Informal Poll of Downtown Businesses Raises Serious Questions About Grass Valley’s Retail Focus Group Report

By Don Pelton

Our friend, Deni Draper-Silberstein, went to the one public meeting set up to discuss the Retail Focus Group Report commissioned by the Grass Valley City Council and conducted by Chabin Concepts, Inc.

The City approved this $7500 study in order to determine local shopping patterns and preferences and apparently to gauge the reaction of local business owners to the idea of attracting more big box stores to our community.

Here’s how Deni explained her reaction to that meeting (from her Facebook posting on Tuesday 7/23/13):

There were 3 meetings regarding the City’s solicitation of big box stores: one meeting for the public, one for local businesses, and I forget who the third meeting was for. When I went to the “public” meeting regarding this issue, the consultants whom the City have hired, said that, except for the local restaurants, the downtown business owners who attended the “business owners'” meeting, were overwhelmingly in favor of bringing in big box stores. That the downtown businesses were “overwhelmingly” in favor of bringing in mega-competition didn’t make sense to me, so after the meeting, I went to 12 downtown businesses and asked either the manager or the owner how they felt about this idea. Eleven of the 12 said that they didn’t KNOW that the consultants had had a meeting of the local businesses, and 12 out of 12 said that they are definitely OPPOSED to the idea. I noticed last week that one of the most vocally outraged of the 12 businesses has a “going out of business” sign up at her store.

She added:

Everyone was definitely opposed to the idea of bringing in big boxes … a handful were vehemently opposed. The emotions ranged from vehemently opposed, to angry, to upset, to concerned, to defeated.

Although Deni’s poll was informal and (in her words) “crude,” she nevertheless gave it some forethought and organized her approach before she began, carefully recording her results.

She explained her methodology as follows:

I only spoke with owners/managers because I couldn’t know whether or not employees would accurately represent the business for whom they were working – if the owner or manager was not available, I left without surveying the business.

The questions were, 1) Did you know about the online survey, 2) Did you fill out the survey, 3) Did you know about the focus group, 4) Did you attend the focus group, 5) Are you in favor of Grass Valley bringing in a big box store that sells the same goods as your business.

I made these questions up as I left the focus group – held at Holiday Inn, GV – and walked toward downtown, so they’re not necessarily the best questions one could have asked. Also, I knew from my training in psychology that I, at least, needed to ask the same questions to everyone I surveyed in order to establish some measure of consistency, so I could organize the responses reliably in order to assess the results of this rather crude survey, then establish at least the potential for a valid conclusion – which I won’t draw, but, rather, will let the evidence speak for itself.

The following are Deni’s detailed results, plus her observations about the process:

GV Merchant Survey conducted by Deni on 5/23/13

Merchant Knew of Survey Filled Out Knew of Focus Group Attended Box+
Merchant 1 Y Y N N N
Merchant 2 N N N N N
Merchant 3 N N N N N
Merchant 4 N N N N N
Merchant 5 N N N N N
Merchant 6 N N N N N
Merchant 7 N N N N N
Merchant 8 N N N N N
Merchant 9 N N N N N
Merchant 10 N N N N N
Merchant 11 N N N N N
Merchant 12 N N N N N

Knew of Survey = the owner/manager of the local business knew about the on-line survey that had to be filled out in order to be invited to the Focus Group meetings

Filled out = the owner/manager filled out the survey

Knew of Focus Group =  the owner/manager was informed that a Focus Group meeting for the local business owners was being held on a specific date

Attended = the business was represented at the Business Owners’ Focus Group meeting

Box + = when asked by me, the owner/manager of the business was in favor of soliciting big box stores to set up business in Grass Valley.

If my memory serves me well, there were Four Layers of hoops to jump through before one could attend a meeting (I know there were at least three hoops because I was appalled at how clever they were at making access to the facts difficult, and at keeping potential opponents separated from each other (divide and conquer) i.e. IF one complied with the 4 layers, THEN they could attend ONLY the meeting to which they were invited – the public could ONLY attend the “public” meeting, the business owners could ONLY attend the business owners’ meeting, etc.)

