Hardly surprising that water theft becomes endemic during a drought. With all too scarce water so vital to the survival of California as we know it, this can actually be a pretty serious threat as some people are going to some pretty significant extremes to steal water, whether for themselves or the black market.
Author Page for Erik Loomis
Dead horse, World War I
This photo was sent to me by a reader. Her grandfather Gabriel Penn Cummings II took it when he served in the U.S. military during World War I. She asked me to post this as a tribute to him. The back of the photo is captioned, “Horse blown up into a tree by H.E. shell.”
Surprisingly diverse populace, I must say. I have trouble seeing all those Muslims in western North Dakota.
See also this sketch comic based upon a worker’s life in Fort McMurray (h/t Turkle)
The Bush family legacy is still very much evolving. Denton, Texas, a town I know very well because my brother lived there for 10 years, has developed into something of a liberalish enclave in north Texas. Austin musicians are moving up there because they can’t afford to live in Austin anymore. It has two schools, one with a legendary music program. So while not exactly hippieland, it is less conservative than the rest of Texas.
Last Tuesday, the voters of Denton did something very unusual for Texas. They passed an ordinance banning fracking in their town. You think the Texas energy elite, filled with scions of the Bush family are going to let that happen in their home state? Nope.
As promised by the oil and gas industry and by Texas Railroad Commission commissioner David Porter, the vote was met with immediate legal backlash. Both the Texas General Land Office and the Texas Oil and Gas Association (TXOGA) filed lawsuits in Texas courts within roughly 12 hours of the vote taking place, the latest actions in the aggressive months-long campaign by the industry and the Texas state government to fend off the ban.
The Land Office and TXOGA lawsuits, besides making similar legal arguments about state law preempting local law under the Texas Constitution, share something else in common: ties to former President George W. Bush and the Bush family at large.
In the Land Office legal case, though current land commissioner Jerry Patterson signed off on the lawsuit, he will soon depart from office. And George Prescott Bush — son of former Florida Governor and prospective 2016 Republican Party presidential nominee Jeb Bush and nephew of former President George W. Bush — will take his place.
George P. Bush won his land commissioner race in a landslide, gaining 61 percent of the vote. Given the cumbersome and lengthy nature of litigation in the U.S., it appears the Land Office case will have only just begun by the time Bush assumes the office.
The TXOGA legal complaint was filed by a powerful team of attorneys working at the firm Baker Botts, the international law firm named after the familial descendants of James A. Baker III, a partner at the firm.
Baker III served as chief-of-staff under both President Ronald Reagan and President George H.W. Bush, Secretary of State under George H.W. Bush and as a close advisor to President George W. Bush on the U.S. occupation of Iraq. He gave George P. Bush a $10,000 donation for his campaign for his race for land commissioner.
Bush, Baker–this is true democracy folks. Remember, America is a meritocracy.
Baker Botts is leading the lawsuit against Denton. George P. Bush will be using this to prepare his inevitable move to governor in the next 10 years. I for one look forward to President Bush in 2036 or so. And no hippies in Denton are going to get in the way of that.
Oh fracking. You are so great with your cheap gas prices and profits for fossil fuel companies. Let’s just keep going full bore into this technology without adequate research on its impact on people or the land. Earthquakes? It’s just Jesus giving you a little shake. Keeping it real for you. As for fracking’s impact on workers, it’s just their sacrifice for the greater good:
A new study published in Environmental Health reveals air pollution data on major, in some cases previously underestimated, health risks from toxic contamination at gas production sites related to fracking. Air samples gathered around “unconventional oil and gas” sites by community-based environmental research teams contained unsafe levels of several volatile compounds that “exceeded federal guidelines under several operational circumstances,” and that “Benzene, formaldehyde, and hydrogen sulfide were the most common compounds to exceed acute and other health-based risk levels.”
This suggests fracking may bring risk of cancer, birth defects and long-term respiratory and cellular damage to local towns and farms. Building on other studies on drilling-related water contamination, the air pollution research may stoke growing opposition from communities near drilling sites, who must weigh the industry’s promises of new investment and jobs against the potential cost to the human health.
