Allison Kilkenny: Unreported

(Updated) Ron Paul calls BP victim compensation a ‘PR stunt’

Posted in BP, corporations, deregulation, environment, offshore drilling, politics, regulation, United States by allisonkilkenny on June 24, 2010

* Updated the headline: I originally wrote that Rand Paul said the following statement. It was actually his equally oblivious father, Ron. The rest of the article is really about Rand’s previous statements that illustrated how disengaged he is from average Americans, and his sense of entitlement that probably comes from his awful dad, whose terribleness is demonstrated in the quote.

At this point, I wouldn’t be surprised if Rand Paul turned out to be a DNC plant.

BP’s $20 billion escrow fund is a “PR stunt” that came about through a “suspicious” process, Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) said Tuesday night.

Though Paul didn’t go as far as fellow Texan Rep. Joe Barton (R), who called the fund a “shakedown,” he nevertheless said the “process is sort of suspicious.”

“They have agreed to this and this is sort of a PR stunt as far as I’m concerned,” Paul told Fox News. “BP had already been making a lot of payments to people who had been injured.”

He said this… on television…while the crisis is still happening.

This follows Rand’s comments about unemployed people being a bunch of lazy shit sacks, who are too “picky” and insist on passing up all kinds of sweet, sweet employment opportunities (like the jobs that don’t offer benefits or a living wage).


Shocker: Blue Dogs Thwart Fellow Democrat

Posted in corporations, environment, politics by allisonkilkenny on April 28, 2009

blue_dogIn an interview with the Wall Street Journal’s Kimberly Strassel, Congressman Jim Matheson said he has many problems with the global warming bill currently in committee. The bill is Henry Waxman’s creation, and is already under fire from his fellow Democrats.

But it’s no shocker that Matheson is one of the first suits to screech at the bill, since he receives over 20% of his campaign donations from energy, natural resource, transportation, construction, and agribusiness industries. Such industries normally aren’t on the forefront of asking Congress to cap their own emissions.

During opening statements, the Utah Democrat detailed 14 big problems he had with the bill, and told me later that if he hadn’t been limited to five minutes, “I might have had more.” 

I’ll bet. Matheson is one of 10 moderate Democrats (see: Blue Dog Democrats, or what they call themselves so people stop confusing them with Republicans) who are all worked up over Waxman’s bill. Strassel calls the bill “liberal overreach.” 

Really. Strassel doesn’t bother to then explain why the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s latest climate report states the following:

  • Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, as is now evident from observations of increases in global average air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice and rising global average sea level.”
  • Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions due to human activities has increased by 70% between 1970 and 2004
  • Continued GHG emissions “at or above current rates would cause further warming and induce many changes in the global climate system during the 21st century that would very likely be larger than those observed during the 20th century.”

Considering a bill that would stem these awful trends is “overreaching,” according to Ms. Strassel. Of course, she doesn’t mean “overreaching” in the sense that caring for the planet isn’t important. She means “overreaching” in the sense that it could cost politicians like Mr. Matheson their donors. Strassel writes:

Design a bill that socks it to all those manufacturing, oil-producing, coal-producing, coal-using states, and say goodbye to the very Democrats necessary to pass that bill.

Yes, it could cost poor Mr. Matheson over 20% of his donations. But on the upside, it could save the planet. Strassel taps into a very important issue here. Obviously, most politicians aren’t going to bite the hands of their donors. We’ve seen this trend extend from debate over the financial bailout, which was ripe with cronyism and corruption, to the debate over how to deal with our warming environment.

Corporate money corrupts, absolutely. During the bailout, politicians with close ties to the financial industries were put in charge of the bailouts, including the Senate Banking committee Chairman, Chris Dodd. Dodd receives most of his campaign contributions from the securities and investment industry, and two of his biggest donors are Citigroup and AIG. The problem is systemic as we see in the environment debate with “Democrats” like Mr. Matheson. He won’t be voting against his corporate donors anytime soon. Daddy needs his sweet, sweet corporate cash, or as Strassel puts it, Matheson is “championing energy diversity and his state’s fossil fuels” i.e. tearing up and selling everything that isn’t nailed down.

Other Democrats standing in the way of Waxman’s bill are Baron Hill (IN), Rick Bouche (VA), Gene Green (TX), Charles Gonzalez (TX), Charlie Melancon (LA), Mike Doyle (PA,) many of whom are quite publicly in the pocket of the oil industry.  This isn’t some kind of scandalous secret. Most of their corporate donors are visible on public websites like

The scandal is that writing about such things is considered a platitude, an utterly banal thing to point out. The future of the planet is at stake, and pointing out the dirty money pouring from Washington  politicians’ pockets evokes an eye roll from the mainstream press. Journalists like Strassel write about dirty donations as though she were reporting on the weather.

Politicians, who are reliant upon donations from industries that poison the environment, cannot be trusted to then form legislation to protect the planet. At the risk of publishing more liberal “overreach,” such conflicts of interest (the financial bailouts, and now the energy/environment debate,) are both excellent examples of why publicly financed elections are so important. If corporate money isn’t permitted to infect politics, then bills that could potentially save the planet may have a fair chance of surviving committee.

Strassel, Matheson, and company will surely roll their eyes at such a naive statement, but that’s to be expected. If you spend your life swimming in pig shit, after a while, you’ll swear it doesn’t smell.

Who Owns Your Organic Food?

