Bay and Davis Strait
In 2011, a consortium of three geophysical companies submitted a proposal to the National Energy Board (NEB) to conduct seismic surveys in Baffin Bay and Davis Strait. The surveys would use airguns to blast loud bursts of sound into the ocean, and recording the sounds which reflect off of the ocean floor. The resulting information would be used to identify potential oil or gas deposits in order to help industry plan offshore exploratory drilling. Marine mammals which use the proposed survey for habitat are hunted by several communities including Arctic Bay, Pond Inlet, Clyde River, Qikiqtarjuaq, and Pangnirtung.
Since the proposal first surfaced, community opposition has been both strong and obvious. Petitions opposing the proposal were sent to the NEB by residents of Clyde River and Pond Inlet in 2011 and 2013, respectively. Residents of Pond Inlet, Clyde River, Qikiqtarjuaq, and Iqaluit repeatedly voiced opposition to the proposal at public NEB hearings in the spring of 2013. The Hamlet of Clyde River and the Clyde River Hunters and Trappers Organization passed two joint motions opposing the proposed surveys, in 2013 and 2014. At the 2014 Baffin Mayors’ Forum — a meeting of all mayors of Baffin Island — all 13 mayors unanimously passed a motion opposing seismic surveys.
This opposition is rooted in concerns with the potential impact of seismic surveys on marine mammals as well as concerns with future oil and gas development in the area. Further, many feel seismic surveys are unnecessary at the present time. The Mary River iron mine located near Pond Inlet began production in 2014 and will likely provide sufficient industrial labour opportunities for the region into the foreseeable future.
Baffin Island’s representative Inuit organization, the Qikiqtani Inuit Association (QIA), and the territory- wide representative Inuit organization, Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated (NTI), both urged the federal government not to approve the proposed surveys. In March of 2014, a joint letter from the QIA and NTI requested that seismic surveys not be approved until a broader strategic environmental assessment is carried out in the region. The Inuit organizations wanted further baseline information collected about wildlife in the region to help design appropriate mitigation measures and restrictions on areas of sensitive habitat. The same plea was made by the Nunavut Marine Council — an advisory board made up of the chairs of Nunavut’s four major landclaim regulatory boards.
Despite obvious and strong opposition, the NEB approved the proposed surveys in June 2014. A protest was held in Clyde River on July 23 in response. Protesters expressed outrage with the proposed survey and frustration with Leona Aglukkaq, Member of Parliament for Nunavut and Minister of the Environment. Chants at the rally included, “Leona, where are you?”
In the lead up to the protests, Niore Iqalukjuak, Clyde River resident and former Mayor of Arctic Bay, wrote an open letter to Leona Aglukkaq. Iqalukjuak urged Aglukkaq to attend the community protests and “either stand with us on our fight to stop seismic testing or … explain to the people and the media as to why you are certain that there will be no harmful affects to our wildlife.”
In his letter, Iqalukjuak quoted a statement made in 1976 by James Arvaluk, then president of the Inuit Tapirisat of Canada (ITC):
“We are seldom consulted before decisions are made which affect our future. More often, we are informed after the fact. Seismic exploration, pipeline surveys, prospectors flying around in helicopters are already disturbing the traditional migratory patterns on the land and in the sea. We complain, we beg to be consulted. Sometimes lip service is paid to consultation, but the work goes on anyway, and in effect our pleas are ignored.”
Iqalukjuak concluded, “Thirty-eight years have passed since this letter was written to the prime minister and his cabinet, but the battle Inuit face is still the same. You are our elected voice, you are supposed to represent our beliefs and values.” On July 28, the Hamlet of Clyde River, the Clyde River Hunters and Trappers Organization and Mayor Jerry Natanine filed an application with the Federal Court for a judicial review of the NEB’s decision. The application argues that Inuit in Clyde River were not meaningfully consulted prior to the approval of the surveys and seeks to overturn the NEB’s approval. Neither the QIA nor NTI have publicly supported Clyde River’s court challenge. However, on November 12, the Nunavut Association of Municipalities, a meeting of all mayors from Nunavut, unanimously passed a resolution supporting Clyde River’s legal battle.
The applicants filed arguments in late November and anticipate that the case will be heard in court in early 2015.
The Kiggavik Uranium Mine
In 2009, Areva Resources Canada submitted a proposal for the Kiggavik uranium mine to Nunavut’s regulators. If approved, the mine will be located 80 kilometers west of the Inuit community of Baker Lake. The proposal calls for four open-pit mines, an underground mine, and a milling operation. It is currently being reviewed by the Nunavut Impact Review Board (NIRB).
Areva’s proposal is basically an expanded version of what Urangesellschaft submitted in the late 1980s, to resounding Inuit opposition. In a 1990 municipal plebiscite in Baker Lake, 90% of voters said no to the Kiggavik uranium mine. All relevant Inuit organizations publicly opposed it. The proposal was eventually shelved by the proponent in face of massive Inuit opposition and low uranium prices.
The Inuit leadership’s opposition to the Kiggavik proposal in the late 1980s built on a decade of antinuclear activism by Inuit politicians. In the late 1970s, ITC-supported Baker Lake residents unsuccessfully attempted to use the court system to halt exploration for uranium near their community. In 1981, ITC called for a moratorium on uranium mining in areas of Inuit land use and occupancy. In 1984, the Inuit Circumpolar Conference called for the Arctic to be declared a “nuclear-free zone”, citing concerns with uranium mining, nuclear waste storage, nuclear weapons testing, and nuclear weapons deployment in the Arctic.
Nunavut’s leaders have since changed their stance on uranium mining. In 2007, NTI changed its longstanding policy opposed to uranium mining and adopted a policy in support of uranium extraction. In 2010, without community consultation, NTI gained shares in Kivalliq Energy, a uranium exploration firm which now owns rights to uranium ore bodies in Nunavut’s caribou calving grounds. Some residents of Baker Lake have likewise shifted their position and are more open to the idea of uranium mining near their community than they once were. However, there are many who continue to be highly concerned with the prospect of storing radioactive tailings in their hunting grounds and worry that Kiggavik may contaminate wildlife, water, and the people of Baker Lake. When the NI RB first solicited public comment on Areva’s proposal in 2009, a majority of respondents from Baker Lake indicated that they did not support Kiggavik.
