Deafening mystery grows in Cuba

Physics of injuries, methods don’t add up, officials say
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Sunday the Trump administration is considering closing the U.S. embassy in Havana. (Desmond Boylan/AP 2015)
By Josh Lederman, Michael Weissenstein and Matthew Lee Associated Press
WASHINGTON — The blaring, grinding noise jolted the American diplomat from his bed in a Havana hotel. He moved just a few feet, and there was silence. He climbed back into bed. Inexplicably, the agonizing sound hit him again. It was as if he’d walked through some invisible wall cutting straight through his room.
Soon came the hearing loss, and the speech problems, symptoms both similar and altogether different from others among at least 21 U.S. victims in an astonishing international mystery still unfolding in Cuba.

The top U.S. diplomat has called them “health attacks.” New details learned by The Associated Press indicate at least some of the incidents were confined to specific rooms or even parts of rooms with laser-like specificity, baffling U.S. officials who say the facts and the physics don’t add up.
“None of this has a reasonable explanation,” said Fulton Armstrong, a former CIA official who served in Havana long before America re-opened an embassy there. “It’s just mystery after mystery after mystery.”
Suspicion initially focused on a sonic weapon, and on the Cubans. Yet the diagnosis of mild brain injury, considered unlikely to result from sound, has confounded the FBI, the State Department and U.S. intelligence agencies involved in the investigation.
Some victims now have problems concentrating or recalling specific words, several officials said, the latest signs of more serious damage than the U.S. government initially realized. The United States first acknowledged the attacks in August — nine months after symptoms were first reported.
It may seem the stuff of sci-fi novels, of the cloak-and-dagger rivalries that haven’t fully dissipated despite the historic U.S.-Cuban rapprochement two years ago that seemed to bury the weight of the two nations’ Cold War enmity.

But this is Cuba, the land of poisoned cigars, exploding seashells and covert subterfuge by Washington and Havana, where the unimaginable in espionage has often been all too real.
The Trump administration still hasn’t identified a culprit or a device to explain the attacks, according to interviews with more than a dozen current and former U.S. officials, Cuban officials and others briefed on the investigation. Most weren’t authorized to discuss the probe and demanded anonymity.
“The investigation into all of this is still under way. It is an aggressive investigation,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said last week. “We will continue doing this until we find out who or what is responsible for this.”
On Sunday, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the Trump administration is considering closing down the U.S. embassy in Havana. Tillerson’s comments were the strongest indication to date that the United States might mount a major diplomatic response, potentially jeopardizing the historic restart of relations between the U.S. and Cuba.
“We have it under evaluation,” Tillerson said of a possible embassy closure. “It’s a very serious issue with respect to the harm that certain individuals have suffered.”
Investigators have tested several theories about an intentional attack — by Cuba’s government, a rogue faction of its security forces, a third country like Russia, or some combination thereof.

Yet they’ve left open the possibility an advanced espionage operation went horribly awry, or that some other, less nefarious explanation is to blame.
Aside from their homes, officials said Americans were attacked in at least one hotel, a fact not previously disclosed. An incident occurred on an upper floor of the recently renovated Hotel Capri, a 60-year-old concrete tower steps from the Malecon, Havana’s iconic, waterside promenade.
The cases vary deeply: different symptoms, different recollections of what happened. That’s what makes the puzzle so difficult to crack.
In several episodes recounted by U.S. officials, victims knew it was happening in real time, and there were strong indications of a sonic attack.
Some felt vibrations, and heard sounds — loud ringing or a high-pitched chirping similar to crickets or cicadas. Others heard the grinding noise. Some victims awoke with ringing in their ears and fumbled for their alarm clocks, only to discover the ringing stopped when they moved away from their beds.
The attacks seemed to come at night. Several victims reported they came in minute-long bursts.
Yet others heard nothing, felt nothing. Their symptoms came later.
The scope keeps widening. Last week, the State Department disclosed that doctors had confirmed another two cases, bringing the total American victims to 21. Some have mild traumatic brain injury, known as a concussion, and others permanent hearing loss.
Even the potential motive is unclear. Investigators are at a loss to explain why Canadians were harmed. Fewer than 10 Canadian diplomatic households in Cuba were affected, a Canadian official said. Unlike the U.S., Canada has maintained warm ties to Cuba for decades.
Sound and health experts are equally baffled. Targeted, localized beams of sound are possible, but the laws of acoustics suggest such a device would probably be large and not easily concealed. Officials said it’s unclear whether the device’s effects were localized by design or due to some other technical factor.
And no single, sonic gadget seems to explain such an odd, inconsistent array of physical responses.
“Brain damage and concussions, it’s not possible,” said Joseph Pompei, a former MIT researcher and psychoacoustics expert. “Somebody would have to submerge their head into a pool lined with very powerful ultrasound transducers.”
Other symptoms have included brain swelling, dizziness, nausea, severe headaches, balance problems and tinnitus, or prolonged ringing in the ears. Many victims have shown improvement since leaving Cuba and some suffered only minor or temporary symptoms.
After the U.S. complained to Cuba’s government earlier this year and Canada detected its own cases, the FBI and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police traveled to Havana to investigate.
FBI investigators swept the rooms, looking for devices. They found nothing, several officials briefed on the investigation said.
In May, Washington expelled two Cuban diplomats to protest the communist government’s failure to protect Americans serving there. But the U.S. has taken pains not to accuse Havana of perpetrating the attacks.
Cuba’s government declined to answer specific questions about the incidents, pointing to a previous Foreign Affairs Ministry statement denying any involvement, vowing full cooperation and saying it was treating the situation “with utmost importance.”
“Cuba has never, nor would it ever, allow that the Cuban territory be used for any action against accredited diplomatic agents or their families, without exception,” the Cuban statement said.

