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Mining for Reform

October 18, 2010 Leave a comment

The safe, dramatic and successful rescue of all 33 Chilean miners this past weekend can be summed up in one word: miraculous. The images of the rescued miners, most of which are now iconic, ascending from the bowels of the Earth moved hearts across the globe. Your own blogger choked up for a minute. Or possibly even two. It was a breathtaking display of teamwork and determination between countries (the rescue plan was devised by a company from Kansas), companies (Oakley donated the sunglasses miners used to transition back to sea level) and average citizens. It was all a joyous sight to behold.

Mining: A deadly industry.

Now rack your brain. When was the last mining accident, before Chile, that you remember with a happy ending? The only one that comes to my mind is the Quecreek Rescue in 2002. In a triumphant display, nine miners were pulled to safety after being trapped for days underground in Pennsylvania. A happy ending; much like those brave men in Chile.

But let’s not try to fool anyone here. That was a long time ago. That was eight years ago.

In 2005, an earthquake triggered a gas explosion in a coalmine in Northern China killing over 200 miners. It was, at the time, the country’s worst mining disaster. In Siberia in 2007, over 70 lives were lost when a buildup of methane reached its breaking point and took the mine with it. In 2009, in Heilongjiang, again in Northern China, there was another mine explosion; it ended the lives of over 100 workers. This April, in West Virginia, 29 miners lost their lives to an accident in the Upper Big Branch mine. It was the worst mining disaster in the United States since the 1950s. In May, 90 Russians lost their lives in another mining calamity in Siberia. This list could go on and on and on…and on… well, you get the picture. The happy ending for the Chilean miners and their families is the exception; not the rule.

I raise these, admittedly morbid, incidents because they illustrate the lack of international mining oversight that is needed to safeguard the lives of workers that keep this world running. Too often facts about accidents are swept under the rug by governments. Too often corners are cut at the expense of safety to bolster productivity. Too often people are dying. The worst accidents, unsurprisingly, are happening in developing nations where oversight and regulation are the least stringent and populations, straddling impoverishment, are willing to work in life threatening situations. These are the places that need substantial reform swiftly.*

I am not naive when speaking to the subject of international implementation of norms. Global mining law would inevitably put restrictions on some free market activities and could be called an infringement on sovereignty by countries that are mostly mined by state run/affiliated entities. (I.e. China & Russia.) Understanding this, it will be near impossible (no, definitely impossibe) to set in place codified safety rules that are internationally enforceable. Maybe even a “pipe dream.” But we have to try. We owe it to all 33 Chilean miners. More importantly, we owe it to all of those who have lost their lives in the depths of the Earth.

Until then, though, we will still be hearing the same old disheartening stories. Like we did this week. This time from Ecuador and China.

*I’m not suggesting that the United States does not need urgent reform as well. I believe it does. But on the scale of need, these other locales take priority.

The Week in Fodder

July 30, 2010 Leave a comment

It’s Friday… and what’s this… a Week in Fodder posted on the correct day?!!! WEIRD. Well, we did it, got it out in time. A lot of good stuff in this week’s edition… Hezbollah and Lebanon, Catalonian independence, the ESB, Warren Jeffs, mandatory minimums, alcohol and arthritis, crazy Philly fans and SO much more. Enjoy!

World Views:

Hezbollah: Creating tension in Lebanon.

Pakistan Air Blue Crash: Early Wednesday morning an Air Blue flight from Karachi to Islamabad crashed in the hills of Northern Pakistan just minutes before landing. Sadly, all 146 passengers along with 6 crew members perished in the accident. In a remote area, the crash site is near unreachable due to a lack of any form or roads and rough jungle terrain. Rescue workers immediately found a flight recorder; officials are hoping that the recorder will provide insight into the cause of the crash; beyond the weather that was the most likely cause.