1st layer: One had to know about the survey

2nd layer: One had to take the time to fill out the survey

3rd layer: One had to be invited to attend the meeting (the invitation only occured IF one had filled out the survey, although the owner of Merchant 1 said that s/he had filled out the survey, then kept waiting to be informed of the date of the Business Owners’ Focus Group, but never heard back from the consultants)

4th layer: One had to respond to the invitation by making a reservation to attend the Focus Group Meeting

Deni also sent me some interesting observations on the general subject of big box stores and their effect on local economies, which I’ll print here in Sierra Voices in a subsequent posting.

In the meantime her survey results and the comments by some local business owners about the City/consultant’s inadequate communication raises serious questions about the integrity and inclusiveness of the Focus Group Report itself.

Why Aikido’Ka Won’t Be at this Year’s Fair or Why Elephant Rides and Respect Don’t Mix

By Frank Bloksberg

African_Bush_Elephant_1-229x300“An Open Letter to the Community,

“My name is Frank Bloksberg. I have lived in Nevada City for about 18 years. I am a lawyer and run a martial arts school, in Grass Valley, called Aikido’Ka. At Aikido’Ka, we train in aikido – known as the “Art of Peace.” Aikido’Ka is different than other martial arts schools, because we are dedicated to peacefully resolving disputes and performing community service. For instance, we have raised over $13,000 and 6,000 pounds of food for the Food Bank.

“Aikido’Ka has been open for 6 years. We’ve had a booth at every County Fair since we’ve been open. The County Fair is a huge outreach opportunity for us. We meet a lot of our future students there. Deciding not having a booth is a really big deal for us.”

To read Frank Bloksberg’s letter in full, click here.

Social Security is for the Little People

Could fracking finally kill off rural America?

Reprinted from Transition Voice (Creative Commons License Creative Commons License )

By Erik Curren

US fracking map

U.S. map showing waterways (in blue) over shale gas plays (in red). Photo: Gasland 2.


Gasland 2, the sequel to Josh Fox’s documentary about the dangers of hydraulic fracturing for natural gas, introduces a frightening image.

It’s not another money shot of tap water on fire, though the water well hose lit up by the owner of a multimillion dollar home in Parker County, Texas is a wonder.

Nor is the most frightening image an internal gas industry memo labeling residents of small towns in Pennsylvania or New York State an “insurgency” that must be put down with PSYOPS techniques honed by the military in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan.

The most frightening image in Gasland 2 is a map of the United States covered with potential fracking sites.

The United States of Fracking

Look at the map. It’s hard to find a state whose water supply doesn’t originate in or cross through a place that the industry would like to frack.

So what? The U.S. government says that fracking can be done without harm to groundwater. And the industry claims that no study has ever proven that fracking has contaminated one single water supply.

Don’t believe them, says Fox, with plenty of science to back him up. Using that science, the Gasland 2 website gives a clear answer to the question “Is fracking safe?”

No. Fracking, as currently practiced across the United States, poses serious risks to the health and safety of communities and the environment.

Water supplies across the country have been contaminated by fracking. There have been multiple documented cases where natural gas, or methane, has migrated out of wells and into underground aquifers. The fracking process also forces gallons of chemically-treated watered into the ground along with numerous byproducts including chemicals, naturally occurring radioactive materials (NORMs), dissolved solids, liquid hydrocarbons including benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylene, and heavy metals.

Wanna be a farmer? Fuggedaboutit.

The implications of fracking America go far beyond whether your natural gas bill stays low or some bedraggled folks in flyover states get somewhat more bedgraggled because they have to have their drinking water trucked in.

It’s not just Detroit that has gone bankrupt. Today, urban industrialism looksmore ready than ever to collapse under the weight of its own staggering financial, ecological and spiritual debt.

Rural areas have had it tough for decades, losing family farms to industrial agriculture, losing Main Street shops to Walmart and losing young people to the allure of the big city. Yet these days, judging by all the back-to-the-landers, homesteaders and greenhorns fleeing corporate cubicles for fields of produce and pigs, you’d think that rural America was on the verge of a renaissance, ready to step up and provide the nation with wholesome food, natural carbon sequestration and a sense of community that our alienated citizenry yearns for.

Then — bam! — enter the frackers to put the kabbash on this happy ending and put rural areas back in their place as sacrifice zones for polluting industries.