A central concern for many is the basin-opening potential of the Kiggavik mine. Baker Lake is surrounded by uranium mineralization. If Areva builds a road and milling infrastructure, capital costs will be sharply reduced for other companies opening mines in the area. Such induced development could lead to increased exploration and possibly mining in sensitive caribou habitat and important cultural areas.
For these reasons, the Baker Lake Hunters and Trappers Organization (HTO) has called for mining and exploration to be banned in caribou calving and post-calving grounds, as well as areas of high cultural value, before the Kiggavik uranium mine is approved. The HTO attempted to have these areas protected under a new territorial land use plan. However, as the case below indicates, this has not been successful. The review of Areva’s Kiggavik proposal is moving forward despite the HTO’s outstanding concerns. Final hearings are scheduled to take place in Baker Lake in March 2015.
Caribou Calving Grounds and Land Use Planning
The Nunavut Planning Commission (NPC) is developing a territory-wide land use plan. In 2012, the NPC began holding consultation meetings in Nunavut’s communities. Numerous groups have called for the land use plan to ban mining in caribou calving grounds. These include the Government of Nunavut, The Nunavut Wildlife Management Board, all three of Nunavut’s regional wildlife boards, HTOs from Baker Lake, Arviat, Chesterfield Inlet and Repulse Bay, and the Beverly and Qamanirjuaq Caribou Management Board.
Numerous indigenous communities in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and the Northwest Territories hunt caribou herds that calve in Nunavut. Many of these communities have also called for a ban on mining in Nunavut’s caribou calving grounds: the Sayisi Dene First Nation, Northlands First Nation, the Athabasca Denesuline Negotiating Team, the Lutsel K’e Dene First Nation, the Northwest Territories Metis Nation, and the Fort Smith Metis Council.
However, this position is not shared by the federal government or Nunavut’s Inuit organizations. The federal government, NTI, and the regional Inuit associations submitted comments that discouraged the creation of new conservation areas under a land use plan. NTI and the Kitikmeot Inuit Association indicated that no restrictions should be placed on lands to which Inuit own title under the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement. As major caribou calving grounds contain Inuit owned lands, this position is in direct contradiction to the movement to have mining banned in caribou calving grounds.
The NPC released a draft land use plan in May 2014 which included partial protection for calving grounds. Areas within calving grounds already identified as having high mineral potential would be left open for exploitation. While this offers some habitat protection for caribou herds, it is a far cry from a full ban on mining in calving grounds.
A final hearing for the land use plan was scheduled for November 2014. However, the Federal Government refused to provide funding for a final hearing, stalling the planning process. In response, the NPC launched litigation in August 2014 in the Federal Court. The NPC alleges that the federal government’s manipulation of funding was political interference with the planning process. As a result, calving grounds currently remain open for exploration and mining as the land use plan is tied up in court proceedings.
The Colonial Present
Struggles over offshore seismic surveys, uranium mining, and mining in caribou calving grounds make clear that extraction proposals are moving forward despite cases of clear community opposition and that key community concerns are being ignored in decision-making processes.
In the cases of uranium mining and mining in caribou calving grounds, there is an appearance that the struggles over extraction and underdevelopment are internal to Nunavut. In so far as these projects are being pushed onto Nunavut society, the territory’s Inuit organizations are doing much of the pushing. With the exception of cutting funding to the land use planning process, the Canadian state has managed to take a hands-off approach to ensuring extractive colonialism continues in these situations. But this does not make these developments any less colonial. Colonial rulers often rely on the cooperation of indigenous ruling groups to impose their imperialist agendas. The princely states under the British Raj are perhaps the most obvious examples.
Further, the struggle against seismic surveys demonstrates that when Inuit organizations break rank with the federal government line, they can expect little accommodation for their demands. Behind any action Inuit leaders take lurks the Canadian state’s ultimate authority over the most land use decisions in Nunavut. This state power is currently wielded by a political party with an agenda to extract resources as rapidly as possible, regardless of indigenous peoples’ concerns.
An Inuk may serve as a cabinet minister for this party, but that does nothing to change the obviously colonial agenda at the heart of the Conservative Party of Canada’s vision for the indigenous peoples of Turtle Island. Seismic surveys in Nunavut, the Northern Gateway pipeline in British Columbia, and the omnibus legislation that sparked the Idle No More movement make this agenda clear. Indigenous peoples are to accommodate themselves to the needs of extractive capital, regardless of the environmental and human costs future generations will have to bear.
Warren Bernauer is a doctoral candidate at York University. His dissertation research deals with the politics of mineral extraction in Nunavut. As a part of his research, Warren has worked closely with the Baker Lake Hunters and Trappers Organization in its opposition to mining in caribou calving grounds and its concern with proposed uranium mining.
This article appeared in the January/February 2015 issue of Canadian Dimension (The Energy Issue).
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Congressman Luis Gutierrez dropped a simple fact during the House Judiciary Committee a couple of days ago. While republicans denounced the President's executive action on immigration reform and tried to pretend that they are not holding the Department of Homeland Security hostage, Mr. Gutierrez had this to say:This is a very perilous place for my friends in the majority. Because you have 5 million American citizen children who are never going to forget for a generation how it was you treated their mom and their dad. How it was you treated their mom and their dad; and if you treated them in a cruel manner.
Americans are finally beginning to figure out that they’re too good for junk food, and the industry is feeling the burn. Bloomberg Businessweek’s latest cover story — “They’re Gr-r-ross” – takes the form of a premature eulogy to Tony the Tiger, and portrays the beloved mascot sporting a gas mask.Big Food itself isn’t even denying it anymore: Denise Morrison, CEO of Campbell Soup, recently acknowledged the monumental challenge of consumers’ renewed interest in healthful food, coupled with a growing suspicion that the sought-after fare can’t be found in cans or packages; what Morrison characterized as our “mounting distrust of so-called Big Food, the large food companies and legacy brands on which millions of consumers have relied on for so long.”