The findings also raise questions about the safety of fracking-site workers, who may have far less legal recourse over potential health damage than do local homeowners. Many work contract jobs under harsh, isolated conditions, in a volatile industry where pressure to pump profits is high and labor protections weak.
In contrast to other forms of oil and gas extraction, fracking is a particularly murky field because the process uses massive volumes of chemicals, with little regulatory oversight or corporate transparency.
With civil asset forfeiture, the real organized crime in this country these days is not the Mafia, it’s the police. Or certain police departments anyway that self-fund by stealing your stuff whether or not you have actually committed a drug crime:
The seminars offered police officers some useful tips on seizing property from suspected criminals. Don’t bother with jewelry (too hard to dispose of) and computers (“everybody’s got one already”), the experts counseled. Do go after flat screen TVs, cash and cars. Especially nice cars.
In one seminar, captured on video in September, Harry S. Connelly Jr., the city attorney of Las Cruces, N.M., called them “little goodies.” And then Mr. Connelly described how officers in his jurisdiction could not wait to seize one man’s “exotic vehicle” outside a local bar.
“A guy drives up in a 2008 Mercedes, brand new,” he explained. “Just so beautiful, I mean, the cops were undercover and they were just like ‘Ahhhh.’ And he gets out and he’s just reeking of alcohol. And it’s like, ‘Oh, my goodness, we can hardly wait.’ ”
Mr. Connelly was talking about a practice known as civil asset forfeiture, which allows the government, without ever securing a conviction or even filing a criminal charge, to seize property suspected of having ties to crime. The practice, expanded during the war on drugs in the 1980s, has become a staple of law enforcement agencies because it helps finance their work. It is difficult to tell how much has been seized by state and local law enforcement, but under a Justice Department program, the value of assets seized has ballooned to $4.3 billion in the 2012 fiscal year from $407 million in 2001. Much of that money is shared with local police forces.
The practice of civil forfeiture has come under fire in recent months, amid a spate of negative press reports and growing outrage among civil rights advocates, libertarians and members of Congress who have raised serious questions about the fairness of the practice, which critics say runs roughshod over due process rights. In one oft-cited case, a Philadelphia couple’s home was seized after their son made $40 worth of drug sales on the porch. Despite that opposition, many cities and states are moving to expand civil seizures of cars and other assets. The seminars, some of which were captured on video, raise a curtain on how law enforcement officials view the practice.
From Orange County, N.Y., to Rio Rancho, N.M., forfeiture operations are being established or expanded. In September, Albuquerque, which has long seized the cars of suspected drunken drivers, began taking them from men suspected of trying to pick up prostitutes, landing seven cars during a one-night sting. Arkansas has expanded its seizure law to allow the police to take cash and assets with suspected connections to terrorism, and Illinois moved to make boats fair game under its D.W.I. laws, in addition to cars. In Mercer County, N.J., a prosecutor preaches the “gospel” that forfeiture is not just for drug arrests — cars can be seized in shoplifting and statutory rape cases as well.
And if you are found not guilty of these crimes, do you get your stuff back? Ha ha ha. Of course not.
This obviously should be illegal and I’m glad there is push back growing. But at the same time, police departments are looking to increase their seizures. It’s a plague that must stop.
Another gift from the War on Drugs. Just Say No kids!
A friend altered me to this highlight of American culinary history.
The definition of everybody winning is hot cocktail sauce.
Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) wrote the foreword for a new book from Fox News senior judicial analyst Andrew Napolitano. Napolitano has promoted 9-11 conspiracy theories, attacked President Abraham Lincoln, and defended a former Paul aide with “neo-Confederate” and “pro-secessionist” views.
Napolitano’s Suicide Pact: The Radical Expansion of Presidential Powers and the Assault on Civil Liberties is described by publisher Thomas Nelson as “a shocking chronicle of America’s descent from a free society to a frightening surveillance state.”