By contaminating water supplies from sea to shining sea, the industry’s final desperate gambit to keep the fossil fuel party going for a few more years could render much of rural America uninhabitable. As despoiled rural communities shut down, families will have no choice but to seek housing and work in the city. And the cruel joke at the end of it all is that natural gas may turn out to be a bubble, with fracking ruining millions of acres of perfectly good land for only a few years of gas supply. The wells may run dry in five or ten years, but the pollution will remain for decades.

Meanwhile, urban escapees will have to forget their dreams of moving to a rural area, buying a little farm and building a self-sufficient homestead. If fracking renders large areas of countryside unfit for sustainable farming, not to mention plain old human habitation, disaffected downtown office workers may little choice but to stay in their cubicles, shut up and do their work — at least until the next round of layoffs.

Making the world safe for frack-ocracy

An image nearly as scary as the U.S. map is a corresponding map of the world showing shale plays that industry would like to sink its teeth into.

But don’t think the Obama Administration, which touts natural gas as a clean fuel that will help reduce climate emissions, is just sitting around waiting for other nations to get into fracking. Fortunately for top U.S. gas drillers such as ExxonMobil, Chesapeake Energy and Anadarko, the administration has recruited the U.S. taxpayer to help pry open reluctant markets like Poland and India through the State Department’s Global Shale Gas Initiative (now known as theUnconventional Gas Technical Engagement Program).

Watch the Gasland 2 trailer. Then, find a screening near you or get a copy of the DVD to watch at home.


Erik Curren is the publisher of Transition Voice. He co-founded Transition Staunton Augusta in 2009 and serves as managing partner of Curren Media Group. In 2012, Erik was elected to the city council of Staunton, Virginia.

America No Longer Has a Functioning Judicial System

Reprinted from Washington Blog

The Separation of Powers Which Define Our Democracy Has Been Destroyed

The Department of Justice told a federal court this week that the NSA’s spying “cannot be challenged in a court of law”.

(This is especially dramatic given that numerous federal judges and legal scholars – including a former FISA judge – say that the FISA spying “court” is nothing but a kangaroo court.)

Also this week, the Department of Justice told a federal court that the courts cannot review the legality of the government’s assassination by drone of Americans abroad:

“‘Are you saying that a US citizen targeted by the United States in a foreign country has no constitutional rights?’ [the judge]  asked Brian Hauck, a deputy assistant attorney general. ‘How broadly are you asserting the right of the United States to target an American citizen? Where is the limit to this?’

“She provided her own answer: ‘The limit is the courthouse door’ . . . .

“‘Mr. Hauck acknowledged that Americans targeted overseas do have rights, but he said they could not be enforced in court either before or after the Americans were killed.’”

(Indeed, the Obama administration has previously claimed the power to be judge, jury and executioner in both drone and cyber-attacks.  This violates Anglo-Saxon laws which have been on the books in England and America for 800 years.)

The Executive Branch also presents “secret evidence” in many court cases … sometimes even hiding the evidence from the judge who is deciding the case.

Bush destroyed much of the separation of powers which made our country great.  But under Obama, it’s gotten worse.

For example, the agency which decides who should be killed by drone is the same agency which spies on all Americans.

Daniel Ellsberg notes that even the Founding Fathers didn’t have to deal with a government claiming that it could indefinitely detain Americans … even on American soil.

After Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Chris Hedges, journalist Naomi Wolf, Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg and others sued the government to enjoin the NDAA’s allowance of the indefinite detention of Americans – the judge asked the government attorneys 5 times whether journalists like Hedges could be indefinitely detained simply for interviewing and then writing about bad guys. The government refused to promise that journalists like Hedges won’t be thrown in a dungeon for the rest of their lives without any right to talk to a judge

The Department of Justice has also tapped Congressional phones, and a high-level NSA whistleblower says that including all 9 Supreme Court justices.

It’s not just the Executive Branch which has attacked the courts.  For example, Congress passed a billstripping courts of the power to review issues related to genetically modified foods.

The Constitution is mortally mounded.  While the “war on terror” is commonly cited as the excuse, most of the attacks on our rights started before 9/11.  Indeed, the Founding Fathers warned 200 years ago that open-ended wars give the Executive an excuse to take away our liberties.

