Saturday, April 30, 2016

Would Jesus Have Tortured?

The smell of autumn is in the air on this Sunday morning, that intoxicating aroma of decaying leaves, ripe apples and bedewed grass brilliantly illuminated by the sun in a cloudless azure blue sky.  But there is another smell as well and it is not so sweet – the smell of hypocrisy as the faithful file into a conservative Christian church near Kiko's House for their weekly dose of God. 
There they are, the fathers in their starched shirts and mothers in their best dresses, their two and a half children in tow, as I pedal by on my daily bike ride and take note of all of the bumper stickers in support of George W. Bush and the troops in Iraq on their SUVs and pickup trucks. 
Now hypocrisy is a strong word, so I had better explain myself lest the Big Guy unleash a thunderbolt and knock out my hard drive before I can post this.
In researching a commentary titled Sic Semper Tyrannis: The Blackest of the Bush Administration's Black Marks on the White House's sick embrace of torture, I noticed that the so-called fundamentalist, faith-based Republicans who make up a goodly portion of the president's political base have, with damned few exceptions, been silent.
You can read the Christian Bible in any number of ways, but it is a stretch to say that torture is endorsed. Its use as a tool of war is a sin.  Period.  And to be silent in the face of its use is to condone its use.
It's not that fundamentalists cannot find their tongues. Why just the other day a bunch of them declared that the greatest threat to America is not gay marriage, flag desecration or even abortion. It's anime.   

Friday, April 29, 2016

A Peek Into The Situation Room If Donald Trump Became Commander In Chief

Based on the famous photograph of President Obama and his national security team watching the Osama bin Laden raid unfold on May 1, 2010, this Huffington Post photo illustration by Frank Oyttenhove shows how things might look if Donald Trump was president.   
Seated from left, Chris Christie, Trump, Marshall B. Webb, Rudy Giuliani, Sarah Palin, Hulk Hogan.  Standing from left, Private Brittany von Gunz, Donald Trump Jr., Sheriff Joe Arpaio, Rick Scott, Bruce Willis and Scott Brown.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Lawsuit Against Bush Torture Regime Perps Is Green Lighted By A Federal Judge