Bugs on our Bills (and dope)

The dirt and dope that’s on your cash

By Johanna Ohm  Chicago Tribune 6.22.17

We live in a dirty world. Wherever we go, we are among microbes. Bacteria, fungi and viruses live on our phones, bus seats, door handles and park benches. We pass these tiny organisms to each other when we share a handshake or a seat on the plane.
Now, researchers are finding we also share our microbes through our money. From tip jars to vending machines to the meter maid — each dollar, passed person to person, samples a bit of the environment it comes from, and passes those bits to the next person, the next place it goes.
The list of things found on our dollars includes DNA from our pets, traces of illegal drugs, and bacteria and viruses that cause disease.
The findings demonstrate how money can silently record human activities, leaving behind so-called “molecular echoes.”
What’s on a $1 bill?
In April, a new study identified more than 100 different strains of bacteria on dollar bills circulating in New York City. Some of the most common bugs on our bills included Propionibacterium acnes , a bacteria known to cause acne, and Streptococcus oralis , a common bacteria found in our mouths.
The research team, led by biologist Jane Carlton at New York University, also discovered traces of DNA from domestic animals and from specific bacteria that are associated only with certain foods.
A similar study recovered traces of DNA on ATM keypads, reflecting the foods people ate in different neighborhoods in New York. People in central Harlem ate more domestic chicken than those in Flushing and Chinatown, who ate more species of bony fish and mollusks. The foods people ate transferred from fingers to touch screens, where scientists could recover a bit of their most recent meals.
We don’t leave only food behind. Traces of cocaine can be found on almost 80 percent of dollar bills. Other drugs, including morphine, heroin, methamphetamine and amphetamine, can also be found on bills, though less commonly than cocaine.
Identifying foods people eat or the drugs people use based on interactions with money might not seem all that useful, but scientists are also using these types of data to understand patterns of disease. Most of the microbes the researchers in New York identified do not cause disease.
But other studies have suggested that disease-causing strains of bacteria or viruses could be passed along with our currency.
Bacteria that cause foodborne illness — including salmonella and a pathogenic strain of E. coli — have been shown to survive on pennies, nickels and dimes and can hide out on ATMs. Other bacteria, such as MRSA, a drug-resistant staph infection, are found on bank notes in the U.S. and Canada, but the extent to which they could spread infections is unknown.
Try as we may to avoid exposure to germs, they travel with us and on us. Even if disease-causing microbes can survive in places like ATMs, the good news is that most exposures don’t make us sick.
Money laundering
Disease transmission linked to money is rare, and no major disease outbreaks have started from our ATMs. Although it doesn’t seem common for diseases to transmit through money, there are ways we could make our money cleaner.
Researchers are working on ways to clean money between transactions. Putting older bills through a machine that exposes them to carbon dioxide at a specific temperature and pressure can strip dollar bills of oils and dirt left behind by human fingers, while the heat kills microbes that would otherwise linger.
U.S. money is still made from a blend of cotton and linen, which has been shown to have higher bacterial growth than plastic polymers. Several countries are transitioning from money made of natural fibers to plastic, which may be less friendly to bacteria. Canada has had plastic money since 2013, and the United Kingdom transitioned to a plastic-based bank note last year.
Even if our money is not directly responsible for spreading disease, we can still use the dollar’s travel history to track how we spread disease in other ways.

The website WheresGeorge.com, created in 1998, lets users track dollar bills by recording their serial numbers. In the almost 20 years since the site’s creation, WheresGeorge has tracked the geographic locations of bills totaling more than a billion dollars.
Now, physicists at the Max Planck Institute and University of California at Santa Barbara are using data from the WheresGeorge site to track epidemics. Information on human movement and contact rates from WheresGeorge was even used to predict the spread of the 2009 swine flu.
Although we don’t know the extent to which money allows diseases to spread, Mom’s advice is probably best when handling cash: Wash your hands and don’t stick it in your mouth.
The Conversation
Johanna Ohm is a graduate student in biology at Pennsylvania State University.

Sex and the Constitution

 

I heard the author of this book on the radio.  He said that at the time the Constitution was written most Americans were not religious, certainly not the writers.   RJN

 SEX AND THE CONSTITUTION by Geoffrey R. Stone

SEX AND THE CONSTITUTION

Sex, Religion, and Law from America’s Origins to the Twenty-First Century

KIRKUS REVIEW                     

Sexual expression, obscenity, contraception, and abortion are the focus of this wide-ranging legal, political, and social history.

Stone (Law/Univ. of Chicago; Speaking Out!: Reflections on Law, Liberty and Justice, 2010, etc.), a constitutional scholar whose previous books include an award-winning history of free speech, offers a broad, fascinating overview of the nation’s shifting, often incendiary, attitudes toward sexuality and the impact of those attitudes on politics and law. Colonists “clearly and emphatically rejected” Puritans’ repressive views about sex, and the country’s founders, Stone asserts, had no interest in regulating sexuality nor in promoting Christianity. Most were “broad-minded skeptics who viewed religious passion as divisive and irrational, and who consistently challenged, both publicly and privately, traditional Christian dogma.” The claim that America is a “Christian nation” originated in the Second Great Awakening, which swept the country from the 1790s to the 1840s. At a time of unsettling social change, “charismatic preachers” excited religious passions that infused “politics, culture, education, relations between the sexes, attitudes about sex,” and, most significantly, views on the relationship between religion and government. Believing sex to be sinful, evangelicals mounted a campaign against masturbation and contraception; without fear of pregnancy, they claimed, women’s inherent lasciviousness would be uncontrollable. After the Civil War, those ideas were taken up by Anthony Comstock, who policed sexuality with unabated vigor, specifically the dissemination of obscene material through the postal service; obscenity laws persisted even after his death in 1915. In the 1970s, Protestant fundamentalists incited a third awakening, embraced by the Republican Party that coveted the voting power of the Moral Majority. Stone enlivens his narrative with deft portraits of the many judges involved in cases on obscenity, contraception, abortion, and same-sex marriage. Some Supreme Court justices, appointed to uphold the views of the Christian right, disappointed their constituencies. The author applauds decisions that reflect the “protection of human dignity and equality” and believes, maybe too optimistically, that religious groups are now “on the defensive.”

A compelling history of a nation grappling with the moral and legal freedoms that the founders strived to ensure.

so

Goverment Twists Fracking Report

 

Image result for photos fracking

 

EPA’s late changes to fracking study downplay risk of drinking water pollution

Ray Kemble holds two samples of well water from his neighborhood in Dimock, PA. He says the water was contaminated after fracking.
Ray Kemble holds two samples of well water from his neighborhood in Dimock, PA. He says the water was contaminated after fracking. – Amanda Hrycyna for APM Reports

This story was reported in conjunction with APM Reports.

Top officials of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency last year made critical changes at the eleventh hour to a highly anticipated, five-year scientific study of hydraulic fracturing’s effect on the nation’s drinking water. The changes, later criticized by scientists for lacking evidence, played down the risk of pollution that can result from the well-drilling technique known as fracking.

Documents obtained by APM Reports and Marketplace show that in the six weeks before the study’s public release, officials inserted a key phrase into the executive summary that said researchers did not find evidence of “widespread systemic impacts” of fracking by the oil and gas industry on the nation’s drinking water.