Two former U.S. Supreme Court Justices have warned that America is sliding into tyranny.   A formerU.S. President, and many other high-level American officials agree.

In addition to attacks on the judiciary by the White House and Congress, judges are voluntarily gutting the justice system … and laying down in lapdog-obeisance to D.C.

For example, the Supreme Court ruled that if judges don’t like plaintiffs’ allegations of bad government actions, the judge can simply pre-judge and throw out the lawsuit before even allowing the party to conduct any discovery to prove their claims.   This guts 220 years of Constitutional law, and makes it extremely difficult to challenge harmful government action in court.

America has a “dual justice system … one for ordinary people and then one for people with money and enormous wealth and power”.

Indeed, most Americans have less access to justice than Botswanans … and are more abused by police than Kazakhstanis.


Should You Be Able to Buy Food Directly From Farmers? Regulators Don’t Think So

By David E. Gumpert (Reprinted from Alternet)

Why are gov’t regulators and prosecutors feeling so threatened by this trend?

Note from Editor/Sierra Voices: OK, lemme see if I have this straight: Industrial agriculture (which brings us CAFOs, downer cows, fecal lakes, caged and antibiotically-treated poultry) is barely regulated, but our local farms (with range-fed beef, cage-free poultry, organically-grown produce, etc) need MORE regulation?

Around the country, local farmers are selling meat, dairy products, and other dinner table staples directly to neighbors, who are increasingly flocking to the farms in search of wholesome food.

This would seem to embody the USDA’s advisory, “Know your farmer, know your food,” right? Not exactly.

For the USDA and its sister food regulator, the FDA, there’s a problem: many of the farmers are distributing the food via private contracts like herd shares and leasing arrangements, which fall outside the regulatory system of state and local retail licenses and inspections that govern public food sales.

In response, federal and state regulators are seeking legal sanctions against farmers in Maine, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and California, among others. These sanctions include injunctions, fines, and even prison sentences. Food sold by unlicensed and uninspected farmers is potentially dangerous say the regulators, since it can carry pathogens like salmonella, campylobacter, and E.coli O157:H7, leading to mild or even serious illness.

Most recently, Wisconsin’s attorney general appointed a special prosecutor to file criminal misdemeanor charges against an Amish farmer for alleged failure to have retail and dairy licenses, and the proceedings turned into a high-profile jury trial in late May that highlighted the depth of conflict: following five days of intense proceedings, the 12-person jury acquitted the farmer, Vernon Hershberger, on all the licensing charges, while convicting him of violating a 2010 holding order on his food, which he had publicly admitted.

Why are hard-working normally law-abiding farmers aligning with urban and suburban consumers to flaunt well-established food safety regulations and statutes? Why are parents, who want only the best for their children, seeking out food that regulators say could be dangerous? And, why are regulators and prosecutors feeling so threatened by this trend?

Members of these private food groups often buy from local farmers because they want food from animals that are treated humanely, allowed to roam on pasture, and not treated with antibiotics. “I really want food that is full of nutrients and the animals to be happy and content,” says Jenny DeLoney, a Madison, WI, mother of three young children who buys from Hershberger.

To these individuals, many of whom are parents, safety means not only food free of pathogens, but food free of pesticides, antibiotic residues, and excessive processing. It means food created the old-fashioned way—from animals allowed to eat grass instead of feed made from genetically modified (GMO) grains—and sold the old-fashioned way, privately by the farmer to the consumer, who is free to visit the farm and see the animals. Many of these consumers have viewed the secretly-made videos of downer cows being prodded into slaughterhouses and chickens so crammed into coops they can barely breathe.

These consumers are clearly interpreting “safety” differently than the regulators. Some of these consumers are going further than claiming contract rights—they are pushing their towns and cities to legitimize private farmer-consumer arrangements. In Maine, residents of ten coastal towns have approved so-called “food sovereignty” ordinances that legalize unregulated food sales; towns in other states, including Massachusetts and Vermont, and as far away as Santa Cruz, CA, have passed similar ordinances.