Like a radio wave reaching earth from some cosmic calamity millennia ago, a federal judge has ruled that a lawsuit brought by victims of the Bush Torture Regime may move forward.   
Not a single ranking official has been punished for their complicity in what is unarguably the darkest element of the darkest era in modern American history -- the Bush administration's secret endorsement of the use of torture on enemy detainees by and in conjunction with the CIA in violation of U.S. and international law.  These Nazi-like interrogation techniques included waterboarding, imprisonment in small boxes, slapping and punching, sleep deprivation, being doused with icy cold water, mock execution, threats that detainees' children would be killed and their mothers sexually assaulted, and forced rectal feeding.   
But now a senior federal judge in Washington state had green lighted an ACLU lawsuit for possible trial on behalf of a Tanzanian fisherman, an exile from the regime of Libyan strongman Mummer Gaddafi and an Afghan refugee who died of hypothermia while in captivity.  All were held for years and subjected to torture although they were never accused of being members of Al Qaeda or any other terrorist organization, nor charged with any crimes.    
They are: 
Suleiman Abdullah Salim, a Tanzanian fisherman who was abducted by the CIA and Kenyan security forces in 2003 and rendered to a CIA prison codenamed COBALT, then to a second prison known as the "Salt Pit," and finally to a prison at Bagram Air Base.  He was released after four years of being held in solitary confinement and tortured.   
Mohamed Ahmed Ben Soud, a Libyan who fled to Pakistan in 1991 fearing persecution over his involvement in an anti-Qaddafi group.   He was captured in a joint U.S.-Pakistani raid, rendered to COBALT, tortured for a year and then moved to another CIA prison codenamed ORANGE and again tortured before being sent to Libya in 2005, where he was imprisoned.   
Sul Rahman, an Afghan refugee, fled to Pakistan with his wife and four daughters after the post-9/11 U.S.-led invasion.  In 2002, he was abducted in a joint U.S.-Pakistani raid and rendered to COBALT, where he was found dead in his cell of hypothermia after being tortured for two weeks by a CIA team that included John "Bruce" Jessen.
The lawsuit alleges that psychologists Jessen and James Elmer Mitchell, independent contractors in the pay of the CIA, were key players in the design of a brutal torture program used on the three victims, along with 116 others, that amounted to a "joint criminal enterprise."   
Once the torture became public, the Bush administration justified its use by claiming that valuable information was gleaned that helped prevent terror attacks on the homeland in the wake of 9/11, although not a shred of evidence has been presented backing up that claim and there is substantial evidence that torture was counterproductive and sometimes elicited false information.   
Barack Obama's first act as president was to ban the use of torture, but bowing to political expedience, his administration chose to not pursue investigations of or prosecution against torture regime perps and has failed to refute false claims that torture led it to Osama bin Laden's hideaway.  It also has tacitly backed the oft-chanted Pentagon mantra that dissemination of photographs of prisoner abuse and torture could put American troops at risk, which after so many years of obfuscation, denial of accountability and disinformation seems like a cruel joke in light of the reality that the use of torture rallied recruits for the very enemies the U.S. was fighting.
Jim Mitchell and Bruce Jessen were looking for businesses opportunities. The military retirees, both psychologists, found a lucrative one at the CIA, which was looking for a veneer of respectability for its interrogation program in the post-9/11 world.  Never mind that neither man had ever carried out real interrogations, their PhD dissertations were on family therapy and high blood pressure, and they had no language skills or knowledge of Al Qaeda.   
In addition to their psychology credentials, what Jessen and Mitchell did have was knowledge of the brutal treatment  regime used by Chinese communists on American prisoners of war in Korea, and that fit the CIA bill.   
The psychologists' fall from grace was as rapid as their rise.  Today their lucrative business -- Mitchell Jessen and Associates -- which operated out of an historic building in downtown Spokane, is empty, their CIA contract suspended and they are in the crosshairs of the ACLU suit.  
In 2012, Obama's Department of Justice (DoJ) announced that CIA officials responsible for the torture regime would not face criminal charges, and the key questions asked last week by Senior Federal Judge Justin L. Quackenbush in a Spokane courtroom before ruling that discovery in the ACLU lawsuit could go forward is whether it mattered who made the decisions in the torture program and whether a civilian court has jurisdiction.   
"Is there evidence in this case that the president of the United States of America specifically authorized the activities?" he asked.   
James Smith, attorney for the defendants, answered: "Ultimately, the CIA was authorized by the president of the United States to take these actions." 
What the CIA's contract with Jessen and Mitchell said was the subject of considerable conjecture since neither the defendants' attorneys nor the DoJ lawyer present had seen it. 
"Even if they produce a contract . . . the decisions implicated by that contract are not beyond this court's ability to review," argued ACLU attorney Dror Ladin. "What defendants seek in dismissing the case its a blank check . . . nowhere in the authorization for use of military force does it say you may torture prisoners." 
Quackenbush ordered attorneys to formulate a plan on evidence collection, depositions and the handling of classified information.  "The judge has said these are claims that can go forward," said a jubilant Ladin.  "They will be decided on the facts of this case, which has never happened."   
The work of Mitchell and Jessen had the tacit approval of the American Psychological Association, which tossed ethical concerns aside and in collaboration with the CIA created an association ethics policy on national security interrogations which conveniently comported with the spy agency's program.   
This secret deal in turn enabled the Justice Department to argue in secret legal opinions that the program was legal and did not constitute torture since the interrogations were being monitored by APA-approved health-care professionals to make sure they were safe, and the rationalizations of the association and government are chockablock with analogies that call to mind the machinations of officials in Hitler's Third Reich to create that all-important veneer of respectability for their vile deeds.  
The APA, the nation's largest professional organization for psychologists, denied in responding to a report from dissident association members that it had coordinated its actions with the government, but nevertheless asked that an investigation of its actions be undertaken by a team led by a former federal prosecutor.   
In July 2015, the team issued a scathing report that the APA's own ethics director had cynically colluded with government officials, two former APA presidents had advised the CIA that sleep deprivation did not constitute torture, and a previous task force formed to study concern with the CIA program was stacked with national security insiders who, of course, concluded that psychologists could assist in the brutal interrogations.   
The APA has since revised its ethics policy to forbid members was participating in torture, but any hopes that the ACLU suit will reinvigorate the debate over who should be held accountable for torture is wishful thinking.


Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Tom At 70: 'We're All Brothers And Sisters On The Surface Of The Planet Earth'

Flip (left) and Tom with Tom's beloved 1937 LaSalle Series 50 Sedan at Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah en route to San Francisco (1968)
Tom would have turned 70 today.   
He was my oldest friend, and given the longevity of that friendship, probably my closest, although we were not close in a sharing intimate secrets and deepest fears kind of way as I have been with some women.  One of those guy things, I suppose.   
I met Tom when I was a freshman in college in 1965 and shared a house with he and a tribe of kindred souls on a farm beyond Philadelphia’s far western suburbs that at first glance would seem to have been a commune, but most definitely was not, for many of the next 30 years.  He had a concatenation of skills: Working on cars.  Carpentry.  Electrical work.  Tree trimming.  Sign painting.  Stargazing.  Sexing marijuana plants.  Leather work.   
He was a fabulous ice skater, and watching him scribe gentle arcs while gliding backwards down the frozen Brandywine at Breck's Mill on a moonlit night was awesome.  He was a passable fiddle player, had a complete set of the Rockford Files on videocassette and shared Eric von Däniken's belief that extraterrestrials had influenced early human culture.  He was an atheist (I think), apolitical insofar that the sturm und drang of elections and such seemed like so much petty bullshit to him, and an egalitarian to the core with a limitless supply of down-to-earth advice that he dispensed freely to all comers whether or not they wanted to hear his pearls of wisdom. 
Tom and I often read each other's minds, sometimes finished each other's sentences, and had many adventures together, including feats of daring-do that would leave others gasping in amazement but for us were merely a part of having the time of our lives.  Sadly, he had become a shadow of his once sage self when he left this mortal coil in 1997.  
Bringing in the sheaves at the farm (1977)
Tom was tall and thin, wore his hair down to his waist before it was fashionable and long afterwards, favored flannel shirts buttoned to the neck and at the wrists even in the hottest weather, and always wore jeans.  He often looked like he had just crawled out from under a car after changing the oil, which he probably had.  I may have seen him in shorts once or twice.   
Off the farm, Tom was Doctor Duck, a favorite nom de plumage, and many people had no idea what his real name was.  His leather working shop was across the railroad tracks from the bar where he sometimes worked as a bouncer and the tribe hung out, and next to a funeral home where, as he put it, they threw "going-away parties." 
The shop was familiarly know as the Duck Shop, although the sign Tom painted and hung from the front porch said New World Trading Company, and later The Leather Tree.  Inside, the shop looked like the set of Sanford and Son, only with even more stuff.  But the stuff really wasn't junk. Everything had a purpose, from the industrial-grade sewing machine to boxes of brass buckles, rivets and other fitments, to the slabs of milled black walnut aging in a corner before he ran them through his portable saw mill.  I'm not so sure about the meteorites and examples of his brother Richard's drag art, mangled toasters and other kitchen appliances that had been dragged behind their cars.  The shop was redolent with the smell of leather and oils, and in cold weather, the occasional homeless person whom Tom allowed to sleep under a workbench.  
Cleaning up at Wendy and Mic's house (1986)
Tom turned out beautiful embroidered belts and wallets, as well as gear -- holsters, bandoliers and such -- for the local police department. 
He was a master at getting the most useable material from a cowhide with the least amount of waste, and expert at running the cut pieces through a foot treadle-powered sewing machine to stitch them together.  He sewed a pair of lamé jumpsuits for he and a friend, one sparkly red with MARS embroidered on the back and the other sparkly blue with VENUS.  They wore these fashion statements to Halloween parties and other special occasions.  He made a satin-lined suede leather vest for one of my girlfriends without taking a single measurement.  It fit her like a glove. 
Tom's sole business failure was running a submarine sandwich shop in a storefront around the corner from the Duck Shop.  It was called Munchies and featured whole wheat sub rolls, which he assumed would be a big hit with the hippy-dippy college crowd, as well as free delivery.  But as anyone who appreciates a good sub knows, the key is the roll, typically semolina with a hard crust and soft innards, but Munchies' whole wheat rolls were dense and tasted like old wallets.   