Earlier draft versions emphasized more directly that fracking has contaminated drinking water in some places.

The documents also show that the news release accompanying the scientific study was changed on June 3, 2015, the day before it was made public. A draft displayed a conclusion that the EPA had identified “potential vulnerabilities” to drinking water. But the final release dated June 4, concluded: “Assessment shows hydraulic fracturing activities have not led to widespread, systemic impacts to drinking water resources and identifies important vulnerabilities to drinking water resources.

In a conference call with reporters about the study on the day it was released, the EPA’s deputy administrator, Tom Burke, highlighted the lack of “widespread, systemic impacts” as the agency’s top finding.

In fact, scientists had found evidence in some places that fracking activity had polluted drinking water supplies.

In all, the agency identified more than two dozen instances in which hydraulic fracturing had an impact on water resources. The agency also identified hundreds of other spills, many of which reached soil and water.

It’s not clear precisely who inserted or ordered the new phrasing. But emails acquired via the Freedom of Information Act show EPA officials, including press officers, met with key advisers to President Obama to discuss marketing strategy a month before the study’s release. The emails also show EPA public relations people exchanging a flurry of messages between 4 and 11 p.m. on the eve of the study’s release.

The authenticity of the documents — before and after the changes — was confirmed independently by three people with knowledge of the study.

In interviews with 19 people familiar with the research, some characterized the “(no) widespread, systemic” language as a “bizarre conclusion” and “irresponsible.” Others said they were “surprised and disappointed” that top EPA officials used the phrase and said they had no idea it would become the headline until it came out.

The revised summary was quickly embraced by the oil and gas industry, which for nearly a decade had been fighting off environmentalists’ attacks and negative news coverage about fracking’s alleged harm to the environment.

Industry representatives cheered the findings, touting them as validation that fracking is safe.

Media organizations big and small highlighted the conclusion in headlines and sound bites. In a 140-character information ecosystem, suddenly the industry had the benefit of government assurance that fracked wells did not pose a significant threat to water supplies.

Those reports won the day, dominating the news cycle despite the EPA report noting that fracking activities, including chemical spills and faulty well construction, did have an impact on drinking water resources.

It’s not unusual for government agency reports to be edited and crafted in a way that provides positive context for a preferred policy. When research is mischaracterized by policy-makers, however, it raises concerns about the politicization of government science.

“There’s not really a wall between science and politics,” said Dominic DiGiulio, a former EPA scientist. “In my opinion, that statement was put in there to ensure that there would not be blowback from the oil and gas industry.”

The oil and gas industry, along with Republican allies in Congress, has regularly criticized the EPA for investigations into fracking, arguing that state regulators have primary responsibility over the oil and gas sector. Even as it was conducting the broad study, in three instances the EPA withdrew abruptly from investigations into landowner complaints over water contamination related to fracking.

Agency scientists are revising the study, a standard process with all EPA research that involves input from the public and the EPA’s Science Advisory Board, a peer review group that provides scientific advice to the agency.

EPA officials say they hope to release the final version of the $29 million study by the end of the year.

Burke and his boss, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, declined requests for interviews. Asked about the late changes in the news release, Tom Reynolds, who ran the agency’s communications office when the study was released, declined to comment.

The revelations come as Republican President-elect Donald Trump is set to take office on a pledge to abolish the EPA and eliminate regulations on oil and gas activities to boost energy exploration. It might be difficult for Trump to eliminate the agency, but even slight reductions could have a major effect on an agency that already has been hit by budget cuts.

Areas where hydraulic fracturing is being used to extract oil or natural gas. Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration.
Areas where hydraulic fracturing is being used to extract oil or natural gas. Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration. – APM Reports

Between 2010 and 2016, the EPA’s budget was reduced $2.1 billion, or 20 percent. There are also 1,902 fewer EPA employees than in 2010.

Congress called for study

The oil and gas industry has used hydraulic fracturing for decades. The process sends a mix of water, chemicals and sand into the subsurface at high pressure.

In the past 20 years, its use has dramatically increased as technology has combined with horizontal drilling techniques to produce vast amounts of affordable fossil energy from shale rock formations.

Gas, thought to have fewer greenhouse-gas emissions than coal, has been replacing coal steadily for U.S. electricity generation for more than a decade. Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration. 
Gas, thought to have fewer greenhouse-gas emissions than coal, has been replacing coal steadily for U.S. electricity generation for more than a decade. Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration.  – APM Reports

The number of hydraulically fractured wells drilled nationwide has jumped from 24,000 in 2000 to 300,000 in 2015, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

As natural gas production has grown over that decade, the portion that is coming from fracked wells has grown to two-thirds. Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration.
As natural gas production has grown over that decade, the portion that is coming from fracked wells has grown to two-thirds. Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration. – APM Reports

Fracking has been the linchpin in the nation’s energy economy for the past decade. It has unearthed huge amounts of oil and gas, reducing the nation’s dependence on coal for electricity generation and its reliance on foreign oil.

The government reported in May that hydraulically fractured wells provided two-thirds of U.S. natural gas production in 2015 – nearly 10 times the amount produced in 2000.

Natural gas is also seen by many, including the Obama administration, as a cleaner-than-coal bridge to a time when most electricity will come from renewable sources. In addition to making the U.S. less dependent on foreign sources of oil and natural gas, fracking has delivered an economic boost to many parts of the country.

But like many industries relying on natural resources, the prospect of jobs has collided with environmentalists and residents worried about clean air and clean water.

Landowners in many states, including Texas, Colorado, Pennsylvania, Alabama and Wyoming, have complained that their drinking water was contaminated after fracking activity occurred near them.

Concerned about the complaints and potential impacts, Congress in 2009 urged the EPA to study fracking’s impact on drinking water. Supporters of the congressional action cited a 2004 EPA study that said fracking was safe; they claimed the study politicized the science and played down negative findings.

So EPA scientists spent years evaluating scientific reports from academics, industry, non-governmental organizations and government agencies. They took their own water samples, conducted laboratory analysis, did computer modeling of potential contamination, interviewed residents reporting water quality changes and negotiated with oil and gas companies to acquire proprietary well drilling data.

The study was highly anticipated and in the months before its release in June 2015, a draft assessment was shared with top policymaking and public information officials, according to internal emails.

A gas well pad in Dimock, PA.
A gas well pad in Dimock, PA. – Amanda Hrycyna for APM Reports

Meetings involved White House advisers Candace Vahlsing and Dan Utech and officials from the Energy and Interior departments. Vahlsing and Utech declined to comment, a White House spokesman said.