The new legal offensive isn’t going over well with regulators anywhere. Aside from the Hershberger action in Wisconsin, and a similar one in Minnesota, Maine’s Department of Agriculture filed suit against a two-cow farmer, Dan Brown, in one of the food-sovereignty towns, Blue Hill, seeking fines and, in effect, to invalidate all the Maine ordinances. In April, a state court ruled against the farmer, and in effect against the towns; sentencing is due within several weeks, and the case could well be appealed.

The jury in the criminal misdemeanor case of Minnesota farmer Alvin Schlangen last September acquitted him of all charges after several hours of deliberation. But the regulators’ push against privately-distributed food continues unabated. The Minnesota Department of Agriculture has moved forward with a local prosecutor in Schlangen’s rural county, pressing similar criminal charges as the ones he was acquitted of in Minneapolis.  He is scheduled to go on trial again in late June.  And in Wisconsin, prosecutors have sought, in the wake of their loss over the licensing issues, to have Vernon Hershberger jailed for allegedly violating his bail terms since charges were filed in late 2011.

At its heart, this is a struggle over a steady erosion of confidence in the integrity of our industrial food system, which has been hit by disturbing disclosures seemingly on a weekly basis. In just the last few weeks, for example, we have seen shrimp, cookies, and veggie burgers recalled by the FDA for being sold with undeclared ingredients.

Also in recent weeks, members of Congress and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control have escalated warnings about the growing danger of antibiotic resistant pathogens emerging from farm animals, which consume about 80 percent of all antibiotics in the U.S. The Atlantic reported last summer that medical specialists are seeing a spike in women with urinary tract infections caused by antibiotic-resistant bacteria, likely transmitted by chicken meat.

This erosion in the confidence of the food system carries serious implications. It financially threatens large corporations if long-established food brands come under prolonged and severe public questioning. It threatens economic performance if foods deemed “safe” become scarcer, and thus more expensive. And it is potentially explosive politically if too many people lose confidence in the professionalism of the food regulators who are supposed to be protecting us from tainted food, and encourages folks to exit the public food system for private solutions like the consumers in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Maine, and elsewhere.  Just look at the vituperative corporate response to recent consumer-led campaigns to label foods with genetically-modified ingredients.

As more consumers become intent on making the final decisions on what foods they are going to feed themselves and their families, and regulators become just as intent on asserting what they see as their authority over inspecting and licensing all food, ugly scenarios of agitated citizens battling government authorities over access to food staples seem likely to proliferate. It’s an unfortunate recipe for a new kind of rights movement centered on the most basic acts—what we choose to eat.

David E. Gumpert writes about food and health, and is the author of Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Food Rights: The Escalating Battle Over Who Decides What We Eat.

Daily Show’s John Oliver On The Idiocy That is Florida


This Land is Your Land, This Land is Gas Land

Reprinted from Waging Nonviolence under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 United States License

By Peter Rugh


The Pinedale Anticline Natural Gas Field in central-west Wyoming lies on 80 percent federally owned land. (Wikimedia / BLM)

The Obama Administration has proposed new regulations for hydraulic fracturing on 756 million acres of public and tribal lands. The rules were written by the drilling industry and will be streamlined into effect by a new intergovernmental task force, established by the president, to promote fracking — a practice that has been linked to water poisoning, air pollution, methane emissions and, most recently, earthquakes. Environmentalists, many of whom are highly skeptical that fracking can even be regulated, hope to use a brief window for citizen participation in the rule approval process to leverage the growing anti-fracking movement.

The Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) — the government agency that manages the public lands in question — follows a dual and often conflicting mandate. Although it is charged with conserving lands for recreation and biological diversity, it must also ensure the commercial development of natural resources. The bureau tends to focus heavily on the latter part of its mission, and it has auctioned off public land for resource extraction, including oil and gas development, while following drilling regulations that were last updated in 1988, before fracking became a common practice.

“Under the old regulations, an operator would have to disclose non-routine techniques,” said BLM spokesperson Beverly Winston. “Now, hydraulic fracturing is routine, so nobody discloses it. It’s my understanding that probably 90 percent of wells on public lands use hydraulic fracturing.”