In the foreword, Paul writes, “Now President Obama says he just wants to ‘balance’ liberty and national security. Judge Napolitano succinctly answers President Obama. To Napolitano, it isn’t possible to balance rights and security because ‘rights and [national security] are essentially and metaphysically so different that they cannot be balanced against each other.”
Paul praises Napolitano for “unravel[ing] the labyrinthine assault on civil liberties that has taken place as a side effect of the War on Terror.”
He concludes, “Judge Napolitano gets it, and I hope his new book will help the American public to get it; to wake up and mount a defense of our most precious liberties before it’s too late.”
Sen. Paul has engaged in a highly publicized effort to court the black vote for the Republican Party, visiting cities like Ferguson, Atlanta, Chicago and Detroit as well as colleges like Howard University to speak to black audiences. He has also spoken about criminal justice reform and worked with Democrats on the issue.
Yet the pundit he describes as someone who “gets it” has a history of downplaying the racial elements of the Confederacy while attacking President Abraham Lincoln.
In a 2014 appearance on Fox Business’ The Independents, Napolitano said he is a “contrarian” on Lincoln’s legacy and “bemoan[ed] the fact” that the president has been “mythologized.” He attacked “the public school establishment” who “would have you believe he is the fourth member of the blessed trinity.”
Napolitano accused Lincoln of having “set about on the most murderous war in American history” over slavery rather than “allowing it to die” because it “was dying a natural death.” He also argued that Lincoln possibly could have purchased slaves and then freed them, “which would have cost a lot less money than the Civil War cost.”
Napolitano even claimed that “it’s not even altogether clear if slavery was the reason for secession.” (The Daily Show later devoted a segment to dismantling Napolitano’s argument.)
Napolitano claimed that Lincoln’s prosecution of the Civil War – described as “government violence” — led to the creation of Jim Crow laws and the Ku Klux Klan. Napolitano decried the image of Lincoln as having “Godlike stature” because of “the demonizing of the south.”
Since Rand Paul has already stated he supports private businesses’ right to discriminate and segregate, the same arguments opponents of the 1964 Civil Rights Act used, though he now claims to not believe that, we can legitimately ask whether Paul thinks Napolitano “gets it” on race and the Confederacy too. Rand Paul can pretend like he’s not a white supremacist all he wants to, but not withstanding a few recent speeches made for political gain, his record his clear. The people he runs with and his own past demonstrate this clearly.
In 1846, Senator Thomas Hart Benton (D-MO) gave a speech on the Senate floor titled “The Destiny of the Race.” This fundamental articulation of Manifest Destiny and its sibling white supremacy not only justifies American expansion around the world, but reads like the nation’s first Asian sex fantasy. In part:
The van of the Caucasian race now top the Rocky Mountains, and spread down to the shores of the Pacific. In a few years, a great population will grow up there, luminous with the accumulated lights of European and American civilization. Their presence in such a position cannot be without its influence upon eastern Asia….The sun of civilization must shine across the sea; socially and commercially, the van of the Caucasians, and the rear of the Mongolians must intermix. They must talk together, and trade together, and marry together. Commerce is a great civilizer–social intercourse is great–and marriage greater. The White and Yellow races can marry together….Moral and intellectual superiority will do the rest; the White race will take the ascendant.
The van of the Caucasians and the rear of the Mongolians indeed.
Part of what Benton is doing here is basically providing an intellectual justification for the great taboo of American history–interracial sex because he so clearly means white men and Asian women while providing assurance that some sort of mongrel race like the Mexicans (which is how antebellum Americans viewed Mexicans) will not develop for long, thanks to the obvious superiority of Euro-American culture and blood.
I grabbed this speech out of a textbook years ago when I was first writing lectures and came across it again today when reviewing some lecture notes. Some other excerpts from this speech are here, although not the entire thing.
Since it is quiet here tonight, I might as well talk about music.