Posted in corporations, environment by allisonkilkenny on March 18, 2009

I made some ownership charts to accompany Andrea Whitfill’s excellent Alternet piece, “Burt’s Bees, Tom’s of Maine, Naked Juice: Your Favorite Brands? Take Another Look — They May Not Be What They Seem.”  Corporate ownership can be very convoluted (especially when dealing with international corporations,) so I’ve found it’s helpful to post the corporation logos to aid in memorization. I tend to instantly forget company names, but I’ll remember their respective logos for years. 

Many organic brand names are owned by huge conglomerates with questionable human rights and environmental records. Believe me, I was not happy or smug constructing this chart. I love Puffins cereal. The peanut butter Puffins? C’mon, I’m only human.

So to all my hippy friends, trying their best: I’m sorry.

Note: Corporations aren’t inherently evil. However, they are very large businesses that have large quotas, so the emphasis is always placed on speed, efficiency, and consumption – not human rights, the environment, and morality. Hence, corporations are prone to immoral behavior, and sometimes, human rights violations. 

There are way more checks on corporations now than there were in the past. That’s not to say corporations are perfect. Far from it. In fact, some are still quite evil (Coca-Cola: I’m looking your way.) But, many corporations are trying to enter the Green Zone because their consumers are demanding they clean up their environmental records. Clorox and GM are two examples of corporations that have tried to mend their environmental records.

As consumers, it’s important not to let the occasional corporate environmental endeavor distract us from a business’s larger model. Some corporations put out one green product to provide cover as they pollute or violate human rights in other sectors of their business. I’m not accusing Clorox or GM of doing this, but it’s important to remain engaged consumers and not blindly yank products off the store shelf without giving thought to where the products come from, who makes them, and what toll they take on the environment.

Also, don’t drink Coke. Coca-Cola is evil




Pelosi and Reid: No More Coal for Capitol Power Plant

Posted in activism, coal, environment by allisonkilkenny on March 2, 2009

Note from Allison: Congratulations to all the protesters that made this happen! You should all be very proud of yourselves.

Climate Progress

2400623-2-nope-no-coal-is-clean-coal1No doubt spurred on by the impending civil disobedience, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) posted a statement and a letter on her blog (here):

Today, Speaker Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid sent the following letter to the Acting Architect of the Capitol, Stephen T. Ayers,asking that the Capitol Power Plant (CPP) use 100 percent natural gas for its operations. They write, “the switch to natural gas will allow the CPP to dramatically reduce carbon and criteria pollutant emissions, eliminating more than 95 percent of sulfur oxides and at least 50 percent of carbon monoxide… We strongly encourage you to move forward aggressively with us on a comprehensive set of policies for the entire Capitol complex and the entire Legislative Branch to quickly reduce emissions and petroleum consumption through energy efficiency, renewable energy, and clean alternative fuels.”

UPDATE: Bill McKibben, who helped organize the impending civil disobedience at the CPP emails me “just to say, this civil disobedience stuff kind of works. How many coal plants are there?

Here is the letter:

February 26, 2009
Mr. Stephen T. Ayers

Acting Architect of the Capitol
SB-15 U.S. Capitol
Washington, DC 20515

Dear Mr. Ayers:

We want to commend your office for working to implement the Green the Capitol Initiative by increasing energy efficiency and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. However, there is a shadow that hangs over the success of your and our efforts to improve the environmental performance of the Capitol and the entire Legislative Branch. The Capitol Power Plant (CPP) continues to be the number one source of air pollution and carbon emissions in the District of Columbia and the focal point for criticism from local community and national environmental and public health groups.

Since 1910, as you know, the CPP has continuously provided the Capitol, House and Senate office buildings, and other facilities with steam and chilled water for heating and cooling purposes. The plant remains an important component of the facilities master plan and the future of the Capitol complex, and we know your office has taken steps to make the plant cleaner and more efficient. While your progress has been noteworthy, more must be done to dramatically reduce plant emissions and the CPP’s impact. Since there are not projected to be any economical or feasible technologies to reduce coal-burning emissions soon, there are several steps you should take in the short term to reduce the amount of coal burned at the plant while preparing for a conversion to cleaner burning natural gas.

We encourage you to take advantage of current excess capacity to burn cleaner fuels and reduce pollution. According to the General Accounting Office (GAO) and an independent analysis from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, the boilers at the CPP are now running with more capacity than has been historically demanded or anticipated. Even with the new Capitol Visitor Center in operation, these analyses show there is sufficient capacity to further increase the burning of natural gas and still meet energy demands at peak hours.

We are also interested in identifying and supporting funding to retrofit CPP if necessary so that it can operate on 100 percent natural gas. Unfortunately, our staff has received conflicting information and cost estimates on what would actually be required to operate the CPP year-round with exclusively natural gas. If a retrofit of two remaining boilers is indeed required, then we encourage you to develop realistic budget numbers to accomplish the retrofit expeditiously including any costs for the purchase of additional quantities of natural gas. In your budget analysis, it is important to take into account that time is of the essence for converting the fuel of the CPP. Therefore it is our desire that your approach focus on retrofitting at least one of the coal boilers as early as this summer, and the remaining boiler by the end of the year.

While the costs associated with purchasing additional natural gas will certainly be higher, the investment will far outweigh its cost. The switch to natural gas will allow the CPP to dramatically reduce carbon and criteria pollutant emissions, eliminating more than 95 percent of sulfur oxides and at least 50 percent of carbon monoxide. The conversion will also reduce the cost of storing and transporting coal as well as the costs associated with cleaning up the fly ash and waste. Eliminating coal from the fuel mixture should also assist the City of Washington, D.C., in meeting and complying with national air quality standards, and demonstrate that Congress can be a good and conscientious neighbor by mitigating health concerns for residents and workers around Capitol Hill.