The newly proposed regulations will provide superficial environmental safeguards against industry excesses while shielding drillers and the government from the legal challenges that have begun cropping up. In April, for instance, a California judge ruled in a lawsuit brought by the Sierra Club and the Center for Biological Diversity that the BLM had failed to take a “hard look” at the impact of fracking on federal land in the state and halted the issuance of fracking leases for the Monterey shale region until an assessment of its environmental impact is completed. The proposed laws, however, will give the BLM legal cover to keep the frack leases flowing.

Former Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, who helped draft the laws, resigned from his post in January to take a job with WilmerHale. The corporate law firm’s website boasts “our lawyers strive to reduce liability and transform environmental compliance obligations into opportunities.”

Those wondering what opportunity looks like to drillers in regions originally set aside for conservation need only visit the Allegheny National Forest in Western Pennsylvania, a state that has opened its arms to drillers in recent years. Nearly 4,000 oil and gas wells were drilled in the Allegheny between 2005 and 2011.

“Where there were once remote areas of the forest there is now oil and gas infrastructure,” said Ryan Talbott of the Allegheny Defense Project. “If you are a recreationist going to go out and go hiking, camping, fishing, what might have been your favorite area before is now a sea of roads and pipelines and well sites.”

In 2009, under pressure from Allegheny Defense and other environmental groups, the Forest Service sought to monitor the drilling, implement environmental safeguards and provide a measure of planning to the spaghetti network of drill sites. But 93 percent of the mineral rights in the state are privately held and the Forest Service, in a case currently under review by the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals, was sued by the gas companies who claim their property rights were violated.

Although not yet to the extent witnessed in Allegheny, fracking has commenced in other parts of the country where the BLM holds mineral rights, particularly out West. “We’re drilling all over the place,” President Obama told an audience in New Mexico last year, announcing plans to open millions more acres to the oil and gas industry. In the way of protection, however, Obama’s new rules follow the Pennsylvania model, barely scratching the surface when it comes to monitoring what occurs below.

White House visitor logs show the president’s top adviser on energy and climate, Heather Zichal, met with the American Petroleum Institute, the Independent Petroleum Association of America and other industry groups 20 times last year in the run up to the rules proposal. They were further honed to industry specifications in a series of meetings between the oil and gas lobby and the White House Office of Budget Management, and are based on a piece of model legislation authored by Exxon for the American Legislative Exchange Council.

Under the rules, drillers will report chemicals used in fracking to an industry run site,, already used in Pennsylvania and other states. The disclosures won’t need to be made until after a well is fracked. Nor will they be vetted for accuracy. Certain chemicals won’t even be disclosed at all, since they constitute alleged trade secrets. Furthermore, the rules would sanction drilling in close proximity to homes and schools, as well as allow wastewater — the toxic byproduct the of fracking — to be stored in open, outdoor pits.

Meanwhile, the rules weaken a requirement meant to ensure the structural integrity of drilling wells, which can leak methane and other chemical contaminants if cracked. Instead of having to submit documentation for each well, companies will only need report one of all their wells within a geological area.

“Using a single well as representative of all wells completely ignores the likelihood that one in 12 wells have some sort of well casing failure,” said Hugh MacMillan, a senior researcher with Food and Water Watch. “Six to eight percent of well casings fail within the first year, with higher percentages over time.”

MacMillan also expressed fears that the proposed regulations won’t cover a newer technique, known as acidizing, which involves pumping acid into the ground to dissolve rock formations and create pathways in shale for oil to flow out.

Underlying all these concerns is the fear held by many environmentalists that, no matter how heavily the industry is regulated, fracking is inherently toxic. “Trying to regulate fracking is like trying to build a safe cigarette,” said scientist and activist Sandra Steingraber. “You can put filters on cigarettes. You can have low tar cigarettes. But the answer to avoiding cancer from smoking is not to smoke.”

The issue of whether to push for more stringent laws that will mitigate against the impact of drilling or to advocate for the abolition of the practice has caused some considerable fissures in the environmental movement. The Natural Resources Defense Council worked with the drilling industry to write legislation governing fracking that was approved by lawmakers in Illinois last month, while those pushing for an outright ban in the state launched a three day sit-in in the governor’s office against the measure.