Free delivery lasted only two or three nights because the driver, who had anger-management issues, lost his shit and put a fist through an apartment lobby wall when a customer asked him to break a hundred dollar bill.  The police recognized the driver as a friend of Tom's, that strange but okay fella who made their leather uniform gear, and sent him on his way with a warning.
With Nancy's mom at the Vietnam Veterans Center, Philadelphia (1988)
Snow had a cleansing effect on the farm.  Anything rutted, muddy or rusted -- and lots and lots of stuff was -- took on a respectable if not exactly virginal white, while the view from the farmhouse roof was exhilarating.   
One moonless January night, we hoisted Tom's big telescope onto the roof through a trapdoor in the ceiling of a third-floor bedroom.  Our objective was to spot Comet Kahoutek, which was supposed to blaze a fiery path through the southern sky just before dawn.  The comet did no such thing from our northerly vantage point, a disappointing pinprick of light with a hair-thin tail. 
I was driving southbound from the farm on a country road in my VW bus.  About a quarter mile away came the northbound Tom in The Pig.  There were no other cars on the road.  We sped closer and closer to each other, and then in a feat of mind-reading legerdemain, he veered into my lane and I into his, as we shot past each other at about 50 miles an hour.   
Tom had taken a stock late 1960s Buick Special with a slate gray body and tan vinyl roof, jacked up the rear and installed a heavy-duty suspension.  Why I don't know, but The Pig looked like it was a big cat about to pounce.  He bolted a pair of surplus military aircraft landing lights to the front bumper, and even at the hellacious speeds he sometimes drove, The Pig never outran those lights.  But the coup de grace was a vintage eight-track tape deck he installed in the dashboard at a time when cassette players ruled and compact discs were still well over the horizon.  He only had four or five tapes, and The Moody Blues' A Question of Balance usually was on.   Boy did I get sick of it. 
At a ballgame at Camden Yards, Baltimore (1992)
Tom drove the Duckmobile on special occasions.  It was a white early 1960s Morris Minor so small he could barely squeeze into the driver's seat, and he had to hunch over the steering wheel.   
That was the idea, as inspired by the substantial trove of Zap Comix stashed in a second-floor closet at the farmhouse, some of which had Morris Minor-like cars passing pedestrians with weird ambulations -- both trademarks of cartoonist R. Crumb.   
Tom was headed back to the farm from a Halloween party in the Duckmobile decked out in his red lamé jumpsuit, his head and arms painted red, and a bottle of Jim Beam bourbon sprayed with red sparkle paint in one hand.  He spun off the road and the Duckmobile rolled down an embankment.  It landed on its roof.   
God does look out for fools and drunks.  Tom, qualifying for both, suffered nothing worse than a bump on his head.  I came down the next morning to the sight of him asleep, his head on the kitchen table.  He awoke with a pained look, one of the few times he dropped his carefully maintained guard.  He was in desperate need of a hot bath, so I drew him one.  We never were able to completely scrub out the red ring he left behind.
On the porch of his New London Road fixer upper (1994)
have often pondered when Tom went around the bend and set out on a course that ended with his own going-away party at that funeral home next to the Duck Shop at the relatively young age of 51.  And why he did. 
It may have been a slow-ticking time bomb of a consequence from a fractured skull suffered in a motorcycle accident during a brief Army stint.  Or when his usual 7 a.m. repast of two slices of white bread toast, two strips of bacon and a cup of hot tea at the local greasy spoon was replaced with a beer breakfast.  Or when he stopped doing leather work and started hosing down the mats behind the town bar for free beer.  Or stopped washing and combing his beautiful hair with any regularity. Or would avert my gaze instead of trying to convince me he was okay when I got on his case about letting himself go.
Tom held court in a corner of the bar, dispensing four-leaf clover key chains and wisdom to regulars and irregulars alike as he sipped on Rolling Rock beers.  His response no matter the subject was usually, "We're all brothers and sisters on the surface of the planet Earth," which certainly are words to live by. 
Come to think of it, Tom probably went around the bend when he stopped following his own advice.  
Rest in peace, dear friend. 