Taking this major step toward cleaning up the Capitol Power Plant’s emissions would be an important demonstration of Congress’ willingness to deal with the enormous challenges of global warming, energy independence and our inefficient use of finite fossil fuels. We strongly encourage you to move forward aggressively with us on a comprehensive set of policies for the entire Capitol complex and the entire Legislative Branch to quickly reduce emissions and petroleum consumption through energy efficiency, renewable energy, and clean alternative fuels.

Thank you for your attention to this critical matter.

best regards,

Speaker of the House

Senate Majority Leader

An Electrical Grid We Can Believe In

Posted in alternative energy, coal, energy, environment by allisonkilkenny on February 23, 2009

Matthew Yglesias

CAP’s Bracken Hendricks has a report out on the need to invest in and revitalize our national electricity transmission grid. There are a number of aspects to this problem, but perhaps the clearest and most compelling one from a progressive perspective is simply the fact that the current grid essentially locks us in to planet-destroying coal to power an enormous amount of the country. Why? Well, we don’t have any high-voltage transmission lines going into the part of the country where the best onshore wind resources are, and we have few lines going to where the best solar power sights are:


Although the United States has vast onshore wind resources—more than enough to supply 20 percent of the nation’s electricity demand by 2030, according to a recent Department of Energy study—the best of these wind resources are located primarily in remote regions of the country. These areas are generally located far from major centers of electricity demand and have little or no access to the “backbone” extra- high-voltage transmission lines that would be required in order to transmit power efficiently from these regions to major electricity markets.

A similar problem confronts solar power developers, who have identified sparsely populated areas of the desert Southwest as optimal locations for large-scale solar power stations. Absent major investments in extra-high-voltage transmission lines connecting these areas of the country to major markets, it is unlikely that the United States will be able to fully exploit these renewable energy resources at a scale that can significantly contribute to our national appetite for energy. The development of remote geothermal resources faces similar transmission constraints.

Of course the larger reason why the grid has this shape is simply that it’s very old. The United States was a world leader in terms of large-scale electrification, especially of rural areas. But what that means is that the technology underlying the system is antiquated, and doesn’t take advantage of modern digital technology to manage the electricity. On top of that, the system is, for historical reasons, an odd patchwork of state-level regulators. In practice, however, the grid is an interstate concern. And especially if we want to pipe renewable energy from where the resources are to where the people live, that needs to be done on an interstate basis.

George Will Denies Global Warming Is Real (Seriously.)

Posted in climate change, environment, global warming, media, politics by allisonkilkenny on February 17, 2009



Not a fan of "facts."

Looks like Fred Barnes isn’t the only high-profile conservative columnist still arguing that climate change doesn’t really exist.

Over the weekend, the Washington Post‘s George Will, got in on the act. And it took us about ten minutes — longer, it appears, than the Post‘s editors spent — to figure out that Will, like Barnes, was essentially making stuff up.

Both of Will’s major “data points” fall apart after a moment’s scrutiny.

Here’s the first:

According to the University of Illinois’ Arctic Climate Research Center, global sea ice levels now equal those of 1979.

But within hours of Will’s column appearing, the ACRC had posted the following statement on its website:

We do not know where George Will is getting his information, but our data shows that on February 15, 1979, global sea ice area was 16.79 million sq. km and on February 15, 2009, global sea ice area was 15.45 million sq. km. Therefore, global sea ice levels are 1.34 million sq. km less in February 2009 than in February 1979. This decrease in sea ice area is roughly equal to the area of Texas, California, and Oklahoma combined. 

It is disturbing that the Washington Post would publish such information without first checking the facts.

So, nevermind then.

As for Will’s second claim, he writes:

[A]ccording to the World Meteorological Organization, there has been no recorded global warming for more than a decade.

This one is a little more complicated. But only a little.

Will’s claim appears to come from a BBC News article from way back in April 2008, whose first version reported:

Global temperatures will drop slightly this year as a result of the cooling effect of the La Nina current in the Pacific, UN meteorologists have said. 

The World Meteorological Organization’s secretary-general, Michel Jarraud, told the BBC it was likely that La Nina would continue into the summer.

This would mean global temperatures have not risen since 1998, prompting some to question climate change theory.

It’s true that temperatures haven’t risen since 1998, because that year was a particularly hot one. But as anyone with a high-school level grasp of statistics understands, you need to look at data over a broad period to get a realistic assessment of what’s going on. In fact, the WMO itself made that very point in an “information note” that confirmed that the organization believes global warming is continuing, and pointed out that the last decade has been the warmest on record.

The WMO wrote:

The long-term upward trend of global warming, mostly driven by greenhouse gas emissions, is continuing. Global temperatures in 2008 are expected to be above the long-term average. The decade from 1998 to 2007 has been the warmest on record, and the global average surface temperature has risen by 0.74C since the beginning of the 20th Century. […] “For detecting climate change you should not look at any particular year, but instead examine the trends over a sufficiently long period of time. The current trend of temperature globally is very much indicative of warming,” World Meteorological Organization Secretary-General, Mr Michel Jarraud said in response to media inquiries on current temperature “anomalies”.

Indeed, the BBC soon changed the third paragraph of its report to read:

But this year’s temperatures would still be way above the average – and we would soon exceed the record year of 1998 because of global warming induced by greenhouse gases.

That changed prompted climate change deniers to see a nefarious conspiracy to hide the truth. But given that additional information from the WMO, it’s pretty clear that the revised version better reflects reality.