Hearing Morrison’s distress cry, food and agriculture writer Tom Philpott asked, “Is the junk-food era drawing to a close?”
To which I would respond: maybe. But maybe it just wants us to think it is.
True, there are signs Big Food’s offerings aren’t flying off the shelves the way they used to. As Philpott details, a number of major convenience food companies — the owners of brands like Reddi-Wip, Chef Boyardee, Oscar Mayer deli meats and Velveeta cheese — are reporting sluggish sales and diminishing profits, while Kellogg’s is attempting to reverse its slump by releasing new products, with an emphasis on simpler ingredients. The amount of calories Americans consume from sugary drinks, moreover, has been declining for more than a decade. New dietary recommendations reinforce that trend toward the healthful, advocating for a diet high in plants and low in sugar-sweetened foods and beverages, even suggesting taxes on the latter to further influence behavior.
There are other indications, though, that we’re less enlightened than we’d like to believe. For one, there’s that whole problem of Americans snacking so much, our days have basically turned into one giant meal. In a Nielsen survey from last August, 91 percent of respondents said they snack daily, 25 percent do so three to five times per day, and 17 percent of respondents said they snack more now than they did a year ago. Food companies say they are “very focused” on this positive market trend. We want to eat healthier, but we still want to eat a lot — that’s an open invitation for Big Food to come in and offer us somewhat improved variations on the same old crap.
I was thinking about all this while munching on a selection of “snack better” treats sent to me by one of those subscription box services, which delivers “wholesome,” “all-natural” packaged foods like fruit chews and flavored nut mixes to my doorstep. The offerings are a better option than workplace donuts, sure, but not quite as good as if I were to eat an apple or, God forbid, go a few hours resisting the overwhelming temptation to shove something delicious into my mouth. (My own issue, to be sure, but one I — and experts — believe is partly influenced by the culture of instant gratification, in which treats are constantly available, at best, and more often aggressively pushed on us.)
Junk food, and the massive amount of money behind it, isn’t necessarily going away. It’s adapting. To take just one example: We distrust high fructose corn syrup, so marketers try to convince us that foods containing “real” sugar are somehow more natural, even though both types of added sweetener are just about equally unhealthy. Meanwhile, the super-high fructose — processed sweetener agave — was until very recently embraced as the most wholesome of them all.
Even though that ingredient is now falling out of favor, there are more additives lined up to take agave’s place. “Starting about six or seven years ago, we started seeing a huge spike in the amount of fruit-juice concentrate that was added to foods,” University of North Carolina nutrition professor Barry Popkin told the Atlantic’s James Hamblin, arguing that juice still has added sugar, and is therefore just as dangerous, when consumed in excess, as all the others. Of the trend, Popkin asked, ”Is that because people think it’s quote-unquote natural?”
The new dietary report, for what it’s worth, recommends that added sugars, regardless of what we’re calling them, comprise no more than 10 percent of our daily caloric intake, or about 12 teaspoons per day. That’s a big step down from the current average of 22 to 30 teaspoons of added sugars currently making it into our diets. Just because we’re falling out of love with Velveeta, in other words, doesn’t mean we’ve entirely escaped junk food’s sway.
And outside the U.S., it’s another story entirely. Even if Americans are moving toward some level of enlightenment, our snack and soft drink manufacturers have refocused their attentions on poor and middle-income countries, and are spending heavily to target children — ensuring the age of junk food will continue to live on elsewhere.
A desire to eat better and a distrust of Big Food are first steps, and important ones at that: The word “natural” may be largely meaningless, but PepsiCo didn’t get away with slapping it on bags of Cheetos for very long. Next might be making sure that we’re replacing the junk food-size hole in our stomachs with food that comes directly to us from the source, with as little time spent passing through the industry’s hands as possible. This is an argument food experts have been making for a while now, and which Mark Bittman reiterated after what must have been an exhausting romp through all 571 detailed pages of the new dietary guidelines. What it comes down to, he concluded, is this common-sense takeaway: “that we need a diet more oriented toward plants, that we should reduce calorie consumption in general, and that less sugar would be a good thing.” It’s a variation on Michael Pollan’s directive to “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly Plants,” the anti-marketing slogan for a truly post-junk era.
I canceled my subscription to that snack service, by the way. I think I’ll take my money to one of those 8,268 farmer’s markets Philpott writes are now open across the country, and which are the real thing that could leave Big Food shaking.
A rural South Carolina college is attempting to ban homosexuality among its students after two of the school’s volleyball players came out as gay.
OutSports.com reported that Erskine College issued a policy statement that the college is officially opposed to same-sex relationships because it isn’t part of “God’s intended design for humanity.”
Last year, two players on the Erskine volleyball team, Drew Davis and Juan Verona, went public with the fact that they are gay men. The team went on to play against the top teams in the nation at the NCAA tournament.
Now, Erskine officials are attempting to make certain that any other LGBT students at the college know that the school does not welcome them.
The school’s “Statement on Human Sexuality,” issued late last week, said “We believe the Bible teaches that all sexual activity outside the covenant of marriage is sinful and therefore ultimately destructive to the parties involved,” and continued:
Christ affirms that marital union is to be between a man and woman (Matt 19:4-6). The Bible teaches that monogamous marriage between a man and a woman is God’s intended design for humanity and that sexual intimacy has its proper place only within the context of marriage (1 Thes. 4:3-5, Col. 3:5-7). Sexual relations outside of marriage or between persons of the same sex are spoken of in scripture as sin and contrary to the will of the Creator (Rom. 1:26-27; 1 Cor. 6:9-10; 1 Tim. 1:9-11).
We believe the Bible teaches that all sexual activity outside the covenant of marriage is sinful and therefore ultimately destructive to the parties involved. As a Christian academic community, and in light of our institutional mission, members of the Erskine community are expected to follow the teachings of scripture concerning matters of human sexuality and institutional decisions will be made in light of this position.
The college’s website said that it intends to “add the statement to its official manuals and determine how it will be integrated into campus culture and procedures.”