Monday, April 25, 2016

Politix Update: Philly In The East, Pittsburgh In The West & Alabama In The Middle

 I will be voting in the Pennsylvania primary tomorrow, a usually ho-hum affair coming as late as it does in the season, but is said to have an outsized influence in 2016, this craziest of presidential election years.  This is because the outcome of the Democratic primary may finally convince Bernie Sanders supporters that they need to stop eating Hillary Clinton's dust and the outcome of the Republican primary may determine whether Donald Trump can win his party's nomination outright.   
Pennsylvania has gone Democratic in every presidential election since it helped elect George H. W. Bush over the hapless Michael Dukakis in 1988, and had gone for Ronald Reagan in 1980 and 1984. It is a confounding state politically, and to paraphrase James Carville, Bill Clinton's campaign manager in 1992, Pennsylvania is Philadelphia in the east, Pittsburgh in the west, and Alabama in the middle. 
While that is not entirely accurate, it's close enough, and this has led to reports that Pennsylvania voters, a majority of whom are Democrats, are switching to Republican in large numbers so they could vote for Trump.   
Not so, says Burwood Yost.   
Burwood who?   
Yost is the chief methodologist for Terry Madonna, who runs the Franklin and Marshall Poll at the eponymously named college in Lancaster.  They are hands down the two best Keystone State pollsters, which I know because I worked with them for years when I toiled at the Philadelphia Daily News.   
Yost notes that reporting to the effect that there is a mass migration to the Republican column for Democrats who support Trump fits nicely into the national narrative "depicting high excitement among Republicans and the power of Donald Trump to attract new voter, but it turns out those numbers are wrong."   
Only about 150,000 voters have switched parties this year, with 90,000 registering Republican as of April 3, but obscuring that factoid is that combined with the party switchers, overall there are now 222,000 new Democrats and 214,000 new Republicans since the last election.   
Further clouding the picture, Yost explains, is that Republican registration is surging only in the southwest and northeast parts of the state, areas well known for having lots of "Reagan Democrats," people who are likely to vote tomorrow for the man with the small hands and peculiar hair.   
While this bodes well for Trump in the primary, it does not mean that the Republican Party is in a better position to end its losing presidential election streak in Pennsylvania in November because there are still about a million more registered Democrats than Republicans.   
And so Pennsylvania remains a blue state with purple tendencies, or something.   
Yost, by the way, has an easy answer to false reports of a mass migration to Trump by Democrats.  It's what he calls the Real Trump Effect.   
"Members of the media were captured by the compelling national storyline about the Trump candidacy," he explains.  "Knowingly or not, they substituted what they knew was happening elsewhere for what they thought might be happening in Pennsylvania.  That's a too-common mistake when many of us make quick judgments, particularly about those things that seem to confirm what we think we know. 
"But the media's essential function as our democracy's information gatekeeper is too important to rely on snap judgments or stories that fit information into a commonly accepted way of thinking."   
I could not have said it better.   
Incidentally, Trump and Hillary Clinton have comfortable double-digit leads in all Pennsylvania primary polls.   
Trump leads Lyin' Ted Cruz by a 45 percent to 27 percent margin in an aggregate of polls, with John Kasich at 24 percent, while Clinton leads Bernie Sanders by a 55 percent to 40 percent margin.  Nate Silver at FiveThirtyEight gives Trump and Clinton a 98 percent chance of winning their primaries, while I'm rooting for Kasich, faux moderate though he may be, to finish second ahead of the execrable Cruz. 
In a much talked about wrinkle, the Republican results will be more symbolic than binding, with 54 of the state's 71 delegates free to back whomever they want at the party's nominating convention in Cleveland in July, which has led to speculation that if Trump gets the lion's share, he can cinch the nomination.  We'll see. 
The Democrats' 189 delegates will be allotted based on statewide performance, but in any event Clinton would kick Trump's ass (with or without Charlie Koch's help) from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh in the fall even if everything is Alabama in between.  
Leave it to Donald Trump to reliably horrify.  Campaigning in Philadelphia, which should deliver healthy majorities to Hillary Clinton and perhaps favor John Kasich, Trump is evoking memories of Frank Rizzo, the former mayor and police commissioner.   
Rizzo, like Trump, was undeniably charismatic and an outsized and polarizing figure.  As top cop, the Big Bambino rounded up homosexuals, made Black Panthers strip in the street, once appeared at a formal event with a nightstick stuck in his cummerbund, and -- my favorite -- singlehandedly ruined Philadelphia's bicentennial celebration summer in 1976 by scaring away tourists with claims that hippies were going to put LSD in the city's water system. 
There is another apt comparison: Rizzo was never able to broaden his political base beyond the white law-and-order crowd.  Ditto for The Donald.