I had the occasion to have a slightly extended weekend thanks to giving a midterm and thus drove out to the far distant school where my wife teaches. In my world, that means listening to a lot of music. I know there are good podcasts out there. But none of them are as good as a good album. So I don’t listen to them. Instead, I listen to albums. And usually full length albums as opposed to what the kids these days call “playlists” what with their baggy jeans and the like.
So, on the way out there, I listened to the following:
Wooley/Rempis/Niggenkemper/Corsano, From Wolves to Whales
Rilo Kiley, Under the Blacklight
Akira Sakata & Chikamorachi, Friendly Pants
L7, Bricks Are Heavy
V/A, Festival in the Desert (a collection of live recordings from the annual festival in Timbuktu, although I don’t know if it still going on with the whole violence and all)
Roky Erickson, The Evil One
Bob Dylan, Bringing It All Back Home
Merle Haggard, Down Every Road, Disc 3
Bill Callahan, Woke on a Whaleheart
Bruce Cockburn, High Winds White Sky
Bonnie Prince Billy, Ease Down the Road
Sonny Rollins, Live at the Village Vanguard, Volume 2
And driving back today, here was my playlist:
Ralph Stanley, Classic Stanley Disc 1
Osborne Brothers, From Rocky Top to Muddy Bottom
Curtis Mayfield, Superfly
Herbie Hancock, Live September 1973 (some radio show recording a friend gave me years ago. As I attempt to reconstruct my music collection following the theft, I am really glad I burned this on a CD at some point)
Bill Callahan, Apocalypse
Pavement, Slanted and Enchanted
White Stripes, Elephant
Mates of State, Mountaintops
Flying Burrito Brothers, Farther Along: The Best of the Flying Burrito Brothers
Bill Frisell, The Intercontinentals
Townes Van Zandt, Townes Van Zandt
Irving Fields, Bagels and Bongos
Overall, a reasonable facsimile of my normal listening patterns.
Talk about whatever music you want.
Anyone who looks at the style, food, real estate, or travel sections has long known this, but still.
Book Review, Christopher Morris, The Big Muddy: An Environmental History of the Mississippi and Its Peoples from Hernando de Soto to Hurricane Katrina
Now that one book is in the can and the other is under review, I have time to read again. So I will review the recent books I get through here on the blog, as I used to do.
Christopher Morris’ environmental history of the lower Mississippi Valley takes readers from the sixteenth century to the present. His central point is that Europeans entered a landscape where wet and dry coexisted, with an ecological balance that supported Native American civilizations, and strove to separate the wet from dry with ever greater technological inputs. In doing so, the French and then the Americans not only rapidly changed the lower Mississippi ecosystem, but also ended up severely degrading one of the most fertile and rich parts of the world.
For both the French and Americans, living in a wet land seemed uncivilized. The constant, if usually low-level, flooding, was akin to savagery and in order to maintain Frenchness or Americanness, separation from nature was required. This led, very quickly, to the building of levees and concerted attempts to dry out the land behind them. For the French, rice culture worked to tame this land and while the Americans continued growing rice, cotton became the economic basis for the ever more vigilance protection of the fields from the river.
But what Europeans found was that water cannot be fully controlled. Damming it, diverting it, channeling it–all of this provided short-term solutions to the water problem, but a force with the power of the Mississippi River strikes back. And when it does, if the pressure is built up because its natural release is taken away by the levees, the damage can be amazing. The most famous flood was in 1927, but the Mississippi has shown Europeans’ efforts to control it futile time and time again. But from the 17th century forward, Europeans sought to engineer the river so that its people could live on dry land without even thinking about the water. This normalized Louisiana and the Mississippi delta as dry land, making floods seem unnatural.