Varona told OutSports, “The release of this statement makes me disappointed because I have never received anything but kind treatment from everyone at this school, and my sexual orientation is no secret. So it took me by surprise.”
He went on to say, “(T)he school took several steps back instead of progressing towards a future where everyone can be treated as an equal” and that “it just made me sad and worried for other gay people who might be struggling with confidence to come out.”Related Stories
Yesterday, when asked about ISIS, presidential hopeful and current Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker said that his response to the peaceful labor protests in Madison in 2011 prepared him to stamp out international terrorism. Apparently that means that in case of a terrorist attack he would sneak in and out of the White House via a not-so-secret rat tunnel and consult on the phone with bloggers pretending to be billionaire David Koch.
That is a terrible response. First, taking on a bunch of protesters is not comparably difficult to taking on a Caliphate with sympathizers and terrorists around the globe, and saying so suggests Walker doesn’t quite understand the complexity of the challenge from ISIS and its allied groups.Naturally, the "terrorists" in Wisconsin have unleashed a counterattack - in the form of a super-satirical barrage of photo memes.
One citizen suggested spreading this image in case ISIS comes looking for revenge:Here are some more. Feel free to post any additional memes in the comments.
That is one terrifying smile:
The Red Scare!!!
Be sure to check her Birkenstocks for incendiary devices...
It only took 6 burly cops to arrest this man for holding a sign. What courage. What bravery! And they arrested him right next to the copy of the Wisconsin Constitution that states in Article 1 that the right of the citizens to petition the government "shall never be abridged." Oh well.
You know they start those terrorists really young...
Look out behind you, Granny!
Leaving so soon?
One more. I feel so much safer now...
ENCORE! You asked for more, so here you go. Here is an obvious pinko terrorist...
You can spot the home-grown terrorists right away...
As my friend Ed says, the war on Christmas terrorism. Are those ISIS-cicles on the tree?
Finally, let us not forget the Capitol Police version of "If I Had a Hammer", which starts and ends with "If I Had a Hammer, I'd Hammer on the Black Guy..."
Welcome to the Conservative Political Action Conference, a three-day-long performance from an improv troupe whose hat has only has one statement in it: you’re in terrible danger. But that doesn’t mean you’re in terrible danger right now. Right now, there are seminars. About the danger. I have been to them, as part of my quest to be America’s Most Impervious Man. I don’t even care to what.
After a lunch consisting of a bowl of nails and a mean old dog, I attend the “America at Risk” seminar featuring speakers “Callista Gingrich” and “Newt Gingrich.” Technically, this statement is true, because they speak, and their words come out of speakers. Unfortunately, neither are here. Instead, after spending approximately one jillion dollars to attend CPAC, everyone in the Gaylord Hotel’s Chesapeake Rooms 4-6 gets to watch a $9.99 DVD. From 2010.
“America at Risk” is a well-shot piece of propaganda, with appropriately sinister documentary music and Ken Burns-esque pans across pictures of bad people. At one point, we are informed that, in 2009, “There were over a dozen terrorist cases in the United States.” The vague wording really works for me. I immediately wonder which of the dozen involved that white Nazi from Maine trying to build a dirty bomb or the white Nazi patriot shooting people at the Holocaust museum. Then I realize that these terrorist “cases” probably did not include white people, militias, separatists or sovereign citizens, since the number would probably be off by an order of magnitude.
Still, I enjoy seeing Marc Theissen claim that waterboarding works, that the Muslim Brotherhood controls one third of all mosques in America, and listening to a man explaining that we are currently experiencing Islam’s “third great jihad.”
Of course, what I enjoy is irrelevant. What the audience revel in is hooting at the screen whenever Barack Obama says anything divergent from what they agree with. “Islam has a proud history of tolerance”, Obama says in 2009. “Yeah where?” answers the audience, who call him an “idiot” and “liar,” before subsiding with a lot of sheeshes and head-shaking. “We see it in Andalusia, during the Inquisition,” Obama goes on to say. “Yeah, when they killed everyone” adds someone who does not seem to be aware that neither history books, the Muslims of Cordoba or Barack Obama can hear him.
I eventually leave the room and start heading to the other side of the Gaylord, where former UN Ambassador John Bolton, Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton and Montana Representative Ryan Zinke answer the question: “When Should America Go to War?” And, folks, lemme tell you, it is all the dang time.
Watching these guys is amazing. Bolton, inventor of FreeRepublic.com’s mandatory mustache, opened early with, “We should have stopped Hitler at the Rhineland in 1936.” Cotton says, “If any state in the west had stood up to Adolf Hitler,” then sort of trails off into nothingness, perhaps remembering 1939-1945. When talking about how extreme force acts as a deterrent, Cotton says, “America is like Rome,” without mentioning Rome’s unnecessary wars of profit that served as a distraction from domestic political unrest. Churchill’s name comes up twice.
Bolton’s core thesis is that, “American strength is not provocative. Americanweakness is provocative”. Hence the allusion to Rome and the old Roman expression, Si vis pacem, para bellum. He then says that, “This is not a debate between interventionism versus non-interventionism, or between unilateralism or multi-lateralism,” which seems fairly obvious as soon as he starts talking about unilaterally going to war to stop anything he can think of. Cotton adds that the world has to know that we are willing to go to war to defend our national security interests, especially against trans-national terrorist groups. In a span of only few words, he has defined US interests as “everything everywhere.”
When asked if he would have supported the Iraq War, Cotton says he would have agreed with “Hillary Clinton and John Kerry, who made the right decision to support president George W. Bush.” This audience hoots, too. That is, until Zinke says that he would not have supported the 2003 invasion. The comment stings, since Zinke was a Navy SEAL and also opened his comments moments earlier by noting that he’d been to more funerals than there were people in the packed room. I guess you can’t win ‘em all.
Somewhere after the actual veteran has Debbie-Dowernered things, the Heritage Foundation’s James Carafano tells the assembled crowd that “we need to get back into the missile defense business in a big way.” What a funny way of phrasing that.
Still Bolton is on his game. You don’t get to be the Ur-Stache by being a slouch. “The war was correct,” he says, saying that Saddam would have had uranium-enriching centrifuges up and running immediately. “This saved the world from a nuclear disaster,” he says, which is a good job, considering all the other disasters just around the corner.