This Post Is Not About 'Game Of Thrones.' What It's About Actually Matters.



Saturday, April 23, 2016

'If You Could Read My Mind Love, What A Tale My Thoughts Could Tell'

We saw Canadian national treasure Gordon Lightfoot and his band play before a full house on Friday night at the beautifully restored Sherman Theater in Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania.   
At 78 and only a few years after a near-death experience, Lightfoot's haunting soprano voice may not be what it once was, but the songs still ring out and the deeply evocative feelings are, if anything, stronger than ever.   
He closed with my all-time Lightfoot fave, "Early Morning Rain," and read my mind when he did "If You Could Read My Mind," another of his gems from back in the day that are reminders that folk music lives on and that country music (Lightfoot was once a huge country star) didn't used to be all pickup trucks and treacle.   
Here's a 2015 NPR interview with the man himself.

What Didn't I Think Of This? Wee Treehouses For Houseplants.



Thursday, April 21, 2016

A Tiny Township Tells Giant Nestlé Its Billion-Dollar Water Grab Just Won't Float

We live in a time when large corporations, let alone multi-nationals with tens of billions of dollars in assets, are so powerful that they routinely crush any and all opposition when their insatiable hunger for becoming even bigger and richer takes them into small communities off the beaten track.  And so what is happening in a tiny northeastern Pennsylvania township is portentous as well as a reminder that neighbors united in opposition to really bad ideas can sometimes win even when their foe is huge, rapacious and immensely wealthy. 
The township is Eldred, some 274 years old with a mere 2,500 residents, its 24 square miles nestled in farmland chockablock with free-flowing creeks and verdant gamelands in the rolling hills below Blue Mountain on the western edge of the Pennsylvania Poconos.  Kunkletown sits at the only crossroads, but it is a town in only a figurative sense with a smattering of shops, a firehouse and nary a stop light.  
Sleepy Eldred awoke from its slumber late last year when Nestlé Waters North America submitted an application to the township zoning board to pump water for its Deer Park Natural Spring Water brand from wells on private property it would lease a few hundred feet from the crossroads.  An immense amount of water -- some 200,000 gallons a day -- would be pumped into tanker trucks, dozens of which would rumble through Kunkletown each day en route to a bottling plant in the Lehigh Valley and then back again. 
This haul would reap Nestlé an astonishing $3 billion over a 10-year period at relatively little expense while returning little to Eldred except noise, pollution, degraded roads, lowered property values, the possibility that its wells would be contaminated and the likelihood they eventually will run dry.   
Nestlé's application hinges on an improper change made in Eldred's zoning ordinance in 2014 when no one was looking.  That is except a woman who at the time happened to be township planning commission secretary, as well as the mother of a daughter who at the time was a township supervisor and the girlfriend of the owner of the property where Nestlé has a tentative lease agreement to pump water. Planning commission minutes were surreptitiously altered at the request of the landowner's attorney, which resulted in the improper change hypothetically allowing Nestlé to extract massive quantities of water in an area of the township where it would otherwise be prohibited.   
That change is being challenged in court by a group of homeowners, but it is an engineering report commissioned by the township that more immediately threatens to topple Nestlé's house of cards.  
The April 15 report by Hanover Engineering Associates found that the company's application is deeply flawed on engineering, hydrogeological and environmental grounds. This comes as no surprise since after three township zoning board hearings on Nestlé's application, the case record is littered with discrepancies, miscalculations and outright deceits, which has prompted Nestlé to try to make voluminous amendments, additions and corrections to its original application over objections from the zoning board and lawyers for property owners.   
This heightens the impression that the company parachuted into Eldred believing it was dealing with yokels whom its city slicker lawyers could strong arm. 