Will, of course, doesn’t appear to have been interested in any of this. He saw (perhaps via Rush Limbaugh?) a report that appeared to confirm what he believes … and straight into the Washington Post it went. Neither did Will’s editors at thePost seem to care enough about not misinforming their readers to take ten minutes to delve into any of this.

An assistant for Will said the columnist might be able to return TPMmuckraker’s call about the column this afternoon. Fred Hiatt, the Post‘s editorial page editor told TPMmuckraker he’d try to respond to questions about the editing process later today. We’ll update this post if we hear back.

Thanks to reader C.P. for the catch.

Forgive And Forget?

Posted in Barack Obama, Bush, environment, politics, torture, war crimes by allisonkilkenny on January 16, 2009

Paul Krugman

war-crimes1Last Sunday President-elect Barack Obama was asked whether he would seek an investigation of possible crimes by the Bush administration. “I don’t believe that anybody is above the law,” he responded, but “we need to look forward as opposed to looking backwards.”

I’m sorry, but if we don’t have an inquest into what happened during the Bush years — and nearly everyone has taken Mr. Obama’s remarks to mean that we won’t — this means that those who hold power are indeed above the law because they don’t face any consequences if they abuse their power.

Let’s be clear what we’re talking about here. It’s not just torture and illegal wiretapping, whose perpetrators claim, however implausibly, that they were patriots acting to defend the nation’s security. The fact is that the Bush administration’s abuses extended from environmental policy to voting rights. And most of the abuses involved using the power of government to reward political friends and punish political enemies.

At the Justice Department, for example, political appointees illegally reserved nonpolitical positions for “right-thinking Americans” — their term, not mine — and there’s strong evidence that officials used their positions both to undermine the protection of minority voting rights and to persecute Democratic politicians.

The hiring process at Justice echoed the hiring process during the occupation of Iraq — an occupation whose success was supposedly essential to national security — in which applicants were judged by their politics, their personal loyalty to President Bush and, according to some reports, by their views on Roe v. Wade, rather than by their ability to do the job.

Speaking of Iraq, let’s also not forget that country’s failed reconstruction: the Bush administration handed billions of dollars in no-bid contracts to politically connected companies, companies that then failed to deliver. And why should they have bothered to do their jobs? Any government official who tried to enforce accountability on, say, Halliburton quickly found his or her career derailed.

There’s much, much more. By my count, at least six important government agencies experienced major scandals over the past eight years — in most cases, scandals that were never properly investigated. And then there was the biggest scandal of all: Does anyone seriously doubt that the Bush administration deliberately misled the nation into invading Iraq?

Why, then, shouldn’t we have an official inquiry into abuses during the Bush years?

One answer you hear is that pursuing the truth would be divisive, that it would exacerbate partisanship. But if partisanship is so terrible, shouldn’t there be some penalty for the Bush administration’s politicization of every aspect of government?

Alternatively, we’re told that we don’t have to dwell on past abuses, because we won’t repeat them. But no important figure in the Bush administration, or among that administration’s political allies, has expressed remorse for breaking the law. What makes anyone think that they or their political heirs won’t do it all over again, given the chance?

In fact, we’ve already seen this movie. During the Reagan years, the Iran-contra conspirators violated the Constitution in the name of national security. But the first President Bush pardoned the major malefactors, and when the White House finally changed hands the political and media establishment gave Bill Clinton the same advice it’s giving Mr. Obama: let sleeping scandals lie. Sure enough, the second Bush administration picked up right where the Iran-contra conspirators left off — which isn’t too surprising when you bear in mind that Mr. Bush actually hired some of those conspirators.

Now, it’s true that a serious investigation of Bush-era abuses would make Washington an uncomfortable place, both for those who abused power and those who acted as their enablers or apologists. And these people have a lot of friends. But the price of protecting their comfort would be high: If we whitewash the abuses of the past eight years, we’ll guarantee that they will happen again.

Meanwhile, about Mr. Obama: while it’s probably in his short-term political interests to forgive and forget, next week he’s going to swear to “preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.” That’s not a conditional oath to be honored only when it’s convenient.

And to protect and defend the Constitution, a president must do more than obey the Constitution himself; he must hold those who violate the Constitution accountable. So Mr. Obama should reconsider his apparent decision to let the previous administration get away with crime. Consequences aside, that’s not a decision he has the right to make.

Inmates Forced to Drink Poison Water

Posted in environment, health, prison by allisonkilkenny on January 7, 2009

Dr. B. Cayenne Bird

Discolored prison water

Discolored prison water

I would like to share with you a letter sent to me by Daniel Zuma, a member of our UNION prison reform group with a graduate degree who gives us a first person, professionally qualified description of water at Duel Vocational Institute, a prison at Tracy, California and conditions he personally witnessed after he was terrorized by law enforcement. He was harshly sentenced to three years on a first arrest for possesion of recreational drugs. A senior citizen who was harming no one, a well-educated, gentle person who used to be in state service, thrown into prison. Whom did this benefit? No wonder we have no state budget and so many people are walking around traumatized for life after a ridiculous prison sentence.

Here is Daniel’s shocking account. He is now out of prison, but he told me that he will never get over how his own life was devastated by what he endured and witnessed there. It is a key to why nobody is getting out of prison as a better person, but are instead broken in mind, body and spirit. Here’s the letter from a very courageous man whose government has destroyed him over a victimless “crime”. After his letter, I discuss other instances of poison water in the state’s prisons and call everyone to rally with us outside the San Francisco, California courthouse on February 4, 2009

Begin Letter from Daniel Zuma:

Dear Rev. Bird:

Nobody ever expects to go to prison, least of all someone who has never been in trouble before, and who has retired from a career in civil service. But, a friend of mine got caught for possession of drugs and they offered him his freedom in exchange for mine. The government broke down my front door, destroyed my faith in humanity, ruined me financially, and sentenced me to 3 years in prison for drug possession.