White House Assistant Press Secretary Frank Benenati also was involved in the study’s “messaging,” according to the emails. Benenati, now the EPA’s director of communications, didn’t respond to specific questions about his involvement with the study.

A former EPA official involved in the study defended the controversial line about no “widespread systemic impacts,” saying the lack of a definitive conclusion required the agency to give a nuanced view of fracking. “In this area, there’s incomplete information,” said Ken Kopocis, who was the deputy assistant administrator for water at the EPA. “And so scientists will introduce some element of judgment in drawing their conclusions.”

Kopocis also said it’s common for the White House to be involved in meetings discussing major scientific reports because it’s necessary to inform other agencies involved in oil and gas issues.

The EPA report did note a number of instances in which fracking activity, including poorly designed well construction, chemical spills, well blowouts and direct drilling into formations containing water, had a “documented impact” on drinking water.

The findings included a 2010 chemical spill in Kentucky that killed threatened fish, a well blowout in North Dakota that resulted in chemicals potentially reaching a nearby aquifer and direct drilling into drinking water resources in Wyoming.

The report concluded that 9.4 million people lived within a mile of a hydraulically fractured well between 2000 and 2013.

The agency also reported 457 spills related to fracking in 11 states between 2006 and 2012. In 324 of those cases, the EPA said spills reached soil, surface water or ground water. A spreadsheet of those spills was included in the study.

On the day of the release, when asked to quantify the risks of fracking, Burke demurred. “The study was not, nor was it intended to be, a numerical catalog of all episodes of contamination,” he said.

The examples of documented contamination were overshadowed by the last-minute changes that shifted the tenor of the report.

Some experts in hydraulic fracturing say the late edit exonerated the practice in the public eye.

“It’s not Watergate, but it completely alters the take-home message of the report,” said Rob Jackson, a researcher at Stanford University, who believes hydraulic fracturing can be done safely.

He worries that the EPA’s decision to minimize the vulnerabilities has reduced the urgency for government regulators and oil and gas companies to push to make the process safer. “It’s still making a big, big difference because it supports the narrative that there aren’t problems,” Jackson said.

DiGiulio, after leaving his job as an EPA scientist, joined Jackson in a research project at Stanford that found fracking had a “clear impact” on drinking water in Pavillion, Wy.

The agency had earlier abandoned its research into problems at Pavillion and turned the investigation over to the state. It was one of the three instances in which the EPA withdrew from investigating suspected contamination incidents in the past four years. The others were in Dimock, Pa., and Parker County, Texas. The agency did not include water testing data from those cases in its national study on drinking water.

The EPA’s Science Advisory Board, however, suggested the agency “should include and critically analyze” findings from those three locations. The advisory board also rebuked the EPA’s conclusion of no “widespread systemic impacts.”

Calling the phrase “ambiguous” and inconsistent with the observational data, the advisory board directed the EPA to show the underlying data to back up its claim of no “widespread, systemic impacts”.

“We suggested that they provide a definition of ‘systemic,’ a definition of ‘widespread’ and then provide quantitative data to support the conclusion,” said Peter Thorne, a University of Iowa environmental scientist who chairs the Science Advisory Board. “That is all a way of asking them to put that kind of scientific rigor behind a statement as broad as that.”

Near Dimock, Pa.
Near Dimock, Pa. – Amanda Hrycyna for APM Reports

Study took pressure off industry

McCarthy, the head of the EPA, said at the National Press Club last week that the agency will soon release the final study. She also said her agency is balancing the requests of the 30-member Science Advisory Board with the study’s limitations. During her remarks, McCarthy noted that the four board members with oil and gas ties dissented from the criticism of the phrase.

This was one science advisory board that was as fractured as the subject matter,” McCarthy said. “While I can’t tell you the direction it is going to take, we are going to listen to all sides in terms of what the members thought, and we’ll come to the best decision that we can.

The EPA has the authority to manage drinking water impacts to water resources and to oversee drinking water impacts through several federal laws, including the Clean Water Act and the Safe Water Drinking Act.

But states largely oversee oil and gas development.

The industry, heavily invested in continuing the practice, has steadily battled the EPA. The companies and their industry groups have also repeatedly said there have been no confirmed cases of groundwater contamination from hydraulic fracturing.

That’s why the outcome of the EPA study was important.

If the study had emphasized major problems with the practice, it could have meant increased oversight by state regulators, a call for banning fracking in certain communities and even calls for additional federal oversight.

Instead, the draft study took pressure off the industry.

When the federal Environmental Protection Agency says that technology causes no widespread, systemic risk, that’s a big deal,” said Kevin Book, head of the research team at ClearView Energy Partners, which advises oil and gas investors. “That reinforces the sense that there’s nothing to see here, folks. Move on.”

How the language changed

The documents obtained by APM Reports and Marketplace show that on April 24, 2015, an executive summary was circulated that said “hydraulic fracturing activities have contaminated drinking water resources in a variety of documented cases. Despite these risks, the number of documented impacts is quite low.”

Nowhere did the draft state that there was no widespread, systemic impact on water.

On May 4, EPA officials met with key advisers to Obama, officials from the U.S. Department of the Interior and the Department of Energy to make sure they were “clear on messaging,” according to public documents.

By May 12, the executive summary had changed to include the phrase: “We did not find evidence of widespread, systemic impacts.”

And on May 20, another change deleted a sentence that said “a low rate of documented impacts does not minimize the effects experienced by citizens whose drinking water resources have been impacted.”

The agency’s news release also was altered in the days before the draft study was released.

A version circulated internally in early June featured a headline emphasizing vulnerabilities to drinking water.

But the news release issued publicly on June 4 featured a less forceful headline and a smaller, second headline saying that fracking had not “led to widespread, systemic impacts” and that the study “identifies important vulnerabilities to drinking water resources.”

Within a day, the Marcellus Shale Coalition from Pennsylvania put together a collection of TV news reports, all emphasizing the lack of impact and largely ignoring the vulnerabilities.

Industry has battled EPA

Today the oil and gas industry continues to use the study to advance drilling around the world.

The Maryland Petroleum Council is highlighting the research as it pushes to allow fracking in that state. And earlier this month, the American Petroleum Institute, a lobbying group, urged the EPA to keep the language in the study. It said the report could affect New York’s statewide ban on fracking and influence whether other countries adopt the practice.

The American Petroleum Institute released its own industry-backed study confirming that hydraulic fracturing has led to no widespread, systemic impact to drinking water.