Steingraber favors a ban and was ejected from the Illinois statehouse for disrupting legislators following the approval of the fracking bill. Nevertheless, she’s spearheading an initiative to increase the already unprecedented number of comments the BLM has received during the public input period on the Obama-Exxon fracking rules. When the BLM first opened up the proposed laws for public review this spring they were inundated with 177,000 submissions, prompting the bureau to extend the submission deadline to August 23. Steingraber is working to ensure that public comments keep flowing and that this window of public participation furthers the overall anti-fracking movement.

In New York last winter, as the state’s moratorium on fracking expired and its Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) began preparing to file rules that would allow for drilling, she jumpstarted a similar effort. Through a website she established,, Steingraber — a molecular biologist with a background in public health — broke down piece-by-piece the proposed laws, explaining their environmental consequences and providing a template for critics to submit their own comments. Ultimately, Steingraber said the site was responsible for 25,000 submissions to the DEC — more than 10 percent of the 200,000-plus mostly-critical comments the department received. These objections ended up being an important compliment to the hundreds of protests that took place against fracking statewide. The DEC eventually let the deadline to file rules lapse, which has delayed the prospect of fracking in New York for at least a year.

It was a victory even fracking’s most committed opponents thought slim at the time. The gas industry had spent millions of dollars around the state to ensure it could make good on drilling leases it had already purchased. A Freedom of Information Act request by the Environmental Working Group revealed that, in the run-up to the deadline, New York’s DEC deputy commissioner Steven Russo had already sent potential regulations to drilling lobbyists for their approval.

Despite their success in New York, Steingraber and other anti-fracking activists are fighting an uphill battle at the federal level. In a speech at Georgetown University last month, the president touted “clean burning natural gas” as part of an “all-of-the-above” energy strategy and vowed to increase drilling in order to tackle the climate crisis and foster energy independence.

“The administration has a stated goal to increase American energy production,” said BLM spokesperson Beverly Winston. “A lot of that’s going to come from public land, whether that’s renewable energy or oil and gas.”

With the public comment period serving essentially as window dressing for an otherwise backdoor process, Steingraber said she isn’t looking at the submission of comments to the BLM as an end in and of itself but rather as a “gauntlet” thrown down. She also called them “a meter of citizen opposition” that activists can point to as they build on-the-ground mobilizations.

The struggle will likely come to a head on August 22, the eve of the comment deadline, when environmental groups in the coalition Americans Against Fracking will stream into Washington, D.C., to deliver written comments to the BLM. What happens next will be as much a test of the democratic process as the strength of this growing movement.

“The very bedrock of this nation,” says Steingraber “is not for fracturing.”

Peter Rugh is a writer and activist based in Brooklyn, New York.


Nevada County Fair Elephant Controversy Reaches National Audience of Millions

Care2, a “social action network” with over 22 million members and a claimed “reach” of some 150 million people, is featuring an article about the Nevada County Fair Elephant controversy in its July 15th newsletter:



Shelley Frost, program manager of CAPE  [Center for Animal Protection and Education] said, “Elephants are majestic, intelligent animals who don’t belong at a fair, providing rides for children. It’s not the humane thing to do.”

Frost also explained that Have Trunk Will Travel is getting preferential treatment for coming to the fair. Exhibit fees, electrical fees and RV fees have been waived for them, and the fairground is providing 24-hour security. “All this when the rest of the fair has sacrificed budget cuts,” said Frost.

Read the full Care2 article here.

Liz Kellar reported in today’s Union that “an email sent by Nevada County Fair CEO Sandy Woods asking elephant ride supporters to show up at today’s board meeting regarding a highly controversial contract with Have Trunk Will Travel has opponents in an uproar.”

According to the article, Woods also suggested that “if you are able to attend, please wear light blue or denim to show your support.”

In the meantime, opponents of the elephant rides are having a spirited debate on Facebook about whether they too should wear denim in order to reinforce that they are all part of the same community. Others suggest that ride proponents would just spin that as an indication of even wider support for the rides.

The Fair Board will meet again today at 4 PM at Ponderosa Hall in the Fairgrounds to further consider the issue.

UPDATE: A Facebook reader posted this comment:

“Care2 petition over 107,000 signatur)es! Care2 is sending a representative to personally hand the signatures to the board at the meeting Tuesday.”


(From Facebook page, Protest Elephant Exploitation at Nevada County Fair).


Why Is Our Life Expectancy Shorter Than in Other Developed Countries?