Prison did nothing about my drug use except to traumatize me to an extent that I would only be more likely to use them in the future (drug use is one of the defining criteria of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). Prison also ruined my physical health, leaving me bitter and in chronic physical pain. To my surprise, the vast majority of the people I met in prison were there for non-violent offenses–mostly for drug possession, or for technical violations of their conditions of parole–things like “failure to follow directions,” failing to keep an appointment, or turning in a dirty drug or alcohol test; i.e., things that are not even crimes. Many were over 50 years old, like myself.

I was at Deuel Vocational Institute in Tracy CA, where the water runs gray and sometimes brown from the tap. It tastes of industrial chemicals and fermented cow urine, since a dairy sits atop the shallow aquifer from which the prison draws 620,000 gallons per day. It´s disgusting even in the best of times; the staff won´t drink it; there are signs warning visitors not to drink it; and trying to wash anything white only makes them dirtier. In mid-May of 2006, Plant Ops did some routine maintenance changing over the pipes bringing water into the prison. They turned the water off to the entire prison for about 18 hours, and when they turned it back on, the water ran black and thick as paint for nearly a day, after which it gradually went back to its usual gray. The staff brought trash cans full of potable water into the large dorms, and gave the prisoners buckets to help flush the toilets.

The roughly 3,900 prisoners confined two to a cell were completely without water; 379 prisoners and eight staff members were seriously sickened by some sort of diarrheal disease, variously identified as the Norovirus, Campylobacter and, according to one Doctor I spoke to, “a mixture of fecal bacteria” that were never conclusively identified. DVI is a reception center–a feeder prison–which sends about 750 inmates per week to Mule Creek, Wasco, Folsom and elsewhere in the Central Valley. It is, therefore, the first stop for any epidemic entering the prison system. Between May 16 and May 23, 2006, 1,344 inmates and 14 correctional staffers at 10 prisons came down with the disease.

From the 1950s to the 1980s, DVI was used as a firefighter training facility. Chemicals would be ignited in an open pit and extinguished by firefighting personnel. Consequently, there are now high concentrations of Volatile Organic Compounds, such as PCE, TCE, and DCE in the groundwater. The prison dairy contributes significant amounts of nitrates and fecal bacteria, which leach into the water table only 12 feet below. Instead of filtration, the prison relies on high levels of chlorination to suppress fecal contamination, so there are high levels of chlorides (i.e., the “C” in PCE, TCE and DCE) in the water.

In addition to manganese and iron, the water at DVI has a very high salt content due to it´s proximity to San Francisco Bay. So, the water is very “filling,” but it doesn’t quench your thirst. During intestinal disease outbreaks and in hot weather, it is very difficult to stay hydrated or to flush the accumulated toxins from your body. (This is a particular danger for the elderly, or the many inmates who are on psychotropic medications due to mental health problems.)

After 3 months of drinking the DVI water I developed a rash over 80% of my body, which was so itchy I would scratch myself bloody in my sleep. It also affected my joints and my vision, and only cleared up when I was able to obtain bottled water.

I went to Mainline Medical to try to get a prescription or a medical “Chrono” for bottled water, or else a transfer to another institution with clean water. I was told by Dr. Fox, the Chief of the Medical Staff, that they didn’t have the power to grant either request, and besides, I couldn’t prove medically that it was the water (even though my rash would come back when I started drinking the water again). I was advised to file a Medical 602 , an Inmate Appeal which, in keeping with the normal standard of incompetence in these matters, was routed to the prison´s Chief Engineer as a “quality of life” issue, who denied it on the grounds that there was nothing he could do about the water.

Unlike many inmates I was fortunate enough to have family who could send me my own money from the outside, and I was able to purchase 2-liter bottles for 90 cents each once a month at the prison canteen. But then CDC suddenly canceled these from the canteen inventory in favor of 20 oz bottles at triple the price. I filed an Appeal on the price increase, citing my own health reasons and the fact that clean water is a necessity of life and health. After nearly a year of working my way through the various levels of appeal, it was finally turned down at the highest level by CDC in Sacramento.

They said that the decision to raise the price on water was made at the state level by a committee and, having been made, it cannot be unmade just for me. Apparently, allowing all prisoners access to clean water–even at their own expense–was not deemed sufficiently reasonable to revisit the committee´s decision. I know from my own years of experience in state government that there is no impediment to modifying a contract of this sort. They simply did not consider the health of inmates worth the effort.

In the meantime, I began documenting cases of others who had filed grievances at DVI and found a consistent pattern of obstruction and delay–and, when appeals were granted, the outcomes were deliberately calculated to make the situation worse, so as to convince the inmates of the futility of trying to change the system by working within it. All of the organizational self-correcting mechanisms have been disconnected in CDC–there is no meaningful press access; no outside audits; no inmate self-governance; no checks and balances; no whistle blower protection; chaplains can be fired for disclosing substandard conditions; and a recent federal case brought by an inmate at Pelican Bay regarding the serving of hot meals has shown that even the federal courts cannot force CDC to follow its own rules–should a prisoner survive the year-long gauntlet of delay and reprisals that pervades the Inmate Appeals Process.