“It has plenty of supporting evidence for its conclusion, yet hydraulic fracturing and its peer-reviewed studies continue to face misinformed attacks on scientific conclusions that support the value and safety of the process,” said Erik Milito, director of upstream and industry operations at the American Petroleum Institute.

Milito also said he believes the EPA’s Science Advisory Board raised questions about the report because it was swayed by the testimony of landowners who were complaining about their drinking water.

In addition to requesting supporting evidence, several members of the board characterized the phrase as a “value statement,” not a scientific one.

Board member Thomas Young, a professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of California-Davis, said he believes the phrase is misleading because the federal agency may not have found a widespread impact, but impacts could still be occurring.

“When you say that there’s no impact, people leap to the conclusion that there is no way in which this material is making it to water resources,” he said. “And I do not think that has been proven.”

Young said he was unaware that the EPA had made last-minute changes to the study or the news release. He said he would have chosen different wording but understood the push to put a conclusion on a multiyear study that cost millions.

Congress, the oil and gas industry and environmental groups would not have settled for a report simply calling for additional research, Young said. “Most people don’t really want to spend millions of tax dollars on a study that comes up with the answer of ‘more study is needed.’”

The study ran into a number of difficulties when it began five years ago.

The EPA, for example, tried to work with oil and gas companies to conduct testing on sites before, during and after a fractured well is drilled. Called “baseline testing,” it would have allowed scientists to see whether the process resulted in any contamination of groundwater. Despite pledges of cooperation from the industry, the EPA could never reach agreement with any company to conduct the tests.

“Initially, industry was very supportive of working together with the EPA to do some field studies,” said Robert Puls, a scientist who oversaw the study in 2010 and 2011. “As the details for doing those studies got closer and closer to actual implementation, their resistance seemed to grow.”

Puls said he left his position at the EPA in 2011 partly because he was frustrated with resistance by oil and gas companies to work with the EPA on the study.

“They didn’t protect my water”

The Science Advisory Board isn’t the only group questioning how EPA officials could make the general claim that fracking caused no “widespread, systemic impacts” without scientific basis.

Many landowners who believe their water was harmed by hydraulic fracturing say the EPA let them down by minimizing the impact.

“They’re supposed to protect my water,” said Bill Ely, who owns land in Dimock, Pa., and settled a lawsuit with Cabot Oil and Gas over tainted water. “I pay them to protect my water. They didn’t protect my water or these people in this area here.”

Bill Ely is one of several dozen landowners in Dimock who noticed water was changing color once drilling started in their community in 2009.
Bill Ely is one of several dozen landowners in Dimock who noticed water was changing color once drilling started in their community in 2009. – Amanda Hrycyna for APM Reports

A spokesman for Cabot did not return messages. Company officials have said that any problems with the water in Dimock occurred long before the company drilled in the area.

Ely is one of several dozen landowners in Dimock who noticed water was changing color once drilling started in their community in 2009.

The complaints from landowners placed Dimock at the center of the fight over the environmental safety of fracking. Movie stars and environmentalists visited the small, northeastern Pennsylvania town and called for the practice to be banned. Industry groups countered with analysis that the practice is safe and brings money and jobs to an economically depressed area.

Since the first incident occurred in 2009, state and federal regulators became heavily involved in Dimock.

In 2010, Pennsylvania regulators announced a settlement with Cabot Oil and Gas that required the company to pay $4.1 million to residents for drilling violations. Regulators said Cabot’s drilling practices allowed combustible methane to contaminate drinking water. And this year two families also won a $4.2 million court case against the company for negligence and creating a nuisance. More than a dozen other families settled with the company for an undisclosed sum.

Cabot has not disclosed terms of its settlement with landowners. Attorneys for Cabot said in court that the methane leaking from the wells was occurring naturally and was a problem before the company drilled in the area.

In 2012, the EPA conducted a study of private water wells of 64 homes in Dimock. The agency eventually determined “that there are not levels of contaminants present that would require action by the agency.”

But another federal agency, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, looked at the same data and concluded in June 2016 that chemicals in the water wells in 27 of the 64 homes were high enough to affect human health.

Some landowners are still pushing for the government to do more.

Every few weeks, Ray Kemble, who said he has one of those 27 homes, has to fill two 325-gallon tanks with water. The tanks, which sit in a shed outside his home, ensure he has clean water. His property, which sits across the street from a well pad, is covered with anti-fracking signs.

Ray Kemble has to fill two 325-gallon tanks with water every few weeks to ensure he has a constant supply of clean water. His home is one of the 27 in Dimock that have a high concentration of harmful chemicals in their water wells.
Ray Kemble has to fill two 325-gallon tanks with water every few weeks to ensure he has a constant supply of clean water. His home is one of the 27 in Dimock that have a high concentration of harmful chemicals in their water wells. – Amanda Hrycyna for APM Reports

Kemble has been questioning the EPA’s conclusion of no widespread, systemic impact, including publicly testifying before the Science Advisory Board. He said he’s disappointed that regulators, including the EPA, didn’t do more for him.

“Why do we have to fight the government when the government was supposed to be protecting us?” he said. “Those agencies were put there to protect the people from stuff like this from happening.”

Drilling provides economic boost

Though some landowners in the Dimock area are unhappy with fracking in the community, it has provided an economic boost.

Cabot has a major presence in the community and says it has invested $1.5 billion in Dimock and surrounding areas in Susquehanna County. Cabot trucks can be seen regularly throughout the rural community and the company has a new corporate office in nearby Montrose.

Cabot is among many companies to tap into the energy rich Marcellus Shale Formation that lies under parts of New York, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio. Landowners are paid monthly, and drilling has increased employment in rural parts of the country. Jobs in the oil and gas extraction sector grew nationally by 33,600 between 2006 and 2016, government figures show.

Bill Aileo, a homeowner in Dimock, said the natural gas boom has helped the community. He wouldn’t say how much he’s being paid for his mineral rights but said a majority of landowners are happy with the natural gas activity in the area.

“We’ve had a shot in the arm,” he said. “It’s probably the best thing that’s happened to this community in 50 years.”

Bill Aileo, a homeowner in Dimock, said the natural gas boom has helped the community. 
Bill Aileo, a homeowner in Dimock, said the natural gas boom has helped the community.  – Amanda Hrycyna for APM Reports

Obama’s embrace of fracking has forced him to walk a fine line.