Eldred is one of at least 50 communities nationwide where Nestlé is trying to leverage enormous-profits-for-nothing water grabs as part of a corporate strategy to dominate retails sales of a precious commodity that most people once took for granted.  It already dominates bottled water sales worldwide.
A 20-ounce bottle of Deer Park Natural Spring Water costs $1.29 in area convenience stores, and back-of-the-envelope calculations show that for a minimal investment, Nestlé can generate about $825,000 each day from the two bulk extraction wells it wants to sink in Eldred.  This translates into about $300 million a year, hence $3 billion over the life of the 10-year bulk water extraction permit it would seek from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) should it succeed on appeal after being turned down at the township level.  The permit application also would be reviewed by the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC), but the regulatory process is rigged.  
All of the hydrological tests and other data required in the permit process are provided by Nestlé. There are no independent tests, while by regulators' own admission, the standards and water extraction algorithms used by the regulatory agencies are obsolete, dating from the early part of the 20th century, when Calvin Coolidge was president and there were as many horse-drawn carts as automobiles in Kunkletown, and do not take into account population growth, current water usage and the effects of climate change.   
Pressed by this writer at a public meeting in Eldred in January to reveal how many mass extraction permits the DEP has rejected or required substantial modification to prior to approval, the agency's top Safe Water Drinking Permit Program official in northeastern Pennsylvania hemmed and hawed before finally admitting that no permit application has been rejected.  Ever.     
Nestlé's first expert witness, a civil engineer, has testified at a glacial pace about the company's proposed bulk water extraction facility at the three zoning hearings in response to questions from its lead attorney that frequently lapse into the minutiae of zoning law, that is unless you find barriers, buffers and boundaries to be compelling.   
As it is, the testimony from the civil engineer is mere window dressing.  The main event will be when Nestlé will have to explain -- under oath -- how it will be able to pump such an enormous amount of water without diminishing the fragile water table in Kunkletown and beyond, let alone not polluting wells. It won't be able to. 
The company's intention is to wear down the opposition, but more and more people having packed the Kunkletown Fire Hall with each succeeding hearing although the good citizens of Eldred have pretty much had to go it alone.  The regional political establishment is somnambulant except when running for re-election, controversy averse and slavishly pro-business, while the Pocono Record, the largest regional newspaper, is determinedly out to lunch as it crouches in its cowardly We Don't Want to Alienate Advertisers posture.  Still, interest has grown as anti-Nestlé groups from around the country, as well as several large environmental and anti-corporate groups with heavily trafficked websites, show an interest.   
Cross examination of the civil engineer by lawyers for the township and the homeowners, and then some of the homeowners themselves, will commence at a fourth hearing next month.  A fifth hearing is scheduled for June and a sixth on July 20, two days before a Monroe County Court hearing on the homeowner challenge of the improperly changed ordinance.  The judge could rule at the conclusion of that hearing, and two Nestlé employees are quietly telling opponents in their best "Sorry about the mess we've created" sotto voce voices that the company will not appeal the decision if there is a ruling determining that the ordinance is illegal.   
While that is comforting and hypothetically would bring an abrupt end to an enormously expensive, stressful and disruptive experience for people who were minding their own business and did not deserve to be bigfooted by a powerful global corporation, a buck twenty-nine still will buy you a bottle of Deer Park Natural Spring Water and quitting would be totally out of character for Nestlé, which has a reputation for getting what it wants no matter what it takes.    


As Queens Go, Elizabeth Has Been A Most Excellent One. Happy 90th Birthday.


Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Politix Update: Is Trump Pondering How To Quit? And Feeling The Bull . . . Er, Bern'

I would like to say that I have shown considerable prescience this campaign season in drawing attention to trends the mainstream media catches up to only belatedly.   
I was well ahead of the pack (January 13) in noting that the Republican Party had screwed the pooch in repeatedly lying to the very people who have now fractured the party by embracing Donald Trump, to name one biggie.  But this insight and my navel gazing in general has had more to do with not being fettered by bossy bosses and daily deadlines than ouija board technics.  Still, I’m gonna take credit for being in the vanguard (March 2) about a dirty little secret that is beginning to take on some currency: Trump is quietly planning an exit strategy because he knows he cannot win in November, and maybe not even win the Republican nomination, and he hates losing even more than he likes winning. 
Yes, yes, yes. I know should be writing about the New York primary, which the man with the small hands and peculiar hair won in a cakewalk with 60.5 percent of the vote yesterday -- and the first time he's broken the 40 percent barrier -- after a couple of weeks of trying really hard to pretend to be presidential. 
Trump not only increased his delegate lead over Ted Cruz, whose right-wing values did not prove to be a good fit with New York values, but relegated him to third place (a measly 14.5 percent) well behind John Kasich (25.1 percent).   Trump so dominated that he won all of the Empire State's 62 counties except his ultra-liberal home borough of Manhattan, which faux moderate Kasich carried. 
But there is an invisible magnetic field that keeps forcing me to ponder what’s really going on with Trump, one sign of which is that his campaign is shedding staffers like a bulimic supermodel sheds . . . well, you know. 
Same for Jim Newell, who writes in Salon: 
"How would Donald Trump cope with a loss, or as he might call it were anyone else in his shoes at this point, a 'chocking?' How would he spin such a convention  defeat to prevent his brand and his legacy -- because he has earned himself a sizable legacy in modern American political history, regardless of what happens next -- from forever being associated not just with defeat, but with an inability to close out the greatest deal of his life?"
Trump would declare his loss a victory.  He would spin his abject lack of grassroots organization into a pity party: I couldn't have won because the rules are designed to keep people like me out.  I didn’t choke, the GOP choked.   
And all the while he whistles to the bank as he returns to business interests “too crucial to leave to others,” as he explained in bowing out and cashes in on his hyper-enhanced celebrity.

Meanwhile, in another non-surprise, Bernie Sanders got his clock cleaned by Hillary Clinton in the New York primary by a 57.9 to 42.1 percent vote margin, although that did mask the reality that while Clinton won New York City and its suburban counties, in what likely was a backlash against the holier-than-thou Sanders' negative campaigning, while he won most upstate counties. 
I love Sanders. I love his idealism. I love his ability to wow a crowd. I love his off-the-rack suits. I llove his ability to raise money from Biff and Buffy and not Super PACs. 
But I have two big problems that have grown as the primaries have sped by, both of which not coincidentally will be reasons why he won't get the Democratic nomination.  It's called magical thinking: 
* After 35 years -- as in thirty-five -- in politics, he still hasn't built a coalition beyond wet-behind-the-ears sycophants who haven't gone out in the real world and for home glass ceilings are abstractions.  What's with that? 
* After a year -- as in 365 days -- of campaigning, he still hash't been able to offer concrete plans for translating his ideas for universal health care, free public college and reining in Wall Street, among others, into workable legislation.  What's he waiting for?
And here’s a dirty little secret: The Bern’ and Clinton don’t really differ very much on the issues. In the two years they were in Congress together, they voted the same way 93 percent of the time. So much for day and night.
The New York primary was a timely reminder that while Trump and Clinton may have won, democracy was again the loser.  Both candidates have astonishingly high negatives, which have served to lay bare how the political parties go about making sausage every four years.   
"Make America great again?" asks Frank Bruni of The New York Times. "We need to start by making it functional."   
Meanwhile, New York's voting and delegate selection rules are arcane, tens of thousands of voters were inexplicably purged from the roles and lines at many polling stations were absurdly long.  And it's even worse elsewhere.   
But don't expect things to improve in November -- or anytime soon.