What I didn´t know at the time is that polluted drinking water had been known about for decades at DVI and elsewhere, but it has been largely ignored as overcrowded prisons overtax the aquifers from which they draw their water. Nitrate contamination due to fertilizers is especially common in rural areas, such as the Salinas Valley State Prison near Monterey; the California Institution for Men (CIM) in Chino; at the California Men´s Colony (CMC) in San Luis Obispo; and the nearby California Institution for Women (CIW). Mule Creek State Prison´s water is contaminated with dry cleaning chemicals; Old Folsom´s water is contaminated by toxic waste from the old scrap metal, drum storage, industrial manufacturing areas, and a firing range. At Kern Valley State Prison, there are high levels of arsenic in the water. Alkalinity, asbestos and fecal contamination are issues at Avenal. Inmates have also been sickened by the water at the Sierra Conservation Center in Jamestown, and by outbreaks of Helicobacter pylori (a bacterium that causes peptic ulcers) at the California Rehabilitation Center in Norco.

If there is any pollution in the local water table, it tends to get sucked into the prison because of the rates of pumping have to keep up with overcrowding. To make matters worse, prisons only concentrate these pollutants further, and they discharge them back into the host communities, who are forced to subsidize the cost of treating the excess sewage. Between 2000 and 2006, eight of California’s 33 state prisons have been cited for major water pollution problems. Folsom State Prison, for example, was fined $700,000 in 2000 for a massive 700,000 gallon sewage spill into the adjacent American River.

The media is banned from California´s prisons which is outrageous when a full blown humanitarian crisis is taking place out of public view, which I believe is the reason that journalists can´t interview specific inmates and often have their notes seized. There are four journalists in the UNION and hundreds of family members who refuse to cooperate with this unconstitutional media ban, even though there is severe retaliation against those who file lawsuits and report the news from inside. There is less retaliation against the family members for reporting the news, since there is no way for the wardens and guards to know the source of information. Every effort is made by CDCr and state employees to cover up wrongdoing, which doesn´t work when people are educated and  dedicated patriots who will write and make comments at the news sites. 

The UNION´s jailhouse lawyers are suffering increased and severe retaliation during the final phases of the Plata trial in a concerted effort to silence them. There is very little help coming from the State lawmakers and officials to do anything to stop the deliberate physical and psychological torture being inflicted. I will be writing more on this topic soon and have been invited to be a guest on a national talk show to discuss the fact that there is no one who will assist families or inmates with real intervention even in life and death emergencies, unless they are able to write big checks or have a friend in office, which is rare. Losing a loved one to Prison is emotionally and financially devastating, which is why there are no large public outcry ad campaigns. 

On February 4, 2009, we are going to rally outside the Federal Courthouse at 450 Golden Gate Ave., San Francisco at 9 am. In order to get national media involved, at least 500 folks need to be there to stand up against medical neglect and continued abuse of the mentally ill in California’s horrific prisons. While more than 100 family members attended our Nov 21 rally, we need five times more than that to make a stronger point that no one is addressing folks who are suffering and dying right now. Many are inmates who could be released right now to save the state billions and give some relief to the parents who are out of their minds with sick worry as an inmate dies daily. Many more will die before this gets resolved, but each of us must be the public outcry and fill up our cars for this historic day. Go here, hit print and mail 50 copies into an inmate to help spread the word, we are all unpaid volunteers in the UNION and cannot afford large mailings. This is a way everyone can help, we need crowds to bring in the national media so the lawmakers will do something to prevent more deaths which are highly visible right now. 

Here’s the flyer for Feb 4, when closing arguments before Judges Thelton Henderson, Lawrence Karlton and Stephen Reinhardt will take place in the Plata case. The power of noisy numbers is the only solution, suffering in silence doesn’t work. 

Over the last decade, I have published in my columns and editorials information about poison water at most of the prisons. The first time I encountered the problem was when I visited Calipatria State prison in 1999 and saw warning signs posted in the waiting room to the visitors that the water was dangerously contaminated and not to drink it. Alarmed, I contacted Sen. John Burton´s office about the inmates being forced to drink this water even with public safety notices, and his aide, Nettie Sabelhaus, assured me that the water was safe, in spite of the signs. 

When one of our UNION journalists whose sister in Norco came down with H-pylori, we were able to convince the Riverside press Enterprise to do an investigation, but they were able to slide out of having to correct the problem. That story is in their news archives, so when the second flare up of h-pylori was discovered, the evidence is there that we tried very hard to get assistance in 2004, which never came. 

Instead of treating some 200 women who had contracted this bug that causes ulcers and great gastrointestinal suffering in many folks who get it, the warden simply transferred all these women to other prisons to keep it out of the news and then retired from her position two weeks later before we could organize an outcry on this medical neglect. 

Yes, CDCr scattered all these women, ill with a contagious bug, without treating them before the UNION families could find their relatives and gather enough support for a lawsuit. It was quiet until the same situation of h-pylori in the water at Norco arose in the headlines again just last month. 

I hope that everyone with a loved one at Norco has filed a complaint with the Riverside County Grand Jury so that something will be done about this ignored problem. If nobody cares enough to make noise in the media, comment at the news sites and file complaints with grand juries, then problems are never corrected. The lack of objection in the form of comments at the news sites and large protests is what enables the medical neglect, torture and murder taking place in the prisons to continue. We have had some luck when 50 or more UNION members file complaints with some of the grand juries who are also lied to and blocked from doing real investigations. 


The more info the grand jury has, which are mostly made up of citizen´s from the community, the more chance for actual resolution. The prisoners cannot do this type of complaint effectively for themselves, it is necessary for the family members to file these complaints in large numbers. 