He acknowledges that the fracking process, along with transporting and storing oil and gas, could release methane, a greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change. The outgoing administration this month issued rules to prevent methane leaks on federal lands. But Obama has said that gradually transitioning from coal to natural gas has reduced U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.  “We’re going to have to straddle between the world as it is and the world as we want it to be and build that bridge,” he said in October.

The specifics of Trump’s approach are unknown. Last Monday, Trump issued a video statement saying that energy issues, including fracking, will be a top priority when he takes office.

“I will cancel job-killing restrictions on the production of American energy, including shale energy and clean coal – creating many millions of high-paying jobs. That’s what we want. That’s what we’ve been waiting for,” he said.

Trump has appointed Myron Ebell, a climate change skeptic, to lead the transition at the EPA. The president-elect also has pledged to further deregulate the oil and gas industry, but his position on fracking has been contradictory. In September, he vowed to expand natural gas production from fracking and coal production, two competing energy resources.

In August, Trump told a Colorado TV station that he was willing to let voters have a say on fracking bans, but in April he criticized New York state’s ban on the practice.

The disagreement over the environmental impact of fracking will continue in the Trump administration. In addition to finishing the study on hydraulic fracturing’s impact on drinking water, the EPA will continue to pay for research on fracking.

In September, it announced a $2 million study that will examine how oil and gas development is affecting water quality and its impact on human health. The study is focused on an area that includes Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio.

Some scientists, landowners and environmental advocates believe that the EPA lacks credibility to research fracking’s impact on drinking water. They have grown suspicious about how the EPA handles fracking issues.

“They don’t know who to trust,” said Raina Rippel, who directs the Southwestern Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project, which tracks health impacts on people in high-fracking areas. “They don’t necessarily feel that the state regulatory agencies or the federal regulatory agencies are listening. They feel so severely betrayed right now.”

Correction: The original text inaccurately named the Clean Water Act. It has been corrected.

Follow Scott Tong at @tongscott.

Trump Tax Plan–Guess Who Gains

 

Who Benefits From Donald Trump’s Tax Plan?

Donald Trump leaves an elevator at Trump Tower in New York City, just prior to delivering a speech in September that outlined his plan for tax reform.  Andrew Burton/Getty Images

Donald Trump has proposed a very detailed tax plan — but his statements on the campaign trail don’t always match what his proposal would really do.

For instance, at a rally in Scranton, Pa., Trump promised to “massively cut taxes for the middle class, the forgotten people, the forgotten men and women of this country, who built our country.” During a town hall meeting on NBC’s Today show, he said he believes in raising taxes on the wealthy.

And at least half of Trump’s supporters agreed with him on that, according to a pre-election survey by RAND Corp., a research group.

“Just before the election, after the last debate, 51 percent of them intending to vote for Trump supported increasing taxes on high-earning individuals,” says Michael Pollardof RAND.

But Trump’s plan does the opposite, says Lily Batchelder, a law professor at New York University and visiting fellow at the Tax Policy Center.

“If you look at the most wealthy, the top 1 percent would get about half of the benefits of his tax cuts, and a millionaire, for example, would get an average tax cut of $317,000,” she says.

But a family earning between $40,000 and $50,000 a year would get a tax cut of only $560, she says, and millions of middle-class working families will see their tax bills rise under Trump’s plan — especially single-parent families.

Tax Increases Projected Under Trump Plan

Lily Batchelder, a law professor at NYU and visiting fellow at the Tax Policy Center, says Donald Trump’s plan would boost taxes for many families, with some of the largest increases applying to single-parent families “because of the repeal of the head of household filing status and personal exemptions.”

  • A single parent with $75,000 in earnings, two school-age children and no child care costs would face a tax increase of around $2,440.
  • A single parent with $50,000 in earnings, three school-age children and no child care costs would also face a tax increase of around $1,188.
  • A married couple with $50,000 in earnings, two school-age children and no child care costs would face a tax increase of about $150.
  • Other married couples would get almost no benefit.

Source: Tax Policy Center

Trump Plan Emphasizes Child Care Tax Breaks

President-elect Donald Trump’s website says working- and middle-class taxpayers would see the biggest tax cuts, in percentage terms, under his plan.

  • A married couple earning $50,000 per year with two children and $8,000 in child care expenses would see a 35 percent cut.
  • A married couple earning $75,000 with two children and $10,000 in child care expenses would see a 30 percent cut.
  • A married couple earning $5 million with two children and $12,000 in child care expenses would see a 3 percent cut.

Source: donaldjtrump.com

“A single parent who’s earning $75,000 and has two school-age children, they would face a tax increase of over $2,400,” Batchelder says. That’s if they had no child-care deductions; the increase in taxes comes partly because the Trump plan eliminates the $4,000 exemption for each person in a household.

Steve Calk, a Trump economic adviser, says the loss of the exemption is partially offset by other changes in Trump’s plan. He takes issue with the Tax Policy Center’s analysis and argues that there will be big tax cuts for middle-income families.

Take a family earning $50,000 a year, Calk says, “and their child-care costs are $7,000 or $8,000 a year. They’re going to save 35 percent on their net tax bracket.”

Batchelder says that calculation is misleading because it focuses on tax rate reduction rather than a family’s after-tax income — in other words, how much money they have in their pocket after taxes.

But Calk argues the personal-income tax cuts, as well as the Trump proposal to reduce the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 15 percent, will help taxpayers by boosting economic growth.

“The single best way to help people that are in the low-income bracket or unemployed or underemployed is, No. 1, to get them employed in real jobs with real benefits,” Calk says.

Economists disagree on whether the tax plan would be good for the economy. The Tax Policy Center says that over the first decade, the government would lose $6.2 trillion in revenue, producing huge budget deficits that could hurt the economy.

One other element of the Trump plan is worth noting: It would eliminate the federal estate tax entirely. Only the wealthiest taxpayers — less than 1 percent — now pay that tax. Ending it would lead to an even greater concentration of wealth in the U.S.

Editor’s Note: John Ydstie spoke at length about Trump’s proposed tax plan on NPR’s NewsTime earlier this week. Watch his interview below.

Trump U. Racket Costs Him $25MM

 

New York Attorney General Says Trump Agrees To Trump University Settlement

Donald Trump at a 2005 news conference about Trump University. Now, the New York attorney general says Trump has agreed to a $25 million settlement with over 6,000 plaintiffs who said the university had defrauded them.  Mario Tama/Getty Images

A $25 million settlement agreement has been reached in the civil fraud lawsuits against President-elect Donald Trump and Trump University, according to New York’s state attorney general.

