Monday, July 29, 2013

Fracking Fight Comes to Long Island

(My column in Long Island newspapers this week.)
            The fight over fracking has come to Long Island. Although there are no shale deposits here to exploit for gas by hydraulic fracturing —known as fracking—the ocean off Long Island could be the site of a terminal that opponents charged at a recent public hearing is aimed at sending gas fracked in the U.S. to foreign nations.
             Meanwhile, the powerful documentary Gasland II—which concludes with documents showing the U.S. gas industry seeks to export much of the gas fracked in the U.S.—was screened at the Hamptons International Film Festival. It received a standing ovation from the packed audience at Guild Hall in East Hampton. Afterwards, there was a panel discussion organized and led by actor Alec Baldwin. It included Josh Fox, director, narrator and writer of Gasland II and the earlier documentary, Gasland, which in 2011 was awarded an Emmy and nominated for an Academy Award. I was also on the panel.
The Suffolk Legislature has now passed two bills on fracking: one to block water utilized in the process from being sent to any sewage plant in Suffolk for disposal, and a second barring “the use of hydraulic fracturing brine” on county property or roadways.
Fracking uses massive amounts of water sent under high pressure, along with 700 chemicals, into shale deposits to fracture them and release the gas held in them. Some of the chemicals are “known carcinogens,” notes the first bill. It warns of fracking wastewater being discharged from sewage plants to then “feed into Long Island’s sole source aquifer.”
As to “fracturing brine,” this is also a fracking “waste product,” notes the second bill,  and “some businesses that perform hydraulic fracking would like to dispose of such brine by providing it to local governments as a road de-icing agent for use in the winter.”
The hearing July 9 on the proposed offshore gas terminal was held in Long Beach. A $300 million project of Liberty Natural Gas, it would be set up 19 miles south of Jones Beach. Although the company claims its purpose is to import gas, speakers challenged this at the crowded hearing run by the U.S. Maritime Administration and Coast Guard.
Catskills Citizens for Safe Energy issued a statement declaring that the U.S. gas industry through fracking “is now producing so much gas” that it “plans to export half of it…overseas.” Although the terminal’s “sponsors claim that their facility will be used to import gas,” an amendment was made last year to federal regulations that allows for “export as well as import.” The planned terminal “off Long Island would be perfectly situated to export fracked gas…to Europe and Asia. If that happens, then fracking in Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia will be ramped up, and the pressure to frack New York might prove to be irresistible.” There has been a New York State moratorium that has expired on fracking. Governor Cuomo is considering whether to now permit it. 
Gasland II puts the fracking situation in sharp and comprehensive focus. Josh Fox began investigating fracking after his family got a $100,000 offer to frack on land on which his father built a house in the woods of Pennsylvania. What he uncovered and presented in his first documentary, Gasland, was literally explosive. People all over the U.S. whose property is used for fracking have their well water loaded with gas. What comes out of their water faucets is shown repeatedly in Gasland bursting into flames when lit with a match.
Gasland revealed the identity of the toxic chemicals used in fracking. And it chronicled the serious health impacts to people along with the environmental devastation from fracking.  
I commented on the panel July 5 at Guild Hall that when I heard Mr. Fox was doing Gasland II, I could not see how he could follow his astounding earlier documentary—but that he broadened it “with perfection” and it is as important and powerful as the first film.
In Gasland II, now being aired on HBO, Mr. Fox not only widens his examination of the health and environmental disasters caused by fracking but exposes how governments—led by the Obama administration—have eagerly allowed fracking to happen and expand. Gasland II spotlights fracking as a major contributor to climate change. It reveals the gas industry’s hold on governments. As U.S. Representative Brad Miller of North Carolina says in Gasland II about industry influence over Congress: “Try ownership, really.” It tells how the gas industry’s lead PR firm pushing fracking was a pioneer in claiming cigarettes are safe. It provides expert analysis about fracking being unnecessary—how safe, clean, renewable energy can provide all the power we need. It presents data linking fracking to earthquakes. Gasland II shows again and again peoples’ drinking water on fire. It cites fracking as also releasing radioactive poisons held in the shale. A rape of the planet and an attack on peoples’ health is underway. Gasland and Gasland II—must-see documentaries.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Weiner and Spitzer -- Meshugganah Chutzpah