There is no place to go for help at any level, even in life and death emergencies. The lawmakers are elected into office with the dollars and votes of law enforcement labor unions in the majority of cases, so writing to most of them for help for inmates is a complete waste of time. That´s because the state runs off the dollars and budgets generated by the court system through fines and the human bondage industry is California´s largest. We, the people need to stop electing law enforcement’s picks for office, and start electing some who are smart on crime, and represent the rest of us for a change. 
This callousness is one reason why the feds have had no choice but to take over the prisoners´ medical care, due to the deliberate indifference of most state lawmakers and officials who are should be doing the right thing, but who clearly are unresponsive. What goes on in the dark is deadly and empowers the cruelty that takes place in our mismanaged dungeons and I, as an old-fashioned journalist who has devoted four decades of my life serving the public´s right to know, am never going to cooperate with this cover up, even though the price I pay for reporting about the abuses is very high, more than I can tell you here. 

Michael Rothfield of the Los Angeles Times did an important series on arsenic-laced water this week which the prisoners are being forced to drink in site of the danger of cancer and other symptoms of slow poisoning. 

I don’t remember “give them cancer” as being part of the prisoners´ sentences. And, when the state allows this torture to happen, the amount of money we’ll pay for their healthcare costs will go up. It’s wrong on multiple levels, including humanitarian and financial. Maybe you think this isn’t your concern. 

But do you know that there are three million Californians who never thought that they or someone they love would land in prison so someone you know is affected by the humanitarian crisis taking place in the prisons due to criminal neglect? Poison water is a public health crisis, but due to too much silence and inaction by the families that could force lawmakers to comply, this cruel and unusual punishment continues to exist. The fact that the State has known about arsenic in the water for several years and has no plans to resolve it is pure madness. What in God’s name is going here!! And why would anyone with a modicum of common sense buy into this? 

I would dearly love to add a lawsuit to the 100 or so that our UNION families have already filed over wrongful deaths due to water, but we are limited by funds and volunteers to do everyone´s fighting for them without more workers. 

I will continue to educate the public, so that if and when folks who are suffering ever decide to take legal action over their loved ones being forced to drink poison water, there will be a public record of it which was published nationwide. Our volunteer jailhouse attorneys pay for many of these battles out of their own empty pockets and suffer severe retaliation for even filing them, so the UNION families are choosing what we will take on in the future by vote only. Not all of the lawsuits we have filed are being litigated by jailhouse lawyers, some families are sacrificing everything they own to hire private lawyers to go into court in a system that favors the guards. 

With enough participation, more lawsuits would be possible, as nothing is for free, someone pays for every lawsuit the UNION families have filed, which is the only language the bureaucrats understand. Still, I do not like witnessing this slow murder and torture and would rather be able to do something about it, rather than stand like an idiot on the sidelines and simply watch it take place like so many folks do who place no value on prisoners´ lives or simply do not understand how to organize and end these practices.

We cannot have too many volunteers working on organizing a large voice to stand up for inmates beneath articles at the news sites, who will bring 20 protesters in their car on Feb 4, who will help with gas money and other costs of doing a meaningful campaign. 

Rev. B. Cayenne Bird 


p.o.b. 340371
Sacramento, Ca 95834

A Real, Live Hero Needs Your Help

Posted in environment by allisonkilkenny on January 6, 2009

decristopherwebTim DeChristopher is a hero, and that’s not hyperbole.

I previously posted about him over here. DeChristopher “bought” 22,000 acres of land in an attempt to save the property from drilling. The sale had been strongly opposed by many environmental groups. Stephen Bloch of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance said, “This is the fire sale, the Bush administration’s last great gift to the oil and gas industry.”

Basically, DeChristopher posed as a drilling company representative and bid on the public land. And he won. 

Now, he needs our help. Actually, he needs $45,000 to protect the land he sacrificed his freedom for:

As you may have already heard, on December 19th I chose to disrupt the BLM oil and gas auction through an act of civil disobedience by bidding against participating oil & gas companies. I ended up “winning” the leases for 22,500 acres of beautiful land near Moab. You can find more details at

    The tremendous support I’ve received in response to my action was unexpected and utterly inspiring. Hundreds of people have contributed over $10,000 to my legal defense and to the $45,000 bond obligation for the leases. And countless others have expressed their solidarity and support for the long American tradition of meaningful civil disobedience.

    In addition to the moving effect on me, this support has also opened up the real possibility of paying off the leases which I “won”. The initial payment on this, required to secure the land, is around $45,000. After a good deal of struggling over this choice, I have decided to raise the money to secure the leases. With much advice from my legal team, it has become clear to me that making the down payment on the leases is the best way to protect the land until we can restore open, transparent and democratic procedures for determining the fate of valuable public lands.

     It is still unclear how the new administration will deal with this inappropriate auction and the disruption I caused to it, but I can only hope the President Obama follows through on his promise for a transparent government. Until then I will make sure that no drilling or development happens on this land, and for that I need your help. This is an opportunity for all of us to make a clear statement of how much we care for our land, our climate and participatory democracy.

    Please donate to help protect these 22,500 acres of wilderness (and reduce the chance of prison for me). Together we can protect this land and show that we are all willing to make the sacrifices necessary for a livable future.

    Please forward this email on to as many people as you can and continue to spread the word of the need for critical action. Thank you for being a part of protecting the future for all of us.

    Tim DeChristopher



You Are Being Lied to About Pirates

Posted in environment, politics by allisonkilkenny on January 5, 2009

Johann Hari

pirate-somalia-general-bgWho imagined that in 2009, the world’s governments would be declaring a new War on Pirates? As you read this, the British Royal Navy – backed by the ships of more than two dozen nations, from the US to China – is sailing into Somalian waters to take on men we still picture as parrot-on-the-shoulder pantomime villains. They will soon be fighting Somalian ships and even chasing the pirates onto land, into one of the most broken countries on earth. But behind the arrr-me-hearties oddness of this tale, there is an untold scandal. The people our governments are labeling as “one of the great menace of our times” have an extraordinary story to tell — and some justice on their side.