Reprinted from Too Much: An online weekly on excess and inequality

To protect our health, we’ve learned to have our ‘vital signs’ taken. But no visit to a doctor’s office can tell us the vital signs that determine where on earth people can expect to live the longest lives.

Let’s talk life expectancy.

The stats first. They tell a clear story: Americans now live shorter lives than men and women in most of the rest of the developed world. And that gap is growing.

Back in 1990, shouts a new study published last week in the prestigious Journal of the American Medical Association, the United States ranked just 20th on life expectancy among the world’s 34 industrial nations. The United States now ranks 27th — despite spending much more on health care than any other nation.

Americans, notes an editorial the journal ran to accompany the study, are losing ground globally “by every” health measure.

Why such poor performance? Media reports on last week’s new State of U.S. Health study hit all the usual suspects: poor diet, poor access to affordable health care, poor personal health habits, and just plain poverty.

In the Wall Street Journal, for instance, a chief wellness officer in Ohio opinedthat if Americans exercised more and ate and smoked less, the United States would surely start moving up in the global health rankings.

But many epidemiologists — scientists who study health outcomes — have their doubts. They point out that the United States ranked as one of the world’s healthiest nations in the 1950s, a time when Americans smoked heavily, ate a diet that would horrify any 21st-century nutritionist, and hardly ever exercised.

Poor Americans, then as now, had chronic problems accessing health care. But poverty, epidemiologists note, can’t explain why fully insured middle-income Americans today have significantly worse health outcomes than their middle-income counterparts in other rich nations.

The University of Washington’s Dr. Stephen Bezruchka has been tracking these outcomes since the 1990s. The new research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, Bezruchka told Too Much last week, should worry Americans at all income levels.

“Even if we are rich, college-educated, white-skinned, and practice all the right health behaviors,” he notes, “similar people in other rich nations will live longer.”

A dozen years ago, Bezruchka published in Newsweek the first mass-mediacommentary, at least in the United States, to challenge the conventional take on poor U.S. global health rankings.

To really understand America’s poor health standing globally, epidemiologists like Bezruchka posit, we need to look at “the social determinants of health,” those social and economic realities that define our daily lives.

None of these determinants matter more, these researchers contend, than the level of a society’s economic inequality, the divide between the affluent and everyone else. Over 170 studies worldwide have so far linked income inequality to health outcomes. The more unequal a society, the studies show, the more unhealthy most everyone in it — and not the poor alone.

Just how does inequality translate into unhealthy outcomes? Growing numbers of researchers place the blame on stress. The more inequality in a society, the more stress on a daily level. Chronic stress, over time, wears down our immune systems and leaves us more vulnerable to disease.

This same stress drives people to seek relief in unhealthy habits. They may do drugs or smoke — or eat more “comfort foods” packed with sugar and fat.

Inequality has an equally potent impact on policy decisions around health.

“A substantial proportion of our adult health,” as Stephen Bezruchka explained last week, gets programmed in the early years of a child’s life. Given this reality, guaranteeing every child the best possible supports in the early years ought to be priority number one for any society committed to better health for all.

But unequal nations do precious little of this guaranteeing. The nations with thehighest ranking for child well-being turn out to be the nations with the most equal distributions of income.

Can the United States change course on health? Will Americans in the future be able to look forward to living lives as long as people in other developed nations?

Japan may offer the most encouraging precedent. In the middle of the 20th century, Japan ranked as a deeply unequal and unhealthy nation. But since the 1950s Japan has become a much more equal society, one of the world’s most equal, and, on life expectancy, Japan now ranks number one globally.

The United States, over the same span of time, has gone in the exact opposite direction. We have become the world’s most unequal major nation, with health outcomes among the developed world’s worst.

So how do we start a turnaround? Most Americans, Stephen Bezruchka notes, already understand the concept of “vital signs.”

“We can sense these vital signs tell us something significant about our individual health,” he notes, “every time we step on a scale at the doctor’s office or feel a blood pressure cuff tighten.”

But societies have “vital signs,” too, with none more important to health than our level of inequality. We need to start recognizing these broader “vital signs.” If we do, Bezruchka believes, we can make a difference.

“Dying so much younger than we should,” he sums up, “can be changed.”

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