Favela Makeover: On Tuesday, Rio de Janeiro Mayor Eduardo Paes announced that slums (favelas) surrounding the city will be receiving a facelift before the 2016 Summer Olympics. Affecting over 200,000 households, the renovations and clearing of the favelas will cost over $4.5 billion. With over 600 communities receiving the “facelift,” the action-plan is audacious. The 13,000 families from the 123 communities that will be displaced by the actual destruction of the most decrepit areas will be relocated. This is the latest move in the ongoing struggle between the Brazilian government and the favela residents. After deadly landslides killed over 200 in April, the Rio government signed a decree into law that would allow the forcible eviction of favela residents. In May, a report by a non-governmental group found the official justification to be standing on shaky legal ground. The bottom line is that the Rio government sees the favelas as a hinderance to modernization for a handful of different reasons. The Olympics provide the municipal powers with the perfect rationalization to make a significant change. It all smacks, disturbingly, of Beijing’s attitude and tactics in the days and months leading up to the 2008 Games.

KGB Redux?: Thursday, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signed into law a bill that will expand the powers of the ESB; the descendant of the Soviet KGB. The bill passed both houses of Parliament but sparked major debate. In a country where dissent in relation to the Kremlin’s preferred policies is – let’s say – frowned upon, the fact this bill has been so strongly opposed raises red flags about the danger of the new law. The controversy revolves around specific language in the new law. ESB agents will now have the power to “warn officially an individual about the inadmissibility of actions that create the conditions for the commission of crimes.” That is terribly vague and dangerously usable language. In country where freedoms are shrinking, opposition journalists are murdered and Vladimir Putin casts a ever-present shadow, the ESB’s new powers are a disturbing development.

Bullfighting Ban: The Parliament of Catalonia, the semi-autonomous southern region of Spain, voted to ban bullfighting this week. With the vote, Catalonia becomes the first region of Spain to outlaw the historic national pastime. The measure made it to Parliament on the back of a petition signed by over 180,000 persons. While the decision can be seen within the scope of an animal rights campaign, many Spanish political experts believe that this was a power move by Catalonian nationalists to separate themselves from the rest of Spain; proof of a different historical identity. If it was, it was tactfully done. Keep an eye on this story.

Lebanese Tension: After a round of groundbreaking talk between Lebanese, Saudi and Syrian officials in Beirut, there has been a united call for maintained stability and piece in the volatile Mediterranean country. There are signs of a renewed conflict within its borders. After years of turmoil following the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and the withdrawal of Syrian troops in 2005, a unity government was finally formed in 2008. This, of course, included the politically powerful Hezbollah. As the UN investigation into Mr. Hariri’s death wraps up and it becomes more and more likely that it will condemn Hezbollah members, tension is rising. Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, the spiritual leader of Hezbollah, stated in a television interview this week that he would not stand for the defamation of his organization; a warning shot across the bow of the UN. After the 2006 War with Israel, Lebanon cannot handle another step backwards. Keep an eye on this story when the UN report comes out.

American Matters:

As his followers stay true, Warren Jeffs gets a new trial in Utah.

SB 1070 Blocked: On Wednesday, Federal District Court Judge Susan Bolton struck down some of the most controversial aspects – the ability of police officers to detain persons the believe to be “removable,” the pressing of all officers to determine immigration status in any kind of routine encounter with citizens and the requirement for all legal and illegal residents to carry proof of residency/legal immigration – of Arizona’s hot-button immigration law. Issuing an injunction against those facets, Judge Bolton cited the laws usurpation of the Federal Government’s sole right to make immigration law in the United States. Arizona immediately launched an appeal. Reaction has been varied. (Here is a little sampling.) SB 1070 is undoubtedly on a fast-track to the Supreme Court.

Jeffs’ Verdict Overturned: The 2007 conviction of Warren Jeffs, the self-proclaimed prophetical leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints*** (FLDS), was overturned this week by the Utah Supreme Court. Found guilty of facilitating the rape of a 14 year old FLDS member, Mr. Jeffs was sentenced to two concurrent 5 to life terms in prison. Citing a misrepresentation of legal facts by the judge in the 2007 case, a unanimous decision by the Utah Supreme Court means that further legal action against Mr. Jeffs in Utah is highly unlikely. Luckily, there are charges pending in Texas and on the Federal level against the FLDS leader. Mr. Jeffs ideology and church are immoral, dangerous and unacceptable in our modern United States; I only hope that he stays in prison where he belongs.