Pirates have never been quite who we think they are. In the “golden age of piracy” – from 1650 to 1730 – the idea of the pirate as the senseless, savage thief that lingers today was created by the British government in a great propaganda-heave. Many ordinary people believed it was false: pirates were often rescued from the gallows by supportive crowds. Why? What did they see that we can’t? In his book Villains of All nations, the historian Marcus Rediker pores through the evidence to find out. If you became a merchant or navy sailor then – plucked from the docks of London’s East End, young and hungry – you ended up in a floating wooden Hell. You worked all hours on a cramped, half-starved ship, and if you slacked off for a second, the all-powerful captain would whip you with the Cat O’ Nine Tails. If you slacked consistently, you could be thrown overboard. And at the end of months or years of this, you were often cheated of your wages.

Pirates were the first people to rebel against this world. They mutinied against their tyrannical captains – and created a different way of working on the seas. Once they had a ship, the pirates elected their captains, and made all their decisions collectively. They shared their bounty out in what Rediker calls “one of the most egalitarian plans for the disposition of resources to be found anywhere in the eighteenth century.” They even took in escaped African slaves and lived with them as equals. The pirates showed “quite clearly – and subversively – that ships did not have to be run in the brutal and oppressive ways of the merchant service and the Royal navy.” This is why they were popular, despite being unproductive thieves.

The words of one pirate from that lost age – a young British man called William Scott – should echo into this new age of piracy. Just before he was hanged in Charleston, South Carolina, he said: “What I did was to keep me from perishing. I was forced to go a-pirating to live.” In 1991, the government of Somalia – in the Horn of Africa – collapsed. Its nine million people have been teetering on starvation ever since – and many of the ugliest forces in the Western world have seen this as a great opportunity to steal the country’s food supply and dump our nuclear waste in their seas.

Yes: nuclear waste. As soon as the government was gone, mysterious European ships started appearing off the coast of Somalia, dumping vast barrels into the ocean. The coastal population began to sicken. At first they suffered strange rashes, nausea and malformed babies. Then, after the 2005 tsunami, hundreds of the dumped and leaking barrels washed up on shore. People began to suffer from radiation sickness, and more than 300 died. Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, the UN envoy to Somalia, tells me: “Somebody is dumping nuclear material here. There is also lead, and heavy metals such as cadmium and mercury – you name it.” Much of it can be traced back to European hospitals and factories, who seem to be passing it on to the Italian mafia to “dispose” of cheaply. When I asked Ould-Abdallah what European governments were doing about it, he said with a sigh: “Nothing. There has been no clean-up, no compensation, and no prevention.”

At the same time, other European ships have been looting Somalia’s seas of their greatest resource: seafood. We have destroyed our own fish-stocks by over-exploitation – and now we have moved on to theirs. More than $300m worth of tuna, shrimp, lobster and other sea-life is being stolen every year by vast trawlers illegally sailing into Somalia’s unprotected seas. The local fishermen have suddenly lost their livelihoods, and they are starving. Mohammed Hussein, a fisherman in the town of Marka 100km south of Mogadishu, told Reuters: “If nothing is done, there soon won’t be much fish left in our coastal waters.”

This is the context in which the men we are calling “pirates” have emerged. Everyone agrees they were ordinary Somalian fishermen who at first took speedboats to try to dissuade the dumpers and trawlers, or at least wage a ‘tax’ on them. They call themselves the Volunteer Coastguard of Somalia – and it’s not hard to see why. In a surreal telephone interview, one of the pirate leaders, Sugule Ali, said their motive was “to stop illegal fishing and dumping in our waters… We don’t consider ourselves sea bandits. We consider sea bandits [to be] those who illegally fish and dump in our seas and dump waste in our seas and carry weapons in our seas.” William Scott would understand those words.

No, this doesn’t make hostage-taking justifiable, and yes, some are clearly just gangsters – especially those who have held up World Food Programme supplies. But the “pirates” have the overwhelming support of the local population for a reason. The independent Somalian news-site WardherNews conducted the best research we have into what ordinary Somalis are thinking – and it found 70 percent “strongly supported the piracy as a form of national defence of the country’s territorial waters.” During the revolutionary war in America, George Washington and America’s founding fathers paid pirates to protect America’s territorial waters, because they had no navy or coastguard of their own. Most Americans supported them. Is this so different?

Did we expect starving Somalians to stand passively on their beaches, paddling in our nuclear waste, and watch us snatch their fish to eat in restaurants in London and Paris and Rome? We didn’t act on those crimes – but when some of the fishermen responded by disrupting the transit-corridor for 20 percent of the world’s oil supply, we begin to shriek about “evil.” If we really want to deal with piracy, we need to stop its root cause – our crimes – before we send in the gun-boats to root out Somalia’s criminals.

The story of the 2009 war on piracy was best summarised by another pirate, who lived and died in the fourth century BC. He was captured and brought to Alexander the Great, who demanded to know “what he meant by keeping possession of the sea.” The pirate smiled, and responded: “What you mean by seizing the whole earth; but because I do it with a petty ship, I am called a robber, while you, who do it with a great fleet, are called emperor.” Once again, our great imperial fleets sail in today – but who is the robber?

Johann Hari is a writer for the Independent newspaper. To read more of his articles, click here.