He then goes on to explain that we should have spent the last ten years better integrating the Baltic states into NATO, to discourage further Russian expansion.
“We’re past that,” he says, sadly. “That’s why we’re in such danger.”
There are two entirely different ways to be horrified by Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker comparing his battle with state unions to the fight against ISIS. If you haven’t heard, when he was asked how he’d combat the so-called Islamic State in Syria and Iraq at the Conservative Political Action conference Thursday, he replied: “If I can take on 100,000 protesters, I can do the same across the world.”
From the left, you can be disgusted by Walker comparing legal protests by labor unions and their supporters to the barbaric, blood-thirsty terrorism of ISIS. From the right, you can be appalled that Walker is clueless enough to suggest that standing up to peaceful protesters is remotely comparable to fighting a multi-national terror threat. Many people probably have both reactions; I know I did.
I’m not sure it’s enough to break the fever on the right that has delirious admirers seeing Walker as the 21st century Ronald Reagan. That might take a bigger dose of Walker idiocy – but it’s probably coming.
Once again, Walker’s hard-working communications staff had to clean up his mess with an emailed statement, just as they did last week after he said he didn’t know if President Obama is a Christian. Spokesperson Kristin Kukowski told reporters:
Governor Walker believes our fight against ISIS is one of the most important issues our country faces. He was in no way comparing any American citizen to ISIS. What the governor was saying was when faced with adversity he chooses strength and leadership. Those are the qualities we need to fix the leadership void this White House has created.
Walker himself tried denying that he’d compared Wisconsin protesters to ISIS. “You all will misconstrue things the way you see fit,” he whined to reporters after his speech, “but I think it’s pretty clear, that’s the closest thing I have in terms of handling a difficult situation, not that there’s any parallel between the two.”
It wasn’t just the stunning equation of peaceful protesters to ISIS that made Walker seem unready for the presidency during his CPAC speech. There he was, dead-eyed as usual, trying to claim that getting regular briefings from the FBI should count as foreign policy experience. He’s learned to punctuate his unremarkable remarks with a lame, Bill Clinton-style thumb-poke of faux-sincerity. It actually seemed sincere the first couple hundred times Clinton did it. Walker looks like he’s still practicing in front of a mirror. His light-blue shirt is baggy, his tie is too long, his hair is messy, not tousled; he looks like he’s running for Badger Boys State, not the presidency.
It turns out CPAC wasn’t the first time Walker has tried his “standing up to unions means I can whip ISIS” line. He made a similar argument at the New York event where Rudy Giuliani upstaged him by claiming President Obama doesn’t love America, according to Larry Kudlow, an event co-sponsor:
Walker argued that when Reagan fired the PATCO air-traffic controllers over their illegal strike, he was sending a message of toughness to Democrats and unions at home as well as our Soviet enemies abroad. Similarly, Walker believes his stance against unions in Wisconsin would be a signal of toughness to Islamic jihadists and Russia’s Vladimir Putin.
If Kudlow is correct, that undermines Walker’s claim that he was merely citing the protests as an example of a “difficult situation” he’s faced. He thinks somehow ISIS in Iraq and Syria will be cowed by his battles on the steps of the Capitol in Madison.
The right seems befuddled by Walker’s CPAC speech. The Blaze crowed that “Scott Walker pulls thunderous applause at CPAC,” while the National Review Online’s Andrew Johnson kvelled “Scott Walker hit all the right notes.”
But former Texas Gov. Rick Perry quickly criticized Walker’s remarks. And NRO’s Jim Geraghty was appalled:
That is a terrible response. First, taking on a bunch of protesters is not comparably difficult to taking on a Caliphate with sympathizers and terrorists around the globe, and saying so suggests Walker doesn’t quite understand the complexity of the challenge from ISIS and its allied groups.
Secondly, it is insulting to the protesters, a group I take no pleasure in defending. The protesters in Wisconsin, so furiously angry over Walker’s reforms and disruptive to the procedures of passing laws, earned plenty of legitimate criticism. But they’re not ISIS. They’re not beheading innocent people. They’re Americans, and as much as we may find their ideas, worldview, and perspective spectacularly wrongheaded, they don’t deserve to be compared to murderous terrorists.
I couldn’t put it better myself.
Walker is already complaining that this is another “gotcha” moment by the media, in the wake of those “gotcha” questions about whether Obama loves America or is truly a Christian as he publicly declares. As Digby reminds us, the Urban Dictionary aptly defines a “gotcha” question as one Sarah Palin is too dumb to answer.
Claiming fighting protesters prepared you to fight ISIS when asked about fighting terror? That’s an answer even Palin might have been too smart to give.
Why Is a Wildlife Rehab Center Authorizing Charter Schools? Inside the Wild World of Charter Regulation
Update, Feb. 24, 2015:Here's a further response from the Audubon Center of the North Woods.
Nestled in the woods of central Minnesota, near a large lake, is a nature sanctuary called the Audubon Center of the North Woods. The nonprofit rehabilitates birds. It hosts retreats and conferences. It’s home to a North American porcupine named Spike as well as several birds of prey, frogs, and snakes used to educate the center’s visitors.
It’s also Minnesota’s largest regulator of charter schools, overseeing 32 of them.
Charter schools are taxpayer-funded, privately run schools freed from many of the rules that apply to traditional public schools. What’s less widely understood is that there are few hard-and-fast rules for how the regulators charged with overseeing charter schools are supposed to do the job. Many are making it up as they go along.
Known as “authorizers,” charter regulators have the power to decide which charter schools should be allowed to open and which are performing so badly they ought to close. They’re supposed to vet charter schools, making sure the schools are giving kids a good education and spending public money responsibly.
But many of these gatekeepers are woefully inexperienced, under-resourced, confused about their mission or even compromised by conflicts of interest. And while some charter schools are overseen by state education agencies or school districts, others are regulated by entities for which overseeing charters is a side job, such as private colleges and nonprofits like the Audubon wildlife rehabilitation center.