Eric Schneiderman called the settlement “a stunning reversal by Donald Trump and a major victory for the over 6,000 victims of his fraudulent university” in a written statement. The allegations have been a major point of controversy for the President-elect for years.

“Donald Trump fought us every step of the way, filing baseless charges and fruitless appeals and refusing to settle for even modest amounts of compensation for the victims of his phony university,” Schneiderman added. “Today, that all changes.”

Schneiderman’s office told NPR’s Ina Jaffe that the settlement agreement applies to three separate lawsuits. Schneiderman filed the lawsuit in New York, and there are also two federal class-action lawsuits in California.

“Every victim” will receive a share of the settlement, Schneiderman said. He added that Trump has agreed to pay $1 million in penalties to the state of New York “for violating state education laws.”

Alan Garten, EVP and general counsel of The Trump Organization issued the following statement:

“We are pleased to announce the complete resolution of all litigation involving Trump University. While we have no doubt that Trump University would have prevailed at trial based on the merits of this case, resolution of these matters allows President-Elect Trump to devote his full attention to the important issues facing our great nation.”

The agreement “does not require Trump to acknowledge wrongdoing,” according to The Associated Press.

Students who purchased classes at Trump University have complained that “the promised Donald Trump investment techniques were mostly stuff that you could find on the internet. They say that the promised mentoring was worthless, that the instructors were unqualified and were not hand-picked by Donald Trump, as he claimed,” Ina reported.

Trump has repeatedly denied those characterizations, Ina said, “and in his deposition, Donald Trump said the students gave the courses a 97 percent approval rating and not even Harvard gets that.

As The New York Times wrote, “The deal, if approved, averts a potentially embarrassing and highly unusual predicament: a president-elect on trial, and possibly even taking the stand in his own defense, while scrambling to build his incoming administration.”

A hearing for one of the lawsuits, in a federal court in San Diego, had been scheduled for today. Ina reported that Trump was requesting that the judge postpone the trial until after the inauguration.

A court document filed by Trump’s lawyers last week requested time to “allow the President-Elect to focus on the enormous responsibility of transitioning to the most demanding and important office in our government.” It also asked for Trump to be allowed to testify by video.

During his presidential run, Trump elicited criticism after he argued that Indiana-born Judge Gonzalo Curiel, who is of Mexican heritage and presiding over both California cases, could not be fair to Trump because he has vowed to build a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico.

Curiel had “urged both sides to settle” in the California suits, according to Reuters.

MORE at N.Y. Times

President-Elect Trump on the Issues

 

CHARTS: Here’s What Donald Trump Has Said On The Issues

Hand holding bullhorn blocked by cork stopper

Gillian Blease/Getty Images/Ikon Images

Before Donald Trump takes the oath of office in January, there are a lot of questions about how he will decide key policy issues.

We’ve identified the top 10 issues voters care about most according to a 2016 survey from the Pew Research Center and charted what Trump has said about each of them. The issues are, in order: the economy, terrorism, foreign policy, health care, gun policy, immigration, Social Security, education, Supreme Court appointments and the treatment of racial and ethnic minorities.

Where we could, we gave Trump’s stances a simple “Yes” or “No,” but also used the rating “It’s Complicated” in cases where his stance is more nuanced or has changed.

(Trump has given clues on what he’ll prioritize in his first 100 days, which we’ve posted here and fact checked here.)


The Economy

Trump hopes to grow the economy by significantly lowering taxes. Under his plan, he says a middle-class family with two children would get a 35 percent income tax cut. He will also reduce the number of tax brackets from seven down to three, which would largely benefit the wealthiest Americans. When it comes to business tax rates, Trump wants to go from a 35 percent rate to 15 percent.

Trump is also big on infrastructure as a way to create jobs. He says he would grant the permit needed for the Keystone Pipeline despite opposition from environmental activists, as NPR’s Scott Horsley outlined. He also plans to cancel all payments to U.N. climate change programs and put that money toward “water and environmental infrastructure,” as he wrote in his 100-day action plan. Trump would also lift restrictions on the oil, coal, shale and natural gas industries. In addition, he plans to impose tariffs to discourage companies from relocating to other countries.

Relevant stories

Terrorism

Trump made fighting terrorism a central pillar of his campaign and strengthened his hard-line stances with each high-profile terror attack, from the shooting in San Bernardino, Calif., last December to the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, Fla., in June.

In his 100-day action plan, Trump promised to “suspend immigration from terror-prone regions where vetting cannot safely occur. All vetting of people coming into our country will be considered extreme vetting.” During his campaign, he also condoned other extreme counter-terrorism tactics, like waterboarding.

Relevant stories

Foreign Policy

When it comes to foreign policy, Trump’s main focus has been to upend U.S. trade policy. He has promised to renegotiate or withdraw from NAFTA, the United States’ free trade agreement with Canada and Mexico. According to NPR’s Marilyn Geewax, actually doing away with NAFTA might not actually be feasible, but Trump could undermine it. He also wants to label China a currency manipulator and, per his 100-day plan, “identify all foreign trading abuses that unfairly impact American workers and direct them to use every tool under American and international law to end those abuses immediately.”

Relevant stories

Health

Trump’s main goal for health care policy is to repeal the Affordable Care Act. That feat will be harder than Trump seems to think, as we reported. To completely repeal and replace the act, he would need 60 votes in the Senate, which is the number needed to overcome a filibuster. Though they’ll make up a majority, there will be only 51 Republican senators come January. He recently signaled in an interview that he may be open to keeping provisions of Obamacare that expand insurance to people with pre-existing conditions and to young people.

Trump has also promised to allow tax deductions for child care and elder care and to create tax-free dependent care savings accounts, with matching contributions for low-income families. As we reported earlier this year, that would cost the government $25 billion annually.

Relevant stories

Gun Policy

Donald Trump aligned himself strongly with the National Rifle Association, which endorsed him, and also with Second Amendment protectionists (though no major candidate claimed to want to take away gun rights outright). Trump has said states should be more diligent about putting criminal and mental health records into existing background check systems.

Relevant stories

Immigration

Restricting immigration appears to be top-of-mind for Trump’s presidency, at least initially. In his 100-day plan, Trump promised to cancel federal funding to “sanctuary cities,” though he hasn’t specified which funds he would cut. There’s no legal definition for this type of city; it’s used to describe places with policies limiting how much local authorities can collaborate with federal authorities on immigration issues, such as detention requests from Immigration and Customs Enforcement, according to CNN.

Trump has also promised to undo all of President Obama’s executive actions, which include two on immigration (only one of which is in effect). Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals allows certain people brought to the country illegally as children to apply for protection against deportation for two-year periods. That protection would go away, it seems.