Morris spends most of the book describing these processes. The Mississippi is a young river, having only flowed in its present path for several hundred years. In that time, the river was the home of a tremendous amount of flora and fauna. He details how Native Americans survived in this marshy world, building enormous mounds that remind us of their presence today and thriving off the region’s rich natural resources. They shaped the landscape as well, but lacked the technological ability or capitalist culture to see the river as something that needed taming. After early Spanish and French failures to establish themselves on the lower Mississippi, the French finally succeeded when New Orleans was established in 1718 by Pierre Le Moyne d’Iberville landed at Biloxi and walked east rather than get lost in the Mississippi delta as his predecessors had done. The French slowly began changing the valley, a process continued by the Spanish during their brief occupation of the area after 1763.
The real changes came with the Americans. The expansion of cotton meant turning as much of the South as possible to its production. This came at a widespread environmental cost throughout the region, with erosion, gullying, and exhausted soils clear problems by the time of the Civil War. On the Mississippi River, floods could replenish that soil, but the ever-more intensive growth of the levee system determined to keep that land dry meant that replenishing rarely occurred, only when flood events broke through the technologies built up to protect the cotton.
This landscape was of course highly racialized, both before and after the Civil War. Morris discusses how slaves lived on the margins of this wet and dry world. For slaves, the marshes provided some level of relative freedom and independence; the ability to hunt for food gave some slaves a bit of control over their own lives. Some slaves hunted full time for their masters, others killed raccoons, opossums, and birds for their own dinners. But those declining marshes meant disappearing wildlife too. Morris closes one chapter by discussing Theodore Roosevelt’s 1902 bear hunt in southern Louisiana, which led to the capture of a single scraggly bear attacked by dogs that did little more than disgust Roosevelt. That story, the basis for Faulkner’s “The Bear,” says much about the degraded nature of the lower Mississippi by the early twentieth century.
For general readers, Morris’ last three chapters will be of the greatest interest. Here, he rapidly moves into the twentieth century and what he calls a “pathological landscape.” Three centuries of trying to separate wet and dry had created a landscape where tremendous inputs of pesticides and fertilizers were necessary in one of the most fertile spaces on the planet. Mosquito-borne illnesses became worse through this regime, not better, as standing water made malaria and yellow fever plagues common in Louisiana through the 19th century. Chemicals like DDT and 2,4D became crutches for policy makers to avoid the environmental consequences of centuries of river policy. Coastal erosion became a problem before 1900 as the Mississippi River was channeled to the sea, and as the people of New Orleans discovered during Katrina, this can have devastating consequences.
Yet unlike many environmental histories, there is a bit of hope here. Morris steadfastly believes that humans can live along the Mississippi in a relatively sustainable way. Looking at crawfish farming as an ecologically sustainable way forward, Morris shows how it mimics the river’s natural processes, which means more marshes and more wildlife, as opposed to catfish farming or cotton that have caused great problems within the ecosystem. The crawfish farmers also grow rice in this wet landscape, which builds connections between land and water. Rice fields and catfish farms can become water storage areas that help the region manage the floods in a more ecologically sound and sustainable way than higher levees.
Morris also compares New Orleans to Venice, St. Petersburg, and Rotterdam to note that cities and water can coexist if people see the water as natural and plan for it, rather than view it as an enemy to tame. But New Orleans has not moved significantly in this direction since Hurricane Katrina, nor has the federal government. In a state as devoted to capitalism as the U.S., the short-term economic and political gains of levees means that remains the answer to the threat of water. Yet even in New Orleans, new homes on stilts are coming up, a recognition that this landscape can and flood. Even recognizing that is a positive step toward a more sustainable relationship with the river.
But outside of New Orleans, a somewhat different equation exists because declining populations along the delta has reduced the region’s political power and led to real victories for a more ecologically healthy management regime that has included some natural flooding and rejection of some water technology projects. People are beginning to realize the water is necessary and positive steps have begun to happen. Again, the region’s depopulation has played a role; even in post-Katrina New Orleans, nature is taking back parts of the city, with snakes and alligators in brush replacing people and parking lots.
I suppose some readers might want more on the modern Mississippi, focusing on the oil industry and canals that have received a great deal attention in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. But this history provides a deep background on one of the nation’s most important land management and urban planning problems today. Overall, this is an excellent environmental history with important things to say about modern policy choices.