One result of the regulatory mishmash: Bad schools have been allowed to stay open and evade accountability.
“Almost everything you see come up as charter school problems, if you scratch past the surface, the real problem is bad authorizing,” said John Charlton, spokesman for the Ohio Department of Education.
In 2010, an investigation by the Philadelphia Controller’s Office found lavish executive salaries, conflicts of interest and other problems at more than a dozen charter schools, and it faulted the authorizer – the School District of Philadelphia’s charter school office – for “complete and total failure” to monitor schools. In 2013, more than a dozen Ohio charter schools that had gained approval from various authorizers received state funding and then either collapsed in short order or never opened at all.
“Considerable state funds were lost and many lives impacted because of these failures,” the Ohio Department of Education wrote in a scathing letter last year to Ohio’s charter-school regulators. The agency wrote that some authorizers “lacked not only the appropriate processes, but more importantly, the commitment of mission, expertise and resources needed to be effective.”
Aside from such dramatic implosions, it’s hard to tell how many authorizers are doing at this important public function. They’re generally not required to say much about the details of their decision-making.
Take Minnesota’s Audubon Center. As a group, the schools overseen by the center fall below the state average on test scores. The group has several persistently low performers, acknowledged David Greenberg, Audubon’s Director of Charter School Authorizing, and a few years back, made the tough call to close one. But test scores offer a limited window into how a regulator is performing. The center works with several schools serving high-need students in Minneapolis, and high-need students tend to have lower test scores. A full picture requires a more holistic evaluation – one that the Minnesota Department of Education is just starting this year.
In the early years of the charter movement, charter supporters focused on creating more authorizers, in order to spur the creation of more schools. That’s still true in some states, where charters are taking off. But as the movement has matured, there’s been a realization that “having too many authorizers undercuts quality,” in the words of the National Association for Charter School Authorizers, a trade group for charter regulators. NACSA has worked to educate states and individual authorizers on what good oversight looks like, while promoting measures such as “default closure” to help bypass authorizers that may be reluctant to close chronically underperforming schools.
While there are promising signs, NACSA acknowledges there’s still a long way to go. “It feels like whack-a-mole, but in the long term, you’re getting closer,” said Alex Medler, the group’s vice president of policy and advocacy. Even if states have some strong authorizers, weak ones can undermine the whole system, as underperforming schools can find refuge with them.
“It’s not how many are good, it’s are there any bad ones left?” Medler said. “If you’re running a bad school, you look for the presence of bad authorizers. You ignore the good authorizer.”
Consider Indiana, a state that has sought to strengthen charter-school accountability in recent years. On one hand, the Indianapolis Mayor’s Office is widely regarded as a strong charter-school regulator. The schools it oversees have as a group performed better on state tests than Indianapolis Public Schools, and the office has made some tough calls, revoking charters when it sees fit and flagging suspected cheating at its schools.
On the other hand, there’s Trine University, a small private college in rural Northeast Indiana and a charter-school regulator that has taken on schools that left other authorizers, in some cases after those regulators had sought to close them.
One of Trine’s schools is a charter operated by Imagine, a national charter-school operator trailed by a track record of questionable financial dealings at schools in multiple states. In 2006, Imagine had sought approval from the Indianapolis Mayor’s Office, which roundly rejected those charter applications, noting that “the evidence regarding the performance of Imagine Schools nationwide is limited and mixed,” according to internal notes from the mayor’s office. Staffers also raised concerns about the fees the schools would have to pay to Imagine.
So Imagine tried again with Ball State University, another regulator, got approvals, and began operating several persistently lagging schools until Ball State toughened up and sought to close seven schools at once, including three Imagine schools. The remaining Imagine school – which had gotten progressively worse over the years, going from a C to a D to an F – then jumped ship to Trine University.
As it so happens, Trine University’s charter school office is headed by Lindsay Omlor, who prior to this job had spent six years working for Imagine. Asked about Trine’s decision to take on the Imagine school, Omlor said her office was aware of the school’s scores and “together we have developed and implemented a rigorous improvement plan.” She defended the decision to take on schools that other authorizers were poised to close, saying that authorizing is not “one size fits all,” and that schools should “have the opportunity to pursue an authorizer who may be a better fit with their mission.”
This type of “authorizer hopping” is a big problem, said David Harris, who spent five years as a charter regulator in Indiana and now serves as CEO of The Mind Trust, an education reform group that incubates charter schools. Harris believes the state legislature erred in giving Trine and other little-known private colleges the ability to regulate charter schools. “They are the weakest link. They’re keeping schools open that other authorizers are trying to close down. In some cases, I don’t even think they understand the purpose of authorizing.”
It’s not just Trine. In the esoteric world of charter authorizing, there’s long been confusion and tension over the basic role of authorizers. Are they charter-school watchdogs, or are they there to provide support?
In Ohio, many charter authorizers fall on the “support” end of the spectrum. Some go so far that they sell “support services” – back-office services, for instance, or even professional development – to the very schools they regulate. It’s a way for these groups to make additional revenue on top of the fees they’re allowed to charge the schools.
“It creates a conflict of interest,” said Terry Ryan, president of the Idaho Charter School Network, who previously worked as an authorizer at The Thomas B. Fordham Institute, an education think tank in Ohio. “Authorizers shouldn’t be doing any of that, because as soon as they do, they’re compromising their ability to hold schools accountable.”
Even the lingo around charter-school regulation points to divergent approaches. In most states, groups overseeing charter schools are called “authorizers” to convey their decision-making role in approving or closing schools. But in Ohio and other states, they’re referred to as charter “sponsors.”
“Sponsor is too soft, like an advocate,” said Brandon Brown, director of charter schools in the Indianapolis Mayor’s Office. Indiana did a find-and-replace in its state charter law in 2013 and swapped out the word “sponsor.” “We wanted folks to understand we’re here to provide accountability. We’re not necessarily charter school advocates.”
But in many states, those lines can blur. And some entities such as colleges or nonprofits – by virtue of relying on donations as a source of revenue – may be particularly susceptible to outside influence or the blurring of mission.