Trump has also promised to deport immigrants in the country illegally who have committed crimes, stop immigration from “terror-prone” regions and begin “extreme vetting” of people entering the U.S. He has also mostly stood by his vow to build a wall on the country’s southern border, and make Mexico pay for it. Trump and some surrogates have said recently they would be OK with certain areas of the border having fence, rather than wall.

Relevant stories

Social Security

Trump does not want to privatize Social Security, nor does he want to raise the retirement age or increase taxes. He told AARP he plans to fund the entitlement program through “an economy that is robust and growing,” and he specifically highlighted his tax and immigration plans as key players in that growth.

Relevant stories

Education

Trump has been vocal about school choice, which allows parents to choose to send their child to any type of school: traditional public, private or charter. Critics sayschool choice leads to a gap in equitable school investment. Proponents say it increases competition between schools. In addition to school choice, Trump wants to end the Common Core standards, which are the federal guidelines created for K-12 education across the country. States were able to choose to opt in (some didn’t) — and the federal government encouraged it.

Relevant stories

Supreme Court Appointments

Trump has released two lists, adding up to 21 judges, to fill the Supreme Court vacancy resulting from Antonin Scalia’s death last February. According to NPR’s Nina Totenberg, the lists are very conservative and a lot is unknown about who is helping Trump make this selection. With two other justices over 80 years old, it’s possible Trump will be able to nominate more than one justice during his presidency.

Relevant stories

The Treatment of Racial and Ethnic Minorities

The relationship between police and their treatment of African-Americans was a common topic this election year. Trump ran as the “law and order” candidate and he’s sticking to it: He plans on increasing funding for federal law enforcement “to dismantle criminal gangs and put violent offenders behind bars.” He also wants to provide more funding and training to local police departments.

Trump has been criticized for his own rhetoric on minorities, most notably referring to Mexican immigrants as rapists in his June 2015 announcement speech and calling for a ban on Muslims entering the United States.

Relevant stories

Stephan Bisaha, Alyson Hurt, Clinton King and Lisa Charlotte Rost designed the charts for this post. A version of this story, breaking down where all the major candidiates stood, was published ahead of Election Day.

Veterans Day and Suicide etc.

Today, 20 military veterans will commit suicide.  I heard that on NPR’s Morning Edition.  Our country’s treatment of, or failure to care for, veterans is a long-standing shame.

I’m a veteran though I don’t think of myself that way.  I was in the army for 21 months in the late 1950’s when there seemed to be no war, though the U.S. was active in Viet Nam and dropped paratroops on Lebanon when an election didn’t go our way. My weapon was a typewriter and my battlefield was  the compound of the Corporal Missile (training) Battery in Oklahoma. I drew the veteran benefit for courses I took when I got out.

Who’s a real veteran?  My nephew Jeffrey Nugent who served in Iraq and our new Senator Tammy Duckworth who lost her legs there. My brother John who graduated from the Naval Academy and transferred to the Marines.  And my friend Larry who served in Viet Nam.   And a lot of those people sleeping in a park or on the warm grates of city sidewalks, asking for change on street corners, talking to themselves in public libraries.  Or sitting in jail cells with no hope.

What’s being done for all those suffering as a result of military service? Not enough..

Mental Health Concerns
  • Postraumtic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Traumatic events, such as military combat, assault, disasters or sexual assault can have long-lasting negative effects such as trouble sleeping, anger, nightmares, being jumpy and alcohol and drug abuse. …
  • Depression. …
  • Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI).

RJN

 

 

 

 

Election–How Do You Feel ?

 

Image result for photos donald trump

Congratulations to all the Trump voters out there !

To those who feel shocked, embarassed, fearful about the election results, remember that President Trump will enjoy both a Senate and House of Representatives of his own party, as President Obama has not.  You can always feel worse.

What can be done?  SOMETHING !  And you’ll feel better.

( This all begins again in 3 years.  And all House members run again in 2 years.  Who is your representative in the House?  Click here.  )

For a start you can contact your local Democratic organization and offer to volunteer (and/or write them a check if you can). Google on something like “Democratic organization Lake County, or New Trier Township, or McHenry, Illinois. Or inquire at an organization listed in Wikipedia.  Might be interesting to contact Bernie Sanders’  people at Our Movement.  They’ll all be glad to hear from you.

RJN

 

 

Bring Back Bulls?

Spanish Court Overturns Catalonia’s Ban on Bullfighting  source                                                                                  Julia Zorthian @jzorth Oct. 20, 2016

The Constitutional Court of Spain overturned Catalonia’s 2010 ban on bullfightingi in a ruling on Thursday.

(  Catalonia, in the northeast of Spain, including the seaside city of Barcelona, is one of 17 autonomous communities in Spain and is officially designated a natiionality.  It has its own language and other cultural distinctions. In 2014, 81% of votes cast in a referendum, were YES for separatiion from Spain, but only 41% of eligible voters took part,  Several years ago, a festival of Catalan literature was being planned, and there was an argument as to whether just any writers in the Catalan language could participate or only those who were Catalonian citizens,

Readers may want to see our  May 14, 2014,   blog post “Our Bullfight” about the one Alice and I suffered with six bulls in Spain.  Enter “bullfighting” in the search box, upper righthand corner of page.

RJN  )

The decision angered Catalonian separatists and animal activists

 

spain overturn catalonia bullfighting ban

Bullfighter Jose Tomas performs during the last bullfight at the La Monumental on September 25, 2011 in Barcelona, Spain, following the vote by the Catalan regional Parliament to ban bullfighting.   David Ramos—Getty Images

The court ruled that the ban Catalonia’s parliament enacted six years ago violated a national ruling that bullfighting is an integral part of Spain’s heritage and identity. The decision angered Catalonian separatists and animal activists, as both groups supported the region’s ban on the practice, the AP reports.

The ruling stated that Catalonia could regulate bullfighting, but would not be able to ban it outright due to the region’s responsibility to preserve “common cultural heritage.”

“The constitutional court can decide what they want, but we have already decided that there will be no bullfights in Catalonia,” Catalan Minister for Public Works Josep Rull said in a statement. “We want a country where it is not possible to make a public spectacle of death and suffering to an animal.

Within the region, some see this as a way for Spain to undermine Catalonia’s authority. Catalonia was the second region in Spain to ban bullfighting, following the Canary Islands in 1991, but Rull pointed out that Spain’s constitutional court did not move to overturn that ruling.

[AP]