***This link is to the FLDS website run by the FLDS. Take it for what you will. OR, as they say, with a grain of salt.

Mandatory Minimum Victory: On Wednesday, after almost 25 years of injustice, Congress finally passed legislation to change the disparity in crack cocaine-powder cocaine mandatory sentencing on a national level. Since 1986, in the midst of the crack scare, Congress passed a law that put the mandatory minimum sentence of a first time crack cocaine offense at a level of 100 to 1 to the same first time offense of powder cocaine. Because of the cheapness of crack compared to powder, the issue quickly became socioeconomic; this inevitably led to a racial disparity. I won’t get into a lecture here. All I will say is this: it’s about damn time Congress.

Blago Trial: Illinois is officially on verdict watch in the Rod Blagojevich trial. After a controversy over Mr. Blagojevich’s lawyer’s closing argument, the jury started deliberation on Thursday. Facing over 20 criminal charges, Mr. Blagojevich is in the midst of one of the most prolific political corruption trial in recent memory. As in all high profile cases, the jury will most likely pontificate for a longer period of time before returning a verdict. Look for one early next week. Until then, however, you can place your bets on when they will come back, here, on Chicagoist.com.

Arlington Controversy: Earlier this year, John Melzer – the former superintendent of the Arlington National Cemetery – was forced to retire over a scandal involving the mislabeling and lack of labeling of at least 600 graves in the national resting place. Yesterday, Mr. Melzer and his right-hand man, Thurman Higginbotham, testified to a hostile Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee. Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO), citing her own investigation, stated that the errors in labeling, in reality, affected somewhere between 4,000-7,000 graves. Senators on both sides of the aisle attacked Mr. Melzer and Mr. Higginbotham’s handling of the situation. The latter ended up pleading the 5th in response to a myriad of questions; the former blamed most of the errors on his staff. Let’s hope this unfortunate disrespect of our nation’s heros can be fixed sooner rather than later.

Off the Beaten Path:

Feeling arthritic? Drink it down, baby.

Alcohol and Arthritis: A study by the University of Sheffield released this week has found a direct link between drinking alcohol and rheumatoid arthritis relief. The study concludes, using two different test groups, that people who frequently drink alcohol, on whole, have less joint pain and swelling. It’s a victory for all college students, winos and arthritis suffers all over the world. I can already see it. A cop walks up to a car in a suspected DUI stop… “Have you been drinking tonight?” “Sory ociffer, my artritis was flaring up today…(insert hiccup).”

Paul the Octopus… the Great Satan Incarnate?: Mahmoud Ahmadinejad gave Islamist groups everywhere another reason to hate the West this week: Paul the Octopus. Claiming the octopus represents “decadence” and “decay” among his Western enemies, Ahmadinejad stated that people who believed in soothsaying octopi could not possibly aspire to the “human perfection” that the Islamic Republic does. Let’s call a spade a spade here… Ahmadinejad is a hater. Pure Haterade. He’s just jealous Paulie Boy didn’t pick Iran to win the World Cup. I’ll raise a drink to Paul the Octopus tonight. Will anyone else join me?

Apache on Main Street: This week, an Apache helicopter was forced to make an emergency landing on a street in Kershaw, S.C. due to mechanical problems. The Apache landed on the nearest, safest road when the crew decided it was too dangerous to continue on. The Army left it parked on the street overnight until it could send a truck to pick it up. I can only imagine that AAA call. “What kind of car is it?”…. “It’s actually a $56.25 million Apache…” “You know we only cover the first 20 miles of towing… right?”

The Northwest Passage: Over 150 years ago, the HMS Investigator traveled toward the Arctic searching for the legendary Northwest Passage and a quick link to the Indian silk routes. After getting marooned on the Arctic ice, the crew abandoned the ship. This week, an archaeological team found the ship’s remains. There may be some controversy over this discovery, however. Since the Investigator was found in Canada’s Western Arctic, there will probably be a turf war between Canadian and British authorities as to where the ship’s final resting place will be. I, personally, think it should stay where it is. It’s a testament to the explorers that opened this world for the rest of us; let it sit!