Grand Valley State University, a public university in Michigan, is one of the largest charter-school authorizers in the state. Roughly one-third of the charter schools it oversees are run by a single operator, National Heritage Academies, a powerful for-profit firm with 80 schools across nine states. But that’s not the extent of the relationship between the university and the company.
NHA’s founder and chairman, J.C. Huizenga, serves as a director at the Grand Valley State University Foundation. And though he’s not an alumnus, he’s in a special class of donors that have given $1 million or more to the university, which also oversees more of his schools than any other regulator in the state.
Timothy Wood, Grand Valley State University’s Special Assistant to the President for Charter Schools, told ProPublica, “We have a large number of NHA schools in our portfolio for one reason only – performance.”
But academic performance has been mixed at the NHA schools under Grand Valley’s watch, with a few recognized for high or improved performance and twice as many flagged for having some of the highest achievement gaps in the state. And although charter-school boards are supposed to be in control of schools and have the power to hire and fire contractors such as NHA, the Detroit Free Press reported last year that regulators at Grand Valley State University repeatedly backed NHA over board members who had concerns about the company.
“I am convinced that Grand Valley and National Heritage are hooked at the joint,” one former board president, Sandra Clark-Hinton, told ProPublica. She resigned the board of an NHA charter school in 2010, feeling disempowered and frustrated both by NHA and by Grand Valley’s lockstep support of the company.
Asked about conflicts of interest, Grand Valley’s Timothy Wood stated, “There is absolutely no conflict of interest regarding National Heritage Academies and Grand Valley. We handle all applications the same.” J.C. Huizenga’s relationship is with the Grand Valley Foundation, which Wood said, “is a completely separate entity from the university itself.” (The university’s own website says “The foundation is the umbrella organization and recognition society for all who give to the university.”)
National Heritage Academies, asked about Huizenga’s gifts to the university, also didn’t make a distinction. A spokeswoman for National Heritage Academies, Jennifer Hoff, responded with a statement: Huizenga “seeks nothing in return nor does he attempt to direct how his gifts are spent.” She added, “His generosity to Grand Valley State University began well before Mr. Huizenga involved himself with education reform and certainly preceded his involvement with charter schools.”
To the extent that there’s been attention paid to avoiding conflicts of interest, self-dealing or other ethical quandaries in the charter sector, it’s been focused on the school level, said Paul O’Neill, an education attorney and founder of Tugboat Education Services, a consulting firm that does work with charters, authorizers, and other groups. “For authorizers,” he said, “it’s been very off the cuff. It’s not formalized, and I think that’s a mistake.”
Often, charter-school regulators simply lack the resources and expertise. To tackle financial issues and spot potential fraud, for instance, authorizers need people on staff who truly understand audits, accounting, and can ask the right questions of charter schools and the large, national firms that often contract with schools, said Greg Richmond, president of the National Association for Charter School Authorizers.
“Many authorizers don’t have that, and they are totally overmatched by the folks doing this for a living,“ Richmond said. Numbers from Richmond’s group indicate, for instance, that more than half of the nation’s charter-school regulators oversee only a single school. “Many, many agencies that are authorizers do not allocate enough staff or the right staff to do this work.”
In extreme cases, lack of expertise or capacity has led to charter-school regulation being further outsourced. One of Ohio’s biggest charter-school regulators is St. Aloysius Orphanage, a Catholic mental-health center in Cincinnati that technically oversees 43 charter schools. Under Ohio law, it’s eligible to regulate charter schools because it’s a nonprofit. Yet the charity contracts out regulatory work to a for-profit vendor, Charter School Specialists.
Charter School Specialists reviews the schools’ finances and conducts school site visits on behalf of St. Aloysius. It writes the required annual report on behalf of St. Aloysius, running through how the charter schools are doing. But Charter School Specialists also sells services to charter schools, such as handling accounting, payroll or even providing schools with treasurers. In other words, it’s a for-profit middleman paid by both the regulator and the regulated.
For the former orphanage, authorizing brought in $2.6 million in fees paid by charter schools, the group’s 2013 tax filing shows. In the same year, St. Aloysius paid Charter School Specialists $1.5 million, leaving the nonprofit an extra $1.1 million. It’s not clear exactly what St. Aloysius has done to earn the difference – though Dave Cash, president of Charter School Specialists, said St. Aloysius “bears ultimate responsibility for all major decisions” and “provides an additional level of expertise and analysis.” St. Aloysius Orphanage did not respond to requests for comment.
There are indications that this unusual oversight arrangement may not be working. In 2013, eight charter schools that were approved by the former orphanage opened, only to quickly fold, with “financial viability” listed as the official reason. The state lost $1.7 million in taxpayer dollars it had already given to the schools, and the state auditor is now scrutinizing St. Aloysius. The funds so far have not been recovered.
Recognizing its problem with weak oversight, Ohio has begun to administer in-depth evaluations and assign ratings to charter school regulators, which officials hope will give them a way to identify and weed out bad ones. For a state with about 65 authorizers, though, evaluating all of them will take years. Officials say they expect to complete about 10 evaluations each year.
In Minnesota, where a similar process has been in the works, ratings for four authorizers are expected to be made public in May, with the process extending into 2017. The Audubon Center’s rating is scheduled to be issued in December.Related Stories
Black women have a long history of advocating for fair wages and access to decent employment opportunities for African-American communities. In her recent remarks at the Academy Awards championing the fight against wage inequality, Patricia Arquette seemed wholly unaware of these histories, elaborating backstage that it was now time for all other groups to fight for white women, because they had fought for everybody else.In 1920 or thereabouts, famed Washington, D.C., educator Nannie Helen Burroughs helped to found the National Association of Wage Earners as both an advocacy group and a training resource for working class black women. Addressing employment inequality and wage inequality for newly freed black women entering the workforce after Emancipation, and later for black women from the South who had migrated North, was a hallmark of black women’s organizing in the late 19th century and the early 20th century. At the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893, Fannie Barrier Williams, a socialite, club woman and budding political theorist told the crowd, “in the item of employment, colored women bear a distressing burden of mean and unreasonable discrimination.” Still, she told them, “we believe this country is large enough and the opportunities for all kinds of success are great enough to afford our women a fair chance to earn a respectable living.” In 1925, Gertrude Elise McDougald, an organizer and teacher in New York City, helped to found the Trade Union Committee for Organizing Negro Workers, in order to encourage African-American solidarity with labor and discourage strike-breaking as the pathway to work.