(Published on The Times of Israel, July 24, 2014)
At the far edges of chutzpah—Anthony Weiner and Eliot Spitzer.
            Even in New York City, a town famed for chutzpah, Weiner’s performance this week was far-out. There he was trying to deflect disclosures that his practice of wholesale sexting didn’t end after he abruptly resigned his seat in the U.S. Congress two years ago when his sending many women naked pictures of himself and raunchy online messages was first revealed.
“I said that other texts and photos were likely to come out and today they have,” declared Weiner at his press conference Tuesday. He sent them for more than a year after he quit Congress vowing to deal with his sexting habit.
 After his short stay out of politics, Weiner came back in full force in May announcing he was running for New York mayor to succeed term-limited Michael Bloomberg. And, in recent weeks, as he campaigned aggressively, he had shot up in the polls and was the front-runner. He insisted Tuesday that he would remain in the race.
Spitzer, who resigned suddenly as New York State’s governor in 2008 for “personal failings”—it was revealed that he was a regular client of a high-priced prostitution ring—announced earlier this month he was running for the Number 3 job in New York City, comptroller.
Lavishly spending from his family’s fortune made in New York real estate, Spitzer has been on a hyper-intense campaign, paralleling Weiner’s, and also, according to the polls, making political headway.
This week, a new Spitzer TV commercial flooded New York TV beginning with Spitzer declaring, “Look, I failed. Big time.” But having as New York attorney general been “sheriff of Wall Street”—taking on wheeler-dealers there—he said he should now be given “a fair shot” to return.
Weiner and Spitzer have become veritable gags in New York City politics—indeed, laughing stocks on the national level.
Andy Borowitz’s humor blog on The New Yorker website Tuesday was headlined, “Weiner Continues Sexting During Apology.” It claimed—in jest, of course—that “Weiner stirred controversy today by continuing to send dirty texts throughout a press conference devoted to apologizing for his behavior. Mr. Weiner was halfway through his apology when reporters noticed him remove a phone from his pocket and aim its camera lens unmistakably in the direction of his pants. After seeing the candidate snap a photo of the pants region and then send a text, reporters bombarded Mr. Weiner with questions, asking him if he had in fact just sexted. ‘Yes, I did, but I swear this was the last time,’ he said. ‘This behavior is now behind me.’ Mr. Weiner then concluded his press conference by removing his shirt and snapping a quick shot of his naked torso.”
            And serious issues about stability are being raised.
            Frank Bruni in his column in The New York Times on July 9 wrote that Weiner was “angling for a gigantic promotion. In the narrative he’s constructed, his mortification has made him a new man, so we’re supposed to give him an extra measure of our trust and hand him the reigns of the most important and most complicated city in the country. I know we like our mayors brash, but we needn’t accept delusional in the bargain.”
            As for Spitzer, Bruni skewered his record as governor charging—accurately—that he “was shaping up to be a self-righteous, self-defeating disaster of a governor.”
            As governor for little over a year, Spitzer proclaimed himself a “steamroller”—and in his dysfunction exhibited the sensitivity of such a machine.
            Commented Dan Janison in a column in Long Island’s Newsday on July 12, “Politics is just one business, of course, where ruthlessness can be a character reference and hypocrisies are inevitable. But a prospective public servant’s ability to act sensibly also is worth considering.”
            Weiner and Spitzer are Democrats. Dr. Kenneth Sherrill, Professor Emeritus of political science at the City University of New York’s Hunter College, has stated that “the two of them, in two different races, may have the effect of pulling each other down” by giving Republicans a chance to present Democrats as morally challenged.
            There has been, however, a history in America in recent years of forgiving scandal-scarred politicians. President Bill Clinton managed to survive his affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky, beat impeachment and now has become an elder statesman of the Democratic Party. South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford abruptly resigned in 2009 after he disappeared for a week and it was disclosed that he was in Argentina pursing an affair with a woman there—but he was elected to a seat in Congress earlier this year.  In an article this month on this, The New York Times related that “all across the country” politicians “tainted by scandal, some of them seemingly mudded beyond saving,” have gone on to survive politically.
            Still, can Weiner and Spitzer make it when their behavior, perhaps forgivable to some, is combined with a lack of stability and an absence of sensibility—and a meshugganah arrogance?