Vomit and the Phillies: Anyone who knows sports knows that Philadelphia fans are a special breed; intense, passionate and mostly crazy. Well this story – and what a story it is – would only happen at a Phillies game. Last Friday, Matthew Clemmens – a native of the Dirty Jerz, that’s a whole different story – intentionally vomited on a spectator and his daughter as the Phillies played the Washington Nationals. That spectator was actually an off-duty police officer; talk about karma. Anyway, Clemmens was sentenced to three months in jail and two years of probation. I mean, are we serious here? When was the last time you went to a sporting even, heckled the person in front of you for an hour and then pulled the trigger and puked on them? Oh right, never. Get better Matthew Clemmens.

Oh, and here’s some Phillies fan action for you…

Quotes of the Week:

LOVING the yacht controversy...

“If you guys think that John Kerry doesn’t have enough sense of either propriety or common sense, that I’m going to be sailing my boat around Massachusetts where I’m highly recognizable but it’s going to somehow stay in Rhode Island and I’m going to avoid a tax . . . I’d be crazy to think that I’m going to be doing that, and that was never our long-term intention here.’’ – Sen. John Kerry in a Boston Globe interview concerning the controversy surrounding his new yacht. New $7 million yacht and referring to himself in the third person? NBD.

“I’m working every day to clear this black mark from me and my family. Give me the opportunity to show you who I am and not who I was that one afternoon.” – Matthew Clemmens at his sentencing. Good luck with that, kid.

Idiom of the Week: To be a bundle of nerves.

This week’s Idiom of the Week describes someone who is nervous and uptight.

Example #1: John was quite a bundle of nerves when his name was called on to read a passage of Hamlet aloud in front of the class.

Example #2: John Kerry was a bundle of nerves when he realized he didn’t pay taxes on his new yacht.

Song of the Week:

This week’s Song of the Week comes from the New Jersey band Real Estate. It’s a great chill, summer tune to put on in the background. Enjoy!

That concludes our Week in Fodder. Hope you got something for your weekend shenanigans. Thanks for tuning in. Until next week, keep living the good life!

Whitewashing the World

June 28, 2010 Leave a comment

The Peruvian Andes.

In 2009, the World Bank held an international competition to find “100 ideas to save the planet.” Traditional, cutting edge, unique and crazy; the competition featured breathtaking theories to thwart environmental degradation worldwide. One of the twenty-six winners was Peruvian Eduardo Gold. Mr Gold, an inventor and self-taught glaciologist, had a crazy idea: why don’t Peruvians use natural materials to proactively combat the rapid glacier loss in the Andes? How could they go about doing that? Well Mr. Gold came up with the simplest of solutions: homemade, Peruvian whitewash.

Using only lime, egg white and water, Mr. Gold’s theory on glacial reinstatement relies on the simple fact that white objects are naturally cooler than those that are dark colored. Whitewashing the peaks that are now devoid of their former glacial brilliance will hopefully lead to a continuously incremental temperature drop. The thought is that this will eventually promote the return of the Andes’ glaciers. Simplistic? Maybe. Without merit? Absolutely not. First, the World Bank, out of over 1,500 submissions found enough empirical evidence to award the idea a $200,000 grant. Second, U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu endorsed an idea based on the same principle that white produces cold. Sounds crazy, I know, but it’s so simple, it might work.

Worldwide glacial recession is nothing to scoff at. Every continent, from Asia to Antarctica have seen unimpeded and epic glacial loss in the past four decades. An in depth World Wildlife Fund (WWF) report is a cohesive study on the subject. Since the 1980s, Europe’s Alpine glaciers have lost an estimated 10-20%. A remarkable statistic when you think about the magnitude of the geological formations. The highland glaciers of Central Asia – the water source of millions in Western China, Nepal, Tibet – are declining at the astronomical rate of almost 1% annually since the 1970s. This is clearly a ecological disaster waiting to happen. South America, especially Peru, has been specifically hard hit. Of the three major tropical glaciers, almost half of their masses have been lost in the past fifty years; a truly staggering thought.

This is all very controversial. It all just seems too simple. Maybe we should just sit back, see the results of Eduardo Gold’s experiment and hope for the best. A wise and ingenious professor once told me, “The flashpoint of conflict in the coming century will be clean water and clean water sources.” Glacial loss will inevitably contribute to this fact. So think on it, come up with your own solution or tell your friends to brainstorm. In the meantime, whitewash your local peak; you might be saving the earth for future generations.