It also bears noting that Fannie Barrier Williams gave her 1893 speech to an audience of white women. It was she urging them to become black women’s allies in the quest for fair employment practices and a living wage. So I am left wanting to ask Patricia Arquette where all the white women who’ve been fighting for every other group of marginalized people are, because some of the most prominent black women organizers in history spent a fair amount of time trying to compel these women to be in solidarity. Notwithstanding the utter absurdity of her claim, her remarks demonstrate a point I made in an earlier column: “white women’s feminisms still center around equality…Black women’s feminisms demand justice.”Earning the same paycheck as one’s male counterpart is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to addressing wage inequality. For there are also issues of access, fair treatment and evaluation, and opportunities for promotion, alongside receiving fair and equal pay. There is also the matter of whether earning equal wages translates into wealth. As a 2010 study illustrated, black women have $100 and Latinas have $120 of median net wealth for every $41,500 that white women have. So even though Latina women and black women earn between 54 percent and 64 percent, respectively, on every dollar a white man makes, somehow we manage to save even less of that money or turn it into wealth.
Taken together, addressing these matters demands not an equality framework but a justice framework, one that is infinitely more concerned from bottom to top with the way that workers are treated within systems, the conditions under which they work, and equitable compensation that they receive.
When white feminists attempt with, what I imagine in Arquette’s case, the best of intentions to be political, and then fail, there are two imagined proper responses from black feminists. One is to look past all that is wrong with what has been said, offer our fellow feminist the benefit of the doubt, and elevate the good. Never mind that impact matters infinitely more than intention. If white women meant well, that should be enough. The other demand is for black feminists to don the angry, indignant black feminist cape and proceed in a show of eloquent rage to get the errant white feminist in check.
Though I’m pretty terrific at eloquent rage, I’m not going to do either. I will not ignore Arquette’s ridiculous backstage comments about what other groups – men, gays and people of color—owe to white women freedom fighters. She said, “And it’s time for all the women in America and all the men that love women, and all the gay people, and all the people of color that we’ve all fought for to fight for us now.” I will not pretend that her remarks did not ever so slightly piss me off. On the other hand, I will not expend my intellectual labor retreading the well-worn ground of intersectional feminism. Since 1982, we have known what is problematic about assuming that “All the women are white, and all the blacks are men.” I opt instead to do this labor in my classroom, where I teach graduate students, enamored with academic calls to become “post-intersectional,” of the obvious Arquettian pitfalls of such a position.
If among feminists, black women are always asked to do the uncompensated labor of educating white women about how they have effed up, is this also not a form of wage inequality? Are these not also the wages of race at play? Some of my academic colleagues of color call this “the black or people of color tax” — the extra, and often unacknowledged labor, time and resources we give to institutions, that our white colleagues don’t have to do and for which we are uncompensated, in order to help struggling students of color navigate our institutions and insure diversity at the levels of faculty and administration.
If I ramp up my cortisol levels to express my anger and hurt at white women for failing once again to get it, is that not a tax and toll on my health that I pay either in future medical bills or in years unlived?
If I call out Arquette for failure to acknowledge the shoulders of people of color on whom white feminists stand, must I call out John Legend and Common for making no mention, for instance, of the way black women are impacted by the Prison Industrial Complex? Or can I simply acknowledge that I found their clear political stance in support of the current #BlackLivesMatter movement and invocation of Nina Simone a breath of fresh air?
Solidarity with my Latino brothers and sisters does require me to say that Sean Penn’s request for Alejandro Inárritu to “show his papers,” so to speak, was crudely racist and offensive.
But after black women have done all of this labor, all of this reminding white women that our feminist solidarities are not about fighting for white women to have economic parity with white men in a system of white supremacy and all of this reminding black men that our freedom struggle is not just for them but for all of us, and all of this standing in solidarity with other oppressed groups, who will fairly and justly compensate us? And more pointedly, who will stand for us?
When the labor conditions are deplorable and those in power won’t shift these conditions, laborers have the right to withhold work. Asking black women and other women of color always to explain, show and prove to white people what is so wrong about what they have said or done, when we have no guarantees that they will change, shift or grow, is unacceptable. I demand better conditions of work.
Until then, I encourage you to outsource your educational needs to my twitter hashtag #AskAWhiteFeminist. This Black Feminist is on strike.
Bill O'Reilly is consistently the most-watched opinion news pundit. But despite bringing in enormous ratings, O'Reilly has gotten himself into a bit of trouble as it appears that he has, on several occasions, blatantly lied about his reporting history.
Here's the three big whoppers uncovered so far:
1. Bill O'Reilly Lied About How He Covered The Falklands War: O'Reilly has claimed that he “reported on the ground in active war zones [like] the Falklands...having survived a combat situation in Argentina during the Falklands war, I know that life-and-death decisions are made in a flash.” The reality is that O'Reilly, while working for CBS News, covered a protest in Buenos Aires, over a thousand miles away from the fighting over the Falklands.
2. Bill O'Reilly Lied About Witnessing The Suicide Of A Man In The JFK Investigation: O'Reilly has on numerous occasions said he witnessed the suicide of George de Mohrenschildt, who knew the JFK assassin Lee Harvey Oswald. It's now apparent that O'Reilly actually called a congressional investigator to confirm the suicide – meaning he didn't witness it himself.
3. Bill O'Reilly Lied About Witnessing The Murder Of Salvadoran Nuns: O'Reilly claimed he saw nuns executed in El Salvador; after being called on the claim, he now says he merely saw photographs of the execution. Additionally, O'Reilly stands accused as intentionally failing to cover massacres during the war.
The researchers at Media Matters are working around the clock to discover more fibs from O'Reilly's past. If three major whoppers have emerged in less than three weeks, it's likely we haven't seen the last of the Fox News anchor's lies.